Acting Governor of the Northwest Territory to the President
Vincennes, County of Knox
July 31st. 1790.
The Absence of the Gouvernour having made it my Duty to carry into Effect as far as possible the Resolution of Congress of the 29th. of August 1788 respecting the Inhabitants of Post Vincennes, I beg Leave to report, not only my Proceedings under that Resolution, but some Circumstances which, in my Opinion, ought at this Time to be communicated as very materially concerning the Interests of the United States as well as Individual Settlers.
The Claims and Pretensions of the People have very generally been exhibited, but notwithstanding they were early advertised upon this Business by Proclamation of Governour St. Clair given at Kaskaskias, March last, and have since been repeatedly called upon by me, yet I have no Doubt there are a few Instances of Inattention and Neglect, which I have provided for by the Publication No. 8, a Copy of which is herewith annexed.1
For all the Possessions which appear to have been made by French or British Concessions I have issued Warrants of Survey as by the last Page of No. 2, No. 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 of the Land Records, for the County of Knox. Copies of all which accompany this Report.2
I have also directed that the four hundred Acre Lots to be given to every Head of a Family should be laid off for the Persons named in No. 1 and 2 and allotted, Excepting those, that might fall to the Absentees mentioned in the Pages b and c of No. 2, which are to be retained as there set forth until the Pleasure of Government is known. I beg Leave Sir to observe that there are a few Instances where the ancient Inhabitants (by removing from Vincennes to the Illinois Country or from that Country to this Place) can not be included under the Description of Persons entitled to Donation Lands, and they humbly solicit that Congress would be graciously pleased to consider their Situation and admit them to participate in the general Bounty.
I think it necessary here to remark Sir that although the Lands and Lots which have been ordered to be surveyed, appear from very good oral Testimony to belong to those Persons under whose Names they are respectively entered, either by original Grants to them made, Purchase or Inheritance Yet there is scarcely one Case in twenty where the Title is complete, owing to the desultory Manner in which public Business has been transacted, and some other unfortunate Causes.—The original Concessions by the French and British Commandants were generally made upon a small Scrap of Paper, which it has been customary to lodge in the Notary’s Office, who has seldom kept any Book of Record, but committed the most important Land Concerns to loose Sheets, which in Process of Time have come into the Possession of Persons that have fraudulently destroyed them or, unacquainted with their Consequence, innocently lost, or trifled them away, for by French Usage they are considered as Family Inheritance, and often descend to Women and Children.—In one Instance, and during the Government of Mr. St. Ange here, a Royal Notary run off with all the Public Papers in his Possession, as by a Certificate produced to me, And I am very sorry further to observe that in the Office of a Mr. Legrand which continued from the Year 1777 to 1788, and where should have been the Vouchers for important Land Transactions, the Records have been so falsified, and there is such gross Fraud and Forgery as to invalidate all Evidence and Information which I might otherwise have acquired from his Papers.
In Addition Sir to the ancient Possessions of the People of Vincennes under French and British Concessions, there is about one hundred and fifty Acres of Land constituting a Part of the Village and extending a Mile up the Wabash River in Front of their improved Claims, which was granted by Mr. St. Ange to some of the Pyankeshaw Indians; allotted into small Divisions for their Whigwhams and by them occupied and improved until the year 1786 when the last of them moved off, selling individually as they took themselves away their several Parts and Proportions. The Inhabitants now hold this Land, parcelled out amongst them in small Lots, some of which are highly improved and have been built upon before and since 1783. But imagining that a Confirmation of any Indian Purchase whatever might virtually involve some future Questions of Magnitude in this Territory, I have postponed all Order upon the Subject until the Pleasure of Congress can be known. In the mean Time giving to the Claimants my private Opinion that they would be permitted to retain them, either by free Gift or, for some small Consideration.
A Court of Civil and criminal Jurisdiction established at this Place by J. Todd, Esqre. under the Authority of Virginia in June 1779 and who Eked out their Existence to the Summer of 1787, have during that long Period continued to make large Grants of Lands, even by their own Acknowledgements, and without more Authority for so doing than is set forth in No. 9.3 Many of the Concessions which have been exhibited to me in their Name, They deny to have had any Knowledge of, and indeed there are some Reasons to conclude they may have been Forged in the Office of the Mr. Legrand before mentiond, who was a Servant of the Court and in whose Hand Writing the Deeds have all been made out.
