James Madison Papers

To James Madison from James Wilkinson, 21 September 1805

From James Wilkinson

St: Louis. September 21st: 1805


Being desirous to submit my every act to the Executive scrutiny, I take the liberty of trespassing upon You, a copy of my instructions to Colonel Hammond,1 whose authority has been extended to the adjacent district of St: Genevieve, in consequence of the abdication and arrest of Major Seth Hunt.2

I have thought proper also to offer information to the poor and ignorant Setlers of the Territory, to save them from the rapacity of a band of Speculators, combined first to frighten and then to defraud them of their rights.3

Under the peculiar circumstances of the population of this Territory, I find the establishment of District Commandants highly useful, and should derive great assistance from their cooperation, was the number authorized by the Act of the 26th: March 1804,4 completed, with Suitable Characters; At new madrid and the sequestered position of the Arkansan village, Such Officers are peculiarly necessary to instruct our unlettered Magistrates, and to secure the honest and impartial execution of the Laws.

We have here some Scintillations of faction, emitted from the collisions of a few Ardent discontents, who having failed to inlist me in oposition to an ideal French part⟨y⟩; would turn their Batteries directly against me, if they could do s⟨o⟩; with effect, and as is not uncommon in such cases, will probab⟨ly⟩; ⟨e⟩;ndeavour to carry by sap,5 what they cannot accomplish by open assault—I infer from a variety of strong indications, that a Mr: Moses Austin, has been the prime mover of these d⟨is⟩;cords—this gentleman whom I have not the plea sure of Knowing, became a voluntary subject of Spain about nine ye⟨ars⟩; since, and having under the patronage of that Governmen⟨t,⟩; from small beginings secured a large fortune; now alledg⟨es⟩; that he has been cruelly persecuted for his americanism, an⟨d⟩; on this ground lays claim to extraordinary patronage from the united States: it is to be regretted that this Gentleman should have been able to seduce, Several of the junior Territorial Officers, to make common cause with him, in the excitements, which have agitated the District of St: Genevieve—Ye⟨t⟩; I am pursuaded Sir, these agitations cannot affect the concord and tranquillity of the Territory, and I venture to intrude this detail on you, to prevent any uneasiness whic⟨h⟩; might be produced by misrepresentation.

We are much at a loss for the Law affecting the Land claims of the Territory.6 I have received two copies only—we have no press—and I am this day informed, by letters of a recent date from New Madrid and the Arkansan, that this Law had not reached those places.

Being informed some of our erratics are entering illicitly upon the public Lands, on the river St: Francois, and near its mouth—I shall make an immediate Detachment to remove them, and destroy their Huts: But I may find some difficulty (I fear) in dislodging eight families, which have taken refuge with a strong tribe of Cherokee Indians high up on the same river, yet the attempt will be made under Such precaution, as may Save disagreable consequences. With perfect Respect I am Sir Your obdt: Servant

James Wilkinson

RC and enclosure (DNA: RG 59, TP, Louisiana, vol. 1); FC (ICHi). RC in a clerk’s hand, emended and signed by Wilkinson. FC in a clerk’s hand, except for Wilkinson’s emendations and docket. Words and parts of words in angle brackets in the RC have been supplied from the FC. Minor differences between the copies have not been noted. For enclosure, see n. 1.

1The enclosure (2 pp.; marked “Copy”; in a clerk’s hand, signed by Wilkinson; printed in Carter, Territorial Papers, Louisiana-Missouri, 13:220–21) is a copy of Wilkinson’s 19 Sept. 1805 letter to Col. Samuel Hammond, commandant of the district of St. Louis (printed ibid., 24), stating that the district of St. Genevieve was to be annexed to his command; that he should remove and punish the “intruders” who were reported to be mining and smelting lead on public lands; that Colonel Hunt had said that such actions were allowed by Spanish license and were not prohibited by U.S. law, which Wilkinson denied, advising Hammond to proceed with “every degree of kindness” in ejecting the miners; and that “one Russel” was surveying land along the Meramec River and should be prosecuted if he had broken the law.

2Col. Seth Hunt had objected to Wilkinson’s appointment as governor as being unconstitutional, had disagreed with Wilkinson about ejecting one John Smith from public lands, had bought and later sold a doubtful land title, and had written letters to Wilkinson that were “not only imprudent, but highly improper,” all of which resulted in his 11 Sept. 1805 arrest by Wilkinson and ultimately in his dismissal by Henry Dearborn (ibid., 204–7, 225–26, 241–42).

3Wilkinson referred to his 18 Sept. 1805 notification to the “uninformed Inhabitants” who were “appalled by false alarms, and imaginary difficulties” not to sell their claims at a price less than their true value, adding that he stood ready “to instruct and assist them gratuitously in the prosecution of their just rights” (DNA: RG 46, President’s Messages, 9B–A3).

4U.S. Statutes at Large, 2:287.

5Sap: “Applied to stealthy or insidious methods of attacking or destroying something” (OED Online).

6For the 2 Mar. 1805 “act for ascertaining and adjusting the titles and claims to land, within the territory of Orleans, and the district of Louisiana,” decreeing how French and Spanish land grants issued before 1 Oct. 1800 were to be confirmed, see U.S. Statutes at Large, 2:324–29.

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