Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from Arthur St. Clair, 25 May 1791

From Arthur St. Clair

Fort Washington1 [Northwest Territory] May 25th. 1791


A few days ago Mr. Ludlow presented to me the Instructions he had received from you2 for compleating the Surveys of certain Tracts of Land in this Territory contracted for with the late Board of Treasury and requested an Escort of Troops to enable him to comply with those Instructions. The situation of Affairs, and the present weakness of this Garrison put it out of my power to furnish him with the necessary Escort; but, on perusing the Instructions, to my astonishment, I found that the purchase made by Judge Symmes3 did not extend farther up the Ohio than twenty Miles from the mouth of the Great Miami River.4 He had given out and published indeed to the World, that he had contracted for all the Lands, to a certain distance northerly, which were contained between the little and the great Miamies as eastern and western Boundaries. On my first arrival in this part of the Territory I found the Judge here, and a number of People settled already, to whom he had sold Lands far to the eastward of the twenty Miles.5 It never could have entered into my Head that any person, much less one invested with a respectable public Character, had published a falsehood, was persisting in it, and availing himself of the pecuniary advantages flowing from it. The Settlement therefore met with all the Countenance which I could give it, which I conceived to be a duty I then owed to the adventurers and to the united States; but I see I was wrong, and find myself in a very disagreeable predicament, having cloathed many Persons with civil and military authority, whom it was more properly my duty to have removed, and so far sanctioned their intrusion on the Lands of the united States. As soon as possible after this discovery I wrote a Letter to Judge Symmes of which the enclosure No 16 is a copy and No. 27 his Answer, which I received this day. The Answer does not appear in any wise satisfactory, for it is clear that, tho’ there had been a proposal for a Contract different from that entered into, it had never been more than a proposal, and he has been selling the Lands of the united States upon the little Miami, which he had not Contracted for, to pay for Lands his Agents had contracted for in his name upon the great Miami. As soon as it is practicable Mr. Ludlow shall be enabled to fulfill your Orders. In the mean time I am much at a loss what Course I ought to hold with those Settlers, neither do I know very well where to address myself for Directions. If it is a Business that falls within the Sphere of your Office I shall be happy to receive, and carry into execution any which you may think proper to give. If it does not fall within your Office, may I request the favour of your friendly Advice. It seems to me that all I can do at present, and it may be proper to do it, is to publish a Proclamation warning all Persons against further intrusion, and permitting the occupancy of the present Settlers until the Pleasure of Congress shall be known.8 To remove those if it could be done, would be ruin to them, and they are innocent not wilful trespassers; and to revoke the Commissions that have been granted would leave them in a State of Anarchy. Excuse I entreat you the Liberty I have taken to trouble you with the Dilemma I am caught in and believe me with every Sentiment of Respect and Esteem   Sir   Your very humble Servant

Ar. St. Clair

The honorable Alexander Hamilton
Secretary of the Treasury.

ALS, RG 59, Territorial Papers: Northwest Territory, Vol. I, National Archives; ADf, Public Archives of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario. This letter was enclosed in St. Clair to H, July 21, 1791.

1Fort Washington was at Cincinnati.

2H’s letter of instruction to Israel Ludlow, a New Jersey surveyor and land speculator, dated November 20, 1790, had not been found when Volume VII of The Papers of Alexander Hamilton was published. It has subsequently been located and reads as follows:


“I have concluded to commit to y⟨ou⟩ the making of the Surveys which still remain to be made towards a complete demarkation of the boundaries of the several Tracts of land which have been contracted for with the persons respectively denominated The Ohio Company, The Scioto Company, and the Miami Company.

“You have already had from the late Geographer a description of the external boundary of the two Tracts contracted for with the two first mentioned companies, and you have already completed the Survey of that external boundary. But the lines of division between them are still to be surveyed. This forms a part of the business you are to execute. The following is the description of the boundary of the Ohio tract.

