William C. C. (William Charles Cole) Claiborne.

Official letter books of W.C.C. Claiborne, 1801-1816; (Volume 1) online

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I'hotourai'hic facsimile from the oil paintin.u in th<> possession of
\\". ('. C. Claiborne, N-\v Orleans.







Director Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Secretary

Mississippi Historical Society, Member American

Historical Association



Printed for the State Department of Archives and History



F Vl^




The purchase of Louisiana by the United States, un-
der the leadership of Thomas Jefferson, is one of the
great turning points in American history. It is the
most significant event in the march of the American
people from the Atlantic seaboard, across the Missis-
sippi River, to the Pacific. It gave to us a continent as
the home of a self-governing people, and made secure
our place as the leader among the nations holding Demo-
cratic ideals of government. No event in the annals
of our country is of more importance than this great
epoch of our history. It takes rank with the settlement
of Jamestown and Plymouth, the Declaration of Inde-
pendence, and the adoption of the Constitution. The
one-hundredth anniversary of the Purchase w r as cele-
brated by the National Government by a great exposi-
- : : tion at St. Louis, which rivaled the celebrations com-
memorative of the discovery of America and the pass-

CG J i

g age of the Declaration of Independence.

The publication of historical material in the form of
official letters concerning the Louisiana Purchase, from
1803 to 1816, or from the date when William Charles
Cole Claiborne received his commission from President
Jefferson to go to New Orleans and receive the country
from the representative of France, to the failure of Eng-
land to wrest it from the United States, is a welcome
task and a worthy undertaking. When this material
consists of the official letter books of Governor Clai-
borne, who was easily the most important man in the
southwest, from 1803 to 1817, it will be seen at once how
important and valuable are the letters contained in



these volumes. In order to make the letters complete,
the first volume of the series from May 25, 1801, when
Claiborne was commissioned as Governor of Missis-
sippi Territory, to March 27, 1803, is included. This
material, while dealing with conditions in a country
which had been transferred by Spain to the United
States five years before the transfer of Louisiana, is a
logical part of what comes after.

The editor has had the publication of the Claiborne
Letters in view for ten years. In order to secure the
opinion of a number of his co-workers in the historical
field as to the value of the proposed publication, he
sought and obtained the opinion of many of the most
scholarly and eminent historians of the country. The
importance which they attached to the letters of Gover-
nor Claiborne may be inferred from the following ex-
cerpts upon the subject :

"I am glad to know that you are to publish hitherto
unpublished letter books of (Jov. William C. C. Claiborne.
Such unpublished letters must, I am sure, contain inter-
esting material on the history of that part of the South-
west, for Gov. Claiborne touched American life at many
vital and significant points during the first decade of
the 19th century. " Frederick J. Turner, Professor of
History, Harvard University.

"The fact that you believe Gov. Claiborne 's corre-
pondence valuable sources would determine my own
opinion." James F. Rhodes.

"Of course the letter books would be a decided addi-
tion to our knowledge of political events in Louisiana
at that most interesting period." Worthington C. Ford,

Jvlilor Publications, Massachusetts Historical Society.


"I consider the publication of the Claiborne letter
books a highly important contribution to American His-
tory. The period was critical and to no one could the
editing be more safely entrusted than to you."- Wil-
liam M. Sloane, Professor of History, Columbia Univer-

"I am certain that the letter books of W. C. C. Clai-
borne, from 1801 to 1816, contain highly valuable his-
torical facts ; and their publication under such scholarly
editorship as you would give them, would be welcomed
by the historical profession and the general public be-
sides. " Graillard Hunt, Chief Manuscripts Division,
Library of Congress.

"This collection should throw a great deal of light
on the purchase of Louisiana and the early history of
the Southwest. Claiborne was a very interesting char-
acter, and standing as he did. in close relation to the ad-
ministration of President Jefferson, his insight into pub-
lic affairs and his knowledge of what was going on be-
hind the scenes in the Southwest was undoubtedly
greater than that of any other man of his generation."
John H. Latane, Professor of History, Johns Hopkins

' 1 1 am sure that the letter books of Gov. Claiborne are
of much value and that the publication of this material
will be worth a great deal to those who are working in
the history of the Southwest. I trust that you will
carry through your plan for the editing of these histor-
ical sources. If you do this, you will be a benefactor
to the Historians." "Walter L. Fleming, Professor of
Hi story, Louisiana State University.

