James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Albert Gallatin, 29 October 1809

From Albert Gallatin

Treasury Department 29th. Octr 1809


It having been understood last autumn that a number of intruders had settled on the public lands in Madison County (Bend of Tennessee) Mississippi Territory Mr Thomas Freeman was instructed by direction of the President to notify those persons that unless they signed declarations that they had no claim to the land & obtained permissions to remain as tenants at will, they would be removed by force.1 A very general compliance took place, the heads of three to four hundred families having signed the requisite declaration, and a Mr Michael Harrison who appeared to be the only Yazoo claimant on the land having promised to remove. But after the lands had been advertised for sale he published an advertisement herein enclosed2 dated from Madison County giving notice of his claim &c.

This induced me to write to Mr Dickson the Register whose answer I have now the honor to enclose.3 The threats & notices have not effected the sales: for about 24 000 acres have been sold in three weeks for a sum exceeding Sixty thousand dollars. But the Sheriff has stated that there are more than three hundred families of intruders who he thinks will keep forcible possession. Under these circumstances it is submitted whether Michael Harrison should be immediately removed by force,4 or whether it would be desirable that Congress should in the first place extend the time for granting permissions to remain on the land as tenants at will and afterwards to carry rigourously the law into effect on those who shall not have complied with its terms or will refuse to give possession to the purchaser. I have the honor to be respectfully Sir Your Most Obedt Servt

Albert Gallatin

Tr (DNA: RG 56, Letters Relating to Public Lands). For enclosures, see nn. 2 and 3.

1Acting on behalf of the president in 1808, Gallatin had authorized Freeman, the deputy surveyor in the Mississippi Territory, to serve notice on settlers in the designated area that they could apply for permission “to remain on the land as tenants at will.” Any settlers who acted under Yazoo Company titles either “forcibly to occupy the lands, or to extort money from ignorant Settlers” were, however, to be removed (Gallatin to Freeman, 25 Oct. 1808, Carter, Territorial Papers, Mississippi, 5:659–60). For the background, see Thomas P. Abernethy, The South in the New Nation, 1789–1819 (Baton Rouge, La., 1961), pp. 164–66.

2The advertisement is on a newspaper clipping attached to an extract of a letter from William Dickson, 22 July 1809 (reproduced in Papers of Gallatin [microfilm ed.], reel 19).

3William Dickson to Gallatin, 28 Sept. 1809 (Carter, Territorial Papers, Mississippi, 6:20–21).

4Michael Harrison held land and sold claims under a title from one of the fraudulent Yazoo land companies. Since the Supreme Court decision in Fletcher v. Peck strengthened his position, Harrison remained a source of trouble for Gallatin (Gallatin to secretary of war, 5 July 1810, ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States ... (38 vols.; Washington, 1832-61). description ends , Public Lands, 2:251).

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