Thomas Jefferson Papers
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William C. C. Claiborne to Thomas Jefferson, 13 August 1810

From William C. C. Claiborne

Washington City Augst 13h 1810

Dear Sir,

I have the honor to enclose you attested Copies of a Petition to Congress from sundry Inhabitants of Orleans, and also of certain Resolutions entered into by the Legislative Council & House of Representatives of the Territory of Orleans upon the subject of the Batture.

These Documents support all the facts on which you relied, in directing possession to be taken of the Batture by the Marshal, and may therefore be serviceable.—There were two other Petitions presented to Congress at the last Session;—the one from the City Council of New-Orleans, and the other from the owners of the Front Lots in the Suburb St Mary.

I was desirous to obtain Copies of them also, for your perusal;—But on application at the Clerks Office, I had the Mortification to find, they had been mislaid,—Accompanied by Mr Graham, I have examined the other day, the Office of the Attorney General of the U. States for the Mémoire of Judge Moreau Lislet, but without success.—I really fear that this valuable Document is wholly lost.—

I heard on yesterday, that Livingston had gone to New-Orleans;—I fear his Intrigues may do some mischief;—He will return (probably) freighted with such Testimony as may best answer his purposes;—I wish to God I was present at New-Orleans, in order to take measures to Counteract his evil Machinations.— General Wilkinson has told me, that pending the1 Batture Case at New-Orleans, Livingston offered to sell him (Wilkinson) one half of his Interest in the Batture for $10,000:—This proves, that L. thought a recovery more than doubtful, or he surely would have demanded of Wilkinson a much greater sum.—If testimony of the above is deemed of any moment it can be obtained.— Mr Poidrass has in his possession many valuable Documents some of which you have never seen;—I hope to meet Mr Poidrass in New-York, & shall request him to forward these Documents to you.—

With sentiments of great Respect I am Dr Sir, Your faithful friend

William C. C. Claiborne

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “Mr Thomas Jefferson Monticello”; endorsed by TJ as received 19 Aug. 1810 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosures: (1) petition of 462 inhabitants of Orleans Territory to Congress, [before 6 Dec. 1808], which states that the territory’s former sovereigns never relinquished title to the batture; that the Spanish government had prevented all intrusions upon the batture by private individuals, and preserved it as a public common; that its use as a common continued when Louisiana passed to the United States; that Edward Livingston’s possession had upended long-established public rights; that their regret at seeing Livingston unjustly possess the land was mollified by the “pleasure which ensued on finding that the President of the United States had caused the claim of the United States to the aforesaid property to be asserted”; that in conformity with the congressional act of 3 Mar. 1807, the marshal was ordered to remove all persons from the batture; that the petitioners request that the United States permanently vest the right to the batture in the corporation of New Orleans, with the stipulation that it always remain open and undeveloped; that if it falls into private hands the channel of the Mississippi will change course to the detriment of the city; that the citizens who convey produce to the market will suffer under an oppressive tax for wharfage, while the city will be subjected to an incalculable expense in procuring dirt for street and levee repairs; and that if built upon the batture will become plagued by disease and filth (Tr in DNA: RG 59, LCBNO; undated; attested by Samuel Burch on behalf of Patrick Magruder, with notation: “Clerks office of the House of Representatives of the United StatesAugust 14 1810. I certify that the foregoing is a true copy from the Original petition of sundry inhabitants of the territory of Orleans, presented to the House of Representatives of the United States on the 6th of December 1808, and containing the proper signatures of four hundred and sixty two inhabitants of that territory”; endorsed by TJ: “petition of citizens of N. O. to Congress. 1808. Dec. 6”; summarized briefly in JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States description ends , 6:374 [6 Dec. 1808]).(2) resolutions of the Legislative Council and House of Representatives of Orleans Territory, [before Mar. 1810], which state that the batture in front of the Faubourg Sainte Marie is a “shoal or elevation of the Bottom of the Mississippi” River; that it is covered with water for five to six months every year, and that during that time it can only be considered the bed of the river; that when dry the batture furnishes earth for streets, courtyards, mortar, and other necessary purposes, and is used to unload articles brought by water to New Orleans; that the embanking of the batture would change the channel of the Mississippi and cause lasting injury to the city; and that the possession of the batture by an individual would force both New Orleans residents and other citizens of the United States to pay tribute in order to use what the laws of nature, time-honored custom, and the sanction of the Spanish government had secured to them (Tr in DNA: RG 59, LCBNO; undated; signed by Thomas Urquhart, speaker of the House of Representatives, and J. D. Degoutin Bellechasse, president of the Legislative Council; attested by Burch on behalf of Magruder, with notation: “Clerks office of the House of Representatives of the United States, August 14th 1810.I certify that the aforegoing are truly and correctly copied from the Original resolutions of the Legislative Council and House of Representatives of the Territory of Orleans as presented to the House of Representatives of the United States on the first day of March last past by the Honorable Julien Poydras the delegate from the said territory in the Congress of the United States”; endorsed by TJ: “Resolutions of Legislat. of Orleans. on the Batture. 1810. Mar. 1”; printed in ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Public Lands, 2:84).

