Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from James Monroe, 31 August 1802

From James Monroe

Augt. 31. 1802.

Jas. Monroe’s best respects to Mr. Jefferson. as he sits out to Richmond to morrow or next day, & will probably not see him before his departure, he will thank Mr Jefferson for information on the following subjects. The state of Maryld. has set up a claim to the territory lying within this State no. the so. Branch of Potowk., on the principle that the so. branch is her true boundary. She proposes to submit the question to arbitrators. Was not that point settled by the King in Council, in a controversy between Lds. Fairfx & Baltimore? Was not the settement of the jurisdiction of the Chesppeake & Potowk. understood to be an adjustment of all interfering claims between the 2. States? This latter took place abt. the year 1785. between George Mason & Mr. Stone.

The line between this State & Tenissee is to be settled this fall. J.M. has obtnd. from F. Walker a copy of the survey of his father. Is any other document necessary on our part? Walker’s line is established with No. Carolina, but presumeably after the seperation of Tenessee from that State.

J.M. presumes that Mr. Jefferson has taken the course intimated in his last letter relative to our Slaves of causing the directors of the African compy. to be sounded thro’ our minister in London, as to our being permitted to colonize them there. This subject however is not so material at present. J.M. may return in the course of next week; he certainly will return in time to see Mr. Jefferson before he sits out for Washington when he will have the pleasure of confering with him on that interesting subject.

RC (DLC); addressed: “Mr. Jefferson. Monticello”; endorsed by TJ as received 31 Aug. and so recorded in SJL.

At the end of 1801, John F. Mercer had communicated to Monroe Maryland’s appointment of three commissioners to negotiate the state’s outstanding territorial CLAIM with Virginia. The General Assembly of Virginia responded in January 1802 with a resolution empowering Monroe to appoint commissioners who would help resolve the far western boundary between the two states. At issue was Maryland’s contention that the states’ north-south boundary should extend along the south, or longer, BRANCH of the Potomac River, a logical interpretation of the original colonial charter granted by Charles I to Cecelius Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore, which bounded the colony along the south bank of the Potomac to the then unknown location of “the first fountain.” This boundary, however, became confused by the Northern Neck proprietary, a grant of the land lying between the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers inherited by the Lords Fairfax but under the jurisdiction of Virginia. In the 1740s, George II had approved a survey of the proprietary that placed a boundary marker near the headwaters of the Potomac’s northern branch. Maryland had not been a party to this survey and never accepted it, but first the French and Indian War and then the Revolution had prevented a timely ADJUSTMENT of the boundary. The Compact of 1785 between the two states, brokered by commissions that included Virginia’s GEORGE MASON and Maryland’s Thomas stone, focused on navigation rights in the Chesapeake and Potomac, not on the boundary issues (CVSP description begins William P. Palmer and others, eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers . . . Preserved in the Capitol at Richmond, Richmond, 1875–93, 11 vols. description ends , 9:262; Acts Passed at a General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia: Begun and Held at the Capitol, in the City of Richmond, on Monday, the Seventh Day of December, One Thousand Eight Hundred and One [Richmond, 1802], 53, Shaw-Shoemaker description begins Ralph R. Shaw and Richard H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801–1819, New York, 1958–63, 22 vols. description ends , No. 3470; Louis N. Whealton, “The Maryland and Virginia Boundary Controversy, 1668–1894” [Ph.D. diss., Johns Hopkins University, 1897], 5–6, 19–23; Robert A. Rutland, ed., Papers of George Mason 1725–1792, 3 vols. [Chapel Hill, 1970], 2:812–23).

On 28 Aug., Monroe received information from Francis WALKER. In 1779, Walker’s father, Dr. Thomas Walker, made surveys for the boundary between western Virginia and the part of North Carolina that became the state of Tennessee. Walker’s line and one laid down by commissioners for North Carolina both failed to follow the line of latitude specified by North Carolina’s colonial charter. In 1803, the legislatures of Virginia and Tennessee accepted a compromise line that split the difference between the two earlier surveys (Stanley J. Folmsbee, Robert E. Corlew, and Enoch L. Mitchell, History of Tennessee, 4 vols. [New York, 1960], 1:1–2; Preston, Catalogue description begins Daniel Preston, A Comprehensive Catalogue of the Correspondence and Papers of James Monroe, Westport, Conn., 2001, 2 vols. description ends , 1:132; Vol. 22:448–9n; Vol. 28:63–4).


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