In Williamsburg, Virginia, Lord Dunmore offers to go to England to negotiate a peaceful reconciliation. The Virginia Committee of Safety responds that they are ‘neither empowered not inclined to intermeddle with the mode of negotiation,’ and that they look to the congress for management of this important matter. They urge him to demonstrate his intentions by suspending hostilities.
From Cambridge, Massachusetts, George Washington writes to Mohegan Indian Preacher Joseph Johnson. “Sir – I am very much pleased to find by the Strong recommendations you produce, that we have amongst our Brothers of the Six Nations a person who can explain to them, the Sense of their Brothers, on the dispute between us and the Ministers of Great Britain; you have seen a part of our Strength, and can inform our Brothers, that we can withstand all the force, which those who want to rob us of our Lands and our Houses, can send against us. You can tell our friends, that they may always look upon me, whom the Whole United Colonies have chosen to be their Chief Warrior, as their brother, whilst they Continue in Friendship with us, they may depend upon mine and the protection of those under my Command. Tell them that we don’t want them to take up the hatchett for us, except they chuse it, we only desire that they will not fight against us, we want that the Chain of friendship should always remain bright between our friends of the Six Nations and us—Their attention to you, will be a proof to us that they wish the same, we recommend you to them, and hope by your Spreading the truths of the Holy Gospel amongst them, it will Contribute to keep the Chain so bright, that, the malicious insinuations, or practices of our Enemies will never be able to break this Union, so much for the benefit of our Brothers of the Six Nations and of us—And to prove to them that this is my desire, and of the Warriors under me, I hereto Subscribe my name at Cambridge this 20th day of February 1776.”
Washington is no stranger to negotiation with Indians. Prior to and during the French Indian War (also known as the Seven Years War), Washington spent a great deal of time trying to convince the several different Indian nations to join the British cause against the French. He would learn that the Indians only concern was to be left alone to live and hunt on their land, and that they would choose to go along with whichever side they believed would be the victor, hoping for positive dealings after the hostilities. It was in some part due to Washington’s actions that the great bulk of the Indians went to fight with the French and against Washington and the British. This was due in part to Washington’s military failings, specifically his creation of Fort Necessity, a fort that these Indians immediately saw as a “trifling” contraption, clearly susceptible to attack. It was also due to his attitude with the Indians, which they felt was condescending. Washington, one Indian Chief claimed, expected the Indians to do all his fighting for him.
The Washington of that time, though, was a very different Washington from the one who took on arms against Great Britain. He had not only learned powerful lessons from his prior errors, he also had over fifteen years to allow them to sink in, and to think about how he would do things differently, on a number of venues.
This letter from Washington does not make the mistake of asking too much. He no longer requests the Indian’s help, only argues that he will lead his side to victory, and that they should not choose to be on the losing side of the British.