James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Harry Toulmin, 28 November 1810 (Abstract)

§ From Harry Toulmin

28 November 1810, Fort Stoddert. “The situation of our country here [which] becomes every day so truly critical … will excuse me, I hope, if I should even communicate to you more frequently or more fully than may be deemed absolutely necessary.” Has no doubt that “the alarm excited in the summer, induced the government to take the best measures” possible, but the “judicial arm is (for the want of an adequate support in the moral principles of the community) extremely feeble here.” Violators of the law boast of immunity from conviction, of making war on the Spanish possessions, while the “friends of order” strive for measures to “maintain the honour of the government and repress combinations destructive … of the dignity of the American name.”

“Three companies of militia were ordered to be in readiness some time since: but a considerable part of the officers have joined the insurgents.” Has notified the Mississippi territorial governor of his apprehensions but has received no response. Refers JM to his last letter [22 Nov.] where he mentioned intimating “to an influential gentleman at Mobile” that West Florida should declare its wish to join the U.S. Has made a similar suggestion to a friend at Pensacola; encloses letters nos. 1 and 2 on the subject.1

The second letter was received the evening before a rendezvous between Colonel Kemper and Major Kennedy, and it was Toulmin’s intention to accompany Capt. Edmund Gaines to that meeting “to represent the impolicy and rashness of proceeding in the enterprize.” Gaines, however, observed that under a long-standing order from the War Department, Colonel Sparks could order him to Mobile to obtain from Governor Folch “an official declaration as to his intentions with regard to duties,” which would “cut off every pretext for hostile operations on the part of our citizens.” “I was myself proceeding to the meeting, to represent that Captn. Gaines was actually gone to Mobile,… but being unable to procure a boat large enough to take us, I merely wrote a letter stating the matter to a Justice of the peace residing in the neighbourhood,… which Coll. Sparks sent by two soldiers.… The men were immediately made prisoners of by the party at the line.” Kemper wrote Sparks that he had taken his men as deserters and demanded to know the contents of the letter. “At the same time, I sent letters over the country” announcing Gaines’s journey to Mobile and “the prospect of an abolition of duties.” By the time information came of the arrest of the soldiers, a messenger had delivered Innerarity’s letter, no. 3,2 and two letters from Governor Folch, nos. 4 and 5.3

“I immediately communicated to different parts of the country the substance of No. 4. and stated the fact of the application having been made by Govr Folch to the Marquis Someruelos, nearly two months ago: and … forwarded Govr. Folch’s letter to Govr. Holmes, and … I sent a copy of No: 4 to Genl. Thomas.”

Sparks sent an officer to reclaim the two soldiers from Kemper and to invite him and Kennedy to Fort Stoddert. “I did not expect them to come: nor did I believe that any impression would be made on the minds of leaders who had gone so far.” Hoped he could notify some of “their followers” of the “state of things,” so he wrote to Col. John Caller and Major Buford. Caller, as chief justice of the inferior court in Washington County, “seemed from his office & his age to be under peculiar obligations to maintain peace and the laws.” Does not know the effect of his letters. “The officer dispatched by Col. Sparks returned last night with the two soldiers, and brought a letter from Kemper, of which No 6. is a copy.”4

Hears reports that the filibusterers are in “high spirits” and that their leaders “breathe out vengance against their opposers, particularly myself.” Believes Kennedy desires his death and “it was a fortunate event for me that I could not get a boat on Saturday, as it is probable that my life would have paid for my temerity.”

“This afternoon Captn. Gaines returned from Mobile, and brought a letter addressed to him by Govr. Folch, of which No. 7. is a copy.”5 The people below “are in general consternation.” “We are distributing copies of Govr. Folch’s letter to Captn. Gaines.” Hopes the filibustering party will not increase but has no consistent accounts of its numbers. Estimates range from sixty or seventy to over two hundred. The party reportedly consists mainly of the settlers on the public lands in the “forks of the Tombigby & Alabama.” Without aid from Baton Rouge they can only “distress the inhabitants,” but they expect a thousand men from there. “A person from that quarter … informed me that it was not from any want of their services that the [West Florida] convention invited the people here to join them, but that it had been recommended to them to adopt this step, by respectable legal characters in New Orleans.”

