George Washington to his land agent: “All of this can be carried on by silent management and can be carried out by you under the guise of hunting game…”

We are reading this letter today in my Pennsylvania history class. It is a 1767 letter from George Washington to his personal land agent William Crawford. Here is a taste:

. . . I can never look upon the Proclamation [of 1763] in any other light (but this I say between ourselves) than as a temporary expedient to quiet the minds of the Indians. It must fall, of course, in a few years, especially when those Indians consent to our occupying those lands. Any person who neglects hunting out good lands, and in some measure marking and distinguishing them for his own, in order to keep others from settling them will never regain it. If you will be at the trouble of seeking out the lands, I will take upon me the part of securing them, as soon as there is a possibility of doing it and will, moreover, be at all the cost and charges surveying and patenting the same . . . By this time it be easy for you to discover that my plan is to secure a good deal of land. You will consequently come in for a handsome quantity.

I would recommend it to you to keep this whole matter as a profound secret, or Trust it only with those in whom you can confide & who can assist you in bringing to bear by their discoveries of Land and this advice proceeds from several very good Reasons, and in the first place because I might be censured for the opinion I have given in respect to the Kings Proclamation & then if the Scheme I am not proposing to you was known it might  give alarm to others & by putting them upon a Plan of the same nature (before we could lay a proper foundation for success ourselves)…”

“All of this can be carried on by silent management and can be carried out by you under the guise of hunting game, which you may, I presume, effectually do, at the same time you are in pursuit of land. When this is fully discovered advise me of it, and if there appears a possibility of succeeding, I will have the land surveyed to keep others off and leave the rest to time and my own assiduity.”

Read the entire letter here.

This clip tells us several things about George Washington:

  1. Washington wanted land and plenty of it.
  2. Washington did not respect Indian sovereignty over the western territories.
  3. Washington did not want anyone to know about his plans to accumulate land in western Pennsylvania for two reasons. First, he did not want to be perceived as violating the Proclamation of 1763. It was going to be removed anyway, so why not violate it? Second, he did not want anyone else to violate the Proclamation. Why? Because if they broke the law and speculated in western territory (like he was doing) he would have competitors in his quest for land.
  4. Washington gave his land agent an alibi in case he got caught. It went something like this: “just say you were hunting.”