Documenting the American South Logo
Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Letter from John Williams to the Transylvania Company
Williams, John, 1731-1799
January 03, 1776
Volume 10, Pages 382-387

[Reprinted from the American Archives. Vol. 4. P. 558.]
Letter from Colonel Williams, at Boonesborough, to the Proprietors, in regard to the Colony of Transylvania.

Boonesborough, January 3, 1776.


In my last, of the 27th instant, I promised in my next a more circumstantial account that I was capable then of giving, under the confused situation of mind I was then in, occasioned by the unhappy catastrophe of my brother's death, which happened but a few hours before that. To comply in some measure with that promise, and to discharge a duty incumbent upon me, as well as the promptitude of mind I feel to discharge that duty, I cheerfully enter on the task, and endeavour to render some account of what I have been after since my arrival at this place, now upwards of a month since; and as the primitive intention of sending me to Transylvania was to establish a Land Office, appoint the necessary officers to the said office, surveyors, &c., upon the best footing in my power, and to make sale of the lands within the said Colony, upon such terms as might be most advantageous to the Proprietors and satisfactory to the inhabitants thereof; my first step was to fall on some method of appointing a person to the office of surveyor, who shall give general satisfaction to the people; I thought none more likely to do so, than calling a Convention and taking their recommendation for the person who I would appoint. From the dispersed situation of the people, and the extreme badness of the weather, we failed in convening a majority; however, I took the sense of those who appeared, and who unanimously recommended Colonel John Floyd, a gentleman generally esteemed, and I am persuaded, truly worthy, and him I have commissioned surveyor of the Colony at

-------------------- page 383 --------------------
present, though, perhaps, it may be advisable, at a future day, to divide the Colony into two districts, and to appoint another surveyor to one of the districts. The Entering Office I have disposed of to Mr Nathaniel Henderson, and the Secretary's to Mr Richard Harrison; though upon consideration, I have thought that the numerous incidental expenses were so great that some way ought to be fallen upon to defray them without breaking in upon the moneys arising from the sale of the lands, and that the two dollars for entering, &c., and the other two for filling up the deeds, counterparts, annexing seals and plots, &c., was more money than the services of those offices absolutely required; I, therefore, have reserved out of each office, one dollar, to answer the purpose of defraying those extraordinary expenses; and the offices are left well worth the acceptance of persons capable of filling them with credit. The number of entries on our book is now upwards of nine hundred, a great part of which was made before I came to this place, when people could make entries without money and without price; the country abounded with land-mongers; since there is two dollars exacted on the entry made, people are not quite so keen, though I make no doubt but all who can comply with the terms will endeavor to save their lands; and as many people who have got entry on the book are now out of the country, and cannot possibly pay up the entry money immediately, I have thought proper to advertise that every person who has made entry on the book, and paid no money, that they come in and pay up the entrance money by the first of April, and take out their warrants of survey, or their several entries will, after that time, be considered as vacated, and liable to be entered by any other person whatever.

The surveyors have now begun to survey and some few people have been desirous of getting out their deeds immediately; but they generally complain of a great scarcity of money, and doubt their being able to take their deeds before next June, or even before next fall; though in a general way, people seem to be well reconciled to the terms, and desirous to take up on them, except some few whom I have been obliged to tamper with, and a small party about Harrodsburg, who, it seems, have been entering into a confederacy not to hold lands on any other terms than those of the first year. As this party is composed of people, in general, of small consequence, and I have taken some steps to remove some of their principal objections, I make no doubt but to do all that way; and for that purpose

-------------------- page 384 --------------------
have formed a design of removing myself, with the office to Harrodsburg, some time in February next, unless I should find, from a trip I purpose immediately taking there, that I cannot do it with safety. The principal man, I am told, at the head of this confederacy, is one Hite; and him I make no doubt but to convince he is in an error. Among other things, one of the great complaints was, tha tthe Proprietors, and a few gentlemen, had engrossed all the lands at and near the Falls of the Ohio, which circumstance I found roused the attention of a number of people of note; I, therefore, found myself under the necessity of putting a stop to all clamours of that kind, by declaring that I would grant no large bodies of land to any person whatever, which lay contiguous to the Falls; which I have done in a solemn manner.

This I am far from thinking will be injurious to the Proprietors, but quite the reverse; and a circumstance which will render more general satisfaction, and be of as much utility to the Colony, as any step heretofore taken. You will observe that I am going on to justify the measure before I inform you what it is. But to be brief, it is this: the Falls, it is certain, is a place which, from its situation, must be the most considerable mart in this part of the world; the lands around are generally rich and fertile, and most agreeably situated; which had occasioned many people to fix their affections on that place. many applications have been made for large grants, at and about that place, and refused. Since which, twenty thousand acres, and upwards, have been entered there for the Company; forty thousand or fifty thousand more, in large tracts, by a few other gentlemen; a partiality was complained of; a general murmuring ensued. Upon considering the matter, I thought it unjust; I thought it a disadvantage to the partners in general, and that some step ought to be taken to pacify the minds of the people. I, therefore entered into a resolution that I would grant to no one man, living within a certain distance of the Falls, more than one thousand acres of land, and that to be settled and improved in a certain space of time, under the penalty of forfeiture; that every person who had more entered than one thousand acres, might retain his one thousand out of which spot he pleased; that the several officers, who have claims there, may each, on application and complying with our terms, be entitled to a one thousand within his survey. That a town be immediately laid out, and a lot reserved to each proprietor, and then the first settlers to take the lots they may choose, enter

-------------------- page 385 --------------------
and improve; which improvement must be done in a certain limited time, or the lot forfeited, and again to be sold, &c. These proposals seem to have given general satisfaction, and every one who had entered large quantities within these limits, gives it up with the greatest alacrity; and I am in hopes it will meet the general approbation of the Company; if so, I shall be happy; if not, I shall be very sorry, though the necessity must justify the measure.

