James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Benedict Dorsey, 10 December 1818

From Benedict Dorsey

No. 132 North 2nd. St.
12 mo 10. 1818

Respected friend

If it be entirely convenient to thyself, and doth not appear improper in me, I should feel extreamly gratified (if thou hast freedom so to do) to receive information on a Subject in which I am considerably interested.

Having purchased some Land in the North West Territory, known by The name of Carvers Land, with which Subject I believe thou are somewhat acquainted, as it was introduced before a Committee of the Senate, in the Year 1806, at wch. time thou wast Secretary of State: The proceedings of which Committee were recorded in the Senate Office—Israel Smith was Chairman of that Committee—“Whether or not the so recording of said proceedings, doth in any wise Amount to a Sanction of the Title by Congress to said Land, and whether there can be any Objection to, or Impropriety in settling those Lands, by those who have purchased under that Title.”1

Jona. Carver2 became possess’d of sd. Land, previous to the revolution, and at the Commencement therof, was preparing to embark from England, with a view of occupying the Same, but was prevented from fulfilling his Views, by that Event; he deceased in London anno 1780, and his eldest Son Rufus Carver who is now living in Vermont became Heir to his property & Estate agreeable to British Law. The decease of Saml. Harrison who prosecuted the Cause before the above mention’d Committee, as Atty. and Agent for the Carvers; the distant Situation of the Land; and the Want of pecuniary Aid; these have been the prominent Reasons why it has been so long neglected. Perhaps my Statement may not be so clear as is necessary, and I may appear Singular, but I do not Wish to write as though I demanded Information. My Intention therin is merely to lay the Case simply before thee, nor would I occasion in any wise, thy Time to be taken up, which is so necessary (no doubt) to be now spent in Quietitude & Rest. Well remembering the high Esteem in which thou wast held, by my deceased Father, when I was a Lad, and having myself a Strong recollection of thee, and feeling no small degree of the same friendly Attachment, I was induced to hesitate no longer in addressing thee.

With sincere wishes for thy Health & Comfort the remaining part of thy Life, and above all, that thou mayest be blesst with a happy hereafter, is the desire of

Benedict Dorsey3

RC (DLC). Addressed by Dorsey to JM “late President of the UStates / Virginia.” Cover docketed by JM.

1The “Carvers Land” was an immense tract comprising “the west-central portion of Wisconsin and the southeastern corner of Minnesota” ostensibly granted to Jonathan Carver in 1767 (see n. 2 below) by two Sioux chiefs in exchange for gifts “and other good services.” Samuel Harrison, related by marriage to the Carver family, attempted to prove the claim by gaining the approbation of Congress and the Indian nations occupying the land. He failed on both counts, but not before financial interests in the claim had become the subject of wild speculation, including fraudulent sales that continued into the 1830s (John Parker, ed., The Journals of Jonathan Carver and Related Documents, 1776–1780 [St. Paul, Minn., 1976], 47–51).

2Jonathan Carver (1710–1780) was a New England shoemaker who served in the Massachusetts militia during the French and Indian war. In 1766 Carver was sent by Robert Rogers, the commandant of Fort Michilimackinac, on a voyage of exploration to the Falls of St. Anthony (now Minneapolis) and the upper Mississippi River as part of a grand scheme to find a Northwest Passage and encourage trade with the Indians. Carver published Travels through the Interior Parts of North America in the Years 1766, 1767, and 1768 in London in 1778, where he had gone to seek reimbursement for the expenses of his expedition (ibid., 1–2, 12–21, 38).

3Benedict Dorsey, a Philadelphia china merchant, was the son of Benedict Dorsey (c. 1734–1807), a Philadelphia Quaker who ran a grocery (John Adams Paxton, The Philadelphia Directory and Register, for 1818 [Shaw and Shoemaker description begins R. R. Shaw and R. H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801–1819 (22 vols.; New York, 1958–66). description ends 45218], 186; Elaine Forman Crane et al., eds., The Diary of Elizabeth Drinker [3 vols.; Boston, 1991], 3:2136).

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