James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John K. Smith, 15 May 1810

From John K. Smith

New Orleans 15th. may 1810.


I have had the honor to receive your letter of the 12th. ulto. Mr. Duplantier being absent at Batton Rouge & not being expected to return for some time I applied to Mr. Derbigney his friend agent & attorney upon the Subject of your letter. His memo. in writing I enclose & also a plat & some observations explanatory which I obtained from B. Lafon a Surveyor of this place who is a man of talents & may I believe (where his own interest is not concerned) be depended upon.1

None of the claims upon these Vacant lands adjacent to the City have yet been decided upon by the Board of Comrs. nor will they possibly for some time. Should a decision be pressed I shall be informed of it & will apprize the agent on the part of the US who will with myself attend to scrutinize the claims.

From all the information I can get it appears that there is not 500 acres even including the lands upon which claims are presented & as the last act of Congress requires that it Should be located not less than 500 acres it results that it will be requisite & for the Interest of Genl. Lafayette that Congress should grant to him all the Vacant lands adjoining N. Orleans not including the 600 yards from fortifications granted to the Corporation nor any in front of the City upon the Levee.

I shall communicate with Mr. Duplantier upon his return & in the mean time I shall take every step in my power to possess myself of information on the Subject. I have the honor to be with the greatest resp[ect] yr mo. Ob St.

J. K Smith



Mr. Derbigney’s memo. (in pencil)

⟨“⟩Mr. Duplantier gave up all idea of locating any land for Genl. Lafayette behind the 600 yards granted to the Corporation

1st. because the line of a claim filed by Mr. Jno B. Macarty & to all appearance perfectly good runs from the Mississipi & strikes the Canal Carondelet within a very short distance of the said 600 yards so as to leave no room for 500 acres.

2dy. because should there be room ⟨to locate 500 acres in⟩ that part they ⟨are⟩ not worth locating being nothing but swamps.”2

RC and enclosures, two copies (DNA: RG 49, Special Acts; and DLC). Second enclosure 3 pp.; docketed by Smith, “Memo. / B. Lafon—lands adjacent to N Orleans / Genl. Lafayettes claim” (see n. 1). A folder of plats is filed with the records of Lafayette’s Louisiana land claims (DNA: RG 49, Special Acts), but the editors were unable to identify the plat enclosed by Smith. RC (DLC) marked “Copy”; docketed by JM. Smith apparently sent the copy of the RC and enclosures in his 14 July 1810 letter to JM to replace originals he feared had been lost.

1Smith enclosed a copy of a 12 May 1810 memorandum, apparently by Bartholomew Lafon. The writer stated that he had delivered to Lafayette plats for lands surveyed in 1805 “in the back part of the city of New-Orleans, and measuring in the whole 959. Superficial arpents,” but since he could not “find 1000. arpents in one tract, my operation had no effect.” Congress then amended its grant to “not less than 500. acres,” and he was asked to make a new survey. He located “two lots of 500. arpents each” and presented the claims to the land office on 8 Apr. 1806. For reasons not clear to him, Lafayette’s agents gave up this grant. Subsequently, other vacant land was surveyed, amounting to 447 arpents but including a tract claimed by the city. The tract claimed by the city “could be Sold for more than $500,000.” Part of the remainder needed draining, but once “dried up—it has a value of from $25000 to 30.000.… The corporation of New Orleans is already very rich, and the Congress should be very wrong to encrease their property as it would be increasing their influence already to[o] powerful against individuals.”

2Words torn or obscured on damaged enclosure have been supplied from the copy (DLC).

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