Thomas Jefferson Papers

Petition from the Mississippi Territory House of Representatives, 12 March 1803

Petition from the Mississippi Territory
House of Representatives

The memorial and petition of the House of Representatives of the Missisippi Territory.

Respectfully Sheweth.

That a considerable portion of the Inhabitants of this Territory are situated upon lands of the greatest fertility, watered by navigable Rivers, which have no communication with the Bay of Mexico, but through the dominions of his Catholic Majesty. The principal of those settlements being within the Bay of Mobille upon the Tom begby, a fine navigable river, extending its branches so as nearly to interlock with the waters of the Tenessee, is so situated as to be cut off from all communication with the settlements adjacent to the Missisippi by a Wilderness of at least two hundred miles; hence it results that the Inhabitants of that and other settlements can receive no supplies of a variety of articles, which the wants of man have rendered indispensible to the comforts of life, but thro’ the indulgence of the Spanish Government. This indulgence disiriable as it may be in the existing circumstances of those countries and which may be withdrawn at any moment, can only be obtained, accompanied with inconveniencies which tend greatly to retard the prosperity of those settlements. The Spanish Government possessing an arbitrary power will permit only such traders as they shall be pleased to licence, to visit our settlements and perhaps for this licence a tax must be paid. It is unnecessary to present before the enlightened mind of your Excellency, the serious evils which must attach themselves to the planting interest, thus cramped and embarrassed.

The ardor of the cultivator is repressed and the new Establishments must languish until a remedy shall be applied to the source of the Evil.

The Treaty of navigation & limits with Spain has not brought into view a number of Rivers, which tho’ not equally extensive with the Missisippi, yet whose navigation is equally necessary to the prosperity of a large & fertile region of the United States.

Your memorialists duly impressed with an assurance of the parental care which your Excellency as head of the Empire, unceasingly extends to the most distant portions of its territory, more particularly to this the youngest and most defenceless of its Colonies, are fully persuaded, that it requires only to be made known that a grievance exists, to excite in your benevolent mind a desire to apply an immediate remedy.

Your Memorialists therefore pray that your Excellency will be pleased to adopt such measures as may procure for the Citizens of the United States the free navigation of all navigable Rivers and water courses falling into the bay of Mexico from the Territories of the United States, and passing thro’ the dominions of his Catholic Majesty.

William Gordon Forman

Speaker of the House of Representatives


Samuel Sidney Mahon Clk.

House of Representatives
March the 12th. AD 1803.

MS (ViW: Tucker-Coleman Collection); in a clerk’s hand, signed by Forman and Mahon; dated by Mahon; at head of text: “To his Excellency Thomas Jefferson President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 3 May and “memorial & petn” and so recorded in SJL. Enclosed in William C. C. Claiborne to Madison, 15 Mch., requesting that he lay it before the president (Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser. description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962- , 35 vols., Sec. of State Ser., 1986- , 9 vols., Pres. Ser., 1984- , 7 vols., Ret. Ser., 2009- , 2 vols. description ends , 4:423).

A native of New Jersey and graduate of the College of New Jersey, William Gordon Forman (1770–1812) emigrated to the Mississippi Territory around 1800, where he undertook planting and became a leader of the territory’s Federalist faction (Ruth L. Woodward and Wesley Frank Craven, Princetonians, 1784–1790 [Princeton, N.J., 1991], 113–17). Samuel Sidney Mahon later moved to the Orleans Territory, where he became a legislator, militia officer, and county judge (Louisiana History, 22 [1981], 434–5).

A resolution passed by the Mississippi Territory House of Representatives on 12 Mch. requested that the governor transmit the above memorial and petition to the State Department (MS in ViW: Tucker-Coleman Collection; in Mahon’s hand and attested by him as clerk of the House; enclosed with the petition above).

treaty of navigation & limits with spain: that is, the Pinckney Treaty of 1795, Article 4 of which granted free navigation of the Mississippi River to citizens of the United States (Miller, Treaties description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America, Washington, D.C., 1931–48, 8 vols. description ends , 2:321–2).

Index Entries