Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from William Blount, 26 December 1791

From William Blount

Territory of the United States of America South of the river Ohio, at Mr. Cobb’s,” 26 Dec. 1791. He has learned that Virginia has “passed a law extending their government over that space of country which lays between the lines run by the Virginia and North-Carolina Commissioners, commonly called Walker’s and Henderson’s lines. I have before informed you that I had thought it my duty to claim on the part of the United States to Henderson’s, as that was the line North-Carolina claimed to, and actually held, and exercised jurisdiction to at the time she passed the cession act. I should be glad of instructions on this head.”

RC (DNA: RG 59, SWT, M–471/1); 1 p.; endorsed by TJ as received 18 Jan. 1792 and so recorded in SJL; full text in Carter, Terr. Papers description begins Clarence E. Carter, ed., The Territorial Papers of the United States, Washington, 1934–1962, 26 vols. description ends , iv, 107.

Virginia and North Carolina had taken steps in 1779 to survey their common boundary west of the Allegheny Mountains along the parallel 36° 31’. The commissioners, however, could not agree on the location of the line and therefore ran two parallel lines two miles apart. The northern line, claimed by North Carolina, was known as Henderson’s line, and the southern line, claimed by Virginia, was called Walker’s line. Following the cession to the U.S. of both states’ western lands, the question of the remaining boundary between them was resolved when Virginia’s “Act concerning the Southern boundary of this State” became law on 7 Dec. 1791. This act was meant to recognize North Carolina’s designation of Walker’s line as the official boundary between the two states (Hening, description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, Richmond, 1809–1823, 13 vols. description ends xiii, 258). Blount was concerned about the effect of this on determining the southern extent of his jurisdiction in the Southwest Territory. This issue was further complicated by the impending admission of Kentucky to the union, which led TJ to advise Blount that settlement of the question would have to include representatives of that state (TJ to Blount, 6 June 1792). In the fall of 1792, TJ collected relevant papers and sent them to the President, who turned the matter over to Congress (TJ to Washington, 2 Nov. 1792, and enclosures). The extended boundary was finally established when Virginia and Tennessee compromised in 1803 on a line down the middle of the parallel lines drawn in 1779, about one mile north of Walker’s line, and when Kentucky and Tennessee decided in 1820 to follow Walker’s line to determine their common border. These issues are summarized in Edward M. Douglas, “Boundary Areas, Geographic Centers and Altitudes of the United States and the Several States …,” U.S. Geological Survey, Bulletin 689 (Washington, 1923), p. 126, 161–2.

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