Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Henry Dearborn, 31 July 1802

From Henry Dearborn

Washington July 31st, 1802


I herewith enclose Genl. Sumter and Col Senfs. letters on the subject of the proposed establishment of an Arsenal & Armoury.—it may be adviseable to make the purchase of a suitable quantity of land as soon as may be,—as a considerable quantity of wood will be necessary for the annual consumption of the works & workmen, and the having a command of timber and other materials for building, would be a desirable object, I take the liberty of suggesting the propriety of making a purchase of the tract mentioned by Genl. Sumpter containing from three, to five hundred Acres at six dollars pr. acre;—the difference between Col Senfs & Genl. Sumpters statements relative to the probable price of the land, is not easy for me to account for, but I presume that Sumpter must be considered as possessing the best information on that part of the business;—in the act entitled an Act for the erecting & repairing of Arsenals & Magazines & for other purposes, pass’d on the second of April 1794, it is among other things enacted, that none of the said Arsenals be erected until purchase of the land necessary for their accommodation be made, with the consent of the Legislature of the State in which the same is intended to be erected.—the resolution of the Legislature of the State of South Carolina, on the subject is herewith enclosed,—there can be no doubt as to the authority for making the necessary purchase,—what quantity of land shall be purchased seems to be the only question necessary to decide at present. when the establishment was contemplated at Harpers ferry, a considerable tract of land appears to have been thought necessary and was accordingly purchased.

with the most respectfull consideration I am Sir Your Huml Sevt.

H. Dearborn

RC (DLC); addressed: “The President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received from the War Department on 5 Aug. and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: Copy of “An Act to Enable the United States to Purchase a Quantity of Land, in this State, Not Exceeding Two Thousand Acres, for Arsenals and Magazines,” passed by the South Carolina General Assembly on 12 Dec. 1795 (Acts and Resolutions of the General Assembly, of the State of South-Carolina, From December, 1795, to December, 1797, Inclusive [Charleston, 1798], 9–10). Other enclosures not found.

ESTABLISHMENT OF AN ARSENAL & ARMOURY: plans for a federal arsenal and armory in the southern states had been under consideration since the 1790s. At Dearborn’s urging, TJ had reintroduced the topic in his message to Congress of 2 Feb. 1802. The preferred location was at Rocky Mount, on the Catawba River in South Carolina, a site first recommended by George Washington in 1798. Writing to Senator Thomas Sumter on 5 June 1802, Dearborn informed him that it was “the intention of the President” to commence work at Rocky Mount, and requested that Sumter and state engineer John Christian Senf select the site and purchase the land and water rights necessary for the establishment. After TJ approved their recommendations, Dearborn informed Sumter on 9 Aug. that the president favored his proposal to acquire a 300 to 500 acre tract, and requested Sumter to make the purchase and have a survey made. Later renamed Mount Dearborn, the Rocky Mount location proved to be a poor choice. The federal arsenal would be plagued by years of delay and controversy before finally being abandoned and retroceded to the state in the 1820s (Arthur P. Wade, “Mount Dearborn: The National Armory at Rocky Mount, South Carolina, 1802–1829,” South Carolina Historical Magazine, 81 [1980], 207–31, 316–41; Dearborn to Sumter, 5 June, 9 Aug. 1802 in DNA: RG 107, MLS; Vol. 36:125, 499; TJ to Dearborn, 6 Aug. 1802).

ACT FOR THE ERECTING & REPAIRING OF ARSENALS & MAGAZINES: see 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 , 1:352. The act authorized the president to establish three or four “arsenals with magazines” at such locations “as will best accomodate the different parts of the United States.”

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