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title:“George Mason to Joseph Jones”
authors:George Mason
date written:1780-7-27

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:31 a.m. UTC
retrieved:May 10, 2021, 4:25 a.m. UTC

Mason, George. "Letter to Joseph Jones." The Papers of George Mason. Vol. 2. Ed. Robert A. Rutland. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1970. 655-62. Print.

George Mason to Joseph Jones (July 27, 1780)

July 27th, 1780.
The agreement of the commissioners from the two states, for settling the dispute of territory between Virginia and Pennsylvania, by fixing the line commonly called Mason and Dixon's line as the southern boundary of Pennsylvania, and from the termination of five degrees, of west longitude, on the said line, to be computed from the Delaware river, extending a meridian line for the western boundary of Pennsylvania, has been at last ratified by our assembly; on condition that the titles of individuals within the disputed territory should be confirmed, according to their priority, whichever state they were acquired under; that the inhabitants shall remain free from taxes until December next, and shall not be chargeable with arrears. Justice demanded the first of these, to which I think there can be no objection on the part of Pennsylvania, unless suggested by the private views of some great landmongers; and good policy I hope will induce her to assent to the whole, to conciliate the affections of her new citizens; without which she will find herself involved in a very disagreeable business with these people.
I think it the duty of a staunch whig, and friend to his country, to do every thing in his power to remove any cause of ill will or disagreement with a sister state; and therefore (though I clearly saw from the proceedings that our commissioners had been overmatched by those of Pennsylvania) I labored the ratification of the agreement, as heartily as I ever did any subject in my life. There was so strong an opposition that we were able to carry it only by a small majority; for this reason, and from my attachment to the common cause of America, I sincerely wish the dispute may now be closed, and not remitted again to our assembly. You will observe from a clause in the resolve that we have not been influenced by pecuniary motives, in the annexed conditions.
If you will cast your eye upon the late maps, you will perceive that the five degrees of longitude from the Delaware, will extend Mason and Dixon's line within twenty or thirty miles, perhaps less, of the Ohio; and that between the meridian line or western boundary of Pennsylvania, and the river there will remain a long narrow slip of land, so detached from Virginia as to be of little value to her, unless she retains her territory on the north-west side of the Ohio.
Nothing has been moved in our assembly respecting our western territory since the remonstrance to congress, nor do I think there will be shortly, unless there are some propositions from congress on the subject; but I am sure the most judicious men in our legislature, and the firm friends to American independence, are well disposed for the sake of cementing our union, and accelerating the completion of the confederation, to make great cessions to the United States, and wish for such reasonable propositions from congress as they can unite in supporting. You will observe a hint in the remonstrance to this purpose; it was intended to bring on offers from congress, and there can't be a fitter time than the present, upon our having settled our dispute with Pennsylvania. I dare not presume to give my opinion upon this subject, farther than as an individual member; but, from the best judgment I am able to make, (and I have taken some pains to inform myself,) I think if congress would offer the guaranty of the United States, fin' our remaining territory, this commonwealth will agree to Mason and Dixon's line, from the intersection of the meridian, drawn from the fountain of the main north branch of Potomac, to the Ohio river, as the northern boundary of Virginia, saving to the people north of the said line, on the long slip of land between the western boundary of Pennsylvania and the said Ohio river, their titles previously founded under our laws; and will also agree to fix the north-west bank of the Ohio river, from thence to the North Carolina line, in latitude 36° 3o' as the western boundary of Virginia; granting to the inhabitants of the United States the full and free use of the navigation of the said river; but if the North Carolina line shall be found to be south of the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi (which at present is uncertain,) then, and in that case, the western boundary of Virginia to be extended from the mouth of the Ohio down the Mississippi river, to the intersection of the said North Carolina line, ceding and relinquishing to the United States the right and title of Virginia, both in the soil and sovereignty of the country, northward and westward of the said boundaries, upon the following conditions:
1st, That the territory so ceded shall be laid out and formed into not less than two separate and distinct states or governments. The time and manner of doing it to be at the discretion of congress.
2 dly, That Virginia shall be allowed and fully reimbursed by the United States her expenses in reducing the British posts at the Kaskaskias and St. Vincents, the expense of maintaining garrisons, and supporting civil government there, since the reduction of the said posts, and in general all the charges she has incurred on account of the country on the north side the Ohio river, since the declaration of American independence.
3dly, That the French and Canadian inhabitants and other settlers at the Kaskaskias, St. Vincents and the neighboring villages, who have professed themselves citizens of Virginia, shall have their possessions and titles confirmed to them, and shall be protected in the enjoyment of their rights and liberty; for which purpose troops shall be stationed there, at the charge of the United States, to protect them from the incroachments of the British forces at De Troit, or elsewhere, unless the events of war shall render it impracticable.
