Thomas Jefferson Papers

Jesse Wharton to Thomas Jefferson, 30 May 1820

From Jesse Wharton

Nashville, Tennessee May 30th 1820.


I have taken the liberty of enclosing to you, a report of the late Genl Daniel Smith respecting the running of the southern boundary of Virginia, by himself and Dr Thomas Walker; both of whom, I presume, you were well acquainted with. It is probable you have some recollection of the running of that line, the extent of that line—& the order given by you, if you were then the Governor of that state.

From information obtained from Richmond, it appears that the journals of the legislature, or of the executive counsel, shed but little light on this subject—And as little information can be derived from North Carolina, whose public records do not shew any formal ratification of the line run by Messrs Walker & Smith; yet the laws of that state passed in the years 1779, 1780, 1781 1782, 1783 & 1786, in confirming land claims emanating from Virginia; in laying off the bounds for surveying lands of the officers & soldiers of the revolutionary army;—and in laying off counties, expressly call for, & recognize this line as the northern boundary of the state of North Carolina.—   Virginia passed a similar law in 1781 calling for the extention of her military reservation on the North Carolina line; and in 1791 expressly ratifies the line—Though no formal ratification of this line by North Carolina can be found, whilst this state was a part of No Carolina, yet by various acts of the two states Walkers and Smith’s line is recognized during that time, so far as I have been informed, and has been considered by the people of those states, as the legal boundary in the appropriation of lands & otherwise—A dispute has lately arisen about it, and your opinion one way or the other, will put my mind at rest on that subject, as I am satisfied you have had a better opportunity of being informed in that respect than any person now living.

You will pardon the trouble I have given you in your aged retirement from the highest honors in this life; but the subject being a matter of interest, your known goodness has encouraged me to make the request.

I have the honor to be with sentiments of the highest respt yr mo. Obt Servt

J. Wharton

RC (CSmH: JF-BA); endorsed by TJ as received 21 June 1820 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: Daniel Smith to an unidentified correspondent, Sumner County, Tennessee, 8 Dec. 1815, detailing the work done by Smith and Thomas Walker in surveying the border between North Carolina and Virginia, 1779–80; relating that on their arrival at French Lick, Kentucky, they received a letter from TJ instructing them to obtain a guard from George Rogers Clark and descend the Ohio River to protect Virginia’s land claims in response to Spanish activity; and reporting that when they reunited with the boundary commissioners from North Carolina, its commissioner Richard Henderson stated that North Carolina would confirm the line as surveyed (printed in Nashville Gazette, 1 Mar. 1820; at head of text [one word editorially corrected from “lettter”]: “Since the return of our commissioners from Kentucky, and the conclusion of our treaty of limits, several references have been made to the letter of Gen. Daniel Smith, and frequent enquiries addressed to this office for it. We have been successful in our endeavours to procure a copy of it, and to day lay it before our readers”; parenthetical note at foot of text: “A Copy”; the clipping sent to TJ is in MoSHi: TJC).

Jesse Wharton (d. 1833), attorney and public official, was a native of Covesville in Albemarle County. He graduated from Dickinson College in 1794, qualified at the bar in Albemarle County two years later, and moved to Nashville around 1797. Wharton served in the Tennessee House of Representatives, 1801–03, and in the United States House of Representatives, 1807–09, filled a vacancy in the United States Senate, 1814–15, and ran unsuccessfully for governor of Tennessee in the latter year. He served as a trustee of Cumberland College, which became during his tenure the University of Nashville, 1816–33, and was appointed to the Board of Visitors of the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1832. Wharton practiced law briefly after his time in the Senate and before retiring to an estate outside Nashville. Three years before his death in that city, he owned thirty-three slaves (Robert M. McBride, Dan M. Robison, and others, Biographical Directory of the Tennessee General Assembly [1975– ], 1:773–4; Joshua A. Lippincott and Ovando B. Super, Alumni Record of Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pa. [1886], 32; Woods, Albemarle description begins Edgar Woods, Albemarle County in Virginia, 1901, repr. 1991 description ends , 380; TJ to Wharton, 19 Apr., and Wharton to TJ, 21 Apr. 1808 [both in DLC]; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 12 Apr. 1814, 5 Aug. 1833; Michael J. Dubin, United States Gubernatorial Elections, 1776–1860: The Official Results by State and County [2003], 240–1; DNA: RG 29, CS, Tenn., Davidson Co., 1820, 1830; New-York Spectator, 15 May 1832).

As governor of Virginia, TJ appointed Thomas Walker and Daniel Smith to be boundary commissioners following a 15 June 1779 resolution of the House of Delegates that the state work with North Carolina to extend their border westward (PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, James P. McClure, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 43 vols. description ends , 3:13–4, 278–9; JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia description ends [1779 sess.], 48–9). The 1781 Virginia law calling for the extention of lands reserved for military bounties set aside property situated north of the North Carolina boundary, between the Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee rivers, in place of lands formerly in Virginia that had become part of North Carolina on establishment of the border (Acts of Assembly description begins Acts of the General Assembly of Virginia (cited by session; title varies over time) description ends [Nov. 1781 sess.], 13). On 7 Dec. 1791 the Virginia General Assembly passed “An Act concerning the Southern Boundary of this State,” which expressly established the line between Virginia and North Carolina as that surveyed by Walker, Smith, and others, 1779–80 (Acts of Assembly description begins Acts of the General Assembly of Virginia (cited by session; title varies over time) description ends [1791–92 sess.], 9–10).

The recent dispute concerned the portion of this survey line that had long served as the boundary between Kentucky and Tennessee. Subsequent surveys had shown that Walker’s Line, as it was known, was actually 3′ north of its intended latitude of 36° 30′. In February 1820 Kentucky and Tennessee appointed commissioners to ascertain the border. Their decision to use Walker’s Line was confirmed by both states and approved on 12 May 1820 by the United States Congress (Edward M. Douglas, Boundaries, Areas, Geographic Centers and Altitudes of the United States and the Several States [2d ed., 1939], 183; U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States … 1789 to March 3, 1845, 1845–67, 8 vols. description ends , 3:609).

Index Entries

  • An Act concerning the Southern Boundary of this State (1791) search
  • An Act to adjust and regulate the pay and accounts of the Officers and Soldiers of the Virginia line on Continental establishment; and also of the Officers, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines in the service of this State; and for other purposes (1781) search
  • Clark (Clarke), George Rogers; and survey of boundaries search
  • Henderson, Richard (1735–1785); as boundary commissioner search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Public Service; as governor of Va. search
  • Kentucky; boundaries of search
  • North Carolina; boundary with Va. search
  • Smith, Daniel; surveyor search
  • surveying; and Kentucky-Tennessee boundary search
  • surveying; and Virginia–North Carolina boundary search
  • Tennessee; boundaries of search
  • Virginia; boundary of with N.C. search
  • Virginia; House of Delegates search
  • Virginia; land claims of veterans from search
  • Walker, Thomas (1715–94); as surveyor search
  • Wharton, Jesse; and state boundaries search
  • Wharton, Jesse; identified search
  • Wharton, Jesse; letter from search