Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from Medad Mitchell, [9 February 1792]

From Medad Mitchell1

[Philadelphia, February 9, 1792]


Having been Employed in the Illinois Country last Autumn, beg leave to lay before You some information which I acquaired relative to the commerce of that Country. Perhaps it woud be Nessesary first to give you some Idea of the Number of Inhabitants of several places, since they differ very materialy from the account given by Hutchens description2 of that country. I shall begin with St Louis on the Spanish Side—it contains about 300 good stone houses—has a small garison—a strong Castle, and a tolerable wall nearly round the Town. The no. of the Militia is computed at 500—it is one of finest inland towns I ever saw. The Situation is delightful—it is nine miles below the confluence of the Missouri & Missisippi—St Genevieve is 60 Miles below St Louis is an inconsiderable Town only famous for its Salt Works—Kaskaskias opposite St Genevieve, it contains about 80 stone buildings and a small Church—about one hundred men and a Large Proportion of Negroes. St Phillips is of little consequence at present. Fort Chartres has been declining—very few inhabitants. Cahokia is a fine Town it is Situated 3 Miles below St Louis on the opposite Side, it contains 100 Stone houses about the same no. of Inhabitants capable of Bearing arms. Belle Fountaine lies 26 Miles from the Mississippie East from Cahokia—it is composed of Americans, about 30 Families.

The commerce of this Country is immense, when we consider the no. of Inhabitants. It is the opinion of Mr. John Edgar3 at Kaskaskias, that the consumtion of English property alone amounts to 250,000£ annually. The Missouri is navigated near 1200 Miles among various Tribes of Savages—it employs annually from 50 to 100 boats. The whole of the Mississippi from the Natches to its source is supply’d by Canadaian Merchts. Ouiscansing4 & Illinois Rivers are at this moment have an immense quantity of British merchandize on their Banks. The Traders were impressed with the Idea that St Clair’s5 arms were Terrible. They in consequence of it, pushed Large quantities of goods on the Illinois to Supply those who might retreat there from the fury of the incensed eagle. When we consider the vast No. of Savages on the Banks of those great Rivers, that are supply’d from canada and the baneful influence they never fail to gain, wherever they are permited to have a commercial intercourse—I think every man interested for his country would wish to put a check to their progress, and turn the channel of commerce, trifling as it may appear, to the advantage of the Revenue of the U⟨nited S⟩ or at least to the citizens of America. I shall next endeavour to show you the method which I beg leave to propose for putting an effectual stop to a contraband trade between canada and the Missisisppi River—as there is only two places by which they can possibly advance into that country—one by the Illinois & the other by the Ouiscansing both have 12 Miles Land cariage, an armed boat in each with a small tender to run in Shallow water woud in my opinion be a sufficient force to put a final Stop to British Influence in that part of America. Michlamachina6 a flourishing Town at the head of Lake Michigan must be intirely ruined—and shoud a town be erected at the mouth of Illinois, no doubt woud transfer their property to it.

The Boats that will be Nessesary to answer every purpose for succeeding in an enterprize of the Kind I Lay before You. must be light Keel Boats manned with 18 men & 16 oars—plenty of canvass—two ⟨br⟩ass swivels—a few Blunderbusses—and each man a rifle. There must be a cover made for the Men to row under bullet proof—the men must be chosen among the best—aproved courage & Fidelity. Such men can be had for 8 Dollars per Month. A small light rowing Skiff with four oars & a cockswain to run in Shallow water where a Large boat cant swim. A man must be acquainted with inland navigation to be capable of traversing the Mississippi—it is a very dangerous River to those not acquainted with it. There must be a block house built on an Island in each river to prevent being cut off or Surprized. I hope Sir that You’l not be offended at the bold Language which I make use of. I would only wish to be understood as humbly offering my opinion to the first character in America, from whose benevolence many have experienced the smiles of Fortune, That you may Long live To enjoy the confidence of Your country is   the Sincere Wish of Your   humble Servt.

M Mitch⟨ell⟩

Alexr. Hamilton Esqr.
Secretary of the Treasury.

NB all dry goods consumed in Illinois country are at present brot from canada the expence of a voyge (being 3 Months) and from New Orleans to St Louis is very considerable and are as high at New Orleans as at Ft Pitt.

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1Medad Mitchell (who was sometimes called Thomas Mitchell) was a surveyor and adventurer. He subsequently became a free-lance agent on the Spanish-American frontier. It was in this capacity that in 1793 he relayed to Josef de Viar and Josef de Jaudenes, the Spanish commissioners in Philadelphia, information he had obtained from French officers in New York concerning the Clark-Genet negotiations for an expedition against Spanish possessions in Louisiana and was sent by the commissioners to carry news of this plot to the Spanish governor at New Orleans.

