Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from George Hunter, 2 August 1803

From George Hunter

Philada. Augt. 2nd. 1803


If the Government of the United States has a desire to explore the new acquisition of Territory called Louisiana, In order to procure general & necessary information preveous to a Treaty to fix Boundaries between us & the Dominions of Spain.

To ascertain1 the situation of, & circumstances relative to, those large bodies of good Land which shall appear best calculated to reimburse the purchase money of the Province, if not to discharge the Whole National Debt.

To have an accurate account of such of those natural Treasures, of Nitre, Sea Salt, Sulphur, Coal & other Minerals, Iron, Copper, Lead & other Metals as are already discovered & unapropriated, in order to their being disposed of to the best advantage for the general good.

And is inclined to accept my services to accomplish those & other objects the Government may have in veiw in that Country.

I will with pleasure make a tender of my best endeavours to execute such orders as I may receive, which from having some knowlege of the Customs & Languages of the French & Spaniards, of Chemistry & Mineralogy, & not unused to travelling by Land & Sea, particularly in the Western Country, I flatter myself I can perform to the satisfaction of the Government.

I am with great respect & esteem, your Excellys. most obt. Servt.

George Hunter

RC (DNA: RG 59, LAR); at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 17 Aug. and “to explore Louisiana” and so recorded in SJL. Enclosed in Gallatin to TJ, 11 Aug. 1803 (first letter).

A native of Scotland, George Hunter (1755-1823) came to America with his family in 1774, settling in Philadelphia and finding work as a druggist. After service in the American Revolution as an apothecary and surgeon, Hunter established his own business as a druggist and, later, a chemist. In 1796 and 1802, he made journeys to the west, visiting Kentucky, the Illinois country, and St. Louis. Hunter’s reputation as a chemist and mineralogist grew as he secured a contract to purify saltpeter for the War Department in 1803 as well as a patent for improving the production of sea salt. The following year, TJ named him to join William Dunbar in an expedition to explore the Red and Arkansas Rivers. In practical knowledge of chemistry, TJ explained to Dunbar, “he has probably no equal in the US.” Circumstances limited Dunbar and Hunter to a brief exploration of the Ouachita River from October 1804 to January 1805, but their findings provided the first published accounts of American explorations in the newly acquired Louisiana territory. Returning to Philadelphia in early 1805, Hunter declined further western ventures and refocused his attention on saltpeter contracts for the War and Navy Departments. In 1815, he removed to New Orleans, where he continued his various business enterprises until his death (John Francis McDermott, ed., “The Western Journals of Dr. George Hunter, 1796-1805,” APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Transactions, new ser., 53, pt. 4 [1963], 5-19, 123-4; Trey Berry, “The Expedition of William Dunbar and George Hunter Along the Ouachita River, 1804-1805,” Arkansas Historical Quarterly, 62 [2003], 386-403; List of Patents description begins A List of Patents Granted by the United States from April 10, 1790, to December 31, 1836, Washington, D.C., 1872 description ends , 33; Vol. 38:592, 593n; Éleuthère Irénée du Pont de Nemours to TJ, 22 Feb. 1804; TJ to William Dunbar, 15 Apr. 1804; TJ to Constantine S. Rafinesque, 15 Dec. 1804; Robert Smith to TJ, 22 Feb. 1809).

1MS: “a certain.”

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