Envisaging the West: Thomas Jefferson and the Roots of Lewis and Clark


Place Name

Ohio River

Instructions for the Treaty of Logstown Instructions given Christopher Gist, Gentleman, by the Ohio company, April 28, 1752. Christopher Gist served as representative for the Ohio Company of Associates at the Logstown treaty meeting in the colony of Pennsylvania held in May 1752. Gist's instructions directed him to inform the several tribes of Indians expected at the meeting, including the Six Nations, the extensive grant of land on the Ohio to the Ohio Company for establishing colonial settlements and increase of trade in the region. The point of the meeting was to create a stable frontier environment for extension of commerce and settlement along the Ohio. For Gist's part, he was to emphasize the benefits to the Indians of expanded trade and increased white settlement.

The Treaty of Logstown Joshua Fry, Lunsford Lomax, and James Patton journeyed to Logstown on the Ohio River to treat with the Indians of the Six Nations. After a delay of nearly a week in which the commissioners waited for the arrival of a leading Sachem of the Six Nations, Thonariss -- called Half King by the English -- the assembly began its discussions. The wide-ranging dialogue covered the topics outlined in their instructions from Lt. Governor Dinwiddie. In the end, the Sachems of the Six Nations recognized the British land claims established by the 1744 Treaty of Lancaster. The exchanges included in this excerpt of the treaty negotiations provide insight into the complex relationship between British, Indian, and French interests in the Ohio Valley.

Proclimation [sic] of 1754 In response to the perceived threat of French incursions into the Ohio valley, Governor Dinwiddie issued this proclamation offering bounty lands to "all who should voluntarily enter into ... service" for the establishment of a fort on the Ohio where it met the Mohongahela. The bounty lands included two hundred thousand acres near the fort and along the river. Each enlistee would receive land "in a proportion due to their respective merit."

An act for opening a road through the frontiers of this colony to Fort Pitt on the Ohio. For improving commerce with the Indians of the Ohio valley and to facilitate supplying British garrisons along the frontier, the General Assembly authorized Thomas Walker and other gentlemen to "lay out" and "direct" the clearing of a road from the north branch of the Potomac River to Fort Pitt. The act mandated that the road run near Braddock Road.

Treaty of Hard Labor Created subsequent to the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, clarifying the newly agreed to boundary line required additional treating with the Cherokee in the south. The meeting took place at Hard Labor, South Carolina where the participants recognized the cession of certain lands of the Cherokee to the colonies of South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia. According to the terms, the king's "white subjects" would be bound by the agreement not to move into the lands designated as belonging to the Cherokee, and the Cherokee were similarly constrained from settling on land acknowledged as belonging to the English colonies. This document described in detail the boundary and also recognized arrangements constructed in earlier agreements, specifically the Treaty of Augusta [Georgia] of 1763. Encroachments by settlers and retaliatory acts of violence conducted by Indians inflamed the frontier and necessitated further boundary negotiations.

Treaty of Fort Stanwix After expressing their "apprehension" regarding the failure of colonists to strictly observe the 1765 boundary line between Indian Territory and the British colonies, continued negotiations produced this treaty. It describes in detail the line between the Six Nations, tribes of the Ohio, various dependent tribes, and the thirteen seaboard colonies. The agreement effectively closed off legitimate settlement of the Ohio Valley. However, it was ignored by many colonists who migrated west and squatted illegally on Indian lands. The inability of colonial authorities to effectively prevent these illegal settlements west of the boundary aggravated the situation between the various tribes of the region and white settlers along the frontier.

Treaty of Lochaber Continued consternation over the exact location of boundary between the Cherokee nation and Virginia led to this 1770 settlement of the line. At issue was a contested swath of land that had been ceded to the Indians at Hard Labor. The new agreement adjusted the border to give lands east of a line running from the Holston River to the convergence of the Great Canaway (Great Kanawha) and Ohio Rivers to the British province of Virginia.