4thly. As Col. George Rogers Clarke planned and executed the secret expedition, by which the British posts were reduced, and was promised, if the enterprise succeeded, a liberal gratuity in lands in that country, for the officers and soldiers who first marched thither with him; that a quantity of land not exceeding one hundred and fifty thousand acres, be allowed and granted to the said officers and soldiers, to be laid off in one tract, the length of which not to exceed two-thirds of the breadth, in such place on the north-west side of the Ohio, as the majority of the officers shall choose, and to be afterwards divided among the said officers and soldiers, in due proportions according to the laws of Virginia.
5thly, That the said Col. George Rogers Clarke shall be permitted to hold, and shall have confirmed and granted to him, in fee simple for ever, without purchase money other than a nominal legal consideration, a certain tract of land, of seven miles and a half square, at the great falls of the Ohio, binding upon the river, upon the northwest side thereof, which hath been given him by the Wabache Indians for his services, and as a testimony of their friendship to him, and of their attachment to the commonwealth of Virginia and the cause of America.
6thly, In case the quantity of good lands on the south-east side the Ohio, upon the waters of Cumberland river, and between the Green river and the Tennessee river, which have been reserved by law for the Virginia troops upon continental establishment and upon their own state establishment, should (from the North Carolina line bearing in further upon the Cumberland lands than was expected) prove insufficient for their legal bounties; that the deficiency shall be made up to the said troops, in good lands on the north-west side of the Ohio river, (within the territory to be ceded to the United States as aforesaid,) in such proportions as have been engaged to them by the laws of Virginia.
7thly, That all the lands within the territory so ceded to the United States, and not reserved for, or appropriated to any of the herein-before-mentioned purposes, or disposed of in bounties to the officers and soldiers of the American army shall be considered as a common fund for the use and benefit of such of the united American states as have become, or shall become members of the confederation, or federal alliance of the said states (Virginia inclusive) according to their usual respective proportions in the general charge and expenditure, and shall be faithfully and 'bona fide' disposed of for that purpose, and for no other use or purpose whatsoever; and therefore that all purchases and deeds from any Indian or Indians, or from any Indian nation or nations, for any lands within any part of the said territory, which have been or shall be made for the use or benefit of any private person or persons whatsoever shall be deemed and declared absolutely void and of no effect, in the same manner as if the said territory had still remained subject to, and part of the commonwealth of Virginia.
By the charter of 1609, Virginia is to extend from the cape or point of land called Cape, or Point Comfort, all along the sea-coast to the northward two hundred miles, and from thence west and north-west into the land, &c. Giving this the most confined construction, that is, a due west course into the land, &c., the northern boundary of Virginia would pass through the western boundary of Pennsylvania, and strike the Mississippi between the 41st and 42d degrees of latitude. According to the late agreement the southern boundary of Pennsylvania, viz., Mason and Dixon's Line (as well as I can recollect, for I have not now the papers by me) is in latitude 39° 45' 18", and her western boundary a meridian line drawn from the termination of five degrees of longitude, computed from the Delaware; consequently Virginia would cede to the United States, west of Pennsylvania and north of latitude 39° 45' 18" a tract of land, in length from north to south, not less than eighty or ninety miles; and in breadth from east to west, the whole distance between the western boundary of Pennsylvania, and the Mississippi River, probably not less than three or four hundred miles; besides the extensive country between the Ohio and Mississippi, lying south of latitude 39° 45' x8". In the whole a territory of more than fifty millions of acres; larger than all the territory remaining to Virginia between the Atlantic Ocean, and the Ohio River, and between the States of Pennsylvania, Maryland and North Carolina; and from its levelness and fertility of soil, capable of sustaining more than double its number of inhabitants. Taking the subject in this point of view (which is not an exaggerated one) I trust Virginia will be considered as acting upon a large and liberal scale, and sacrificing her own local interests to the general cause of America; and that the before mentioned conditions are so moderate and reasonable, that they can hardly be objected to by any real friend of American independence; yet lest they should be thought by any unnecessary, or capricious, I will beg leave to offer some reasons in their support.
The first condition is so evidently proper, that little need be said on it. The power of one state owning such an extensive and fertile territory, whose situation is naturally, and whose commercial interest and connexions may in process of time, become so different from the others, might be dangerous to the American union.
The 2d and 3d, justice as well as policy require. Virginia has indeed a right to expect much more, particularly the charges of an expedition over the Ohio in the year 1774; which, though carried on by Lord Dunmore under the former government, has been paid for by the present, and the money emitted for that purpose is still in circulation, and is to be redeemed by the taxes imposed by our last session of Assembly.
The French and Canadian inhabitants have received no titles from Virginia, further than a declaration that they should have their private property confirmed to them, and be protected in the enjoyment of all their just rights as citizens. I understand they possess only small portions of land contiguous to their respective villages; which they cultivate; and to which perhaps they have no other legal title, than the possession, under the encouragement or acquiescence of the former government.