The resolutions were presented in the United States House of Representatives by territorial delegate Julien Lalande Poydras on 1 Mar. 1810, and promptly tabled (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States description ends , 7:257). The petition to Congress by the owners of the front lots in the suburb st mary, New Orleans, 8 Nov. 1809, signed by Thomas Urquhart, David Urquhart, “and others,” argued that the petitioners had purchased front lots under a firm conviction that the batture would remain open and undeveloped. They pointed out that when the faubourg was created the batture was not as extensive, and that the Mississippi was contained by the levee in several places; that they had kept the levee and road in constant repair, with the city of New Orleans paying the expenses; and that the batture is covered from five to six months every year, during which time it is considered part of the bed of the river. They further argued that if the batture did not belong to New Orleans as a public common, then it belonged to the United States, in which case territorial courts would have no jurisdiction. Livingston should therefore not have been able to use the territorial courts to claim the batture. Rather, he should either have waited for the congressionally appointed Board of Land Commissioners to determine the validity of his claim or submitted it to a jury. The petitioners also feared that batture reclamation would change the current of the Mississippi and create a batture along the front of the entire city, and that building docks, warehouses, and canals on the batture would promote disease. They accordingly entreated Congress to assert the nation’s claim to the batture and keep it permanently open and undeveloped, or to cede it to the city of New Orleans (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Public Lands, 2:4).

1Claiborne here canceled “the Trial of the.”

Index Entries

  • Batture Sainte Marie, controversy over; resolutions of Orleans territorial legislature concerning search
  • Bellechasse, Joseph Deville Degoutin; and batture controversy search
  • Burch, Samuel; and batture controversy search
  • Claiborne, William Charles Coles; and batture controversy search
  • Claiborne, William Charles Coles; letters from search
  • Claiborne, William Charles Coles; on E. Livingston search
  • Graham, John; and batture controversy search
  • Livingston, Edward; and riots at Batture Sainte Marie search
  • Livingston, Edward; validity of land claim search
  • Livingston, Edward; W. C. C. Claiborne on search
  • Magruder, Patrick; clerk of U.S. House of Representatives search
  • Mississippi River; water level of search
  • Moreau Lislet, Louis; “Mémoire au soutien des droits des Etats-unis à la Batture du faubourg Ste Marie,” search
  • New Orleans; petitions from inhabitants search
  • Orleans Territory; land commissioners in search
  • Orleans Territory; legislature of search
  • Poydras, Julien Lalande; and batture controversy search
  • Urquhart, David search
  • Urquhart, Thomas; signs resolutions on batture controversy search
  • Wilkinson, James; and batture controversy search
  • “Mémoire au soutien des droits des Etats-unis à la Batture du faubourg Ste Marie” (Moreau Lislet); W. C. C. Claiborne searches for search