Josiah Harmar papers  1681-1937
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Collection Scope and Content Note

The Josiah Harmar papers contain 14 linear feet of material, spanning 1681 to 1937, with the bulk concentrated around 1775-1810. The collection includes a huge variety of document types, including correspondence and letter books, military documents, orderly books, financial and land documents, school notebooks, and diaries. It covers many aspects of Harmar's career, including his Revolutionary War service (1775-1783), duties in the Northwest Territory (1784-1791), and tenure with the Pennsylvania militia (1793-1799), with some documentation of the activities of his wife and four children and a few other descendants.

The Chronological Correspondence and Documents series (Volumes 1-24 and 45) makes up the largest part of the collection and primarily contains incoming letters and documents relating to Harmar's military career, and to a lesser extent, to his family and personal life. A few scattered, outgoing letters by Harmar are also present. The pre-1775 materials in the series are small in number and relate mainly to the land and property holdings of the Jenkins family, who were relatives of Harmar's wife, Sarah (Jenkins) Harmar. These include wills, inventories, sketches of property, and land indentures, several of which pertain to lands in Pennsylvania.

A few dozen items in the series relate to various aspects of the Revolutionary War and Harmar's service in it. These include muster rolls of Harmar's company in the Pennsylvania Line (February 19, 1776; June 22, 1776), an account of clothing delivered to the company (March 18, 1777), a copy of Baron Friedrich von Steuben's instructions to the American Army at Valley Forge (March 23, 1778) and a set of "Maneuvers" for April 13, 1782. Also present are incoming letters to Harmar from other Continental Army officers, including Major Thomas L. Moore, Brigadier General William Irvine, and Colonel Francis Johnston. In a letter of September 30, 1781, Moore expressed nervousness about a potential British attack on Philadelphia and concern about yellow fever, "which at present rages in New York." Other letters discuss the British interception and publication of American correspondence ([before September 10, 1781]) and provide updates on happenings in Philadelphia. An outgoing letter from Harmar to Irvine contains Harmar's reaction to the death of the aunt who raised him: "I have lost my best Friend" (October 6, 1780). Several additional incoming letters reference the negotiations to end the war, including the appointment of Richard Oswald as British peace commissioner (December 25, 1782). Another item mentions the logistics of bringing soldiers home from South Carolina (May 22, 1783). Also included are a letter by John Dickinson, praising the officers of the Pennsylvania Line (May 22, 1783), and Nathanael Greene's signed certification that Harmar acted as adjutant general to the Southern army (May 9, 1783). Although the series contains the certificate appointing Harmar as courier of the ratified Treaty of Paris (January 14, 1784) and several related documents, his journey to Paris is not otherwise referenced.

From 1784 to 1791, when Harmar acted as commander of the Army, the series contains ample detail on military activities, strategy, and logistics; encounters with Native Americans in present-day Ohio and Indiana; dealings with white settlers in the Northwest Territory; the construction of forts; and other topics. Several items cover the negotiations of the Treaty of Fort McIntosh in January 1785, including preparations for the meeting (December 17, 1784), Harmar's brief description of the progress made in negotiations (January 10, 1785), a copy of the treaty (January 21, 1785), and an inventory of United States property at the fort. A few letters mention the difficulties of leading a poorly paid and largely untrained force, including one by Captain Derick Lane, in which he lamented the poor pay of soldiers and noted that it was "impossible" to keep troops in service for any significant length of time (March 15, 1785).

Another theme of the series is the dealings between the army and the white settlers who attempted to settle on prohibited land. A series of letters in April 1785 between Harmar and a group of settlers west of the Beaver River (a tributary of the Ohio River near the present-day Pennsylvania-Ohio border) sheds light on this squatter settlement, and includes the pleas and signatures of several dozen men who claim to lack "homes or lands to move to" if evicted (April 15, 1785). Although the settlers admitted their mistake in a letter of April 8, 1785 ("We have erred in settling her without the advise [sic] and consent of government"), Harmar maintained his insistence that they remove themselves (April 21, 1785). Also included are the comments of Ensign John Armstrong, who wrote, "[I]f the Honorable Congress, don't fall on some speedy method to prevent people from settling on the Lands of the United States, West of the Ohio--that country will soon be inhabited by a banditi whose actions are a disgrace to human nature" (April 13, 1785). Letters in the series also refer to Native American responses to settlement; Captain David Luckett wrote on July 10, 1785, that two chiefs, "[Cayasutu] and the Corn Planter" had complained about the settlers' encroachment on native lands. In a copy of a speech written by Wyandot chiefs Abraham Coon and Massayeh Haire in Sandusky to Richard Butler, they warned him to "keep back your people from coming this Way" (October 28, 1786).

