Thomas Jefferson Papers
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To Thomas Jefferson from Citizens of Vincennes, 7 August 1797

From Citizens of Vincennes

Vincennes August 7th. 1797

Sir

Altho’ we have not the Honor of being acquainted with you, we trust our rights as Citizens Will not be the less regarded.

The enclosed memorials will express the Object of our desires. We beg leave however to observe, that we understand a Petition has Gone forward to Congress, praying all concessions Whatever heretofore Granted May be confirmed; These concessions all became forfeited by their being no actual improvements Made. That the object of the Said Petition is founded in Speculation, and Should the Prayer of the Same be Granted Very Large and Extensive Bodies of Land of the United States Will be covered; the Small farms of your Memorialists Which they have toiled thro’ a Savage War to Improve, Will be Swallowed up, and themselves Materially distressed.

We would farther request that you would have the Goodness to have one of the Enclosed memorials laid Before the Senate.

The Subscribers

RC (DNA: RG 46, Senate Records, 5th Cong., 2d sess.); in an unidentified hand; endorsed by a Senate clerk as a “Letter accompanying sundry memorials of the people of Vincennes.” Enclosures: (1) Memorial, Vincennes to the vice president and Senate, 7 Aug. 1797, of fifteen men, seven widows, and the heirs of three other individuals, stating that beginning in 1784 they emigrated to Knox County, Northwest Territory, on the basis of promises by the commandant at Vincennes that each would receive “a reasonable Quantity of Land” in the vicinity of that settlement; that each memorialist had 400 acres of land surveyed; that through negligence of the clerk and malfeasance by the surveyor, no titles were issued as a result of those surveys; that the memorialists nevertheless cleared land and made improvements until forced to retire to Vincennes in 1786; that then for about two years the memorialists rented lands from “the ancient settlers” but also established outlying “Stations” which came under frequent attack by Indians; that in those attacks several of their number were killed, now represented by widows and heirs among the memorialists; that the memorialists never abandoned their claims to their improvements and returned to them after peace was made with the Indians of the Wabash in 1792; that the memorialists are heads of families, and if dispossessed of their improvements, their dependents “Must be reduced to Indigency and Want”; and the memorialists pray that Congress will grant each of them 400 acres, the heirs and widows of those killed to receive “Such quantity as May Seem reasonable” (MS in same, in same hand as covering letter, signed by the memorialists, endorsed by Otis; printed in Terr. Papers description begins Clarence E. Carter and John Porter Bloom, eds., The Territorial Papers of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1934–75, 28 vols. description ends , ii, 620–1). (2) A similar memorial to the speaker and members of the House of Representatives (see Terr. Papers description begins Clarence E. Carter and John Porter Bloom, eds., The Territorial Papers of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1934–75, 28 vols. description ends , ii, 621n).

For settlements at Vincennes under inducements from French officials holding commissions from George Rogers Clark, see J. M. P. LeGras to TJ, 22 Mch. 1780; and TJ’s report on lands at Vincennes, [14 Dec. 1790], Document II of a group of documents on the Northwest Territory, printed above in this series at Vol. 18: 186–7. In December 1797 several of the above memorialists joined others in a new petition addressed to the president and both houses of Congress. On 20 Feb. 1798 the Senate referred that petition to a committee along with two other appeals, one requesting permission to lay out lands on Kaskaskia Creek and another from Benjamin Reed of Vincennes, which asked for confirmation of land grants and may have been the petition declared above to be founded in speculation. The committee recommended that the governor of the Northwest Territory report to the Senate about the conflicting claims (Terr. Papers description begins Clarence E. Carter and John Porter Bloom, eds., The Territorial Papers of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1934–75, 28 vols. description ends , ii, 590, 621n, 634–6; Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … Compiled from Authentic Materials Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1834–56, 42 vols. All editions are undependable and pagination varies from one printing to another. The first two volumes of the set cited here have “Compiled … by Joseph Gales, Senior” on the title page and bear the caption “Gales & Seatons History” on verso and “of Debates in Congress” on recto pages. The remaining volumes bear the caption “History of Congress” on both recto and verso pages. Those using the first two volumes with the latter caption will need to employ the date of the debate or the indexes of debates and speakers. description ends , vii, 504, 508, 516–17).

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