I cannot find from any Informations I have been able to acquire that Mr. Todd ever delegated any Power of granting Land in this Country, or, in Fact, that he was endowed with it himself.—On the contrary, I find by the Acts of Virginia of 1779, that the Lands Northwest of the River Ohio were expressly excepted from Location, And that it was declared no Person should be allowed Preemption or any Benefit whatever, from settling on this Side the said River, And the Governour was desired to issue his Proclamation requiring all Persons to remove themselves and, in Case of Disobedience, to make use of an armed Force, this not to extend to French and other old Inhabitants actually settled on or before that Time in the Villages of Post Vincennes and upon the Mississippi. It appears, however, by a Proclamation of Mr. Todd’s No. 10, given4 at Kaskaskias the 15th. Day of June 1779, that a Kind of Authority was meant to be implied somewhere in the Country to grant Lands not only upon the River Bottom and Prairies under the French Restrictions, but in large Quantities and with more Latitude at a Distance therefrom. And twenty-six thousand Acres have been granted away from that Time to 1783 inclusive, and to the Year 1787 (when General Harmar checked the Abuse) twenty-two thousand more, generally in Parcels of four hundred Acres, tho’ some are much smaller and do not exceed the size of House Lots. The Court has also granted to Individuals, in some Instances, Tracts of many Leagues square, but a Sense of the Impropriety of such Measures has prevented the bringing forward those Claims.—Notwithstanding that some of the four hundred Acre, and smaller Lots, were possessed on and before 1783, yet the Authority whence they were derived has been such that I could not consider them as rightful Claims; They are however Sir in a few Instances under considerable Cultivation and Improvements, and some of the Plantations and many of the small Lots which have been granted by the Court since that Time are now cultivated in Tillage, and have been possessed by the present Claimants at much Expense. But by far the greatest Number of them were obtained at the Cost of Office Fees only and remain to this Hour in a State of Nature, or with no other Alteration than has been necessary to convert them into Sugar Camps.
Upon the Subject of those Lands Sir, A Petition has been presented to me by, and in Behalf of Eighty Americans, setting forth that they were induced to come into this Country by the Court of Post Vincennes with every Assurance of their Authority to make Grants, that in good Faith of this they have formed their Establishments at considerable Expense and must be involved in Ruin unless the Generosity of Congress shall permit their holding them.
The French Inhabitants have also petitioned me upon the Subject of Court Grants; some of which are now under Cultivation at no small Expense and Labour. I beg Leave Sir to lay the Situation of those People before Government, most respectfully representing that the Welfare and Prosperity of a Number of Industrious and good Citizens in this Territory must depend very much upon their Order.
A Petition has also been presented by the Inhabitants of Vincennes, praying a Confirmation of their Commons, comprehending about 2400 Acres of good and 3000 Acres of sunken Lands. They have been, it appears, thirty Years under a Fence which is intended to confine their Cattle within its Boundaries and keep them out of their wheat Fields. For, contrary to the Usage of Farmers generally, the Cattle are here enclosed, and the cultivated Lands are left at large, excepting on those Parts which immediately approach the Common. But this Fence, and quiet Possession under the French and British Governments they seem to imagine entitles them to a good prescriptive Right. It has been the Usage of the Commandants here to make all their Grants in Writing, and as this has not been produced or any Evidence of it I think it my Duty to refer the Matter to Congress as I am not authorized to decide upon it.
One other Petition, Sir, I am constrained to introduce. It has been signed by 131 Canadian, French and American Inhabitants, all enrolled in the Militia, setting forth that many of them were Heads of Families soon after the Year 1783, that from their Situation they are liable to and willing to perform an extraordinary Proportion of Military Duty, And soliciting that Congress would be pleased to make them a Donation of Lands.—In Justice to the Petitioners I think it incumbent on me to observe, that the commanding Officer of the regular Troops here has been obliged in some Instances to demand their Services for Convoys of Provisions up the Wabash River; and from the Weakness of the Garrison and the present Difficulties of Communication with other Posts, and the Ohio, that he may have frequent Occasion for their Aid, which I have no doubt will be yielded at all Times, with the greatest Cheerfulness.
