Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from John Harvie, 15 May 1798

From John Harvie

Belvedere May 15th. 1798

Dr Sir

In payment to Mr Short for his Mush Island Lands, was a Survey of Green Sea Lands made for me by One Bell, my Right to which Survey I transferr’d to Mr Short without any Warranty of Title—a Grant issued in the name of Mr Short (so well as I Recollect) & was deliver’d to Benjamin Harrison, who then Acted as his Agent—I do not Remember the Quantity of Land but I think about 2000 Acres—neither do I know what Attention Mr Harrison has pd. to it, the Value of the Land I Consider as of little Worth—what is called the Green Sea being Immense ponds of Water which probably will not be Drain’d in a Century—Mr Henry Obtain’d Grants for a Considerable Quantity of Green Sea Lands & made a Nominal Sale of them to judge Willson for I beleive a very small Consideration.

When I see Mr Harrison I will request him to give you Information what he has done with Mr Shorts patent.

I am Dr Sir with the truest Respect & Regard yr Most Obt Servt.

Jno. Harvie

RC (DLC: Short Papers); addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr. president of the Senate Philadelphia”; postmarked and franked; endorsed by TJ as received 29 Apr. but recorded in SJL under 29 May 1798.

In the 1780s William Short sold lands he had inherited in North Carolina, where mush island was located, to Harvie in exchange for Virginia land certificates, a large tract of land in Kentucky, and acreage in the green sea, a vast, reedy marsh within the Dismal Swamp in Norfolk County, Virginia. The expectation of Short and other investors, never fully realized, was that a Dismal Swamp canal, which both Virginia and North Carolina authorized in 1790, would unlock the area’s potential as an agricultural and timber-producing region. In 1795 Patrick Henry, who had immersed himself in Green Sea speculation only to find the lands impossible to resell at a profit, sold his Dismal Swamp holdings to James Wilson (Charles Royster, The Fabulous History of the Dismal Swamp Company: A Story of George Washington’s Times [New York, 1999], 82, 292, 317, 334–5, 340–3, 362, 379, 388; Shackelford, Jefferson’s Adoptive Son description begins George Green Shackelford, Jefferson’s Adoptive Son: The Life of William Short, 1759–1848, Lexington, Ky., 1993 description ends , 15; William S. Powell, The North Carolina Gazetteer [Chapel Hill, 1968], 343; TJ to Short, 13 Apr. 1800).

A letter from Harvie to TJ of 24 June 1798, which according to SJL TJ received while passing through Baltimore on 28 June, has not been found.

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