James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William C. C. Claiborne (Abstract), 18 May 1805

§ From William C. C. Claiborne

18 May 1805, “On the Missisippie, 60 Miles, from New orleans.” “I left the City on the 14th. instant, and am this far on my way to Point Coupeé. The necessary appointments under the new Judiciary System, are made as I pass,1 and although I am not enabled on all occasion<s> to avail the public of the services of enlightened Men, yet I am persuaded that the conduct of those selected, will manifest the strictest integrity.

“When I left the City, every thing was quiet, and I trust no event will occur to disturb the general tranquillity. In the course of my journey, I have found the Inhabitants contented, and apparently well disposed towards the American Government. A few designing, ambitious men would wish to create discontent, but it is probable they will not succeed.

“I was pleased to learn that the last Congress had made provision for ascertaining the Legal titles for Land in this Territory;2 in as much as an early decision thereon, will promote the interest of the United States, as well as of Individuals. We abound here in Land Speculators, and the present state of things, is favorable to their views. A Gentleman residing in this Territory, who passes by the appellation of Barron Barstrop, acquired several years ago, from the Spanish Government, a Grant for one million Acres of excellent Land, lying on the River Ouachita;3 it is understood, that the grant was made on Condition, that within a period, (which was named) the Grantie should settle on the Land a certain number of families: The condition has not been complied with; but the grant has nevertheless been considered by the Grantie as valid, and many persons have taken Shares and promise themselves therefrom, much wealth: of the number is a Mr. Lynch of Kentucky, a Mr. Moorehouse, formerly of Newyork,4 and, Mr. Edward Livingston. These men and Bostrop have for some time been disputing among themselves about the Titles, but they have at length accommodated all differences, and, propose selling out the Lands on the best terms in their power. I do not know that the Barron’s title, will on enquiry be found invalid; but it seems to me, that it should at least be enquired into by the United States; and, that in the mean time, the Citizens generally should be cautioned not to make purchases of the Land in question. If the Constituted Authorities should remain silent, the possession of the land will pass to innocent purchasers, who may hereafter have a strong claim on the humanity of the United States for the Confirmation of their Titles.”

Adds in a postscript that he will return to New Orleans “in 1<0 or> 12 Days.”5

RC (DNA: RG 59, TP, Orleans, vol. 6); letterbook copy (ibid.); letterbook copy (Ms-Ar: Claiborne Executive Journal, vol. 15). RC 3 pp.; in a clerk’s hand, signed by Claiborne; docketed by Wagner: “Baron Bastrop’s purchase at Ouachita.” Postmarked 21 May at New Orleans. Damaged by removal of seal. Minor differences between the copies have not been noted.

1For the new judicial system in Orleans Territory, see Claiborne to JM, 16 Apr. 1805.

2For the 2 Mar. 1805 “act for ascertaining and adjusting the titles and claims to land, within the territory of Orleans, and the district of Louisiana,” see U.S. Statutes at Large, description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America … (17 vols.; Boston, 1848–73). description ends 2:324–29.

3In 1796 and 1797 Baron de Carondelet, the Spanish governor of Louisiana, granted Philip Hendrik Nering Bögel, soi-disant Baron de Bastrop, rights to a twelve-square-league section of land on the Ouachita River on the condition that he settle it with immigrants who would be provided with transportation from New Madrid, provisions, and seeds by the Spanish government. Intendant Juan Morales urged Carondelet to suspend the grant on the grounds that it would cost too much to fulfill Spain’s part of the bargain. In spite of this, Bastrop and others engaged in several transfers and mortgages of the land over the next several years. For documents and details of the involved situation that developed, and a history of Bastrop, see Charles A. Bacarisse, “Baron de Bastrop,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 58 (1955): 319–30, and Jennie O’Kelly Mitchell and Robert Dabney Calhoun, “The Marquis de Maison Rouge, the Baron de Bastrop, and Colonel Abraham Morhouse: Three Ouachita Valley Soldiers of Fortune. The Maison Rouge and Bastrop Spanish Land ‘Grants,’ ” La. Historical Quarterly 20 (1937): 289–456, esp. 369–430.

4Col. Charles Lynch was the ultimate holder of a mortgage Bastrop had originally given to Stephen Wendt. Col. Abraham Morhouse (d. 1813) was an Upstate New York native who had lived in Kentucky before moving to the Ouachita district in 1799. His land interests and Bastrop’s were deeply interwined. On 18 May 1805 Lynch, Morhouse, Edward Livingston, and Bastrop entered into an agreement that settled the several land questions between them (Mitchell and Calhoun, “The Marquis de Maison Rouge, the Baron de Bastrop, and Colonel Abraham Morhouse,” La. Historical Quarterly 20:387–91, 400–401, 426).

5Dates supplied from first letterbook copy.

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