Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Albert Gallatin, 22 June 1803

From Albert Gallatin

Treasury Department June 22d: 1803.


I have the honor to submit to your consideration a sketch of the conditions on which it seems that the Salt springs near the Wabash, lately ceded by the Indians, may be offered on lease.—

The object, in conformity to your instructions, is, besides a moderate rent in salt intended for the use of the Indians, to let the springs to the person who shall engage to manufacture the largest quantity of salt, and to sell it on the cheapest terms. Although the information obtained from Mr. Prince is not as complete as might have been desired, especially respecting the quantity of water afforded by the two springs; yet I believe, from all I have been able to collect, that they will be fully sufficient to employ kettles of greater aggregate contents than sixteen thousand gallons.—

I am informed that the Holston Springs owned by Mr. King, supply Kettles of the aggregate contents of 12,000 gallons, from which 180 bushels of salt are daily made; and as those springs contain about 2/11 salt & 9/11 fresh water, it would follow that the daily evaporation of water boiled in kettles containing 12,000 gallons, is equal to six thousand four hundred and eighty gallons.—Kettles of the contents of 16,000 gallons will therefore evaporate daily 8,640 gallons of fresh water; make, according to Mr. Prince’s report that the Wabash Springs contain 2/45ths salt, about fifty bushels of salt every day, and require from the springs a daily supply of nine thousand gallons; which is less than six gallons and an half per minute.

It is intended to transmit the proposals to the Governor of the Indiana Territory, and to have them printed in the News-papers of the States of Ohio, Kentuckey, and Tenessee; but whether the Governor should be authorized to conclude the contract, or instructed to transmit the proposals, with his opinion, to this Department, for your determination, is submitted to your decision.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, Sir, Your obedt. Servant

Albert Gallatin

RC (DLC); in a clerk’s hand, signed by Gallatin; at foot of text: “The President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received from the Treasury Department on 22 June and “Salt springs Wabash” and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: see below.

Gallatin’s sketch of the conditions for the lease of the Wabash salt springs has not been found but it probably differed little from the notice issued by the Treasury Department, dated 24 June, calling for proposals for the lease of the salines for three years beginning 1 Dec. 1803. No rent would be expected the first year of the lease, but after that the lessees were to pay 1,000 bushels equal to 50,000 pounds of “merchantable salt” each year to be delivered at set times. During the first year, they were to establish kettles for making salt with aggregate contents of at least 8,000 gallons to be increased to 15,000 during the second year and for the remainder of the lease. The U.S. would advance $2,500 to assist with the purchase of the “kettles, and erection of the works,” the money to be repaid at the end of the lease with six percent interest from the end of the first year. The proposals were to include the quantity of salt to be produced annually and the price for which it would be sold. After the first year, they would provide the quantity of salt agreed upon “at a price not greater than that fixed” by the terms, with the U.S. reserving the right to purchase all of the salt manufactured at that price. The government sought to lease the spring to those who would “engage to sell the greatest quantity of salt at the lowest price.” The lessees were required to post bond with approved security (printed in the Lexington Kentucky Gazette, 20 Sep. 1803).

In a letter of 26 Apr. 1803, William prince, who had been sent by Governor Harrison to investigate the salt springs, reported that the water from the well along the Saline River was of excellent quality with “a bushel of good Salt” produced from 180 gallons. Prince noted that the well afforded sufficient water for 32 kettles of from 25 to 30 gallons each. He described another spring “equal in quality and quantity” about 150 yards away that was next to a spring of fresh water. Prince did not investigate the salt lick five miles away but observed “that the earth for a considerable distance around is strongly impregnated with Salt” (RC in DLC; endorsed as received from Vincennes on 17 May and “Making a Report relative to the Salt Spring on the Wabash”; endorsed by TJ as a letter “to Genl. Dearborne on the Salt springs. for mr Gallatin”).

holston springs, a saline in western Virginia, was taken over by William king in 1795. He established an efficient salt-making operation, with a warehouse and a wagon road from the salt works to the Holston River to transport the salt to eastern Tennessee (John A. Jakle, “Salt on the Ohio Valley Frontier, 1770–1820,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 59 [1969], 708).

The Treasury Department notice called for the proposals to be sent to the governor at Vincennes by 30 Sep. 1803. To stimulate participation, Gallatin encouraged those who were interested in leasing but thought the number of kettles specified more than they could establish to submit proposals, stating “the quantity, expressed in gallons of the contents, which they would agree to establish and keep up” (Lexington Kentucky Gazette, 20 Sep. 1803).

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