James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Graham, 9 September 1805

From John Graham

New Orleans 9th. Sepr. 1805


I had the Honor to write you by the last Post1 to let you know that a White Man had been taken up here for endeavouring to bring about an Insurrection among the Negroes, and I have now the Honor to inclose a Copy of a Letter from the Mayor of this City,2 giving the best account that can be had of this Man, of his Plans, and of the Progress he had made towards their execution.

The Circumstance of an Insurrection having been planned, and the uncertainty how far the plan may have been acted upon, gives to the People here a very considerable degree of inquietude & alarm. I have the satisfaction however to say, that every possible precaution is taken by the Police Officers & I beleive that nothing is at present to be apprehended, more than at any other time; but I consider this country as in a state of constant danger & therefore as requiring the presence of a considerable Military Force—and if I might be permitted to give an opinion I would recommend an increase of the Regular Troops here, as a measure equally expedient, whether we have in view the Submission of the Black, or the Respect of the White Inhabitants of the Country. With Sentiments of the Highest Respect—I have the Honor to be, Sir, Your Mo Obt Sert,

John Graham

RC and enclosure (DNA: RG 59, TP, Orleans, vol. 7). Docketed by Wagner as received 15 Oct. For enclosure, see n. 2.

2The enclosure (10 pp.; docketed by Wagner; printed in Carter, Territorial Papers, Orleans, 9:500–504) is a copy of John Watkins to John Graham, 6 Sept. 1805, reporting that a slave named Celestin had given him information that a white man called Le Grand had proposed that Celestin join in a conspiracy to incite a slave insurrection in New Orleans. Watkins arranged to have several “free people of colour” who would pretend to enter into the conspiracy introduced to Le Grand. After these men reported their conversations with Le Grand, Watkins, Col. Joseph Bellechasse, and Maj. Eugene Dorsière surrounded at night the cabin in which the conspirators, real and pretended, were meeting. Le Grand was arrested and confessed that his real name was Grandjean, that he was a French native who had lived for two years in Saint-Domingue, that he had fled the colony when the whites were being massacred, and that he had come to New Orleans by way of Baltimore and Kentucky. Watkins doubted Le Grand had revealed his proposed conspiracy to anyone other than Celestin and the free people of color sent by Watkins but expressed concern that the situation of the city, in which there were 4,000 whites and nearly 12,000 nonwhites, both free and enslaved, demanded the utmost vigilance on the part of the government. He added that more slaves were being introduced into the territory daily in spite of laws forbidding it. He suggested that the number of troops in the region be increased, that “native Americans” be encouraged to move to the territory, and that “we should root out from among [us] the agents and influence of foreign Governments.”

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