James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William C. C. Claiborne, 4 August 1805 (Abstract)

From William C. C. Claiborne, 4 August 1805 (Abstract)

§ From William C. C. Claiborne. 4 August 1805, New Orleans. “I have the Honor to transmit You, a Copy of a Letter from the Mayor of this City, communicating to me, three Decrees of the City Council, (which in their execution required my co-operation) together with a Copy of my response.1 Those papers sufficiently explain themselves, and it remains only for me to say, that the evacuation of the Forts alluded to in one of the Decrees, is considered by me as advisable. These Forts give no security to the Town; some eligible position for its defence, and that of the Country generally on the Mississippi, aught to be selected some where about the English turn,2 and should be strongly fortified.”

RC and enclosures (DNA: RG 59, TP, Orleans, vol. 7); letterbook copy and letterbook copy of fifth enclosure (Ms-Ar: Claiborne Executive Journal, vol. 15). RC 1 p.; in a clerk’s hand, signed by Claiborne; docketed by Wagner as received 10 Sept., with his note: “Demolition of the fortifications, Custom house &c. requested by the Council.” Minor differences between the copies have not been noted. For enclosures, see n. 1.

1The enclosures (8 pp.; docketed by Wagner) are copies of (1) John Watkins to Claiborne, 26 July 1805, printed in Carter, Territorial Papers, Orleans, 9:481–82, stating that when he took possession of the mayor’s office, he discovered three city council resolutions which he was enclosing to Claiborne for a decision, adding that the “riotous conduct of the Town guard” showed they should be “confined to close quarters” and placed under the control of their officers, and agreeing with the other two resolutions asking that the city receive possession of the property where the old custom house and Spanish forts were located, which would enable the city to clear out the streets and fill in ditches of stagnant water; (2) a 20 July 1805 city council resolution, ibid., 482, asking that Claiborne order the old custom house destroyed and the materials carried away; (3) a 20 July 1805 council resolution, ibid., 483, requesting the same to be done to the “forts and batteries Surrounding the City,” thus allowing the city to expand and the water-filled ditches around the forts to be filled in; (4) a 20 July 1805 council resolution, ibid., 483, asking that the troops of the town guard be lodged in barracks as requested by their officers and that Claiborne order the removal of the regular army troops now occupying the guard house so the town guard could be housed there; and (5) Claiborne’s 2 Aug. 1805 reply to Watkins, printed in Rowland, Claiborne Letter Books, 3:143–45, stating that the old custom house had been delivered to him as national property, which he lacked the power to destroy, and suggesting that the council submit its request to the commissioners who would arrive soon to investigate the validity of land claims. He said that the same observation applied to the forts, but that since the stagnant water accumulating there did endanger public health, he would consent to the destruction of them all, except Fort Charles and Fort St. Louis, which were garrisoned by regular troops, and to the draining of the ditches around them. He added that he saw no need for a day guard at the city hall but that one might be needed at night to secure the property and the prisoners at the jail, to accommodate which he would consent to the removal of the regular troops; he further added that if it were determined that a guard was required both day and night, it might be more economical to use the services of the regular army for that purpose.

2The English Turn, or English Bend, as it was better known, was a deep turn in the Mississippi about eighteen miles downriver from New Orleans (Carl J. Ekberg, “The English Bend: Forgotten Gateway to New Orleans,” in La Salle and His Legacy: Frenchmen and Indians in the Lower Mississippi Valley, ed. Patricia K. Galloway [Jackson, Miss., 1982], 214).

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