[Before I close this Letter Sir, I must take the Liberty of representing to Congress by Desire of the Citizens of this Country, and as a Matter which I humbly conceive they should be informed of, that there are, not only at this Place, but in the several Villages upon the Mississippi considerable Claims for Supplies furnished the Troops of Virginia before, and since 1783, which no Person yet has been authorized to attend to, and which is very injurious to the Interests and Feelings of Men who seem to have been exposed to a Variety of Distresses and Impositions by Characters pretending to have acted under the Order of that Government.]5
The People of Vincennes have requested me to make known their Sentiments of Fidelity and Attachment to the Sovereignty of the United States and the Satisfaction they feel in being received into their Protection, which I beg Leave to communicate in their own Words, by the Copy of an Address presented me on the 23d. Inst:
If in this long Letter of Report and Representation I may appear to have tediously dwelt upon the Claims and Pretensions of the People of this Country, I request Sir, that it may be attributed to that Desire which I feel at all Times, faithfully to execute the Attentions necessary to Individual Interests and the great Duty I owe to Government.—With every Sentiment of Respect To your Excellency and Congress I have the Honour to be Sir Your most obedient Humble Servant
RC (DNA: RG 59, NWT, M/470); at head of text TJ penciled the following directions to Remsen: “Copy this in its entirety except Nos. 8. 9. and 10.” (for TJ’s instructions about these exceptions, see notes to Enclosures 2 and 4 below; for “Nos. 8. 9. and 10.” see Enclosures 5, 6, and 7 below). Tr (DNA: RG 46, Senate Records, 1st. Cong., 3rd. sess.); entirely in Sargent’s hand; at head of text: “Copy of a Letter from Winthrop Sargent Esquire to the President of the U. S.” FC (OHi: Journal of Executive Proceedings, NWT); differs in some particulars from RC as indicated in textual notes below (for a description of the manuscript of this journal, see Carter, Terr. Papers description begins Clarence E. Carter, ed., The Territorial Papers of the United States, 1934–62, 26 vols. description ends , iii, 263, note). Tr (DNA: RG 59, MLR, in Remsen’s hand).
Enclosures: (1) Copy of Journal of Executive Proceedings in the Northwest Territory from “Jany. 1st. 1790 to June the 11th. by Order of his Excellency Arthur St. Clair And to the last of June (in the Absence of the Governour) under Direction of the Secretary” (Tr in DNA: RG 59, NWT, M/470; in Sargent’s hand, with signed caption on cover as partially quoted, also signed and attested by Sargent at end of text; full text from FC in O printed in Carter, Terr. Papers description begins Clarence E. Carter, ed., The Territorial Papers of the United States, 1934–62, 26 vols. description ends , iii, 294–315). For extracts from Journal made by TJ and transmitted to the President, see Enclosure, Document iii. Both this copy of the Journal for the first six months of 1790 and that for July (see following note) were forwarded with the above letter from Vincennes on 2 Aug. 1790 (same, iii, 329).
(2) Copy of Journal of Executive Proceedings in the Northwest Territory “for the Month of July (in the Absence of the Governour) under the Order of the Secretary” (Tr in DNA: RG 59, NWT, M/470; in Sargent’s hand, with seal and signed caption on cover as partially quoted, also signed and attested by him at end of text; full text from FC in O printed in Carter, Terr. Papers description begins Clarence E. Carter, ed., The Territorial Papers of the United States, 1934–62, 26 vols. description ends , iii, 316–29). Above the seal on cover of Tr, TJ penciled the following direction to Remsen: “The proceedings of July 18. from this quire are to be copied as No. 8. No other part is wanting.”
(3) Warrants of survey and instructions from Arthur St. Clair to Antoine Girardin, 29 May 1790, directing him to survey for the inhabitants of Cahokia lands possessed by them “on or before the year 1783 in order that the same may be confirmed to them … as soon as may be that Patents of confirmation may issue” (Tr in DNA: RG 59, NWT, M/470; attested by Sargent as “From the Land Records No. 1 for the District of Cahokia,” accompanied by names of claimants and descriptions of claims; full text in Carter, Terr. Papers description begins Clarence E. Carter, ed., The Territorial Papers of the United States, 1934–62, 26 vols. description ends , ii, 263–76).
(4) Warrants of survey and instructions from Winthrop Sargent to Samuel Baird as “From the Land Records No. 1 for the Town of Vincennes and County of Knox” (Tr in DNA: RG 59, NWT, M/470; entirely in Sargent’s hand; bearing at head of text: “Town at Post Vincennes July the 13th 1790” and at its close: “Vincennes July 31st. 1790. Winthrop Sargent”; another Tr in DNA: RG 46, Senate Records, 1st Cong., 3rd. sess.). At head of text TJ wrote the following instructions in pencil to the departmental copyists (first line only partly legible): “Copy this page [separately and then page?] by page that the numbers may answer. Add as No. 8. proceedings of July 18. from the Journals. 9. and 10. from the end of the report of July 31.” The complete text of this document is printed in ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, Gales & Seaton, 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Public Lands, i, 11–15, but with a confused numbering of the enclosures. It is partially printed in Carter, Terr. Papers description begins Clarence E. Carter, ed., The Territorial Papers of the United States, 1934–62, 26 vols. description ends , ii, 285–7, but on the mistaken assumption that at least two different documents were involved—that is, the instructions issued by Sargent to Baird on 13 July 1790 and those issued on 31 July 1790. But the latter date, set down at the close of the document, refers (i) to the time at which the different instructions were copied off so as to form a single enclosure in the above letter to the President written on the same day, and (ii) to the time at which Sargent delivered to Baird the final instructions and warrants that had begun to be drafted on or soon after 18 July 1790 (same, iii, 329). There were, in fact, three separate instructions from Sargent to Baird embraced in this transcript, each of which is signed, the first and last of which have separate salutations, and only the first of which bears a date unequivocally attached to it.
