Moses Austin to Albert Gallatin, 08-xx-1806

Summary: Describing conditions in Missouri; dissatisfaction with Gen. Wilkinson's administration a governor; complaints against the land commssioners; and suggesting amendment of the land law by Congress.

[About August, 1806?]


The embarrassed situation of the Inhabitants of Louisiana together with the distance of the Territory from the seat of the American Government, and, the unhappy party contencions, which prevail at this moment, and have from the commencement of Genl. Wilkinson Administration have induced me to address you this letter—

It is my intention to communicate such things, as I think the Legislators of the General Government ought to know, I have not a doubt, but many communications have already been made, and that many more will be made, it is not my wish to detract from, or depreciate, the confidence those communications merit, yet I hope I shall be pardoned in saying that from the marked preference Govr. Wilkinson has shewn for Spanish customs and useages—The little interest he has appeared to take in the establishment and prosperity of this Country, leads me to believe his Communications, to our Government, have rather been calculated to destroy the reputation of Men in Office, not submissive, to his will, than to inform the government of the real situation in this Territory, and what measures are necessary to be adopted to meet the wishes of the people, and at the same time answer the views of the Government

Not deeming an apology necessary for thus troubling you, I shall commence my naritive of this Country as far back as 1797, the year I first visited it, and bring it down to the present day, in so doing I shall endeavour to give you an ample Idea of the motives which induced the Americans to remove within the Spanish limits; with a view of the situation of the settlers, when the changes of Government took place. You will then have it in your power to judge of the propriety of the claims, the People have on the Government with more correctness

In 1797 I found this Country a Wilderness except on the Banks of the Mississippi in the district of St. Genevieve, not an Establishment of any kind, at a distance of more than twelve miles from the River, Cape Gerredeau and Madrid Districts, began about, this time to settle back. The commencement, of the American emigration may be dated back from the Fall of 96 and Spring of 97.

All the cultivated Land, was of consequence, confined to the river Bottoms, and whenever the River overflowed its Banks, which it has commonly done, about every Five or Six years, Beginning to rise, about June and continueing until August, destroying the Crops of every kind, and leaving the Inhabitants dependent on the Kings Bounty for Bread, on such Occasions, the King has been compeled to open the Public Magazenes of Provisions and furnish the People To remove this inconvenience which was found not only expensive but a derangement of the Public Supplies which could only be replenished from the United States—It was therefore propos'd to give encouragement to the Americans to settle within the Province—. To effect so desirable an object hand Bills and Phamphlets, Printed in the english Language were circulated throughout the Western Country holding up great inducements to Emigrants, and in many parts of the Province Farming Utensils and Provisions, for one year were granted to Emigrants—The consequences were such as were to be expected

A considerable Emigration took place in 97 which continued untill 1801, the Americans generally settled back from the River and Cultivated, the high lands, Provisions soon became plenty and the prices greatly reduced Such were the effects produced by Emigration, that Bacon brought from Kentucky, in 97 sold at 20 to 25 Dollars pr Hundred and Country Pork at 40 Cents pr. pound could in 1803, be bought at 3$50 4$ pr. hundred, the advantages arising from the Emigration, became so evident that the Spanish Officers gave every encouragement the Emigrants could desire—Those advantages. were not confind, to the Cultivation of the Land only but as a safeguard against the Indians—This was verified in 1802 An expedition was ordered to remove a party of Creek Indians, who had intruded and committed some depredations in the Province—On this expedition which consisted of about Four hundred and fifty Men. Fifty or sixty were French and Four Hundred Americans this circumstance convinced the Officers of the Spanish Government, of the advantages arising from, the emigration of the Americans—The Pamphlets Publish'd in 96 by the Commandants of Upper Louisiana became generally known in 1800 in consequence the Emigration became as General and continued increasing, untill unexpectly checked by the changes of Government in 1804. It is not to be doubted but a Continuation under the Spanish Government Four or Five Years longer would have made the out Settlements sufficiently strong, to protect and defend themselves, against the attacks of the Indians.