“‘All the certain tract or parcel of Land beginning at the place where the Western boundary line of the seventh range of Townships laid out by the authority of Congress intersects the Ohio and extending hence along that River South Westerly to the place where the Western line of the seventeenth range of Townships to be laid out according to the Land Ordinance of the twentieth day of May in the year of our Lord One thousand seven hundred and eighty five would intersect the said river and extending thence northerly on the western boundary line of the said seventeenth range of Townships so far that a line drawn due east to the Western boundary line of the Said seventeenth range of Townships will with the other lines of this tract include One Million and a half of Acres of land ⟨b⟩esides the several Townships Lots and parcels of Land herein after mentioned to be reserved or appropriated to specific purposes, thence running east to the Western bounds of the seventh range of townships and thence southerly along those bounds to the place of beginning.’

“The lines of division alluded to, as those requiring to be surveyed are—First, that which begins at the point of intersection of the Western line of the seventeenth range of Townships with the Ohio and extends along that Western line Northerly so far that a line drawn due East to the Western boundary line of the seventh range of Townships will with the other lines of the above described tract include a Million and a half of Acres, and secondly the last mentioned line vizt. the one to be drawn from the Northerly termination of the first line to the Western boundary of the seventh range of Townships.

“The survey and demarkation of these two lines will complete the survey of the external boundaries of the two tracts of the Scioto and Ohio Companies.” (Extract, RG 217, Miscellaneous Treasury Accounts, 1790–1894, Account No. 2472, National Archives.)

Ludlow’s appointment was made in obedience to the following congressional resolution of August 12, 1790:

“Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That all surveys of lands in the Western Territory, made under the direction of the late geographer, Thomas Hutchins, agreeable to contracts for part of the said lands made with the late board of treasury, be returned to, and perfected by, the Secretary of the Treasury, so as to complete the said contracts: and that the said secretary be, and is hereby, authorized to direct the making and completing any other surveys that remain to be made, so as to comply on the part of the United States with the several contracts aforesaid, in conformity to the terms thereof.” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America (Boston, 1845). description ends 187.)

3John Cleves Symmes was appointed judge in the Northwest Territory in 1788.

4This was the Miami Company Purchase. See Jonathan Dayton to H, May 29, 1790. The eastern and northern limits of the grant became a matter of conflicting claims and extended dispute.

5Although Symmes had proposed to buy the whole Ohio River frontage between the two Miami Rivers, the Treasury Board in 1788 placed the eastern boundary of his purchase about fourteen miles west of the Little Miami River. Being unaware of this limitation, Symmes regarded the area as his property and sold twenty thousand acres of it in 1788 to Benjamin Stites, who founded the first settlement in the Miami country.

6St. Clair to Symmes, May 23, 1791 (Carter, Territorial Papers description begins Clarence E. Carter, ed., The Territorial Papers of the United States (Washington, 1934– ). description ends , II, 342–43). In this letter St. Clair wrote that he had learned from Ludlow’s instructions that the Miami Purchase did not include the land east of a point twenty miles from the Great Miami River and that he intended to carry out his instructions to reserve part of the land in dispute for a military reservation.

7Symmes to St. Clair, May 23, 1791 (Carter, Territorial Papers description begins Clarence E. Carter, ed., The Territorial Papers of the United States (Washington, 1934– ). description ends , II, 343–47). In this letter Symmes, while admitting that there was some confusion concerning the eastern boundary of his purchase, based his claim to the disputed area on his original proposal to buy one million acres. Symmes alleged that part of the confusion arose from the Treasury Board’s ignorance of Ohio geography and that the board would never have limited him to a twenty-mile frontage on the Ohio if it had had any knowledge of the country. He asked that no steps be taken until he could return to North Bend and consult his papers. Finally, he offered to the Government the unsold land at Fort Washington.

8St. Clair’s proclamation is dated July 19, 1791. It is printed in Smith, St. Clair Papers description begins William Henry Smith, ed., The St. Clair Papers: The Life and Public Services of Arthur St. Clair (Cincinnati, 1882). description ends , II, 211–12.

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