Document Spotlight-Indian Raid on the Ohio River

August 29th, 2011

Recently, transcriber Brendawarneka transcribed a document in which Charles Johnston recounts an attack from hostile Native Americans.

Johnston gave a military deposition detailing the raid by some 54 Cherokees and Shawnees. In the attack, two people–a man and a woman–were killed and many more taken captive. The attackers also confiscated property.

Although short–only a dozen lines or so–the document provides a fascinating (and terrifying) look at life on the frontier in 1790.

Read the transcription here (

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Beginning of the Quasi-War

August 24th, 2011

France had been the key ally of the United States during the Revolutionary War and a Treaty of Alliance had been signed in 1778 but in 1794 the French monarchy was overthown during that country’s bloody revolution. The new American government had earlier declared neutrality in the seemingly endless war between Britain and France but the controversial Jay Treaty with Britain, combined with new British-American trade agreements, signaled a change of allegiance that enraged revolutionary France. The U.S. exacerbated the rift when it ceased paying its war debts to France, arguing that the American obligation was to the French monarchy and not to the new French republic.

The French navy began intercepting American merchant ships bound for Britain and the French government refused to receive the new American minister, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, when he arrived in Paris in late 1796. In April 1797, President Adams, in a letter to his cabinet, asked if the repudiation of Pinckney meant that the peace treaty with France should be nullified. In December of 1797, Adams reported to Congress on the provocative French actions and declared the need “to place our country in a suitable posture of defense.” In April 1798, Adams informed Congress that three French agents, cryptically called X, Y, and Z, had offered to restore diplomatic relations in return for a large bribe. The French navy, aided by privateers, continued to seize American ships in alarming numbers so in May 1798, Secretary of War James McHenry issued instructions to “Commanders of armed vessels” to ” seize, take, and bring into any port of the United States…any armed vessel sailing under pretence of authority from the Republic of France…which shall be found hovering on the coasts of the United States for the purpose of committing depredations on the vessels belonging to citizens thereof;…” On July 7, 1798 Congress rescinded the treaties with France and authorized American attacks on French warships. Thus began the undeclared conflict known as the Quasi-War.

The depredations by French privateers on American merchant vessels forced Adams and Congress to reinvigorate an American navy that had been allowed to deteriorate following the end of the Revolutionary War. Congress authorized the president to acquire and arm no more than a dozen ships. American leaders were also wary of a possible invasion by French land forces so a depleted army also had to be rebuilt. For President Adams there was only one choice to lead what was to be called the Provisional Army and that was the 65-year-old retired president contentedly ensconced at his Mount Vernon estate. Washington’s response stated that he was honored by this latest call to duty but added that it was his “earnest wish that the choice had fallen upon a man less declined in years and better qualified to encounter the usual vicissitudes of war.” In his letter to the former president, Adams assured him that the Secretary of War would provide whatever assistance he needed in meeting his new responsibilities. Washington let it be known that he did not want to be called to the field until “the army is in a situation to require my presence.” As it turned out, in a “war” that was never to be fought, that presence was never required.