James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Graham, 1 September 1809

From John Graham

Dept of State 1st Sepr 1809.

Dear Sir

I have been honored with your Letter of the 29th of last Month. I regret very much that I have it not in my power to throw some light on the characters of the Gentlemen who are placed in nomination before you for the Legislative Council of the Mississippi Territory. Mr Shields1 is the only one of them of whom I have any recollection and with him my acquaintance was very slight.2 He is a young Lawyer of some standing at the Bar. If I mistake not he was employed to defend Burr, when he was before the Court in that Territory, tho it may be otherwise, for he was the particular Freind of Coles Meade, and the Negociator of his famous Treaty with Burr. I beleive Mr Shields is connected by marriage with the Family of the Green’s which is numerous and respectable. On looking over our Records I find that Mr Montgomery & Mr Burnet were both Members of the last Council and had both been Members of former Councils.3 Perhaps this Circumstance may weigh with you in their favor.

I return the Copies of the Nomination and Mr Pointdexters Letter and send a blank Commission. I am very sorry that Govr Holmes or Mr Williams4 has not written on the subject of this Nomination. That it should come solely thro: Mr Pointdexter, is the more to be regretted, as he is certainly a very decided Party Man, and I beleive, much opposed to some of the Freinds of the General Govt. in the Territory. I know not, however, but that the selection which he has pointed out, is the very best than can be made.

The Letter from Mr Erwing now sent5 has been in the possession of the Secretary of State. I mention this Circumstance as there are several pencil marks on it which lead to a belief that it has been in the hands of a Printer.

Among the Papers now sent you will find a Letter to the Emperor Napoleon6 in answer to his of the 30th March last. With Sentiments of the highest Respect I have the Honor to be, Sir, Your Most Obt Sert

John Graham


1William Bayard Shields was related to the Bayard and Rodney families of Delaware and served after 1805 as a major on the staff of Gov. Robert Williams of the Mississippi Territory. When Aaron Burr’s expedition descended the Mississippi River in January 1807, Shields and George Poindexter carried a safe conduct pass to Burr for a meeting with Cowles Mead, the acting governor. Shields then escorted Burr to the territorial capital and was his defense counsel at the grand jury hearing before Shields’s relative, Judge Thomas Rodney. The jury found no grounds for trying Burr and declared that “the armistice (so-called)” between Mead and Burr was “highly derogatory to the dignity of this government.” Shields married a daughter of Gabriel Benoist in 1807 and was appointed territorial attorney general in 1809 (Dunbar Rowland, Mississippi: Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, Arranged in Cyclopedic Form [4 vols.; Atlanta, 1907], 1:336–38, 2:660; Abernethy, The Burr Conspiracy, pp. 207–18; David Holmes to JM, 9 Aug. 1809).

2At the time of Burr’s expedition, Graham (then secretary of the Orleans Territory) acted as Jefferson’s specially delegated agent to investigate the apparent conspiracy and to arrest Burr should he violate federal law (Abernethy, The Burr Conspiracy, pp. 68, 86–87, 216–17).

3In November 1808 Jefferson appointed Alexander Montgomery and Daniel Burnet to the Mississippi Territory Legislative Council. Burnet’s earlier service on the council dated from 1805, Montgomery’s from late in the Adams administration. JM reappointed Montgomery (Senate Exec. Proceedings description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America (3 vols.; Washington, 1828). description ends , 1:363, 2:9, 84, 131).

4Graham may have referred either to Robert Williams, whom Jefferson had reappointed territorial governor in March 1808, or to Thomas H. Williams, register of the land office in Mississippi, who served twice as temporary territorial secretary and was acting governor between the resignation of Robert Williams and the arrival of David Holmes in the summer of 1809 (Senate Exec. Proceedings description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America (3 vols.; Washington, 1828). description ends , 2:57, 69; Rowland, Mississippi, 2:984).

5Probably George Erving to Robert Smith, 9 July 1809 (DNA: RG 59, Diplomatic Despatches, Spain).

6Letter not found.

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