Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from James Wood, 14 January 1797

From James Wood

Richmond 14th January 1797.


I have the honor to enclose you an Authenticated Copy of a Resolution which passed the General Assembly at their late Session, respecting the boundary line between this Commonwealth and the State of Maryland; together with a Copy of the Resolution of the Legislature of Maryland On the same Subject. I pray you Sir, to have the goodness to Acknowledge the receipt of this dispatch as soon as Convenient. I have the honor to be with due Consideration & Respect. Sir Yr. Mo. Obt. servt.

James Wood

RC (DLC); addresssed: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr.”; endorsed by TJ as received 21 Jan. and so recorded in SJL. FC (Vi: Executive Letterbook); at head of text: “To Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, Edmund Randolph, Robert Brooke, Ludwell Lee, Bushrod Washington and John Taylor, Esquires, each.” Enclosures: (1) Resolution of the Virginia House of Delegates, 26 Dec. 1796, that TJ and the six others listed as recipients of the FC be appointed commissioners to gather full information on Virginia’s boundary with Maryland, any four of them to correspond with the commissioners appointed by that state, and report their findings to the next session of the General Assembly (MS in DLC; in hand of and attested as a true copy by Clerk of the House of Delegates John Stewart, including endorsement by Clerk of the Senate Humphrey Brooke recording that the Senate agreed to the resolution on 26 Dec. 1796). (2) Resolution of the Maryland House of Delegates, 21 Dec. 1795, appointing William Pinkney, William Cooke, and Philip Barton Key commissioners to meet with commissioners from Virginia and adjust by mutual agreement the western and southern boundaries of the state and settle any claims by either “to territory within the limits of the other,” reporting to the next session of the General Assembly, the governor to transmit a copy of the resolution to the governor of Virginia (MS in same; in Stewart’s hand, including endorsements by Clerk of the Maryland House of Delegates William Harwood and Clerk of the Maryland Senate Henry Warfield, the latter noting passage of the resolution by the Maryland Senate on 21 Dec. 1795, and attestation by Clerk Sam Coleman).

The lack of precise information about the location of the headwaters of the Potomac River and disagreement over whether the river’s north or south branch should mark the border meant that the boundary line between Virginia and the western end of Maryland had never been determined. The Fairfax Stone, placed in 1746 by a surveying expedition that included Peter Jefferson, TJ’s father, and established the western limits of the immense Fairfax grant in the Northern Neck of Virginia, was a primary reference point. Since neither the commissioners appointed by Maryland in 1795 nor others named in their place could serve, nothing came of the Virginia commissioners’ appointments. Sporadic attempts at resolution continued through the nineteenth century, and the matter was settled by a Supreme Court decision in 1910 (Louis N. Whealton, The Maryland and Virginia Boundary Controversy [1668–1894] [New York, 1904], 19–34; Charles Morrison, The Western Boundary of Maryland [Parsons, West Virginia, 1976], 18, 21–6; Malone, Jefferson, description begins Dumas Malone, Jefferson and his Time, Boston, 1948–81, 6 vols. description ends I, 22–4).

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