In a statement to Manuel Gayoso de Lemos, commandant at Natchez, presumably written in the hope of obtaining permanent Spanish employment, Mitchell gave the following autobiographical information: “I was born in the State of Connecticut. My father was a farmer, and at the early age of fifteen I entered the field as a Soldier—here the Baron [von Steuben] took notice of me. Two Years I was employ’d by him, as an overseer to his house & plantation. After which time, his Aid de Camps leaving him, he treated me as his companion and gave me an education which might enable me to gain a Livelihood.… Upon Leaving him I entered the service of New York as Surveyor. I served them seven months—at the expiration of which time, I returned to his house and practiced drawing Military plans five Months.… on the arrival of the french Emigrants, adventurers in the Scioto Company, Colonel William Duer whereof was Superintendant, Who Employed me as Agent, to Suply with provisions & Quarters for said Emigrants, for four Months.… I received the appointment of Comissary—but previous to this I was to have acted as Surveyor to the Company. I continued however in that Capacity Untill the 1st February 1791 When I resigned it—And returned to New York—for a Settlement Which unluckily I did not get. Colonel Duer then Appointed me Surveyor Genl. to the Scioto Company—And sent me imediately to fort Washington With A Supply of money to his agent, as he was Contractor for the Army, and t’was much wanted.… Resting a few days at fort Washington, I returned up the River to Galipolis, to commence Surveying. But a few days after, an Order came from Colonel Duer to go to the Illinois Country to Survey one Million Acres of Land.… I did not Compleat the Survey And returned to Philadelphia by the Ohio as quick as Possible. Made my report accordingly—discouraged the Attempt of making a Town, or at Least to let it be a Secondary Object. But to push a very Large Store to the Illinois Country as quick as possibly might be done Sufficient to Supply the whole Trade of the country, of which I made a Compleat Map. And to put Armed Boats in the Ouisconsing & Illinois Rivers, to check the Trade of Canada into the Mississippi. But a Want of knowledge, concerning this Country—And believing the trade not to be so Valuable as I represented my Plan did not Succeed. I Laid this plan before Secretary Hamilton in Philadelphia—where 1 remained Six Weeks by the order of Colonel Duer Waiting for him—had he been there it most undoubtedly would have suceeded. At the expiration of Six Weeks I went to New York, in expectation of meeting with a Liberal reward for all my toil. But the day before I arrived Colonel Duer failed, to the Amount of 500.000. My Situation now became deplorable.… Some few days after, I embarked for England … I was employed by the Vice Governor & directors of the National Manufactary. I Compleated my business, and returned in less than Eighty Days. I then waited in New York near eight Weeks, for a Settlement—but from a confusion in every branch of business … I was not in that time able to get a Settlement. I got what I coud and set out for this Country.… I waited on Colonel Hamilton Secretary of the Treasury And Solicited a Letter to the Spanish Consul. He told me he woud wait upon the Consul himself. By which means I got a Letter to his Excellency Baron De Carondelet.… I observed in the former part of my Narrative that I was born in Connecticut. But I did not mention that my Father removed while I was young into the State of Massachusetts Bay” (ADS, Papeles de Cuba, 208A, Archivo General de Indias, Seville).

For a photostat of the document quoted above and for additional information on Mitchell, the editors are indebted to Professor Abraham P. Nasatir, San Diego State College, San Diego, California.

For additional references to Mitchell, see Frederick Jackson Turner, “Selections from the Draper Collection in the Possession of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, to Elucidate the Proposed French Expedition under George Rogers Clark Against Louisiana, in the Years 1793–94,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1896 (Washington, 1897), I, 1027–32; Abraham P. Nasatir, Before Lewis and Clark (St. Louis, 1952), I, 79–80, 84, 150; Louis Houck, The Spanish Regime in Missouri (Chicago, 1929), II, 4–8.

2Thomas Hutchins had been appointed Geographer to tile United States of America in 1781 (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (Washington, 1904–1937). description ends ; XX, 475, 738). The description to which Mitchell is referring is contained in A Topographical Description of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and North Carolina (London, 1778).

3John Edgar, former captain of a British vessel on the Great Lakes, was engaged in trade in 1779 when he was arrested and imprisoned by the British on charges of corresponding with Americans. He escaped from prison in the fall of 1781 and delivered information concerning a Vermont conspiracy to Governor George Clinton of New York, for which he was later rewarded by Congress with land in Kaskaskia in the Illinois country. According to an affidavit taken from Edgar by Robert Yates and Richard Morris, several Vermont leaders, including Ira Allen and Jonas Fay, were offering to accept British rule over Vermont in exchange for food, payment, and clothes for the Vermont troops and a stipulation that the troops would retain their Vermont officers and would not be deployed outside Vermont (George Clinton, Public Papers of George Clinton [Albany, 1904], VII, 606–07).

At the time this letter was written Edgar was serving as chief justice of the court of Kaskaskia and as judge of the Court of Quarter Sessions and of the Court of Common Pleas.

4The Wisconsin River.

5Major General Arthur St. Clair.


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