Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Franklin, 31 March 1790

To Benjamin Franklin

New York 31st. March 1790


Encroachments being made on the Eastern Limits of the United States by Settlers under the British Government, pretending that it is the Western, and not the Eastern River of the Bay of Passamaquoddy, which was designated by the Name of St. Croix in the Treaty of Peace with that Nation, I have to beg the Favor of you to communicate any Facts which your Memory or Papers may enable you to recollect, and which may indicate the true River the Commissioners on both sides had in their View, to establish as the Boundary between the two Nations. It will be of some Consequence to be informed by what Map they traced the Boundary. I have the Honor to be with the greatest Respect Sir Your most obt. & most h’ble Servt.,

Th Jefferson

RC (DLC); all save signature in hand of a clerk (Remsen); at foot of text: “Dr. Franklin.” Dft (DLC); in TJ’s hand except for date-line, a correction at foot of text from TJ’s addition of “Mr. Lawrence” to “Henry Laurens Esqr.,” and docketing on verso (“To Dr. Franklin & H. Laurens Esqr. March 31. 1790.”), all of which are in hand of a clerk (Remsen). FC (DNA: RG 59; PCC No. 120). Not recorded in SJL. As indicated in the docketing on Dft and a similarly-worded caption on FC, this appeared to be a joint letter to Franklin and Laurens, but actually, as proved by the text and salutation of RC, separate letters were sent. That directed to Laurens has not been found. On 20 Apr. 1790, after receiving Franklin’s response of 8 Apr., TJ addressed letters to John Adams and John Jay identical with that above: Adams’ RC is in MHi, in a clerk’s hand except for signature; FC in DNA: RG 59, PCC, No. 120 has a caption reading: “To John Jay and John Adams Esqrs.” Not recorded in SJL.

TJ found on arriving in New York that Washington had already transmitted to Congress a letter from John Hancock of 10 Feb. 1790 and its enclosed resolution and sundry documents pertaining to the eastern boundary of the United States (Washington to Hancock, 22 Feb. 1790; and to the senate, 18 Feb. 1790; Writings, ed. Fitzpatrick, xxxi, 12, 13–4; DNA: RG 59, MLR; the originals were deposited in the office of the secretary of state to await TJ’s arrival; Lear to Alden, 19 Feb. 1790; same). But the particular stimulus for the above letter was probably an extract from a Boston paper that appeared in the (N.Y.) Daily Advertiser for 29 Mch. 1790, stating that, of the three rivers emptying into Passamaquoddy bay, the eastern one was always called St. Croix by the French and Indians, the middle one Shooduck, adding: “Govr Bernard’s survey confirms this fact, which was performed by Mr. Mitchell, by whose maps, in forming the treaty of peace, the boundary line between this Commonwealth and Nova-Scotia was fixed. Since the peace, the subjects of the British King have taken possession of all the lands between the St. Croix and Shooduck rivers, a tract nearly as large as the state of New Hampshire, and now hold possession of the same under the pretence that the Shooduck is the true river St. Croix. They also claim all of the islands in the Bay of Passamaquoddy, although many of them lay several miles to the westward even of the river which they called the boundary. They have offered many insults to the inhabitants of these islands, taken several vessels, and committed other outrages that must oblige us speedily to adopt measures to prevent such insults in future.” This also appeared in the New-York Journal, 15 Apr. 1790. See Franklin to TJ, 8 Apr. 1790.

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