Thomas Jefferson Papers

John Brahan to Thomas Jefferson, 18 October 1809

From John Brahan

Nashville Tennessee 18th October 1809


It is with painful Sensations that I Announce to You the death of His Excellency Meriwether Lewis Governor of Upper Louisiana which took place on the morning of the 11th Instant; The following Circumstances attending this unhappy affair I have obtained from Major James Neelly Agent to the Chickasaw nation—he informs me that he left the Chickasaw Bluffs in Company with the Governor the last of Sepr on their way to this place—that the Governor appeared some days thereafter while on their Journey, to be Some what deranged in mind; after crossing Tennessee River and traveling one day one of the Governors & one of Majr Neellys horses got away from the place where they had encamped. the Governor proposed to the Majr to remain behind and find the horses, & that he would proceed on his Journey and wait for him at the first house from there inhabited by White people. to which the Major agreed & the Governor proceeded on with his Servant1 & Majr Neellys—to the house of a Mr Grinder where he arrived about sun set—no person being at home but the wife of Mr Grinder—the woman discovering the governor to be deranged gave him up the house, and Slept herself in another house near it—the two Servants Slept in a Stable loft Some distance off: about three oClock the woman heard two pistols fire off. being alarmed She went & waked the servants when they came in they found him weltering in his blood. he had shot himself first it was thought in the head. the ball did not take effect. the other Shot was a little below his breast, which proved Mortal: he lived until Sun rise & expired—the Majr had him decently buried.2 Majr Neelly informs me that he has got his two trunks with his Valuable papers, Amongst which is his Journal to the pacific Ocean, & perhaps Some Vouchers for Public Money expended in the Territorial Government of Upper Louisiana—he has also got his Silver watch—his Brace of pistols, his Rifle & Dirk—one of his horses was lost in the Wilderness which may probably be got again, the other horse John Purney the Governors Servant will ride on, who will leave here early in the Morning for Monticello: Majr Neelly has Given him fifteen Dollars to take him on; and I was fearful that he might be Short of money & have furnished him with five dollars more which will be sufficient—I would have given him more but was fearful it might cause him to drink as I discover he has a propensity at present. but perhaps it may be from distress of mind at the death of the Governor—I shall remain in this place Some time and will with great pleasure attend to any instruction you may think necessary. either in Sending on the trunks of papers or the other articles of his property whereever directed—which will probably be to Monticello—I feel great distress at the premature death of the Governor he was a very particular friend of mine, being intimately acquainted, and one for whom I had the Greatest respect & Esteem—

I have the honor to be With Great respect, Your Mo Ob Sert
John Brahan Capt
2d Regt U:S. Infy

PS. I am told that Governor Lewis left two trunks & some other articles with Capt Gilbert C Russell Commanding Officer at the Chickasaw Bluffs


RC (DLC); addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esquire late President U States Monticello, near Charlottsville Virga Mail”; franked and postmarked; endorsed by TJ as received 24 Nov. 1809 and so recorded in SJL.

John Brahan (1774–1834), a United States Army officer from Virginia, served as a first lieutenant in the 7th Infantry Regiment from January 1799 until the unit disbanded in June 1800, reentered the service as a second lieutenant in the 2d Infantry Regiment in February 1801, and was promoted by TJ to first lieutenant in June 1801 and captain in July 1806. He resigned his commission on 1 Jan. 1810, six months after President James Madison appointed him a receiver of public monies for Madison County, Mississippi Territory. Brahan held this post until his dismissal in 1820 for various financial improprieties. He also served as a contractor for General Andrew Jackson’s forces during both the Creek War and the War of 1812, attempted to raise troops from Madison County during the latter conflict and, after hostilities had ended, was appointed a major general in the Alabama militia (Jackson, Papers description begins Sam B. Smith, Harold D. Moser, and others, eds., The Papers of Andrew Jackson, 1980– , 6 vols. description ends , 2:50, 3:405, 430; Heitman, U.S. Army description begins Francis B. Heitman, comp., Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, 1903, 2 vols. description ends , 1:240; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States description ends , 2:122, 125 [16, 21 June 1809]; ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Public Lands, 3:485–92).

1Manuscript: “Sevant.”

2Preceding six words interlined.

Index Entries

  • Brahan, John; and M. Lewis’s death search
  • Brahan, John; identified search
  • Brahan, John; letters from search
  • Clark (Clarke), William; and journals of Lewis and Clark Expedition search
  • Grinder, Mrs. Robert search
  • Grinder, Robert search
  • Lewis, Meriwether; death of search
  • Lewis, Meriwether; Lewis and Clark Expedition search
  • Lewis and Clark Expedition; journals of search
  • Neelly, James; and M. Lewis’s death search
  • Pernier (Purney), John; and M. Lewis’s death search
  • Russell, Gilbert Christian; and M. Lewis’s belongings search
  • suicide; and M. Lewis search