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From Thomas Jefferson to Henry Dearborn, 15 February 1803

To Henry Dearborn

Feb. 15. 1803.

Th:J. to Genl. Dearborne.

The inclosed were sent to me by mr Bacon with permission to keep them. they may therefore be filed in the War office. as we percieve that a light1 French breeze has already reached most of the Indians, it will be well for us to keep our eye on all their movements. I have therefore asked the favor of mr Bacon to continue to send me this correspondence. as I have no doubt the arrival of the French at New Orleans will entirely stiffen the Indians against the sale of lands, I think the present moment critical to press for all we want immediately. viz. from

1. the Creeks, the residue of the Oakmulgee fork

2. the Cherokees Wafford’s settlement & the Southeastern road.

3. the Choctaws, their lands between the Yazoo & Missisipi.

4. the Kaskaskias & Piorias,2 their lands between the Wabash & Missisipi.

5. the Kickapoos, Poughtewatamies & Weauhs a settlement & extension of boundary.

the 1st. article I suppose must be charged on Hawkins.

the 2d. on Wilkinson & Meigs.

the 3d. on Wilkinson & Dinsmore, and qu. if it would not be better to give up the purchase between Tombigbee & Alabama, and treat only for the lands on Missisipi. their great debt to Panton & Leslie is an immediate instrument to obtain what we want immediately3 and ought not to be wasted on a less important object. it will be a long time before debts, still to be contracted with us, will produce any effect towards obtaining land.

the 4th. & 5th. to be charged on Govr. Harrison with instructions to lose no time.

should we not immediately begin to prepare & send instructions? those to Wilkinson & Dinsmore4 are the most pressing.

when will the Chickasaw Agent repair to his post?

RC (PHi); TJ first wrote the list without numbering the items, then added the numbers alongside to delineate the five items; endorsed by Dearborn as dated 14 Feb. and “relating to Indian affairs.” PrC (DLC). Recorded in SJL with notation “Indian purchases &c.” Enclosures not found, but see below.

Congressman John bacon of Massachusetts had transmitted two letters he received from John Sergeant, a missionary with the Stockbridge Mohican Indians in central New York State. Through members of that “New Stockbridge” community who traveled on religious missions, Sergeant obtained information from as far west as the Mississippi River (Alan Taylor, “Captain Hendrick Aupaumut: The Dilemmas of an Intercultural Broker,” Ethnohistory, 43 [1996], 440–1; Bacon to TJ, 11 Apr. 1803; Sergeant to TJ, 25 June 1803).

light french breeze: see note to TJ to Owl and Others, 8 Jan.; note to TJ to Cornplanter and Others, 11 Feb.; and James Jackson to TJ, 14 Feb.

residue of the oakmulgee fork: on 19 Feb., Dearborn instructed Benjamin Hawkins to “exert all the influence you possess to induce the Creeks to make the Oakmulgee the boundary line by extending the cession made the last summer as far as that River.” Noting complaints from the Indians about incursions of livestock from outside their territory, Dearborn suggested that the Creeks might be persuaded to prefer “a strong natural boundary” such as the Ocmulgee River to the current boundary, which was “a mere mathematical line in the woods” (Dearborn to Hawkins, 19 Feb., in DNA: RG 75, LSIA). Dearborn expected James Wilkinson to join in the negotiations over changes in the boundary with the Creeks (Dearborn to Wilkinson, 18 Feb., in DNA: RG 107, LSMA).

Dearborn advised Wilkinson that the Choctaws’ collective debts to the panton, Leslie firm might provide leverage for land cessions. “If no other consideration will induce the Chocktaws to part with any of their lands but that of paying off the debt they owe Panton & Co.,” the secretary of war stated, the upper Choctaw towns might be willing to cede lands between the Yazoo and the Mississippi for that purpose and the lower towns might give up territory between the Tombigbee and Alabama Rivers. In 1805, the Choctaws’ indebtedness to the company was about $46,000; at that time, Dearborn anticipated that in exchange for relieving the Choctaws of the obligation, the United States might acquire as much as 4,500,000 acres of land (Dearborn to Wilkinson, 21 Feb., in DNA: RG 75, LSIA; 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], 255–6).

send instructions: for the orders to Wilkinson, Return Jonathan Meigs, Silas Dinsmoor, and William Henry Harrison, see TJ’s memorandum for Dearborn at 29 Dec. and Topics for Consultation with Heads of Departments, [on or after 10 Feb.].

Samuel Mitchell was the agent for the chickasaw Indians. A party from that tribe visited Washington in November 1802 and probably met TJ. Their only interpreter, however, was a young boy, who according to Dearborn spoke “but very little english.” Dearborn and the president, “unable to converse” with the group “understandingly,” could not ascertain the purpose of the visit. The secretary of war reminded Mitchell and Meigs, the agent for the Cherokees, that delegations traveling to Washington must receive prior authorization, carry passes, and be accompanied by skilled interpreters. The lack of an interpreter, Dearborn informed Mitchell, was “dangerous” and could “produce misunderstandings, that may lead to the most serious consequences” (Dearborn to Meigs, 23 Nov., and to Mitchell, 27 Nov., in DNA: RG 75, LSIA; James R. Atkinson, Splendid Land, Splendid People: The Chickasaw Indians to Removal [Tuscaloosa, Ala., 2004], 181, 184).

1TJ first wrote “slight” before altering the word.

2Ampersand and word interlined.

3Remainder of sentence interlined.

4Ampersand and name interlined.

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