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Memorandum for Henry Dearborn, 22 January 1803

Memorandum for Henry Dearborn

Observations on mr Hawkins’s letter of Dec. 22. 1802.1

Our proceedings on the subject of the deed by the Speaker of the Creeks to mrs Darant should be decisive, prompt and exemplary. if she be an Indian (which I should not expect as she is the sister of Mc.Gillivray) we cannot punish her. if she be an American citizen, the Attorney of the US. in the Missisipi territory might be instructed to avail himself of any opportunity of having her arrested and punished as provided by the Indian intercourse law; and if mr Hawkins can give us a clue to obtain evidence against the clerk or lawyers of Washington county (Georgia) or any others concerned in the intrigue, the Attorney of the US. in Georgia might be directed to prosecute them. In the mean time the Creeks should be assured of our protection, and that none of their lands shall ever be permitted to be sold or settled without the consent of the nation regularly given, and under our ratification. and if we have any settlers on their lands we ought to remove them if we can, or get them to remove them. as to the boundary between them & us, if it be any where undefined, we should join in defining it; but between them & Spain we can do nothing.   I imagine there will always be great difficulty in preventing our cattle & horses from ranging on the Indian lands, and the Indians should be prepared to allow a reasonable indulgence & laxity in this particular.

As to the pressure for lands from the frontier of Georgia mentioned by Colo. Hawkins & the land speculations of a private company there, the Creeks should understand that we will oppose it as well as they do: and as to the demand of Panton & Leslie, we might say that tho’ we have no right to interfere between them & British creditors as to debts, yet if they determine to pay in lands, we will not suffer British subjects to own lands within the limits of the US. but would not object to take the lands and pay money to their creditors as far as we should think their value.

Th: Jefferson
Jan. 22. 1803

PrC (DLC); at foot of text: “The Secretary at War.” Recorded in SJL as to the War Department with notation “incroachmts. on Creeks.”

mr hawkins’s letter: on 21 Jan., the War Department received a communication written by Benjamin Hawkins at Tuckabatchee on 22 Dec. The document, which has not been found, related to “a tract of Land conveyed by the Indians to Mrs. Durant and the general uneasiness occasioned thereby” (DNA: RG 107, RLRMS).

if she be an indian: Sophia Durant was a sister of Alexander McGillivray, the trader and leader of the Creeks until his death in 1793. The family was of Scottish, French, and Native American ancestry. Their maternal grandmother was a Creek, which by matrilineal descent made them members of the politically important Wind clan. As a female member of the clan, Sophia had rights to property, and she owned or controlled land, slaves, and livestock. Hawkins came away from a visit to her homestead in 1796 with a negative impression, which perhaps influenced the information he provided to the War Department in December 1802. He had been surprised to find her living in “a small hut,” and he thought that by “bad management” she failed to utilize the potential of her property and several dozen slaves (Edward J. Cashin, Lachlan McGillivray, Indian Trader: The Shaping of the Southern Colonial Frontier [Athens, Ga., 1992], 71–3, 75–6, 257, 307–8; Thomas Foster, ed., The Collected Works of Benjamin Hawkins, 1796–1810 [Tuscaloosa, Ala., 2003], 43; ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; Vol. 36:154n, 157n).

indian intercourse law: by an “Act to regulate trade and intercourse with the Indian tribes, and to preserve peace on the frontiers,” approved 30 Mch. 1802, it was “a misdemeanor in any person, not employed under the authority of the United States,” to negotiate with Indians for land. The offense was punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and imprisonment of up to twelve months (U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States…1789 to March 3, 1845, Boston, 1855-56, 8 vols. description ends , 2:139, 143).

should be assured of our protection: Dearborn used this memorandum from TJ to compose a letter to Hawkins dated 24 Jan. Dearborn, at TJ’s direction, asked Hawkins “to assure the Indians” that they could rely on the president’s “friendship and on every exertion in his power, to prevent any improper measures which may be in contemplation for obtaining their lands.” He added that “no purchase made of their lands will be considered as valid unless made under the immediate direction of the President.” Hawkins was to give William Claiborne any information he could about the recent land transaction and Sophia Durant’s citizenship. If she was a U.S. citizen, she would be arrested and prosecuted, and the government would also take action against a lawyer who, according to the information from Hawkins, had assisted her. settlers on Indian lands without permission were to be evicted, except for the settlement under the leadership of William Wofford, as there were pending issues in that case (see Josiah Tattnall, Jr., to TJ, 20 July). The government, Dearborn continued, would try to resolve any problems regarding the boundary between the Creeks “and the white people of the United States.” However, the U.S. could not intervene in disputes between the Creeks and subjects of spain unless the matter in question fell within the limits of the United States, and the Indians must learn “to view with indulgence such petty intrusions” as settlers’ cattle ranging on their land (Dearborn to Hawkins, 24 Jan., Lb in DNA: RG 75, LSIA).

The trading firm of panton, Leslie & Co. pressed the Creeks to give up some of their assets—land or annuities—to pay off a large collective and cumulative debt to the company. Beginning in the late 1790s, the firm attempted to obtain the assistance of the federal government in that endeavor. The company’s partners were natives of Scotland who entered the Indian trade in Georgia and South Carolina but moved their operations to East Florida during the American Revolution and afterward based their commerce with the Creeks at Pensacola, in Spanish West Florida. In his letter to Hawkins, Dearborn stated that neither the Panton firm “nor any other foreigners” could acquire land within the United States “except in cases provided for by some particular States.” If the Creeks took the initiative to cede territory to the U.S. in exchange for payment of the company’s claim by the government, “perhaps such an arrangement might be acceded to,” Dearborn wrote, “but we cannot consider ourselves under any obligation to interfere in the business” (same; William S. Coker and Thomas D. Watson, Indian Traders of the Southeastern Spanish Borderlands: Panton, Leslie & Company and John Forbes & Company, 1783–1847 [Pensacola, Fla., 1986], 15–17, 26, 31–2, 229–31, 240; Robbie Ethridge, Creek Country: The Creek Indians and Their World [Chapel Hill, 2003], 11, 203–4).

1MS: “1803.”

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