It was generally believed that all the Emigrants, who had made arrangements to remove to upper Louisiana in all the Year 1803 and four under promise and permission, either written or unwritten from the Spanish Government, and had arriv'd in the Country or were on the way, would be sanctioned by the American Government

In this state of things the American Government took possession of Louisiana, No prohibitary Law was promulgated, to stop Emigration, untill March 1804:—and this Law did not take place untill October following—From that period we may date the stoppage of the Emigration, and Settlement on Public Lands,—Before I proceed to an explanation of the situation of the Inhabitants of this Territory, In consequence of the present Laws of Congress, allow me to give you a summary statement of the conduct of the Spanish Commandants of this part of Louisiana—It is Notoriously known, that for Years before the change of Government, the Commandants refus'd to give Concessions for Lands except on some particular Occasions, but at the same time, suffr'd the Emigration to continue and gave verbal permissions to settlers, to establish themselves on any Lands not in the possession of others,—But no sooner was it known, that the Province of Louisiana was sold to the United States, than a general and fraudulent Sale of Lands took place—A Land Office was opened at Cape Gererdeau—The Agents of the Lieut. Govr. in every part of the upper country, made use of every possible exertion, to make the Sale of Lands Productive— Concessions for any quantity of Land were daily granted bearing date in 1799 or further back if the claiments demanded, the number of Acres Granted was govern'd by the sum paid it is not necessary to say to what extent, this Speculation has been carried on—

The Agent of the United States for Land claims, will it is probable make a report to the proper Department, on this subject— It is I presume to correct this Speculation, that Congress has made the Law appointing Commissioners, to examine the Land claims in this Territory and not as many suppose, to destroy the well founded claims of the Citizens

I have considered the Commissioners as a Court or board of examiners, to enquire into the nature of the claims of the Inhabitants, and make a true and full report thereon, that our Government may know the situation and extent of the claims, Such a report might have given Congress an opportunity to make such other and further Laws as are necessary to cover and serve the actual Settler, and discard the Speculator— But from the high and in my opinion improper interference of Govr. Wilkinson are in a measure defeated That you may have a full knowledge of this part of our Govr. conduct, I inclose you his Proclamation and orders to the Surveyor Genl. Ant° Soulard rais'd to that office by Govr. Wilkinson, The consequences produced by the Orders of Wilkinson respecting the surveying of Lands, were truly distressing, this step produced the greatest consternation among the people The time far advanced for surveying Claims, and not a Plat or claim, would be receiv'd, by the Recorder Donaldson, unless first certify'd by Soulard, as being Survey'd under the Order of Wilkinson, not withstanding Deputies were sent out to Survey the Claims of the People, not more than two thirds, of those claims were Survey'd in time and in consequence, not Recorded agreeable to law—

The extravagant fees for Surveying rendered it impossible for numbers of the Poor to have their claims Survey'd, admitting the Deputies, could have survey'd them in time Perhaps no People under any Government, were ever placed in a more difficult and ruinous situation— On one hand the Law of Congress called for a return, and Record of all claims, by a given day, under the penalty of forever after being barred the right to bring them forward—On the other Govr. Wilkinson by his absolute order declar'd that, unless, all claims were survey'd agreeable to his mandate they should not be receiv'd by the Recorder—To comply with both these demands was as impossible as to serve God and Mammon;—because the number of Deputies employed were not sufficient to do the work by the first of March—and because it was not in the power of the People to raise money to pay the Surveyors Demands,-—Twenty Thousand Dollars is a sum the Poor People of Upper Louisiana were not nor are able to pay in Sixty or Eighty days—The settlers on the River Arkansas and St. Francis have suffer'd greatly— The distance from St. Louis, being about Four Hundred Miles, and through a Wilderness Country, had it not in their power, to make their returns by the first of March-—The regulations of Wilkinson did not reach them untill a few Weeks, before the time for Recording claims expir'd, and then not a Surveyor untill some time in January—however, a number sent forward their claims to be Recorded, but were refus'd for want of Soulards Certificate that the Surveys had been made agreeable, to the Orders of Wilkinson, Therefore, all such Claims, which comprehend one Third of all the claims in the Territory, are agreeable to the present Laws of Congress for ever lost.— The consequences resulting from such a State of things is readily told—It drew down the imprecations of an enraged and injur'd People on the Government, they contrasted their situation with that under the Spanish Government it caused dissatisfaction and disaffection—It was in vain to tell them the fault lay not with Government, but with the Governor—the People felt themselves injur'd without the power or prospect of gaining redress.

