Chapter 29: The French Minister, Genet -- His Designs upon The Southwest

Albert James Pickett: HISTORY OF ALABAMA.
(Kindly contributed by William C. Bell)



Jan. 26 1793: Louis XVI., the friend of America, had been beheaded at Paris, and Robespierre and other hyenas swayed unhappy France. Genet was their American Minister. Upon his arrival in the United States he assumed unwarrantable grounds. After failing to enlist Washington in his Jacobinical notions of liberty, he sought to disaffect the Southern and Western people, and to dismember the Union. He took advantage of the excited feeling of the population upon the Holston, Cumberland, Ohio and other tributaries of the Mississippi, who had long denounced the Federal Government for allowing them no protection against the savages, and for not compelling the Spaniards, who held the Lower Mississippi, to grant them the free navigation of that river. Indeed, these brave and adventurous people had just grounds of complaint. They were cut off from the rest of the Union, and had to defend themselves, while their rich products of corn, flour and tobacco rotted at their doors on account of the arbitrary laws of the Spanish provinces below them. They, naturally enough, entertained no love for a Union which was no advantage to them. The Georgians, on the other hand, claimed all the territory between 31° and 35°, from the Savannah to the Mississippi, and, although independent of the navigation of the "Father of Waters," viewed its exclusive occupation by the Spaniards as a great outrage, not only against their rights, but those of their Northwestern brethren. Georgia was also irritated with the Federal Government for its irresolution and tardiness in adjusting her various rights, both in regard to the Spaniards and Creeks, as we have repeatedly seen. Again, Genet was further encouraged in his nefarious schemes on account of the war which was then declared between France and Spain. He was led to believe, from all these circumstances, that it would be an easy matter to make the disaffected citizens of the United States allies of France, and, associated with the dissatisfied French population on the Mississippi, he could overthrow the Spanish provinces of Louisiana and the Floridas, and establish a government dependent upon the republic of France. Two expeditions were planned by him in the West while in Charleston. Several distinguished citizens had accepted commissions under him. The desire to invade the Floridas prevailed in Georgia to an alarming extent. From the frontiers of South Carolina and Kentucky detachments, called the "French Legion," marched to places of rendezvous. They were to serve three months, and receive bounties of land. Genet was to have been commander-in-chief. His most influential and powerful assistant was General Elijah Clarke, of Georgia. That gentleman had despatched an agent to Lexington, Kentucky, who purchased, upon his credit, two boats, powder and cannon ball, which were conveyed down the Ohio. March 1794: An agent was furnished with ten thousand dollars, to purchase supplies for a Georgia army, to assemble at St. Mary's. Clarke had authority to issue military appointments, in the name of the French republic, and he constituted Peter B. Williamson, major, Carr, a colonel, and conferred the commission of captain on Bird and other citizens of Georgia. The French sloop-of-war, Las Casas, direct from Charleston, anchored at St. Mary's, within musket-shot of the American post, which was in command of Major Gaither. She was destined for Louisiana, and her officers asserted that thirteen sail, large and well-manned, were yet to follow, from different ports of the United States. In the meantime, boat-builders were vigorously employed upon the Ohio, and persons of character and wealth sold their property at auction, to facilitate their completion. A considerable body of Creeks and Cherokees had likewise been enlisted in the cause of the "French republic." May 14: The Governor of East Florida, alarmed at these preparations, remonstrated with Governor Mathews, of Georgia, who immediately issued his proclamation, forbidding the people of Georgia to engage in such enterprises. Shortly afterwards, Washington issued a proclamation against the whole project, and authorized Governor Mathews to employ all the United States troops, then in Georgia, to put down the contemplated invasion.

