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Robert Adams McCabe letterbook

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: MS-0216

Scope and Contents

The letterbook (1829-1838) which forms this collection consists of loose signatures of a bound volume in the handwriting of Robert A. McCabe. Some pages were written on behalf of McCabe when his right hand was paralyzed.

The first entries are scale drawings for a section of a proposed garrison; a barracks room, the roof of the officers quarters, and an upper floor of a blockhouse at Prairie du Chien. Included is an account for the required number of shingles and lumber.

An entry of February 25, 1829 gives variation of the compass at Mackinac Island. There are 31 drawings which show the position of spots on the sun as seen at Fort Mackinac between October 30, 1830 and August 11, 1831.

A hand of an Indian is traced and labeled "Angelico Na-ma-chin, or Left Hand." An English-Objibwa dictionary of 60 pages is recorded which includes rules of vocabulary and grammar.

The daybook includes a compilation of 67 laws written to admiminister all areas of life within the Creek Nation. Serious offenses such as murder, theft, and adultery are listed along with the proscribed punishments. Included are regulations for dealing with debts, drunkedness, and animals as well as rules relating to interaction with white men and/or non-citizens of the Creek Nation. Some Creek Indians were known to be slave-holders and specific rules are given to monitor behavior of slaves and owners. The laws were approved May 25, 1833 and signed by two Creek chiefs, Roley McIntosh and Fushhatche Micco.

McCabe's letters begin on November 20, 1834 while he was a subagent of the Western Creek Agency. At this time, McCabe was at a temporary location at Fort Gibson in what is now Oklahoma. Most of the letters are written to settle his financial accounts with the U.S. Treasury. In a letter of December 28, 1834 written to Major F.W. Armstrong, Bureau of Indian Affairs, McCabe expresses his distress in dealing with the given conditions. He notes the lack of promised equipment and that permanent buildings should have been erected in accordance with treaty stipulations. McCabe hoped for a permanent site. He had tried to acquire land in the possession of Roley McIntosh but had been refused. McCabe felt that promises of supplies and protection made to the Indians by the U.S. Government were not being fulfilled.

In a letter of March 20, 1835 McCabe offered his resignation to Major Armstrong citing his failing health as the reason for leaving the agency. In the letters for the remaining months of 1835, McCabe is trying again to resolve his accounts.

The letterbook concludes with an entry in September 1838 in which McCabe began a brief autobiographical sketch.


  • Creation: 1829-1838


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is housed off-site and requires 48-hours' notice for retrieval. Contact Special Collections for more information.

This collection is open for use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. Researchers are responsible for determining any copyright questions. It is not necessary to seek our permission as the owner of the physical work to publish or otherwise use public domain materials that we have made available for use, unless Johns Hopkins University holds the copyright.

Biographical Note

Robert A. McCabe, an officer in the United States Army and a subagent for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was born in Pennsylvania. In Bryseville Kentucky, 1808, he was recruited by Captain Thornton Posey of the 7th Infantry. McCabe believed he would be appointed a cadet but learned that Captain Posey was not qualified to designate cadets. He received no compensation for his first 11 months in the infantry but decided to remain in the army. In January 1812, he became an ensign in the First Infantry. He received several promotions and, in May 1824, he was promoted to captain.

In 1826, McCabe was assigned to the Fifth Infantry and was involved with the planning of a garrison on a new site at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. Apparently, McCabe had received sufficient education to prepare architectural drawings and to determine precise dimensions for work on the proposed buildings.

In 1829, McCabe was posted at Fort Mackinac, Mackinac Island, Michigan, an area populated by the Objibway Indians of the Chippewa tribe. It is likely that McCabe, as an army officer, represented government interests in the absence of an authorized agent from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. His attention to Indian affairs may have motivated him to compile a dictionary of the Objibwa (Chippewa) language included in his letterbook. McCabe resigned from the army in 1833. In the same year, he may have acted as a recorder when a compilation of laws was written down and agreed upon for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

In 1833, McCabe was employed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Prairie du Chien Agency. He served as subagent at Fort Winnebago which was established for the Winnebago Indians living in the vicinity of the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers. In 1834, he was assigned to the Western Creek Agency whose headquarters was located at various places in the vicinity of Fort Gibson (Oklahoma) and the confluence of the Arkansas, Grand, and Verdigris Rivers. At Fort Gibson, he was responsible for the Creek Indians.

McCabe's health deteriorated and he suffered from a paralysis which affected his right hand. In 1835, he resigned from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and expressed his intention to visit Cameleon Spring, Kentucky to restore his health. He then settled in Blairsville, Indiana County, Pennsylvania.

A biographical note at the front of McCabe's letterbook in a different handwriting, describes McCabe as a sutler to Fort Mackinac, 1836 to 1840. McCabe began an autobiographical sketch in September 1838. He was writing at that time from Blairsville, Pennsylvania and his handwriting reflects the paralysis from which he was suffering. It is unknown when he died.


0.28 Cubic Feet (1 flat box (15.5 x 10.5 x 3 inches))

Language of Materials



Robert A. McCabe, an officer in the United States Army and a subagent for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was born in Pennsylvania in the late 18th century. The letterbook (1829-1838) which forms this collection consists of a bound volume in the handwriting of Robert A. McCabe.


The manuscript was most likely included with a collection of Americana given to the University by J. Thomas Scharf in 1891.

Related Materials

Robert A. McCabe may have been related (an uncle or a cousin) to James D. McCabe whose papers form the collection MS.0080 in Special Collections.

Processing Information

Finding aid prepared by Joan Grattan in May 1989.

A legacy index has been adapted from a previous version of this guide: Armstrong, F. W. 3; Fort Gibson 3; Fort Mackinac (Mackinac Island, Michigan)-- History--Sources 3; Fort Winnebago 1; Indian agents--United States--History 1,2,3; Indians of North America--Slaves, Ownership of 2.3; Law, Creek 2,3; McCabe, Robert A.--Archives 1,2,3; McIntosh, Roley 3; Micco, Fushhatche 3; Ojibwa Language. 2 ; Oklahoma--History--Sources 2,3; Posey, Thornton 1; Sun--Observations--History 2; United States. Bureau of Indian Affairs-- Prairie du Chien Agency. 1,2; United States. Bureau of Indian Affairs-- Western Creek Agency 1,2,3; Wisconsin--History--To 1848 1,2
Robert Adams McCabe letterbook
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

The Sheridan Libraries
Special Collections
3400 N Charles St
Baltimore MD 21218 USA