"I am very glad to learn that you are preparing the
Claiborne letters for publication. We shall be glad


here at the University of Texas to give you any assist-
ance that may be profitable." E. C. Barker, Professor
of History, Texas State University.

"I am very glad to learn that you are preparing to
edit and publish the letter books of W. C. C. Claiborne
during the period of his governorship. I feel sure that
they must throw a flood of light upon many of the vexed
questions that arose during that confused and contro-
verted era of our history. More light upon Burr and
Wilkinson is my first thought, but doubtless more im-
portant issues that have been subordinated to the spec-
tacular will be brought out. For West Florida the ma-
terial should be invaluable. " F. II. Hodder, Professor
of History, University of Kansas.

"These will contribute to the history of the States
which have been carved from the Louisiana Pur-
chase." Benjamin F. Shambaugh, Superintendent State
Historical Society of Iowa.

"These papers are of very great value and so long
as they remain unpublished, they must continue inac-
cessible to most men who work in the field of American
history. Your long familiarity with the documents of
Southwestern history fits you admirably to edit these
materials. I certainly hope the opportunity may not
be lost and that the means for defraying the expense of
publication may be readily available." W T illiam E.
Dodd, Professor of History, University of Chicago.

"Taken all in all such a publication would give us
much new and interesting material on the history of the
'Near Southwest' or 'Old Southwest' for the first dec-
ade and a half of the nineteenth century. This was a
most critical period in our relations with Spain. It
included not only l!ie important questions connected


with boundaries and frontier relations, but also those
questions concerning the attitude of the United States
toward their new acquisition. From the latter phase
there arose many problems in the later history of Mis-
sissippi, Louisiana, and the neighboring States. One
cannot get a good idea of the various influences that
brought about the transfer of Louisiana to the United
States without studying the Claiborne correspondence.
One cannot even know adequately those influences that
determined the later acquisition of the Floridas and Tex-
as without knowing something of its contents. The is-
sues of filibustering, Indian relations, coastal trade, pi-
racy, the embargo, intervention, immigration, the slave
trade, the Burr conspiracy, the Napoleonic interven-
tion, and the War of 1812 take on a new aspect when
viewed through Claiborne 's writings." I. J. Cox, Pro-
fessor of History, University of Cincinnati.

In a brief editorial note like this it is not possible to
give a satisfactory summary of the Claiborne letter
books. They include hitherto unknown and unpub-
lished material of first importance, concerning very
many really great events in the history of the United
States. The letters contain new data on the following
subjects : American-French-English-Spanish relations
before the purchase of Louisiana ; feeling among the in-
habitants of the American-Spanish border; events lead-
ing up to the transfer; French and Spanish attitude to-
ward American dominion ; descriptions of the manners,
customs, and social and religious life of the French and
Spaniards in Louisiana; incidents connected with the
transfer of dominion from France to the United States ;
organization of the American Government and its recep-
tion by the people ; plots and intrigues of the Spaniards
to regain possession of Louisiana; the coming of the
Americans from the original states and settlements;


commerce and trade of New Orleans with the Missis-
sippi Valley; the Aaron Burr expedition and the arrest
of Burr; restrictions of American commerce at Mobile;
the revolution of West Florida; troubles with England
and France; War of 1812-15 and the Creek War; the
slave trade and the status of free negroes; advent of
Andrew Jackson as a national hero; the English cam-
paign in the South and the Battle of New Orleans; ef-
fect of the victory of New Orleans; and many incidents
connected with the lives of such national characters as
Andrew Jackson, Aaron Burr, James Wilkinson and
Edward Livingston.

The Claiborne Letter Books came into the possession
of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History
through J. F. II. Claiborne, a nephew of Governor Clai-
borne and the author of "Mississippi as a Province,
Territory and State," who devised them to the State
in 1882. They arc preserved in nine volumes, and the
pages are in a good state of preservation.