RC and enclosures (DLC). RC 6 pp. Mistakenly docketed by JM, “Novr. 28. 1812,” with his note: “inclosing letters from Folch & others.” Printed in Carter, Territorial Papers, Mississippi, 6:140–43. For enclosures, numbered by Toulmin, see nn.

1Enclosure no. 1 is a copy of a letter written from Pensacola, 19 Nov. 1810, and headed “Private & serious” (2 pp.). The writer reported that “nearly 40 days have elapsed since Govr. Folch wrote to the Captain General of Havanna, impressing him with the indispensable necessity of entering into immediate negociations with the Govt. of the U. States for the cession of the Floridas.” He vouched for the accuracy of his information, which he hoped would encourage Toulmin in his efforts to preserve peace. In place of the signature, Toulmin noted that he had withheld his correspondent’s name but added that “it has been since stated that this ‘was written by the desire and almost in the very words of Goverr. Folch.’” Enclosure no. 2 is a letter from James Innerarity to Toulmin, 22 Nov. 1810 (4 pp.; printed in American Historical Review, 2 [1896–97]: 703–4), reporting his conversations with Folch following the governor’s arrival in Mobile the day before and relaying an offer by Folch to abolish the duties on American goods at Mobile in return for a pledge that the people of the Mississippi Territory would not aid the agents of the West Florida convention in their planned attack on Spanish soil. If such a pledge was not given, Folch declared, he would have no choice “but to oppose force with force, & the duties will remain as formerly.” At the end of this letter, Toulmin included a copy of his reply, dated 23 Nov. 1810, stating that although every good citizen should be willing to “go to any length under the authority of government” to get rid of the oppressive Spanish duties, he feared that the leaders of the expedition were motivated by considerations of “personal preponderance and popularity” and would use any pretext for their “illegal Combinations.” Nonetheless, he would try to meet with some “honest men” among them to see if “common sense” could prevail.

2Enclosure no. 3, Innerarity to Toulmin, 24 Nov. 1810 (2 pp.), reported that Folch was making arrangements to place his province under the protection of the U.S. and asked Toulmin to persuade Lt. Col. Richard Sparks to take all necessary measures to prevent a “useless effusion of blood.”

3Toulmin enclosed copies of letters (nos. 4 and 5) from Folch to Sparks, dated 20 and 24 Nov. 1810. In the first letter (1 p.) Folch quoted his letter to Governor Holmes of the same date stating that he had requested Someruelos to address the U.S. government about delivering the Floridas “‘in trust until the conclusion of a treaty in which an equivalt. to Spain shd be determind. and agreed upon.’” In the interim, he asked Holmes to make every effort to prevent “‘robberies and depredations’” against the people of West Florida, who, Folch claimed, “‘are on the eve of becoming American citizens.’” In the second letter (1 p.), Folch repeated this last request to Sparks and authorized Sparks to send troops anywhere “within the Jurisdiction of Florida” should it prove necessary to do so.

4Enclosure no. 6 is a copy of Reuben Kemper’s 27 Nov. 1810 letter to Sparks (1 p.), by which he returned the two soldiers taken when they had crossed the boundary line. Kemper declined Sparks’s invitation to come to Fort Stoddert, as did Kennedy, who was with Kemper at the time.

5In his letter of 25 Nov. 1810 to Edmund Gaines (enclosure no. 7) (1 p.; docketed by JM), Folch declared that since he believed U.S. and Spanish authorities were negotiating the transfer of the Floridas, he would abolish “from this date” all duties on American goods or vessels passing to or from the Mississippi Territory.

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