The collection also includes approximately 130 letters containing instructions to Harmar from Secretary of War Henry Knox, 1785-1791, setting forth many aspects of the government's policy for the Northwest Territory. His letters concern army administration, discipline, land policy, incidents involving Native Americans, the recruitment of troops, traders, settlers, supplies, and numerous other issues.

A few noteworthy examples of items by Knox include:

  • Knox's letter to Harmar concerning "Moravian Indians," whom Congress will allow to "return to their former settlement on the Muskingum" and will provide with corn (August 24, 1786).
  • A letter containing orders that the militia "be drawn from the nearest Counties of Kentuckey [sic] to rendezvous at Fort Washington" and noting that the "peace of the frontiers" is a "great object" (June 7, 1790).
  • Knox's letter suggesting that Colonel Benjamin Logan lead an expedition against Native Americans and noting his "powerful influence over the conduct of the militia" (September 3, 1790).

Many additional letters written to Harmar by various army officers and merchants relate incidents concerning Iroquois, Mohawk, Cherokee, Wyandot, Delaware, and other Native American groups.

A few items of particular interest include:

  • Merchant Obidiah Robin's description of relations between Wyandot Indians and whites near Tuscarawas, Ohio (May 17, 1785).
  • Colonel Richard Butler's address to Seneca chief Corn Planter, which references Joseph Brant and his recent return from England, as well as relations between the Shawnee and Six Nations (September 10, 1786).
  • The answer of the Wyandot and Delaware Indians to a speech by Richard Butler, which thanks the Americans for appointing him "to take Care of us" and states that the western Native American tribes "would Whip us Very Sorely" if given the chance (September 23, 1786).
  • An incident described in two letters by Captain William Ferguson (September 13-14, 1786) and Obidiah Robins (September 25, 1786), in which Cherokee warriors assembled at the "Shawana Towns" burned several white female prisoners to death.
  • A letter by Thomas Hutchins, which notes that unspecified Native Americans stole eight horses and "marked the figure of a Man, without the head, on the side of Tree…which indicates their having killed a Man and taken his Scalp" (November 6, 1786).

Letters and documents in the series also shed light on the Harmar Campaign in the fall of 1790. On October 1, 1790, Arthur St. Clair, governor of the Northwest Territory, discussed the "object" of such an expedition: "to chastise the Indian Nations who have of late been so troublesome to the Frontier, of Virginia, and upon the Ohio River; and to impress proper Notions upon the others with respect to the United States." Several letters by Jean Francois Hamtramck concern his expedition against Native American villages on the Vermilion, Eel, and Wabash Rivers, intended to distract native forces from Harmar's own operations. These include his discussion of his preparation and goals for the mission (September 21, 1790), as well as a lengthy account of his actions near the Vermilion River (November 2, 1790). One of the few references in the series to the events of Harmar's Defeat also comes from Hamtramck, in a letter requesting more information on rumors he heard from "two frenchmen who came from the Weiya" that Harmar's forces had suffered a major blow (November 28, 1790).

After the failure of his campaign, Harmar continued to receive letters concerning news of the frontier and requests for help from settlers. Among these are a petition from the inhabitants of Clarksville, Ohio, reporting problems with Native Americans and asking for protection (December 3, 1790), and a notification that the inhabitants of Dunlap's Station planned to abandon the settlement because of an attack on their livestock and grain by natives (January 17, 1790). In another letter, the denizens of Bethany, Ohio, requested army protection and reported the recent killing of Abel Cook by Native Americans (February 28, 1791). Other letters concern Harmar's culpability in Harmar's Defeat; one item from John Armstrong notes, "You are censured for making detachments and the loss of some men improperly attributed to this cause" (March 1, 1791). Another from Major William Ferguson states, "Some have reported that you was intoxicated the greater part of the time, and others that misconduct had marked the whole of your expedition" (March 28, 1791). Also included is the March 18, 1791, appointment of Arthur St. Clair to succeed Harmar.