Neither the nature of this transcript nor the allusion in the above letter to No. 1, “No. 2, No. 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7”—to say nothing of the penciled notations by TJ concerning “Nos. 8. 9. and 10.” (notations that are not noted in either of the printed texts)—can be understood without reference to the fact that this is a single document of seven folded sheets, each having four pages and bearing at the top of its first page a number corresponding to that in Sargent’s numerical sequence. His No. 1 and the first page of No. 2 embrace the first instructions of 13 July 1790 to Baird containing “an accurate List of the Heads of Families settled at Post Vincennes on or before the year 1783” and giving him warrant to survey donation lots for the persons named. It also gave him assurance that “Patents will issue as soon as your Returns are made into my Office.” This is the only part of the enclosure printed in Carter, Terr. Papers description begins Clarence E. Carter, ed., The Territorial Papers of the United States, 1934–62, 26 vols. description ends , ii, 285–7. The first and second pages of sheet No. 2 are, as Sargent indicated, designated respectively as “b” and “c.” These pages embrace the second set of instructions and concern settlers who came “certainly within the Letter of the Resolution of Congress” as being entitled to donation lands, but who had become absentees. In this second directive, which is undated, Sargent instructed Baird to lay off the lots of the fifteen listed absentees for “their Use and Benefit if Congress shall so direct, or otherwise to revert to the United States.” The fourth page of No. 2 contains the third directive to Baird, also undated. It directed Baird to survey, at the expense of the owners, the lands of those inhabitants claiming “Possessions … by French or British Concessions.” This instruction and its accompanying list of names embrace all of the remainder of the enclosure as described by Sargent—that is, “the last Page of No. 2, No. 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7” (full text with names printed in ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, Gales & Seaton, 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Public Lands, i, 12–15).
(5) This is the enclosure designated by Sargent and by TJ as “No. 8.” It was a public notice by Sargent to the inhabitants of Vincennes, dated 18 July 1790, stating that those who had not produced evidence of their claims should do so within sixty days; that warrants would be issued to Baird for making surveys; that patents to confirm “ancient claims and Possessions” would be made out as soon as the surveyor had filed his returns; and that, in cases where records of early concessions had been lost and evidences of assignment were missing, it would be necessary to produce the testimony of some of the old inhabitants, since it was “not impossible that ‘a Confirmation to such Claimants might be an Act of very great Injustice” (Tr in DNA: RG 59, NWT, M/470, from Journal of Executive Proceedings “for the month of July”; another Tr in DNA: RG 46, Senate Records, 1st. Cong., 3rd sess.; text from FC in O printed in Carter, Terr. Papers description begins Clarence E. Carter, ed., The Territorial Papers of the United States, 1934–62, 26 vols. description ends , iii, 322).
(6) This is the enclosure designated by Sargent and by TJ as “No. 9.” It is a letter from François Bosseron and other magistrates of Vincennes to Sargent, dated 3 July 1790, informing him, in response to his inquiry as to the reasons the court had assumed authority to make grants of land, that they had done so because the commandants had “always appeared to be vested with the powers to give Lands” and because the deputy of Colonel Todd, J. M. P. Legras, had “verbally informed the Court of Post Vincennes that when they should judge it proper to give Lands … they might do it” (Tr in DNA: RG 59, NWT, M/470; at head of text: “No. 9”; another Tr in DNA: RG 46, Senate Records, 1st. Cong., 3rd. sess.; full text printed in Carter, Terr. Papers description begins Clarence E. Carter, ed., The Territorial Papers of the United States, 1934–62, 26 vols. description ends , ii, 282–3).
