James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Robert Smith, [17 January] 1811

From Robert Smith

Thursday. [17 January 1811]


I have this moment seen Col McKee. He says he will immediately proceed to the Country in question and will be happy in affording to his Country any services in his power1 but that he cannot go thither in the Character of a Secretary.2 I hasten to give you this information in order that arrangements may be made for fixing upon a proper person as Secretary to Matthews.3 Respctfy

R Smith

RC (DLC). In pencil. Undated. Dated ca. 17 Jan. 1811 in the Index to the James Madison Papers, a date based on the assumption that Smith met with McKee shortly after the passage of the law of 15 Jan. 1811 authorizing the administration to take possession of East Florida and before Smith’s 26 Jan. 1811 instructions appointing both McKee and George Mathews commissioners to implement the law (see n. 1).

1On 26 Jan. 1811 McKee and Mathews were instructed as to how to receive the transfer of those parts of West Florida still under Spanish rule (i.e., Mobile) should Vicente Folch or any other local authority be disposed to surrender them to the U.S. Similar instructions were given relating to Florida east of the Perdido River, but their execution was left to the discretion of Mathews and McKee, depending on circumstances and the disposition of the Spanish authorities in the region. Mathews and McKee approached Folch on several occasions in the early months of 1811, but their discussions were fruitless. The Spanish governor, after stating that he had received orders from his superiors to retain his province at all costs and then pointing out that American intervention in the region had reduced the threat of filibustering expeditions anyway, told the Americans that circumstances had changed since he had made his offer to the U.S. in December 1810.

By June 1811 JM concluded that Folch was unlikely to deliver those portions of West Florida under his control to the U.S., and he instructed the secretary of state to terminate the mission of Mathews and McKee with respect to that territory. Their powers were then transferred to Governor Claiborne in New Orleans. At the same time, however, JM explicitly left in force those parts of the 26 Jan. 1811 instructions to Mathews that related to East Florida, and the general was told to continue his mission if he thought he had reasonable prospects for success (Robert Smith to Mathews and McKee, 26 Jan. 1811, James Monroe to Mathews and McKee, 29 June 1811, Monroe to Claiborne, 29 June 1811, Monroe to Mathews, 29 June 1811 [DNA: RG 59, DL]; Patrick, Florida Fiasco, pp. 32–39).

2Ralph Isaacs was appointed secretary to George Mathews (Patrick, Florida Fiasco, p. 16).

3George Mathews (1739–1812), a Revolutionary War veteran, a two-term governor of Georgia, and a former member of the House of Representatives, had been selected by Georgia senator William Harris Crawford in the summer of 1810 as an agent to advance the administration’s policy of mobilizing support in the eastern section of West Florida for its incorporation into the U.S. (see ibid., pp. 4–6; PJM-PS description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (3 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984—). description ends , 2:310–13). After traveling through the region between Mobile and Pensacola, Mathews came to Washington in January 1811 and met with JM for discussions on the situation in the Spanish Floridas. At this time he also appears to have submitted a report to the State Department on the “Affairs of E & W Florida.” The military force of West Florida, he wrote, “is about three hundred and fifty soldiers, Sixty of which are Stationed, at Mobiel, the remainder at Pensecola, and a fort at the inlet into the bay. Agreeable to my letter to Mr. Crawford, I persued my Journey to East florida. I found the people there in expectations of soon declareing for themselves; they appeared only to be waiting to hear the fate of Cadiz.”

“A large majority, of them,” Mathews continued, “are disposed to become a part of the United States; but they will expect some arrangements on the part of our Goverment with respect to debts due to individuals from the Goverment of Spain. The Officers & Soldiers will likewise expect, if they become a part of the United States that the debts due them will be paid; and some provision in land for each family; how far these expectations are Just, our goverment will determine. The Military force of East Florida consists of about two hundred and fifty Soldiers, all most the whole of which are stationed, at Augusteen, should the people declare for themselves those who will be foremost in it expect to get possession of the fort by surprise. To those most favourable to our goverment, it would be grateful to see some Military force, of ours on that frontier, it would have a tendancy to awe what British influence there is in the province and give confidence to those friendly to us.”

“With the different persons with whome I conversed, I end[e]avoured to impress them with the friendly disposition of the United States towards them and how much more it would be to there intrest to be connected with us than any forreign power; and if the Spanish nation was established in North and South America them and us ought to act as one nation in preventing every European nation from getting possession of any part of the Continent and I told them that the united States was two much interested in this event to permit either france or Great Brittain to get possession of either of the Floradys this was recived as I wished it they fully acquiessing in the same centiment. It will rest with the President whether it may not be advisable to have some person on whome, he can depend near the Governments of the Floridys to avail themselves of any occurrence that may offer. The Gentlemen of influence in East Florada in our intrest, donnot wish there names commited to paper—but I am at liberty to mention them in a conferrence with the President or you” (Mathews to Robert Smith, n.d. [DNA: RG 59, Undated Misc. Letters, ca. 1807–20]).

Filed with this letter is a small slip of paper listing, in an unidentified hand, “Gentlemen in Florida”: “John H. McIntosh / Mr Amasa Areadonde / Andrew Atkinson on St. Johns / George Fleming St. Augustine / Don Lopes Comandant Amelia with about 12 Soldiers / 150 Soldiers compose the Garrison of St. Augustine / 30 in Detarchments [sic] on St: Johns / Not any Navil force in the Province.”

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