Thomas Jefferson Papers

Israel Pickens to Thomas Jefferson, 13 June 1822

From Israel Pickens

State of Alabama Cahawba—Executive Office June 13. 1822


The legislature of this state by an act at their last session have incorporated a seminary under the style of “The trustees of the University of Alabama” and have invested it with the seventy two sections of land reserved by Congress for endowing such an institution within the State. It will very shortly become the duty of the Trustees to provide for investing & preserving the ample funds which they have in charge, and also for putting the institution into operation on1 a scale corresponding with its endowment & with the publick expectation.

A charge so important to the present & future interests of our community justifies the wish entertained by those who have to administer it in the commencement, to obtain the most approved models & plans both for the buildings and for the government of such litterary establishments, which our country can furnish; with the advice of those whose experience wisdom & research may add value to their opinions. I am therefore desirous to procure for the use of the board, the plan of building adopted for the University of Virginia, which has been favoured by your patronage; and also the system of government & instruction, including the accounting department. In procuring which any assistance you may have the kindness to render, will be thankfully appreciated; and the more especially if accompanied with your own views on such points as you may deem useful to this infant institution.

In thus soliciting your attention I am encouraged to beleive that you will not deem the trouble unpleasant, as it is understood that your retirement from the long & busy theatre of publick life has been of choice devoted in part to these subjects, & generally to the cultivation & extension of science.

By the act of incorporation the Governor is ex officio a presiding trustee, twelve others are triennially appointed by the legislature. The lands are directed to be sold, on five instalments. The kind of funds in which the proceeds will be invested, is not yet determined; nor is the scite as yet fixed, yet this will most probably be done by the legislature at the ensuing session so far as regards the male branch, (there being a female branch authorized by the charter).2

I have the honour to be with great respect & consideration

Your Most obt

Israel Pickens

RC (MHi); addressed: “His Excellency Thomas Jefferson Monticello Charlotteville post Office Virginia”; stamp canceled; franked; postmarked Greensboro, Ala., 28 June; endorsed by TJ as received 3 Aug. 1822 from “Catawba. Alaba” and so recorded in SJL.

Israel Pickens (1780–1827), planter and public official, was born near Concord, North Carolina, and graduated from Jefferson College (later Washington and Jefferson College) in Pennsylvania in 1802. He was a member of the North Carolina senate, 1808–09, and of the United States House of Representatives, 1811–17, where he favored the declaration of war on Great Britain in 1812. At the end of his third term Pickens relocated to Alabama Territory, where he served as register of a federal land office, 1817–21, a member of the territory’s constitutional convention in 1819, and governor of the new state, 1821–25. As governor he supported the creation of both the University of Alabama and a state bank to help impoverished landowners. Pickens briefly held a seat in the United States Senate in 1826, but illness soon forced him to leave Washington. He died in Cuba while trying to restore his health (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, repr. 1968, 20 vols. in 10 description ends ; William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography [1979–96], 5:95–6; AMobU: Pickens Family Papers; Biographical and Historical Catalogue of Washington and Jefferson College [1889], 15; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States description ends , 3:92–3 [6 Mar. 1817]; Journal of the Convention of the Alabama Territory begun July 5, 1819 [Huntsville, 1819], 3; Montgomery Alabama Journal, 25 May 1827; gravestone inscription in Greensboro Cemetery, Greensboro).

The Alabama legislature incorporated a seminary with the 18 Dec. 1821 “Act Supplementary to an act to establish a State University” (Acts passed at the Third Annual Session of the General Assembly of the State of Alabama [Cahawba, Jan. 1822], 3–8). The 2 Mar. 1819 United States “Act to enable the people of the Alabama territory to form a constitution and state government, and for the admission of such state into the Union on an equal footing with the original states,” reserved “seventy-two sections or two townships … for the support of a seminary of learning” (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 , 3:489–92, quote on p. 491). The University of Alabama ultimately opened at Tuscaloosa in 1831 (James B. Sellers, History of the University of Alabama, 1818–1902 [1953]).

1Manuscript: “on on.”

2Omitted closing parenthesis editorially supplied.

Index Entries

  • Alabama, University of; land grant for search
  • Alabama (state); governor of search
  • Alabama (state); legislature of search
  • Congress, U.S.; and land grants search
  • education; female search
  • Pickens, Israel; and University of Alabama search
  • Pickens, Israel; identified search
  • Pickens, Israel; letter from search
  • schools and colleges; University of Alabama search
  • Virginia, University of; Construction and Grounds; design of search
  • women; education of search