George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Jefferson, 17 February 1791

From Thomas Jefferson

Feb. 17. 1791.

The Secretary of State, having received from Arthur St Clair, Esquire, Governor of the North Western Territory, a Report of his Proceedings for carrying into Effect the Resolve of Congress of August 29th 1788, respecting the Lands of the Inhabitants of Kaskaskia, La Prairie du Rochers, and Kahokia, which Report was enclosed to him in a Letter bearing Date the 10th Instant, and observing therein several Passages proper to be laid before the Legislature, has extracted the same, and thereupon makes, to the President of the United States, the following—

Report.1

In that which he made on the 14th of Decr 1790, relative to the Execution of the same Resolution of Congress at Post Vincennes, he brought under certain general Heads of Description the Claims to lands at that Place, which had not been provided for by the said Resolution of Congress. To keep the Subject simplified as well as short, he will observe that the cases at Kaskaskia, described in the E[x]tract marked A. belong to the fourth Class of the said Report for St Vincennes, that those at Kaskaskia of the Extract B. belong to the fifth Class of the Report for St Vincennes, and that those of Kahokia in the Extract C. belong to the sixth Class of the same Report, and may be comprehended in the Provision to be made for them.

The Extracts marked D. E. F. G. and H. describe other Cases out of the Provision of the Resolution, which have arisen at Kaskaskia and Kahokia, differing from each other as well as from all the former Classes.

The Extracts marked I. K. state that the Line which by the Resolve of Congress of June 20th 1788 had been so described as to place the Lands to be allotted to the Inhabitants of Kaskaskia and Kahokia in a fertile and convenient Situation, had been so shifted by the Resolution of August 29th 1788 as to throw those Allotments into Parts too distant and dangerous to be cultivated by them, and pray that the Line of June 20th may be re-established.

The Extract L. brings into view the Purchase of Flint and Parker in the Illinois Country, which may need Attention in the Formation of a Land Law.

The Extracts M. N. O. with the Papers they refer to contain the Reasoning urged by the Inhabitants of Kaskaskia, Prairie, and Kahokia against the Demand of the Expenses of certain Surveys made of their Lands neither at their Desire nor for any Use of theirs.

P. explains certain Demands for the revoked Emissions of continental Money remaining in the Office of a notary public of Kaskaskia, and Q. the Expediency of having a printing press established at Marietta.

Which several Matters the Secretary of State is of Opinion should be laid before the Legislature for their Consideration.

Th: Jefferson

DS, DLC: Thomas Jefferson Papers.

Jefferson presented this report to GW with a cover letter, also dated 17 Feb. 1791: “The Secretary of state has the honor to send to the President three copies of a report and message relative to Kaskaskia, Kahokia and Prairie, to wit, one for each house, and one to be retained by the President. He sends also the original report which contains some things worthy the President’s reading, tho not mentioned in the report. The passages reported on are marked with a pencil” (Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 18:216; the editors of the Jefferson Papers description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends collected a copy of the original report in 1947, when it was owned by Roger W. Barrett of Chicago. The document was sold at auction in 1959, and its present location has not been found).

For the background to this document and the enclosed report from St. Clair, see Winthrop Sargent to GW, 31 July 1790. Jefferson responded to an initial report from Sargent regarding land claims at Vincennes in the Northwest Territory on 14 Dec. 1790. GW transmitted this report along with the communication from Sargent to Congress on 23 Dec. 1790.

In late January 1791 St. Clair wrote to Attorney General Edmund Randolph from Philadelphia, seeking “your Advice about the Possessions of the ancient Settlers on the Mississippi, and that if you think it necessary, you would bring the doubtful points I have mentioned before the President of the united States, and permit me to observe, Sir, that when the very great Distance that Country is and ever will be from the Seat of the Government, there seems to be a necessity for the Titles of Confirmation being made within the Territory or at least a Provision that they may be put on record there” (Carter, Territorial Papers, description begins Clarence Edwin Carter et al., eds. The Territorial Papers of the United States. 27 vols. Washington, D.C., 1934–69. description ends 2:319–20; Carter dates this letter December, but since St. Clair did not arrive in Philadelphia until 15 Jan. 1791, a date in the latter part of that month seems more plausible). No evidence has been found that Randolph brought this matter to GW’s attention. Randolph’s reply to St. Clair has not been found, but he apparently informed the governor that, in his opinion, no local authority to confirm ancient claims and titles existed, and that any such confirmation would have to made in conformity to a special act of Congress. On 2 Feb. 1791 St. Clair wrote to Jefferson that “A few days [ago] I submitted to the Attorney General the form of a Patent for the confirmation of the Lands held by the Inhabitants on the Missisippi and at Post St. Vincennes.” St. Clair noted that he presumed he was authorized to grant patents confirming these titles, but that Randolph had indicated otherwise and, noting that “a Law for the purpose is neccessary,” requested Jefferson to “bring the Subject before Congress, for it is of importance that those People be quieted in their Possessions as soon as possible” (St. Clair to Jefferson, 2 Feb. 1791, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 18:192–93). St. Clair presented Jefferson with a full report of his activities as governor of the Northwest Territory since March 1790 on 11 Feb. 1791, asking Jefferson “to lay it before the President of the United States” (ibid., 18:193–94). GW referred Jefferson’s report, along with the extracts Jefferson had from St. Clair’s report and the appended documents included by Jefferson, to Congress on 18 Feb. 1791.

1The full text of St. Clair’s report to Jefferson of 11 Feb. 1791 and a complete list of the twenty-six enclosures to it is in Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 18:194–207. For the enclosures, most of which are printed in full, see Carter, Territorial Papers, description begins Clarence Edwin Carter et al., eds. The Territorial Papers of the United States. 27 vols. Washington, D.C., 1934–69. description ends 2:323–37 and references in notes to those pages.

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