Governor Carondelet was active in preparations for defence. He strengthened New Orleans, and added troops to the fort at Mobile, and other posts, while he erected new ones at several points below the mouth of the Ohio. The militia, throughout Louisiana and the Floridas, were completely organized. It is strange that the Baron Carondelet should, at this time, have resorted to the same scheme contemplated by his enemy, Genet. He, too, despatched an emissary--an Englishman, named Powers--among the Western American citizens, with offers of arms, ammunition, money and free navigation, if they would join his standard, and separate themselves from the Federal Union. 1794: But his plans, as well as those of Genet, were defeated by the firmness of Washington and the loyalty of the States of Georgia and South Carolina. The latter, too, came to the rescue of the Federal Government--the Legislature adopting measures for the arrest of Genet's agents.*

* American State Papers, Foreign Relations, folio edition, vol. 1, pp, 454-460. Martin's History of Louisiana, vol 2, pp. 91-118-122-123-126-127-128. Monette's History of the Valley of the Mississippi, vol. 1, pp. 469 485 492 496-505-510.

Seagrove remained at Tookabatcha until the 1st of April. Then he departed for Georgia, with a delegation of Chiefs, who visited Governor Mathews, who appears to have been a more conciliatory man than the fiery Telfair, who had now gone out of office. The Chiefs expressed a desire for peace, and Governor Mathews sent them back to the nation, well pleased with their visit, and guarded by a detachment, under General Glasscock.

A new settlement, contemplated west of the Oconee, was now about to originate more trouble with the Creeks. The restless and enterprising General Elijah Clarke, who had fought with so much indomitable courage, and who had displayed such remarkable endurance, during the whole of the revolutionary war, and was one of the best whigs that ever lived, was at the head of this movement, and that, too, immediately upon the heels of the abortive attempt to invade Florida. After the revolution, he continued to defend his State, and his resolute spirit and mighty arm beat off many a murderous savage band. But he was too impulsive and restless for times of peace. July 1794: He now undertook to extinguish the Creek claims, in a very practical manner. With a large party of men, he began a settlement opposite Fort Fidius, on the west side of the Oconee, upon Indian territory. General Irwin, on the part of the State, ordered him to remove, which he refused to do. Mathews forbid, by proclamation, the contemplated settlement, and accused Clarke of an attempt to form a separate and independent government. The latter appeared at the Superior Court of Wilkes, and surrendered himself to the Judge, who placed his case before the Magistrate. These worthy and learned men went into a full history of the laws of the United States, those of Georgia, those of the world, called the "law of nations, "those of the Creeks, and those of the Spaniards, and came to the very liberal decision, endorsed upon the indictment, "that the said Elijah Clarke be, and is, hereby discharged."

Many people now flocked to the standard of Clarke. His settlements were pushed with vigor, a town was laid off, and Forts Advance and Defiance were erected and garrisoned. Washington was uneasy at this movement, and requested Governor Mathews to put down all attempts at the occupation of the Indian domain, and promising to furnish him with troops from South Carolina, if it should become necessary. Mathews directed Generals Twiggs and Irwin to break up these establishments. Sept. 25 1794: They approached them with Georgia militia, who acted with great firmness and moderation. Clarke, abandoned by all his men except twenty, surrendered, upon condition that his property, and that of the colonists, should be returned to them. The forts and houses were destroyed by fire, and the affair happily ended, without the shedding of a drop of blood.

Sept. 13: The northern frontiers were still disturbed by Indian marauding parties. Major James Ore advanced from Nashville, with five hundred and fifty mounted infantry, to the town of Nickajack, surrounded and attacked it by surprise, and killed many of its inhabitants, while nineteen women and children were made prisoners. On his march from thence up the river, he was attacked at the Narrows by the savages, who, after a few fires, gave way and retreated to Running Water, which was soon taken, and likewise destroyed. Ore re-crossed the Tennessee, before night, and took up the line of march for Nashville, with his prisoners and a large quantity of effects, which had been taken by the Indians from various persons. Andrew Jackson, afterwards President, was a private in this expedition.*

* Indian Affairs, vol. 1, pp. 495-500-632. Kendall's Life of Jackson, p. 89.

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