The collection of Claiborne Letters in the Bureau of
Rolls and Library of the Department of the State is
known to historians and lias been used to a limited ex-
tent. The letters in Washington, however, are incom-
plete copies of the originals in the Mississippi Depart-
ment of Archives and History, and practically end with
the admission of Louisiana into the Union in 1812. The
Mississippi collection is not duplicated anywhere.

It gives me great pleasure to submit these volumes to
my co-workers in the field of American history and to
all serious historical students of the country.

Jackson, Mississippi, October 6, 1916.



Department of State :
Washington, 10 July 1801


The President of the United States desirous of
availing the public of your services as Governor of the
Mississippi Territory, I have the honor of inclosing
your Commission, and of expressing the sentiments of
respect with which

I am, Sir,
your most obt Sert

James Madison
William C. C. Claiborne Esqr.

1 William Charles Cole Claiborne was born in Sussex County, Vir-
ginia, in 1775, and was the second son of Col. William Claiborne and
Mary (Leigh) Claiborne. The Claiborne family in America was found-
ed by William Claiborne, who emigrated from England as surveyor of
the plantations of Virginia by appointment of the London Company.
He was a younger son of a distinguished family of Westmoreland
County, England, and arrived at Jamestown in October, 1621. On
March 4, 1625, he was commissioned by Charles I. as a member of the
Council and Secretary of State for the Colony of Virginia.

During the American Revolution the Claibornes were found fight-
ing for liberty on the side of the colonies. Descended from such an-
cestry, and born at the outbreak of the Revolution, it is not strange that
William C. C. Claiborne was a patriot. Nathaniel H. Claiborne, his
younger brother, who for twenty years was a member of Congress from
Virginia, in his "Notes on the War of 1812," in which appears an in-
teresting biography of Governor Claiborne, says that at the age of eight


Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States of
America, To all who shall see these presents, Greet-

WHEREAS the office of Governor in and over the

years he wrote in his Latin grammar the motto, "Cairo patria, cariot
libertas ubi cst libertas, ibe est mca patria," "Dear my country, dearer
liberty where liberty is, there is my country." He was sent to Rich-
mond Academy under the instruction of Eldridge Harris, and after-
wards to William and Mary, accompanied by his elder brother Ferdi-
nand Leigh. He remained at the latter institution only a short time,
leaving on account of a disagreement with one of the ushers. At the
early age of fifteen he decided that it was necessary to support himself,
on account of the misfortunes of his father, who had ruined his estate
in the cause of his country.

At that time the seat of the National Government was at New York.
Young Claiborne proceeded there, and sought a position in the office
of John Beckley, Clerk to Congress, who looked with favor on the son
of his native State. He was given employment as enrolling clerk and
made himself useful in copying bills and resolutions for members of
Congress. In 1790 he followed the Congress to Philadelphia, on its
removal to that city. The young clerk soon attracted the notice of
John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and John Sevier. Mr. Jefferson gave
him access to his books, and Sevier advised him to study law and go
to Tennessee. At a very early age Claiborne displayed decided orator-
ical ability, and at the age of fifteen delivered an original valedictory
address on leaving school for New York. He joined the Polemic Soci-
ety in Philadelphia, and found, at the age of seventeen, that he could
sway an audience. At that early age he decided to follow Sevier's ad-
Tice, and resigned his position to become a law student, going to Rich-
mond for that purpose. With three months preparation he was ad-
mitted to the bar, and equipped with Blackstone and a copy of the re-
vised 'statutes he went to Sullivan County, Tennessee, and offered his
professional services to the people of that aspiring young Territory.
Within two years he had gained the distinction of standing without a
rival as an advocate at the criminal bar. In the first constitutional
convention of Tonnesseo. which met at Knoxville, January 11, 1796,
Claiborne was 'one of the leading members. At this time Gov. Blount
is reported to have said of him. "He is, taking into consideration his
age, the most extraordinary man of my 'acquaintance "