The objects of Wilkinson for thus Acting in open violation of the Laws of Congress is yet to be told, if he has an excuse for his conduct, it behoves him to make it, for he has plung'd the people of Louisiana into a Labyrinth of difficulties which the interference of Congress only can remedy—The Surveying system adopted by Wilkinson, was oppos'd by Judge Lucas but in vain, he was overruled by Penrose and Donaldson thus you see the object of the Americans Emigrating to this Country, became abortive—The promisses made by the Spanish Officers countermanded by the change of Government, and the out settlements formed under an expectation of being filled up and Strengthened defeated and the People left to the Mercy of the American Government.

Under such circumstances the Commissioners began their duties, and had they acted with the greatest prudence and judgment imaginable they could not have satisfy'd the People, because the Law excluded them from doing Justice, yet a temperate line of conduct might have quiet'd, the minds of the people, untill the Government could have made such alterations, as the situation of their case requir'd, and had Mr. Donaldson, the Recorder admited on record thier claims presented, and strictly attended to the Law of Congress instead of the Law of the Govr. the state of things would be pleasing, even under all the restrictions of the Law to what they are at present

It now remains to point out how the affairs of this Territory may be changed and placed in a situation to quiet the minds of the People and do them Justice, and at the same time secure the Government against Impositions.—To secure the Frontiers, against Spanish and Indian depredations.—To prevent the extension of the Settlements and lesson the necessity of regular Troops.—

You may, perhaps, think it presuming for any Citizen to, take on himself to point out the measures Government ought to adopt to effect so desirable an object—Yet I may have it in my power to mention some things worthy of communication.—

It is not for me to say wether the Purchase of Louisiana, is or is not an advantageous acquisition to the United States.—but I think it my duty to point out in what manner, it can be best secur'd so as to be the least expence to Government and do Justice to the People.

First, to content the People, give them a Governour unconnected with the Military—Grant to the actual Resident, in the Territory up to October 1804, Lands equal in quantity to that usually granted by the Spanish Government—-say not less than three nor more than six hundred and forty acres, Confirm all Spanish Grants, not exceeding Six Hundred and forty acres, so that no man has confirm'd to him but one Grant, provided always that the Grant is in favour of an actual settler, and gra[n]ted at the time it bears date— Suffer a division of Concession to be made where the object is for cultivation and Building Mills provided the Concession or permission was granted or given for that intent, but at the same time, not exceeding six Hundred and forty Acres in all do this, and the difficulties respecting Land claims will be remov'd and the People satisfy'd.—

To justify the claims of the Inhabitints of Louisiana, up to October 1804 It may be observ'd, that the People emigrating to this Country could have no knowledge of what was doing between France and Spain, nor between France and the United States, it was sufficient for them to obtain liberty to settle from Spanish Officers, or in other words, that they were suffer'd to settle on any Lands, within the Kings Domains not in the occupancy of others— That the Spanish Officers suffer'd the Americans, to emigrate untill the change of Government took place cannot be denied, not only suffer'd, but contended they had a right to dispose of Land untill Gov'r Clabourn took possession of N Orleans—Ought an uninformed People to suffer for settling on Lands promised to them by Spanish Officers, and which their Printed Hand Bills assur'd them should be confirm'd to them on condition, they become actual Setlers— It ought to be remember'd, that whilst the United States were contracting with France for Louisiana, the Emigration continued—no steps were taken by the Spanish Officers, or Government to undeceive the People, and that had the change never taken place, all the Actual Settlers would have obtained Land for Cultivation

It ought also to be remember'd, that Hundreds, who Settl'd in the Spring of 1804, had in the Fall and Summer of 1802 and 1803 visited this Country and return'd after their Families and some time was necessary to dispose of Property and remove to the Country, and although the change might have been heard of, their arrangements were made and they could not Retract—Their Houses and Lands dispos'd of thier little all a Float, and they were oblig'd to come forward and meet their fate be the Consequence ever so distressing— Many of those settlers took possession of Land in the Spring and Summer of 1804 and after expending from Twenty to Thirty Dollars for Surveying and Recording Fees, find themselves stripped of both Land and Money

The Law of the United States cuts them off and presents to them Misery and ruin—Murmurs and Complaints are the Consequence Under such circumstances can the People of Louisiana be well dispos'd towards the United States. Ask yourself wether, something is not necessary to be done for them—wether their situation does not call for some Act of Government to regain and secure thier affections :—This something is easily told— Give them a Govr who has the interest of the Territory at heart Give Land to each resident up to 1804 Suffer the Country to settle, so as to strengthen the out Settlements and the Cloud of Discontent will vanish, the United States Government will find Louisiana a valueable and advantageous acquisition—