Later items in the series illuminate Harmar's experiences as adjutant general of the Pennsylvania Militia (1793-1799), and his retirement at his estate, The Retreat, from 1799 until his death in 1813. They also document some aspects of his family life. Sarah Jenkins Harmar took charge of the finances and management of her husband’s Ohio and Pennsylvania lands after his death in 1813; approximately 15 letters to and from various agents (including John B. Alexander and John Reynolds) concern renters, taxes, and other administrative details. In the mid-1820s, Sarah’s sons, Josiah, Jr., and William, provided increasing assistance with land management responsibilities. The collection also contains correspondence between Sarah Harmar and sons during their residence in Ohio, regarding the business of her land holdings in the 1830s and 1840s.

Fourteen large deeds (1682-1786) pertain to lands in Pennsylvania. Additional items in this series are commissions, passports, newspapers and newspaper clippings. For a list of newspapers represented, see "Additional Descriptive Data."

The Diaries series (Volume 46) contains three volumes of diary entries and a set of loose diary pages by Josiah Harmar. Altogether, they span November 11, 1778-February 14, 1800, and provide an excellent record of his activities in both the Revolutionary War and the Northwest Indian War. The Revolutionary War diary covers November 11, 1778-September 2, 1780, and contains Harmar's account of duties, troop movements, and major events during his military service in New York and New Jersey, including the Battle of Stony Point (July 16, 1779) and an attack on a blockhouse at Bull's Ferry (July 21, 1780). Of the latter event, he noted that several Americans "were kill'd inside the Abbatis" and that the British had the blockhouse "mann'd with about Seventy Negros, Tories & Vagabonds." He also wrote about the drunkenness of the Irish on St. Patrick's Day (March 18, 1780), sowing lettuce in his "Camp Garden" (April 6, 1780), and a quickly-quelled mutiny within the Connecticut Line (May 25, 1780). Of interest are Harmar's comments on Benedict Arnold, for whose 1779 court martial Harmar had been ordered to serve: "General Arnold objected against General Irvine, Colonel Butler and myself, at the same Time expressing great personal Regard for us, but without assigning his Reasons" (June 1, 1779). Two additional notebooks are "weather diaries" of meteorological conditions at Fort Washington, June 1, 1790-September 25, 1791.

Of particular importance are approximately 75 sheets containing brief diary entries for August 8, 1783, to February 14, 1800. Harmar folded the sheets into pocket-sized pages, on which he recorded observations on military actions, encounters with Native Americans, weather conditions, and other topics. The diary opens with his preparations for a journey to France as the courier of the ratified Treaty of Paris; entries for the summer of 1784 describe his travel across the Atlantic, a visit to the Palace of Versailles, and attendance of several theater performances. After Harmar became commander of the army, he primarily recorded activities around forts in Pennsylvania and Ohio, as well as information about his campaign against the Miami in the fall of 1790. He most commonly wrote about troop and Native American movements, hunting, crossing rivers, and the arrival of provisions and clothing. On March 31, 1785, he wrote that he had sent Ensign John Armstrong to dispossess squatters on land across the river from Wheeling [present day West Virginia].

A few other entries of note:

  • On May 13, 1785, Harmar noted the capture of a Delaware Indian who had stabbed four men (killing one) near Pittsburgh.
  • On March 7, 1787, he wrote that Cornplanter and three other chiefs had visited him at Fort Steuben before "setting out for the Six Nations."
  • On July 27, 1787, Harmar described a fatal attack on "Capt. Mason's boat" on the White River by Piankashaw Indians (July 27, 1787).
  • On March 31, 1788, he wrote "Old Captain Pipe with several of his Nation arrived this day--they are encamped about a mile from hence up the Muskingum."
  • On October 18, 1789, he noted that the state of Pennsylvania had appointed commissioners "to purchase from the Indians the triangular tract of Land adjoining Lake Erie."