These people have great interest with the neighboring Indians, and also with the French and Canadian inhabitants about Fort De Troit; they raise provisions sufficient to support strong garrisons, at the Kaskaskias and St. Vincents, are well affected to the United States, and may, if properly encouraged, be very useful to them; as their strength is by no means inconsiderable.
4th and 5th. The Commonwealth of Virginia hath yet given no titles to any lands on the north-west side of the Ohio; but the public faith stands pledged to Col. Clarke and his officers and men (in all about one hundred and eighty) who reduced the British posts of Kaskaskias and St. Vincents, for a liberal reward in the lands they conquered. This handful of men has performed more than two or three thousand men and two general officers, on the two expeditions against that country, ordered by Congress, at the expense of several millions; and their success has been of great importance to the United States; by fixing garrisons behind the Indian towns, and deterring them from sending their warriors far from home; and by drawing from the British to the American interest several tribes of Indians, the frontiers of the middle-states have been more effectually protected, than they would have been by ten times the number of troops stationed upon the Ohio; and by putting Virginia in possession of these posts, they have not only taken them out of the hands of the British, but have prevented the Spaniards from possessing themselves of them; which but for that circumstance, they would most undoubtedly have done last year, in their expedition up the Mississippi, when they took possession of every other British post upon that river; in which case that country would have been lost to the United States, and left to be disputed between Spain and Great Britain, upon a treaty of peace. The possession of these posts has prevented Spain from meddling with the country on this side the Mississippi, above the mouth of the Ohio; and will afford a strong argument in favor of our claim, upon a treaty with Great Britain. It leads also to the reduction of the British garrison at Fort De Troit; the situation of St. Vincent's rendering it by far the most convenient place from whence to carry on an expedition for that purpose. Col. Clarke's enterprising genius, his great interest with the back inhabitants, his influence with the western Indians, and his knowledge of the country qualify him better than any man in America for conducting such an expedition. When these things are properly considered, I make no doubt that Congress will cheerfully agree to the conditions in favor of Col. Clarke and his regiment.
6th. When the law passed for opening a land office, a large tract of country, on the south-east side the Ohio, between the said river and the great mountains, and between the Green river, the North Carolina line, and the Tennessee river, was reserved for the Virginia troops, on continental and state establishment; which was then thought amply sufficient for the purpose; the finest body of this reserved land being upon the waters of Cumberland river, and the North Carolina line being extended lately by the authority of the * *sates, and bearing on much farther upon the cumberland lands than was expected, it is feared there may not remain a sufficient quantity of good lands for the said troops; this may not perhaps be the case, but lest it should, it is incumbent upon Virginia, at all events before she makes a cession of so large a part of her territory, to reserve the certain means of fulfilling her engagements to her own troops both upon continental and state establishment: the latter are but few, most of the troops raised for the local defence of the state having been from time to time added to the continental establishment.
7th. Without some such stipulation as this, there is reason to apprehend much abuse in this business. It is notorious that several gentlemen of great influence in the neighboring states, were and still are concerned in partnership with Lord Dunmore, some other of the late American governors, and several of the British nobility and gentry in a purchase for a mere trifle, about the year 1773, from the Indians of a large tract of country, containing by their own computation between twenty and thirty millions of acres, on the northwest side the Ohio; that there is another company claiming in the same manner an extensive tract adjoining the other; and if fame speaks truth, these two companies, since the declaration of American independence, have united their interests; which they have spared no pains to strengthen, by disposing of shares to members of Congress, &c. Any man who reads with attention the Maryland Declaration will perceive that Assembly has been so far imposed upon, as to insert a clause evidently calculated to secure and guaranty these purchases; by which means, under the popular pretence of establishing a common fund, the public would be duped by the arts of individuals, and the most valuable part of the territory to be ceded by Virginia, would be applied to private purposes. However just and necessary therefore, this condition may be, private interest will probably suggest many objections to it; but I am pretty confident Virginia will ever consider it as a 'sine qua non.'
I have given you the trouble of a tedious epistle; but the importance of the subject and your own request have brought it on you, and render an apology unnecessary. I am certain there will be a strong opposition here to the cession of such an extensive territory. As I think I have some weight in our assembly, and more upon this than any other subject, I earnestly wish Congress may take up the consideration, and transmit reasonable proposals to our next session, that I may have an opportunity of giving them my aid; being anxious to do this last piece of service to the American union, before I quit the Assembly, which I am determined to do at the end of the next session. I am, &c.,
G. M.

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