Secondly to secure this Country from Spanish and Indian depredations to elucidate this point, I submit the following observations, It is to be remember'd I have before stated that in 1797 the outsettlements began to form and continued to increase gradually untill 1804, but in so short a time it cannot be suppos'd those Settlements could become very strong—They extended about Sixty Miles back from the Mississippi Westward and about Forty or Fifty Miles above the Missouri, from the upper Settlements on the Mississippi down to N Madrid the distance is about two Hundred and Fifty Miles, from N Madrid to the Arkansas is about Three hundred Miles, and is unsettled except on the banks of the Mississippi, Arkansas and St. Francis. These settlements it is true are small, but small as they are have a claim on Government for protection they were formed under the Spanish Government, the United States found them Possessed of rights—and reason Justice and National Honour require they should be secur'd and protected in those rights—It cannot now be said, that the out Settlements are to be abandoned by Government—No the Protecting Arm of the United States must Encircle them how is this to be done,—To furnish Regular Troops to protect so extended a Frontier, together with the low Country will require more Troops, than the United States have in Service—and a sum of Money which would embarrass the Treasury—all these difficulties, may in my opinion be easily remov'd and the United States instead of expending money derive an advantage from the systim to be now propos'd, and at the same time set bounds to a class of men, who are never satisfy'd long in any place, and by their frequent removals, to the Westard, will extend the Frontiers beyond the controul of Government, which I am confident is for the Interest of the United States, to check for the present—

Suffer a line of Demarcation to be drawn, Beginning as high above the Missouri as will cover the settlements up to 1804, extend this line down the Mississippi to the Arkansas covering all those Settlements between those two points which I have reason to believe will not exceed Sixty miles in any place direct Westerly from the Mississippi—Let this strip of Land be divided into Townships, Sections, half and quarter Sections, and sold or disposed of in such manner as Congress shall point out reserving to the United States such Land as are supposed to contain Lead and other Minerals, and Salt Springs—These measures will in my opinion remove two great difficulties it will strengthen the whole extent of our Western Frontiers, so that in two or three years, by a proper Militia Establishment, the inhabitants will be able to protect themselves, it will set bounds to the Wanderers, beyond which they will not attempt to settle with an expectation from the United States—The settler Found within the Spanish limits when the American Government took possession of Louisiana will find himself secure in his situation the objects for which he removd to Louisiana fully answer'd and every expectation filled up—Regular Troops except on the line of Demarcation will be unnecessary—

The Citizen, will then feel himself, bound to answer the call of Government, to remove unauthorized Settlers, the banks of the Mississippi secur'd from banditti, the Treasury of the United States replenish'd by the sale of Lands—the Lead Mines, the riches of which are but imperfectly known will furnish an abundant supply for the United States and yeald an increase, to the Public Chest, which no common Calculation can reach—Such I am confident will be the system founded on the principal I have pointed out—But should the contrary [be] adopted, should the destroying System, prevail and the government attempt to depopulate the Western banks of the Mississippi as has been declar'd by Govr' Wilkinson, was the object of the Executive, the United States will have cause to regret, the moment they became possessd of Louisiana, such a project can never be effected but with immense expence and trouble and after all the exertions of the Government would prove abortive—

Louisiana under such a system would become a Nest of Robbers and the outcasts from all Governments, would seek an Assylum in this extensive Wilderness, and in a short time, the energy of Government, would be unequal to controul them, the Navigation of the Mississippi would become more dangerous than to Traverse the wilds of Arabia

In addition to what has been observ'd respecting claims I ought to have Noticed the situation of the Inhabitants of the French villages. It [is] a fact well known, that, these people have regarded the Title to Land, of little consequence, and that the Spanish Government, suffer'd them to Cultivate such Lands as they thought proper and that any piece of ground inclos'd by an inhabitant or occupyed as a Sugar camp, has been consider'd as the legal right of such Inhabitant, and when such piece of Ground or Improvement, has been taken by Execution, the Validity of the Sheriffs sale has always been considered as indisputable.

It is also proper to observe, that those Villagers commonly Cultivated Lands, a little distance from the Village, which Lands, are not immediately attached to thier Dwellings, and therefore cannot be considered as coming within the second Section of the Law of Congress, I therefore think a Special Law of Congress, ought to be made securing to the Villagers such Lands, as they have been in the custom of Improving and also all Town Lots, whether they have been built on or not so as they come under the Denomination of Town Lots