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


Report from Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson to the United States House of Representatives, February 16, 1793
Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress
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

February 16. 1793.

The Secretary of State, to whom was referred, by the House of Representatives of the United States, the petition of John Rogers, setting forth, that as an officer of the State of Virginia, during the last war, he became entitled to two thousand acres of lands on the north-east side of the Tennessee, at its confluence with the Ohio Maps: , and to two thousand four hundred acres in different parcels, between the same river and the Mississippi, all of them within the former limit of Virginia, which lands were allotted to him under an act of the Legislature of Virginia, before its deed of cession to the United States; that by the treaty of Hopewell, in 1786, the part of the country comprehending these lands was ceded to the Chickasaw Indians; and praying compensation for the same.

Reports, That the portion of country comprehending the said parcels of land, has been ever understood to be claimed, and has certainly been used, by the Chickasaw and Cherokee Indians for their hunting grounds. The Chickasaws holding exclusively from the Mississippi Maps: to the Tennessee, and extending their claim across that fiver, eastwardly, into the claims of the Cherokees, their conterminous neighbors.

That the government of Virginia was so well apprized of the rights of the Chickasaws to a portion of country within the limit of that State, that about the year 1780, they instructed their agent, residing with the southern Indians, to avail himself of the first opportunity which should offer, to purchase the same from them, and that, therefore, any act of that Legislature allotting these lands to their officers and soldiers must probably have been passed on the supposition, that a purchase of the Indian right could be made, which purchase, however, has never been made.

That, at the treaty of Hopewell, the true boundary between the United States on the one part, and the Cherokees and Chickasaws on the other, was examined into and acknowledged, and by consent of all parties, the unsettled limits between the Cherokees and Chickasaws were at the same time ascertained, and in that part particularly, were declared to be the highlands dividing the waters of the Cumberland and Tennessee, whereby the whole of the petitioner's locations were found to be in the Chickasaw country.

That the right of occupation of the Cherokees and Chickasaws in this portion of the country, having never been obtained by the United States, or those under whom they claim it, cannot be said to have been ceded by them at the treaty of Hopewell, but only recognized as belonging to the Chickasaws, and retained to them.

That the country south of the Ohio Maps: was formerly contested between the Six Nations and the southern Indians for hunting grounds.

That the Six Nations sold for a valuable consideration to the then government their right to that country, describing it as extending from the mouth of the Tennessee upwards. That no evidence can at this time and place be procured, as to the right of the southern Indians, that is to say, the Cherokees and Chickasaws, to the same country; but it is believed that they voluntarily withdrew their claims within the Cumberland river, retaining their right so far, which consequently could not be conveyed from them, or to us, by the act of the Six Nations, unless it be proved that the Six Nations had acquired a right to the country between the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers by conquest over the Cherokees and Chickasaws, which it is believed can not be proved.

That, therefore, the locations of the petitioner must be considered as made within the Indian territory, and insusceptible of being reduced into his possession, till the Indian right be purchased.

That this places him on the same footing with Charles Russell and others, officers of the same State, who had located their bounty lands in like manner, within the Chickasaw lines, whose case was laid before the House of Representatives of the United States at the last session, and remains undecided on; and that the same and no other measure should be dealt to this petitioner which shall be provided for them.