LETTER FROM NEW MADRID
E. G. SWEM
Reprinted from the Mississippi
Valley Historical Review
Vol V, No. 3, Dec, 1918
A LETTER FROM NEW MADRID
bar ; i m
A Letter from New Madrid, 1789
The letter from New Madrid of April 14, 1789, is here re-
printed from the text as it appears in the Virginia Gazette and
Weekly Advertiser of August 27, 1789. In Houck's History of
Missouri, 2 : 112-115, extracts are printed from a joint letter of
Major McCully, Colonel Shreve, Colonel Christopher Hays, Cap-
tain Light, Captain Taylor, John Dodge, David Rankin, John
Ward, John Stewart, James Rhea, Captain Hewling and others,
addressed to Dr. John Morgan of Philadelphia, dated New Mad-
rid, April 14, 1789. Houck says this was published in Philadel-
phia, but gives no reference; he thinks that it was this letter
which led Madison to write to Washington that it "contained
the most authentic and precise evidence of the Spanish project
that has come to my knowledge." From the evidence it ap-
pears, however, that it was the circular of Morgan, issued in
the fall of 1788, calling for settlers, which was the subject of
Madison's statement to Washington. The circular is printed in
full in Hunt's Madison, 5:331, in connection with the letter to
Washington on March 26, 1789. The extracts from the New
Madrid letter as printed by Houck do not agree in all respects
with the corresponding passages in the letter printed in the Vir-
ginia Gazette. For this reason, and also because there are im-
portant parts not printed at all by Houck, it seems desirable to
reprint the text in full from the Virginia Gazette. For some of
the numerous references to George Morgan see "Life of George
Morgan" in the Washington (Pa.) Observer, May 21, 1904, by
Julia Morgan Harding; Alvord's Kaskaskia records, 1778-1790,
p. 3 ; Calendar of Virginia state papers, v. 4, p. 554, 555 ; J. H.
Baussman's History of Beaver county, Pa., v. 1, p. 67, 67, with
portrait; Houck's History of Missouri, v. 2, p. 109 ff. ; C. E.
Carter's Great Britain in the Illinois country, 1763-1774, index.
There is a description of Morganza, the home of Morgan, in
Thwaites' edition of Cuming's Tour to the west, p. 240.
E. G. Swem
Pittsburgh, August 1.
To Messrs. Bedford and Turnbull, Pittsburg.
New-Madrid, April 14, 1789.
The inclemency of the season, and the precautions necessary for the
advantage and security of our party and cnterprize, rendered our voy-
age down the Ohio long, though not a disagreeable one. We have now
been in the Mississippi two months, most of which time has been taken
up in visiting the lands from Cape St. Comme, on the north, to this
place on the south, and westward to the river St. Francois, the general
course of which is parallel with the Mississippi, and from twenty to
thirty miles distance.
Colonel Morgan, with 19 others, undertook to reconnoitre the lands
above, or north of the Ohio; this gave him the earliest possible oppor-
tunity of producing his credentials to Don Manuel Peres, governor of
the Illinois, who treated him and those who accompanied him with the
greatest possible politeness; and their arrival, after their business was
known, created a general joy throughout the country, among all ranks
of its inhabitants. Even the neighboring Indians have expressed the
greatest pleasure on our arrival, and intentions of settlement.
There is not a single nation or tribe of indians who claims or pre-
tend to claim, a foot of land granted to Colonel Morgan. This is a
grand matter in favour of our settlement.
The governor very cheerfully supplied our party with every necessary
demanded by Colonel Morgan, and particularly with horses and guides
to reconnoitre all the lands to the western limits, and from north to
south, in the interior country.
In an undertaking of this nature, it is not to be doubted, but different
opinions have prevailed amongst us in regard to the most advantageous
situation where was best to establish the first settlement of farmers and
planters. A considerable number of reputable French families on the
American side of the Illinois, who propose to join us, wished to influence
our judgments in favour of a very beautiful situation and country about
twelve leagues above the Ohio. A number of American farmers, de-
puted from Post St. Vincents, and some others of our party, were de-
lighted with the country opposite the Ohio, one league back from the
river, to which there is access by a rivulet, which empties itself into the
Mississippi about two and a half, or three miles above the Ohio. Some
declared for a situation and very fine country, to which there is a good
landing at the highest floods and about nine miles below the Ohio; but
after maturely considering every circumstance, and examining the
country in this neighbourhood fully, we have united in the resolution to
establish our new city, from whence this letter is dated, about twelve
leagues below the Ohio, at a place formerly called Lance La Graise, or
the Greasy Bend, below the mouth of a river, marked in Captain Hutch-
in 's map Cheyousea or Sound river.
Here the banks of the Mississippi, for a considerable length, are high,
dry, and pleasant, and the soil westward to the river St. Francois, is of
the most desirable quality for Indian corn, tobacco, flax, cotton, hemp,
and indigo, though thought by some too rich for wheat ; insomuch, that
we verily believe that there is not an acre of it uncultivable, or even
indifferent land, within a thousand square miles.