On the formation of the State government, he was appointed by
Gov. John Sevier a Judge of the Supreme Court of law and equity.
After a brief sorvice he resigned to become a candidate for Congress


Mississippi Territory is at present vacant ; NOW KNOW
YE, That reposing especial Trust and Confidence in the
Patriotism, Integrity and Ability of William C. C. Clai-
borne, of Tennessee, I do appoint him Governor in and

and was elected in August, 1797, to the Fifth Congress. He took his
seat November 23, 1797. During his first session he was a member of
the Ways and Means Committee with Gallatin, Harper, Baldwin and
Bayard, and chairman of the Committee on Indian Relations. He was
re-elected to the Sixth Congress, and voted for Thomas Jefferson for
President in the Jefferson-Burr contest.

President Jefferson appointed Mr. Claiborne Governor of Mississippi
Territory May 25, 1801, to succeed Winthrop Sargent, whose term had
expired. A short time before receiving his appointment he had been
married to Eliza W. Lewis, of Nashville, Tenn. The young Governor
at this time was only twenty-six years old. He had gained the confi-
dence of Mr. Jefferson, who believed him endowed with that wisdom,
tact, judgment and discretion which were so necessary in instilling in
the minds of the people of the new territory a love for American insti-
tutions, at a time when great events were taking place in Louisiana be-
tween France and Spain.

On October 8, 1801, he left Nashville for his new post of duty, going
by boat down the Cumberland, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, and reach-
ing Natchez November 23rd. The Legislature met a few days after his.
arrival, and one of his first official acts was a message to that body. A
short time after he reported to Secretary Madison that all opposition
to the General Assembly had practically ceased. The Governor made
a good impression at once, and became very popular soon after his ar-
rival. Among the Legislative acts of interest was the change of name
of Pickering County to Jefferson, in honor of the new President. Two
new counties were formed from Adams and Jefferson and named Wil-
kinson and Claiborne, in honor of Gen. Wilkinson and Gov. Claiborne.
On the recommendation of the Governor the territorial capital was
moved from Natchez to Washington by an Act passed by the Legisla-
ture and approved February 1, 1802. The term of John Steele as Sec-
retary of the Territory expired May 7, 1802, and Cato West was ap-
pointed to succeed him March 1, 1803.

The want of military equipment in the territory gave Claiborne
much uneasiness, and when the cession of Louisiana by Spain to France
was assured, he applied to the Secretary of War for one thousand
rifles, and recommended the establishment of a well equipped military
post, centrally located. His efforts resulted in the building of Fort
Dearborn at Washington.

The election for Representatives in July, 1802, showed a reversal of


over the said Mississippi Territory; and do authorize
and impower him to execute and fulfil the Duties of that
office according to Law ; and to Have & to Hold the said
office with all the Powers, Priveleges and Emoluments

popular favor, and a great majority of the old members were defeated.
The people did not approve of the ridiculous effort which had been
made to impeach Chief Justice Seth Lewis of the Territorial Supreme
Court, who had incurred the displeasure of influential members who
were litigants before the Court.

One of the most important acts 'of the Claiborne administration was
the collection, for the general government, of data relative to Missis-
sippi land titles, which were in a chaotic condition in the Territory.
The report which he made to Secretary Madison was the foundation
upon which Congress based future measures for the settlement of local
land titles.

In his message to the Legislature October 3, 1803, Gov. Claiborne,
on the subject of the Louisiana Purchase, says:

"It is understood that by the late treaty between the United
States and the First Consul of the French Republic, and which re-
mains only to be sanctioned by the constituted authorities of our 1
country, the Island of Orleans is ceded to the United States, and the
American Empire bounded by the western limits of the rich and ex-
tensive province of Louisiana an accession of territory not ob-
tained by conquest, not held by the precarious tenure of force, but
acquired by honest purchase, and secured to us by the national faith
of its former owner an accession of territory essential to the wel-
fare of the western country, and which, by increasing the means of
reciprocal l>eneflts, will render still stronger the chain which con-
nects the great American family in the inestimable union of interest
and affection a union, which, I pray God, may exist roequal with

Some of the most notable events of the Claiborne administration
were the establishment of Jefferson College; arrangements for settling
land titles; the survey of boundaries of the Natchez and Mobile dis-
tricts and the establishment of a mail route on the Natchez Trace.

