Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Thomas McKean, 6 June 1803

From Thomas McKean

Philadelphia June 6th. 1803.


This will be handed to your Excellency by the Reverend Mr; Gideon Blackburn, who has been appointed by the General Assembly of Presbyterians in the United States, at their late session in this City; a Missionary to the Cheerokee nation of Indians; for the purpose of instructing them in the ways of civilized life and in piety.

This Gentleman is a native of Cumberland County in Pennsylvania, but has resided the last ten years in Tennessee, near to the Cheerokees, among whom he is now going. His constituents are anxious for the success of his mission, and I have been applied to for his introduction to the President of the United States, in order that he may obtain his countenance and approbation; as he would not enter upon this business without the knowledge and consent of the Government, being a zealous Republican and a Friend to the present administration.

A letter from Your Excellency to Colo. Benjamin Hawkins Superintendant of Indian affairs, or a Certificate, signifying your approbation of or consent to this mission of the General Assembly, is what, I understand, is hoped and expected.

Accept, Sir, a tender of my best services, and an assurance of my attachment.

Thos M:Kean

RC (DLC); in a clerk’s hand, signed by McKean; at foot of text: “His Excellency Thomas Jefferson Esquire Presidt. of U.S.”; endorsed by TJ as received 1 July “by revd Gideon Blackburn” and so recorded in SJL, where TJ mistakenly wrote “by revd Gideon Granger.” Dft (PHi); in McKean’s hand, signed and endorsed by him.

countenance and approbation: Henry Dearborn wrote to Return Jonathan Meigs on 1 July to report TJ’s determination “that in conformity with the intentions of the Government respecting the melioration of the present situation of our Indian Neighbours,” the government would aid Gideon Blackburn in the establishment of a school for Cherokee children. Dearborn authorized Meigs, as the agent for the Cherokees, to help the Presbyterian minister find a suitable location and build a schoolhouse. The secretary of war anticipated that the government’s expenditures for the first six months of the endeavor would amount to perhaps $300. Dearborn advised Blackburn, who had financial support from private individuals as well as the Presbyterian General Assembly, that he could have “no claim on the United States, for compensation for your services, other than what may from time to time be deemed advisable, in addition to what you may receive from the Society with whom you are connected or from individuals.” Cherokee leaders consented to the establishment of the school, which opened in February 1804. When Blackburn suggested that an increase of resources would enable him to establish schools for all Indian nations, Dearborn replied that although the initial success with the Cherokees was “highly pleasing,” there were too many people, “both in and out of Congress, who possess unfriendly dispositions towards the Natives,” and a broader enterprise could not be undertaken. In 1807, Blackburn informed TJ of the progress of young Cherokees in learning to read and write the English language (Dearborn to Meigs, 1 July, and to Blackburn, 1 July 1803, 12 Jan. 1804, in DNA: RG 75, LSIA; William G. McLoughlin, Cherokees and Missionaries, 1789–1839 [New Haven, 1984], 56–7; Blackburn to TJ, 11 Sep. 1807, in DNA: RG 107, LRUS).

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