An act for dividing the county of Fincastle into three distinct counties, and the parish of Botetourt into four distinct parishes. As more settlers moved into Fincastle County, the demand for local institutions - courts, justices of the peace, etc. - grew. The General Assembly divided Fincastle into the counties of Kentucky, Washington, and Montgomery. This act defined the boundaries of the three counties, established courts, identified county seats, and recognized justices of the peace.

An act for establishing the county of Illinois, and for the more effectual protection and defense thereof. This act recognized the successful effort by George Rogers Clark and his expedition to secure the western side of the Ohio for Virginia. The commonwealth incorporated the existing inhabitants into the commonwealth through oaths of fidelity and then extended institutions of governance by establishing the county of Illinois. The act provided for election of civil officials and the raising of a five hundred man force for the defense of the county.

An act for establishing a Land office, and ascertaining the terms and manner of granting waste and unappropriated lands. Concerned about the disposal of "waste and unappropriated lands," the General Assembly created a land office to deal with the sale and distribution of these lands. The lands would be used to encourage immigration, increasing public revenue, and paying off the commonwealth's debt. The office's administrative role would be essential to managing records of land patents, grants, veterans' land warrants, and purchases of waste and unappropriated lands sold at forty pounds per hundred acres. Managing Virginias lands, and later the public lands of the United States, was a central concern throughout the dcades of the early republic.

Daniel Smith's Journal (1779-1780) In 1779, with other surveyors and adventurers from Virginia and North Carolina, Daniel Smith and Thomas Walker set out to extend the Virginia-North Carolina boundary line far beyond the Cumberland Gap. From August 1779 until August 1780, the men traveled from southern Virginia, to the Falls of the Ohio River, and back to Virginia. In addition to their survey duties, the men worked secretly for Thomas Jefferson, meeting with George Rogers Clark at the Falls of the Ohio River to scout locations for the planned Fort Jefferson.

An act for marking and opening a road over the Cumberland mountains into the county of Kentucky. In response to the pressure from increased settlement along the Ohio River, Virginia's legislature passed this act to finance the scouting and blazing of a trail for use as a road to facilitate "communication and intercourse between the inhabitants in the eastern and western parts." The legislators chose Evan Shelby and Richard Callaway for the task of surveying and marking the proposed route. These two men were directed to proceed through the Cumberland Mountains, to mark and then "cause ... to be opened and cleared. Shelby and Callaway were to receive three hundred acres of land or one hundred twenty pounds in payment for their services. The act also provided for the recruitment of a militia guard and labour detail of up to fifty men.

An act for more effectually securing to the officers and soldiers of the Virginia line, the lands reserved to them. With significant tracts of land in the western reaches of Virginia promised to the "officers and soldiers of the Virginia line," the Assembly asserts its rights to promise lands to veterans and remove squatters. To reduce tensions along the state's border, the assembly prohibits settlement beyond the boundaries it has set.

Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, December 10, 1779 Thomas Jefferson informs George Washington of a conflict in Congress over reimbursing Colonel Theodrick Bland for expenses incurred at the Barracks at Albemarle. Jefferson encloses important extracts from an act in the Virginia Assembly that ensures land issued to officers, soldiers, and sailors will remain unsettled until the veterans, or their heirs, are able to take possession.

Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Martin, January 24, 1780 Thomas Jefferson instructs Joseph Martin, agent to the Cherokee, to purchase or trade for land for Fort Jefferson, currently being plotted by George Rogers Clark.

Thomas Jefferson to George Rogers Clark, January 29, 1780 Thomas Jefferson issues instructions for the construction of a fort on the Falls of the Ohio, offering the services of surveyors Thomas Walker and Daniel Smith, who are in the field plotting a line between North Carolina and Virginia. Addressing the need to defend the western frontier from British advances, Jefferson authorizes Clark's recruitment of a battalion of soldiers, with land warrants issued as payment. Jefferson also expresses concern over the establishment of peaceful relations with French settlers and Native groups already in the region.

Thomas Jefferson To Thomas Walker and Daniel Smith, January 29, 1780 In this secret communique, Thomas Jefferson instructs the surveyors to assist George Rogers Clark in selecting a spot for the fort to be constructed at the falls of the Ohio River.