The Falls of Ohio is a place, of all others, within the Colony, will admit of a town, which, from its particular situation, will immediately become populous and flourishing; the land contiguous thereto rich and fertile, and where a great number of gentlemen will most certainly settle, and be the support and protection of a town at that place; a place which should meet with every encouragement, to settle and strengthen, inasmuch as it will, most certainly, be the terrour of our savage enemies, the Kickeboos Indians, who border more nearly on that place than any other part of the Colony; and as I think it absolutely necessary that the aforesaid proposed town, at the Falls, to be laid off the ensuing Spring, if I find it practicable, to raise a party about the 1st of March and go down and lay out the town and stake it off; though this will in a great measure depend upon the future tranquility of our situation between this and then, for I assure you the little attack made upon us by the Indians the 23rd of last month, has made many people, who are ashamed to confess themselves afraid, find out that their affairs on your side the mountains will not dispense with their staying here any longer at present; and I am well convinced, once they get there, that every alarm, instead of precipitating, will procrastinate their return. When I mention the little attack made on the 23d of last month, in this cursory manner, it is because I have heretofore sent you a particular account of that massacre, in a letter of the 27th ult. Though as that letter may fail, and not get to hand, I will now endeavour to briefly relate the circumstances:

On Saturday, about noon, being the 23d, Colonel Campbell, with a couple of lads, (Saunders and McQuinney) went across the river. On the opposite bank they parted. Campbell went up the river, about two hundred Yards, and took up a bottom. The two lads, without a gun, went straight up the hill. About ten minutes after they parted, a gun and a cry of distress was heard, and the alarm given that the Indians had shot Colonel Campbell. We made to his assistance. He came running to the landing, with one shoe off,

-------------------- page 386 --------------------
and said he was fired on by a couple of Indians. A party of men was immediately dispatched, under the command of Colonel Boone, who went out, but could make no other discovery than two Moccasin tracks, whether Indians or not, could not be determined. We had at that time, over the river, hunting &c., ten or a dozen men, in different parties—part, or all of whom, we expected to be killed, if what Colonel Campbell said was true; but that, by many, was doubted. Night came on; several of the hunters returned, but had neither seen nor heard of Indians nor yet of the two lads. We continued in this state of suspence till Wednesday, when a party of men sent out to make search for them, found McQuinney, killed and scalped, in a corn-field, at about three miles distance from town, on the north side of the river. Saunders could not be found, nor has yet been heard of.

On Thursday, a ranging party of fifteen men, under the command of Jesse Benton, was dispatched to scour the woods, twenty or thirty miles round, and see if any further discovery could be made. To those men we gave two shillings per day, and five pounds for every scalp they should produce.

After they went out, our hunters returned, one at a time, till they all came in safe, Sanders excepted, who no doubt has shared McQuinney's fate.

On Sunday the 31st day of the month, our rangers returned, without doing anything more than convincing themselves that the Indians had, immediately on doing the murder, ran off far northward, as they discovered their tracks thirty or forty miles towards the Ohio making that way.

On the above massacre being committed, we began to doubt that there was a body of Indians about, who intended committing outrage on our inhabitants. However, we are perfectly satisfied since, that their number was only six or seven men, who set off from the Shawanee town before the treaty at Fort-Pitt, with an intent, as they termed it, to take a look at the white people on Kentucky; and King Cornstalk, at the treaty, informed the Commissioners on this, and said, for the conduct of these men, before they returned, he could not be responsible for that he did not know but that they might do some mischief, and that if any of them should get killed by the whites, he should take no notice at all of it.

-------------------- page 387 --------------------

For this, we have undoubted authority, and do not, at present, think ourselves in any greater danger here than if the above massacre had not have been committed.

Another circumstance is, that our ammunition grows scant. I do not think there is enough to supply this place till the last of March; supposing we should have no occasion of any to repulse an enemy. If we should, God only [knows] how long it will last.

If any powder can possibly be procured, it would certainly be advisable to do it; if not, some person who can manufacture the materials we have on the way, for the purpose of making powder. Most part of those are at the block-house, or at least within two or three miles of that—the rest in Powell's Valley. Those (if we had any person who knew how properly to manufacture them into gunpowder) it would be necessary to have at this place. We have no such person, and of course they would be of but little service here. Notwithstanding, I should have sent for them before now; but people here expect the most exorbitant wages for trivial services. Not less than a dollar a day will do for anything, which will prevent my sending till I find the necessity greater, or men to be hired cheaper.