Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to William Blount, 26 March 1791

To William Blount

Philadelphia Mar. 26. 1791.


Having in charge to lay before Congress a general statement of all the lands subject to their disposal, it becomes necessary for me, so far as respects the proceedings of North-Carolina, to draw on a map the line which forms the Eastern boundary of the cession of that state to Congress, and then to specify all the private claims within the cession which form exceptions to the general right of Congress to grant the lands ceded. Three classes of these exceptions have been stated to me. 1. The returns from Armstrong’s office. 2. The claims of the officers of the N. Carolina line to the lands reserved for them on the Cumberland. 3. a grant of 25,000 acres to Genl. Greene. Your knowlege of this dividing line, and of the three classes of exceptions before stated, and perhaps of other exceptions quite unknown to me, together with a conviction that you will readily lend your aid towards furnishing any information which may prevent the citizens of your territory or of N. Carolina from being involved in litigations by having their lands sold over their heads, which would not be done if their claims can be known, induce me to ask the favor of you to procure me the most exact information possible of these several matters. As I mean to set about the work immediately, it will be a particular obligation to me if the measures which you shall be so good as to take for assisting me, can be immediately executed, and the result communicated without delay. I have the honor to be with great esteem Sir Your most obedient & most humble servt.,

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC). FC (DNA: RG 59, PCC No. 120).

On the same day TJ addressed similar inquiries to the governor of North Carolina. The first part of his letter was expressed in identical phraseology, but the latter part contained significant variations: “I find myself under the necessity of troubling your Excellency to enable me to lay down with precision this dividing line, and then a precise specification and location of the three classes of exceptions before mentioned, and also any other exceptions which you may know of. Besides that these things can be known only from your offices, I am induced to ask you to take this trouble from an assurance that you will be glad to assist in furnishing any information which may prevent the citizens of your state from being involved in litigations by a sale to others of lands to which they may have a just claim, and which would not be so sold, if their claims could be previously known. As I propose to set about this statement immediately, I shall consider it as a great personal obligation, if the measures which your Excellency may be pleased to take for my assistance, can be immediately executed and the result communicated to me” (TJ to Alexander Martin, 26 Mch. 1791; PrC in DLC; FC in DNA: RG 59, PCC No. 120). Significantly, TJ did not inform either official that he was addressing these inquiries to the other. He had long since anticipated a clash over titles to lands involving the federal government, a state, and individuals and had thought it “very desirable to draw all the claims of preemption within a certain limit, by commuting for those out of it, and then to a purchase of the Cherokees the right of occupation” (TJ to Knox, 26 Aug. 1790; see Martin to TJ, 10 May 1791; Blount to TJ, 17 and 27 July 1791).

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