Thomas Jefferson to George Rogers Clark, April 19, 1780 Thomas Jefferson writes to George Rogers Clark with concerns about the planned fortifications at the mouth of the Ohio River.

Arthur Campbell to Thomas Jefferson, November 29, 1782 Arthur Campbell writes to Thomas Jefferson about fossil finds in the West and possible a possible western border that may result from negotiations with the British.

Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Hutchins, January 24, 1784 Thomas Jefferson writes to geographer Thomas Hutchins with questions and remarks about one of Hutchins' pamphlets, "A Topographical Description of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and North Carolina, Comprehending the Rivers Ohio, Kenhawa, Sioto, Cherokee, Wabash, Illinois, Mississippi, &c...With a Plan of the Rapids of the Ohio, A Plan of the Several Villages in the Illinois Country, a Table of the Distances Between Fort Pitt and the Mouth of the Ohio." In his remarks, Jefferson notes several mistakes in the work.

Thomas Hutchins to Thomas Jefferson, February 11, 1784 Thomas Hutchins responds to Thomas Jefferson's January 24, 1784 note questioning calculations made in one of Hutchins' pamphlets, "A Topographical Description of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and North Carolina, Comprehending the Rivers Ohio, Kenhawa, Sioto, Cherokee, Wabash, Illinois, Mississippi, &c...With a Plan of the Rapids of the Ohio, A Plan of the Several Villages in the Illinois Country, a Table of the Distances Between Fort Pitt and the Mouth of the Ohio."

Resolutions from the Committee for the Western Territory, March, 1, 1784. With Jeremiah Townley Chase and David Howell, Thomas Jefferson issues recommendations for the division and government of the western edges of United States territory. The preferred boundaries of future states are laid out and vaguely classical and Indian names are given the various regions. Congress did not adopt the Ordinance as Jefferson submitted it, primarily rejecting the abolition of slavery in the region and Jefferson's nomenclature. As passed by Congress, it became the Ordinance of 1784.

Virginia's delegates cede western counties to the nation. The wrangling between Virginia, Maryland, and other "landed" states and the Congress over the use and distribution of western territory was a long and contentious process. With this document, Virginia's delegates cede land northwest of the Ohio River to the nation.

George Washington to Thomas Jefferson, March 29, 1784 George Washington writes of the importance of water routes into the western territories of the United States. Washington also refers to the Maryland/Virginia conflict over commerce on the Potomac River and the resolution of the matter.

Land Ordinance of 1785. Until the Homestead Act of 1862, this ordinance, with detailed instructions as to the sectioning of land into township and plats, was the guiding document in the division and dispersal of Western lands.

Samuel Parsons to Ezra Stiles, Forwarded to Thomas Jefferson, April 27, 1786 Samuel Parsons describes the fossils and ancient fortifications he encountered on his travels along the Ohio River during the Fall/Winter of 1785. Parsons letter to Stiles was forwarded to Jefferson, who was extremely interested in the discoveries along Big Bone Lick and the Ohio River.

Ezra Stiles to Thomas Jefferson, May 8, 1786 Ezra Stiles pens a note to Thomas Jefferson, introducing Samuel Wales of Yale University. Stiles also prefaces the enclosed letter from Samuel Parsons (see Samuel Parsons to Ezra Stiles, April 27, 1786.)

Northwest Ordinance, July 13 1787. Setting the stage for western expansion, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 shaped the development of the territory north and west of the Ohio River.

Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, May 10, 1789 Thomas Jefferson expresses his hopes for the future exploration and navigation of the Ohio and Potomac Rivers, adding a discussion about other avenues of water navigation that could promote western expansion and commerce. Jefferson also informs Washington he hopes to return to the United States, having appealed to John Jay for permission to do so. The letter also includes references to the role of the Marquis de la Fayette in French politics.

Thomas Jefferson to Gouverneur Morris, November 26, 1790 Thomas Jefferson writes to Gouverneur Morris regarding tensions in Congress over expansion and finances and violence with Native groups along the Ohio.

Thomas Jefferson to Henry Innes, March 7, 1791 Thomas Jefferson continues correspondence with Henry Innes about native history in the western regions of the United States. Jefferson also laments the problems George Rogers Clark is having, likely as a result of ongoing financial and health issues.

