James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Andrew Ellicott, 8 November 1809

From Andrew Ellicott

Lancaster November 8th. 1809.

Dear Sir,

In the year 1801, I left Gauld’s survey of the dry Tortuga’s, and the Florida reef and keys1 in the Navy department: It is on a large scale, and consists, if my recollection serves me, of four, or five large sheets: it is of immense value to our country since the acquisition of Louisiana, on account of the coasting trade round Florida point, into the gulf of Mexico. You will find some account of this survey in my printed Journal pages 254, and 255.2 As this work of Mr. Gauld’s was suppressed, or at least confined to the pilots, and privateers of the Bahama islands after the British lost the Floridas during our revolutionary war, it may be considered as out of print to the United States.

This survey does merit, if in my opinion any survey ever did merit, a new impression, which I should have pressed long before this time, had not the drudgery of a little office, from which I was never absent one day, for more than six years, occupied my whole attention.3 The analysis to the survey is wanting, which I am certain I can supply from Mr. Gauld’s notes, together with those of Captn. Roman,4 and my own: it would probably be comprized in less than 100 pages.

Being now at leisure, I am ready to undertake that business, or any other in the geographical way, particularly the determination of three, or four points, with the soundings on our coast, and east Florida; which merit particular attention, and which ever since my return from our southern boundary, I have been desirous of examining. These are the frying-pan shoals, Cape Hattaras, Cape Carnaveral, and the entrance on the Florida reef at key Biscanio. Accurate charts, on a large scale of all those points, especially the two latter, with the correct latitudes, and longitudes are wanted: because, it frequently happens, that dangerous places when critically examined, are found to contain good harbours, and become places of safety, rather than of danger to vessels. The dry Tortugas, were avoided for two centuries, but since the survey made by Mr. Gauld, they are frequented for safety.

Having the best apparatus in this country for executing such work, I feel somewhat mortified, that both myself, and instruments should be rendered useless for want of employ, while any thing remains to be done, in which both the safety of our citizens, and the interest of our coasting trade are involved. I have the honour to be, with sincere esteem, and respect, your old acquaintance, friend and hbe. servt.

Andw. Ellicott

RC (DLC); FC (DLC: Ellicott Papers).

1George Gauld, Observations on the Florida Kays, Reef and Gulf … Also, a Description, with Sailing Instructions, of the Coast of West Florida,… to Accompany His Charts of Those Coasts (London, 1796).

2Ellicott, The Journal of Andrew Ellicott, Late Commissioner … for Determining the Boundary between the United States and the Possessions of His Catholic Majesty (Philadelphia, 1803; Shaw and Shoemaker description begins R. R. Shaw and R. H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801-1819 (22 vols. to date; New York, 1958-). description ends 4147). Ellicott wrote that Gauld’s treatise, “made by the direction of the Board of Admiralty of Great Britain, may justly be considered as one of the most valuable works of the kind extant, but unfortunately it is little known” (ibid., p. 254).

3Ellicott was removed from his post in the Pennsylvania Land Office in 1808 after Simon Snyder was elected governor (Catharine Van Cortlandt Mathews, Andrew Ellicott: His Life and Letters [New York, 1908], p. 214).

4Bernard Romans, A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida (New York, 1775; Evans description begins Charles Evans, ed., American Bibliography ... 1639 ... 1820 (12 vols.; Chicago, 1903-34). description ends 14440).

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