(7) This is the enclosure designated by Sargent and by TJ as “No. 10.” It is a copy of a proclamation by John Todd, Jr., dated 15 June 1779, enjoining all persons from making further settlements in Illinois county except on the method employed by the French inhabitants and declaring that this was necessary to ascertain the vacant lands as well as to guard against trespass from the “Number of Adventurers who will shortly over run this Country” (Tr in DNA: RG 59, NWT, M/470; at head of text: “No. 10.”; full text printed in Carter, Terr. Papers description begins Clarence E. Carter, ed., The Territorial Papers of the United States, 1934–62, 26 vols. description ends , iii, 326–7, note: see also Todd to TJ, 19 Aug. 1779).
(8) Address of Antoine Gamelin and others (judges and militia officers of Vincennes) to Winthrop Sargent, 23 July 1790, on behalf of the citizens of the town, expressing their personal respect, their “full approbation” of measures taken by Sargent in respect to their government and the adjustment of their claims, and their attachment to the United States: “While we deem it a singular blessing to behold the principles of free government unfolding among us, we cherish the pleasing reflection, that our posterity will also have cause to rejoice at the political change now originating. A free and efficient government, wisely administered, and fostered under the protecting wings of an august Union of the States, cannot fail to render the citizens of this wide extended Territory securely happy in the possession of every public blessing.—We cannot take leave, Sir, without offering to your notice a tribute of gratitude and esteem, which every citizen of Vincennes conceives he owes to the merits of an officer who has long commanded at this post. The unsettled situation of things for a series of years previous to this gentleman’s arrival, tended in many instances to derange, and in others to suspend the operation of those municipal customs by which the citizens of this town were used to be governed. They were in the habit of submitting the superintendence of their civil regulations to the officer who happened to command the troops posted among them. Hence, in the course of the late war, and from the frequent change of masters, they laboured under heavy and various grievances. But the just and humane attention paid by Major Hamtramck, during his whole command, to the rights and feelings of every individual craving his interposition demands and will allways receive our warmest acknowledgments.—We beg you, Sir, to assure the supreme authority of the United States of our fidelity and attachment; and that our greatest ambition is to deserve its fostering care, by acting the part of good citizens” (Tr in DNA: RG 59, NWT, M/470; full text printed in Carter, Terr. Papers description begins Clarence E. Carter, ed., The Territorial Papers of the United States, 1934–62, 26 vols. description ends , ii, 291–2).
(9) Winthrop Sargent to Gamelin and others in response to the foregoing, [25 July 1790]: “Next to the Happiness which I derive from a Consciousness of endeavouring to merit the approbation of the sovereign Authority of the United States by a faithful discharge of the important Trusts committed to me, Is the grateful Plaudit of the respectable Citizens of this Territory. And be assured Gentlemen that I receive it from the Town of Vincennes upon this occasion with singular Satisfaction. In an Event so very interesting and important to every Individual as is the Organization of civil Government I regret exceedingly that you have been deprived of the Wisdom of our Worthy Governour. His extensive abilities and long Experience in the Honourable Walk of Public Life might have more perfectly established that System which promises to you and Posterity such great Political Blessings.—It is certain Gentlemen that the Government of the United States is most congenial to the dignity of human Nature, and the best Possible Palladium for the Lives and Property of Mankind.—The Services of Major Hamtramck to the Public, and his humane attention to the Citizens while in Command here have been highly meritorius. And it is with great Pleasure that I have officially expressed to him my full approbation thereof.—Your dutiful sentiments of Fidelity and Attachment to the General Government of the United States shall be faithfully transmitted to their August President” (Tr in DNA: RG 59, NWT, M/470; full text printed in Carter, Terr. Papers description begins Clarence E. Carter, ed., The Territorial Papers of the United States, 1934–62, 26 vols. description ends , ii, 292–3). Both the identity of the covering letter of transmittal and the date of Sargent’s response to the address have been brought into question (same, ii, 291, note 71; 292, note 80). But the fact that the above letter to the President mentions the address, while its text is on a leaf conjugate with that on which the text of the response appears, sufficiently establishes its character as an enclosure. The address and the response were both printed in Bache’s General Advertiser for 10 Dec. 1790 and the date of the latter is there given as 25 July 1790. Since the response to the address bears no date in the copy transmitted to the Department of State, it is clear that it was Sargent himself who supplied the texts to Bache.
For another letter that was intended to be enclosed with the above but, according to Sargent, was omitted by mistake, see Document v, note.
1. FC reads: “… provided for by the Publication of the 18th.”
2. This sentence does not appear in FC.
3. FC reads: “… No. 9 annexed to the Land Records.”
4. FC reads: “It appears however by Proclamation No. 10 (annexed to the Land Records) and given by Mr. Todd‥‥”