The country rises gradually from the Mississippi into fine, dry, pleas-
ant and healthful grounds, superior, we believe, in beauty and in qual-
ity, to every other part of America.
The limits of our new city of Madrid are to extend four miles south
down the river, and two miles west from it, so as to cross a beautiful
deep lake, of the purest spring water, 100 yards wide, and several
leagues in length north and south, and emptying itself by a constant
narrow stream through the center of the city. The banks of this lake,
which is called St. Ann's, are high, dry and pleasant: The water
deep, clear, and sweet, the bottom a clean sand, free from wood, shrubs,
or other vegetables, and well stored with fish.
On each side of this delightful lake, streets are to be laid out 100 feet
wide, and a road to be continued round it of the same breadth, and the
trees are directed to be preserved for ever, for the health and pleasure
of its citizens.
A street 120 feet wide on the banks of the Mississippi is laid out, and
the trees are directed to be preserved for the same purpose.
Twelve acres in a central part of the city are to be served in the like
manner, and be ornamented, improved, and regulated by the magis-
tracy of the city for public walks, and forty lots of half an acre each,
are appropriated to such public use as the citizens shall recommend, or
the chief-magistrate direct ; and one lot of twelve acres is to be reserved
for the king's use. One city lot of half an acre, and one lot of five
acres, to be a very free gift to each of the 600 first settlers.
Our surveyors are now engaged in laying out the city and outlots
upon this extensive and approved plan, and in surveying the country
into farms of 320 acres each, previous to individuals making any choice
These farms, and the conditions of settlement being also upon a plan
universally satisfactory, will prevent the endless law-suits which differ-
ent modes in other countries have established, and entailed upon the
posterity of the first settlers.
We have built cabins, and a magazine for provisions, &c. and are
proceeding to make gardens, and to plough and plant 100 acres of the
finest prairies land in the world with Indian corn, some hemp, flax,
cotton, tobacco, and potatoes.
The timber here differ in some instances from what you have in the
middle states of America; yet we have white oaks of an extraordinary
great size, tall and straight ; also black oaks, mulbury, ash, poplar, par-
simons, crab apple in abundance, and larger than ever we saw before,
hickory, walnut, locust, and sassafras trees of an extraordinary length
and straightness, are common of 24 inches diameter.
The underwood is principally cane and spice. — The timber unknown
to you are cypress, paean, coffee, cucumber, and some others. The cy-
press grows on the low land along the river, and is equal in quality to
We have a fine tract of this in our neighbourhood, which Colonel
Morgan has directed to be surveyed into lots of a suitable size, to accom-
modate every farm.
We are pleased with the climate, and have reason to flatter ourselves
that we have at last found a country equal to our most sanguine wishes.
Several principal French gentlemen at St. Gennieve has offered to
conduct Colonel Morgan, or any person he pleases to send, to as fine
iron and lead mines as any in America, within a short day's journey
of the Mississippi, and within the bounds of his territory.
It is intended to preserve these for some person or persons of suffi-
cient capital and knowledge to undertake to work them.
Salt springs are said to be dispersed through all the country; as we
have this information from the best authority we believe it, but have
not visited any.
The banks of the Mississippi for many leagues in extent, commencing
20 odd miles above the Ohio, are a continued chain of limestone; but
we have not yet found any in this neighbourhood.
We would mention many other particulars which would be pleasing
to our friends, but this would require more time to write a copy, than
we can spare from our other necessary employments. We however,
add, that a thousand farms are directed to be surveyed, which will soon
be executed, for the immediate choice and settlement of all families who
shall come here next fall, and that the months of September, October,
November, December, and January, are the most proper to arrive here,
as the farmers can begin to plough in February, and continue that
work until Christmas.
After the surveys are compleated, Colonel Morgan and Major M 'Cully
will proceed to New York, via New-Orleans and Cuba; and Colonel
Shreeve, Captain Light and Captain Taylor, with all others who con-
clude to return immediately for their families, will ascend the Ohio, in
time to leave Fort Pitt again for this place in October.
Captain Huling undertakes the direction of a number of single men
to plant one hundred acres of Indian corn, some tobacco, cotton, flax
and hemp. Colonel Morgan has supplied him with horses and ploughs,
&c. He will be able to build a good house and mill against his father
and brothers arrival here next fall.
As not a single person of our whole party, consisting of seventy men,
has been sick an hour, nor met with any accident, but on the contrary
all enjoy perfect health, and are in high spirits on the discovery of this
happy clime and country, we think it needless to mention the name of
any one in particular.
We are, Sirs,
Your most obedient servants,
(Signed) David Rankin,
George M 'Cully, John Ward,
John Dodge, John Stewart,
Peter Light, James Rhea.
A true copy,
Samuel Sellman, jun.