Tho Governor received an express from Washington November 9,
1803, notifying him of his appointment by President Jefferson as a
Commissioner, associated with Gen. James Wilkinson, to receive from
France the Louisiana Purchase, and to succeed the Spanish Governor
until a government for the new territory should be established. He
left Natchez in December with about two hundred Mississippi militia
as a military escort. The two Commissioners met at Fort Adams and
arrived within two miles of New Orleans, where they encamped De-


to the same of Eight appertaining during the pleasure
of the President of the United States for the time being,
and until the end of the next Session of the Senate of
the United States, and no longer. 1

In Testimony whereof, I have caused these Letters
to be made Patent, and the Seal of the United States to
be hereunto affixed.

Given under my Hand at the City of Wash-

(Seal) ington the Twenty fifth day of May in the
year of our Lord one thousand Eight hun-
dred and one, and of the Independence of the United
States of America, the Twenty fifth.

Thos- Jefferson

By the President

James Madison Secretary of State.

cember 17, 1803. Three days after Louisiana was transferred by Laus-
sat, the representative of ' the French Republic, to the American Com-
missioners, and Claiborne at once assumed the government of the new
possession. On September 26, 1804, he lost his wife and infant child.
After the death of his first wife he married Clarissa Duralde, a French
lady, and on her death married a Miss Bosque, a lady of Spanish de-
scent, who survived him.

During the absence of Gov. Claiborne from the Mississippi Territory
the duties of the executive office devolved upon Secretary Cato West.

Claiborne continued to exercise the duties of Provisional Governor
until October 2, 1804, when he was appointed Governor of the Territory
of Orleans. He continued to serve until the admission of that Terri-
tory to the Union in 1812, when he was elected Governor of the new
State. After serving two terms he was elected to the United States
Senate from Louisiana, January 13, 1817. He did not live to take his
seat in the Senate. He died November 3, 1817, and is buried in beauti-
ful Metarie Cemetery, New Orleans. Gov. Claiborne died when he was
on the threshold of a great national career at the age of forty-two. For
seventeen years he had been one of the most potent figures in what was
then the great Southwest.

For authorities on the life of Gov. Claiborne consult Mississippi ar-
chives, Claiborne's "Mississippi,' 1 Martin's Gayarrc's and Fortier's
"Louisiana," and Claiborne's "Notes on the War of 1812."

1 Appointed during a recess of the Senate.


To James Madison,

Nashville August 2nd 1801-

Your Letter of the 10th ultimo, enclosing a Commis-
sion as Governor of the Mississippi Territory, I have
had the honor to receive.

Will you be good enough Sir, to inform the Presi-
dent of the United States, that I shall accept the appoint-
ment, which he has been pleased to confer upon me, and
will endeavor to merit it, by a faithful discharge of those
Duties which now are, or may hereafter be assigned to

I am aware of the difficulty of the task, I am about to
undertake; I feel my inability to execute it with Just-
ice; But I flatter myself, that my best exertions to
support the Interests of the United States, and to pro-
mote the immediate happiness of the People, over whom,

1 am to preside, will not prove unsuccessful.

I shall repair to the Territory with all possible Dis-
patch, but the probability is, that it will not be in my
power, to complete the Arrangements necessary to my
departure, previous to the last of next month, or the first
of October; If therefore you should think proper, to
make me any further Communications, in a short pe-
riod, you will be pleased to forward them to this Town.
I have the honor to be

With every sentiment of Esteem
& Respect

Your Mot: Obt : Sorvt-
William C. C. Claiborne
The Ilonble- James Madison
Secretary of State.


To James Madison,

Knoxville, September 16th- 1801.

My- Letter of the 2nd of August, informed you that
I should descend the Mississippi, some time about the
last of this, or the beginning of next month; I have
now the pleasure to add, that the arrangements neces-