Thomas Jefferson to William Carmichael, March 12, 1791 Tension along the Mississippi River worries Thomas Jefferson, who asks William Carmichael to clarify the position of the Spanish regarding navigation of the Mississippi below the mouth of the Ohio River.

David Campbell to Thomas Jefferson, February 25, 1792 David Campbell writes to Thomas Jefferson, outlining the difficulties in establishing federal authority in the newly organized Southwest Territory. Significantly, Campbell argues for the supremacy of the Constitution over North Carolina state law in the region and asserts that the land and property of Native groups should be left unmolested.

Thomas Jefferson to the United States House of Representatives, February 16, 1793 In the report, Thomas Jefferson's understanding of American land policy in the west, particularly Indian treaties and possession and white claims, is clearly laid out as he reports on the land claim of a Revolutionary War veteran

Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, March 10, 1793 In his official capacity as Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson writes to George Washington, reiterating the boundaries of the western frontiers of the United States, particularly as they apply to treaties with Native groups.

Thomas Jefferson to Joseph-Mathias Gerard de Rayneval, March 20, 1801 Thomas Jefferson addresses the history and purposes of the Ohio, Wabash, and Loyal Land Companies in this letter about Conrad Alexandre Gérard de Rayneval's financial difficulties with the Wabash Company. State cession of lands to the companies are germane to the discussion.

Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, November 24, 1801 Thomas Jefferson wonders about the possible use of Western territory for slaves or free blacks in the aftermath of Gabriel's Rebellion. He is concerned about the possible repercussions for domestic and international relations if they are sent west or remain on the continent; St. Domingo seems a good possible destination.

Thomas Jefferson to United States Congress, January 18, 1803 Thomas Jefferson's confidential report to Congress planned westward expansion and the United States' relationship with Native Americans.

Albert Gallatin to Thomas Jefferson, March 14, 1803 Albert Gallatin informs Thomas Jefferson of the preparations he has made for the Corps of Discovery expedition, including commissioning Nicholas King's blank projection of western North America. Gallatin demonstrates his familiarity with the work of cartographers including Arrowsmith, Delisle, and Mackenzie, assuming Jefferson has the same background knowledge.

Meriwether Lewis to Thomas Jefferson, April 3, 1803 Meriwether Lewis writes to Jefferson regarding his preparations, including his many communications with men of science. Lewis includes his plans for a collapsible boat.

Albert Gallatin to Thomas Jefferson, April 13, 1803 Albert Gallatin responds to Jefferson's planned instructions to Lewis by stressing the importance of evaluating the suitability of the parts of the trans-Missouri region not included in the Louisiana Purchase. He wonders if British appropriation of the region is a possibility.

Meriwether Lewis to Thomas Jefferson, September 8, 1803 Meriwether Lewis updates Thomas Jefferson on his progress preparing for the westward expedition.

Meriwether Lewis to Thomas Jefferson, October 3, 1803 While pausing to provision his expedition, Meriwether Lewis writes to Thomas Jefferson about the scientific explorations at Big Bone Lick and his plans for the trip westward.

Thomas Jefferson to Meriwether Lewis, November 16, 1803 Thomas Jefferson updates Meriwether Lewis on political activity around the event of the Louisiana Purchase. Jefferson includes notes from the explorer Truteau that detail population and activities of some native groups living west of the Mississippi.

Thomas Jefferson to William Dunbar, March 13, 1804 Thomas Jefferson thanks William Dunbar for his letter of January 28, promising to forward his paper on the Mississippi River to the American Philosophical Society. Jefferson then writes a detailed discussion of the science of water in a river like the Mississippi. Jefferson also relates his plans for directing surveying parties to the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, in addition to explorations of the Red and other more southern waterways. Jefferson concludes with speculations on the future of the Lousiana Territory.

William Dunbar to the American Philosophical Society, via Thomas Jefferson, read April 6, 1804. The Mississippi River, its delta, and the surrounding region receive detailed attention from William Dunbar in this report forwarded to the APS by Thomas Jefferson.