The unbound diary pages also provide the collection's most complete description of Harmar's Campaign and Harmar's Defeat. On October 18, 1790, Harmar noted that two Native Americans had been killed and scalped by "the Cavalry" near Chillicothe, Ohio. Several days later, he wrote that his forces had "completed the destruction of the Maumee Towns," and he had detached Major John P. Wyllys with 60 federal and 300 militia troops "in hopes he may fall in with some of the Savages" (October 21, 1790). On October 22, 1790, he gave an account of the Battle of Pumpkin Fields, stating that the detachment under Wyllys and Colonel John Hardin "performed wonders altho' they were terribly cut up." He called the deaths of several officers, including Wyllys, a "heavy blow," but noted as a consolation that the men had "sold themselves very dear." On November 3, 1790, he further reflected on the losses suffered during the defeat. Later diary entries pertain mainly to the weather, activities such as fishing and hunting trips, and other routine pursuits.

The Letter Books series contains nine volumes of bound, outgoing correspondence, written by Harmar to various recipients. The volumes, which are lettered chronologically, A-I, span January 19, 1784, to January 7, 1797. The series opens with an account of Harmar's visit to France in 1784, as courier of the ratified Treaty of Paris, including his delay in sailing from New York, comments on the journey to Europe, and some references to the Treaty of Paris and British politics. Thereafter, the letters mainly concern official military matters and business; Harmar addressed most of them to other army officers, such as Secretary of War Henry Knox; Captains Walter Finney, David Zeigler, and John Francis Hamtramck; and Major John Hardin. Harmar also wrote occasionally to surveyors, merchants, and land speculators in present-day Ohio.

The letters concern a variety of topics, including military strategy, troop movements and distribution, provisioning, disagreements between military officers, and reports of intelligence. They also reference encounters with the Wyandot, Delaware, Mingo, Miami, and Chickasaw, and several unspecified groups of Native Americans. Two different accounts of Colonel Logan’s 1786 expedition mention the imprisonment of Native American women and children (December 7, 1786; December 16, 1786). Harmar variously discussed the make-up of his forces (October 11, 1786), the arrangement of his troops between Fort Vincennes and headquarters (August 18, 1790), strategies for dealing with old and unfit soldiers (August 27, 1790), and the importance of punctual payments in ensuring military discipline (September 2, 1790). The letter books contain a gap between September 29, 1790, and November 12, 1790, and thus do not directly mention the events of Harmar's Defeat. After Harmar's resignation from the service, the letters become much less frequent, but contain references to the death of John Hardin (September 6, 1792) and the printing of Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben's "Manoeuvres" by "Mr. Cist" of Philadelphia (August 20, 1793).

The Bound Military Volumes series (Volumes 31-32) contains 12 books kept by Harmar between 1775 and 1788.

The muster rolls and letter book volume 31 (B) includes Harmar's letter to Anthony Wayne, dated January 20, 1778, in which he requested clothing for the men of his regiment, camped near Valley Forge, whom he described as "almost naked and in want of every necessary." The orderly books in Volume 31 contain orders at the regimental and battalion level for 1778-1783, and concern military discipline, placement of troops, courts martial, appointments, and routine matters.

All the books pertain to the First American Regiment, which Harmar commanded. Volume B primarily records garrison orders for Fort McIntosh, 1784-1786, while the other volumes include more general regimental orders.

The Financial Documents series (Volumes 25-27, 33-34, 38-42) contains bills, receipts, account books, bank books, ledgers, and other items relating to financial matters. Spanning 1742-1911 (bulk 1780-1840), the series brings together financial information on Josiah Harmar, as well as many other Harmar family members, including his wife, children, and grandchildren. Many of the volumes contain military spending, as well as more personal financial transactions. See "Detailed Box and Folder Listing" for more information.

The School Books series (Volumes 35-37) contains 35 exercise and drawing books kept by members of the Harmar family during their time as students. The books, which span ca. 1790s-1830s, cover many subjects, including arithmetic, history, art, English, French, and penmanship. Many of the volumes belonged to Harmar's sons, Charles and Josiah, Jr. One book, dated 1766, contains manuscript copies of stories from Roman history by Josiah Harmar.

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