Thomas Jefferson contemplating the sale of frontier land, Philadelphia, 1776

Contributed by Maine Historical Society


Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was a delegate from Virginia to the Continental Congress during the American Revolution, the primary writer of the Declaration of Independence, the third President of the United States, and a slave owner.

In this letter, Jefferson contemplated selling or giving "unsettled land" to the west—otherwise known as Indigenous Homelands—to poor immigrants following America's divorce from Great Britain.

Jefferson's opinion that the western territories were open for the taking without considering Indigenous sovereignty demonstrates the settler colonialist viewpoints that began with the Doctrines of Discovery and became cemented into the U.S. governmental structure. Jefferson's zeal for the Revolution and distaste for Indigenous Nations appears on the last page of this letter, where he mentions the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (Six Nations), the Senecas, the Shawnee (Shawanese), Delawares, and foreshadows the Cherokee Trail of Tears:

We directed a declaration to be made to the Six Nations in general that if they did not take the most decisive measures for the preservation of neutrality we would never cease waging war with them while one was to be found on the face of the earth. They immediately changed their conduct & I doubt not have given corresponding information to the Shawanese & the Delawares. I hope the Cherokees will now be driven beyond the Mississippi & that this in future will be declared to the Indians the invariable consequence of their beginning a war. Our contest with Britain is too serious & too great to permit any possibility of avocation from the Indians. This then is the reason for driving them off, & our Southern colonies are happily rid of every other enemy & may exert their whole force in that quarter.

The letter's recipient, Edmund Pendleton (1721-1803) was the Speaker of the Virginia legislature and a slave owner. Pendleton proposed the modification in the statement of universal rights in Virginia's declaration to exclude slaves, thus winning the support of slave owners.

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About This Item

  • Title: Thomas Jefferson contemplating the sale of frontier land, Philadelphia, 1776
  • Creator: Thomas Jefferson
  • Creation Date: 1776-08-13
  • Subject Date: 1776
  • Location: Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA
  • Media: Ink on paper
  • Dimensions: 31.9 cm x 19.9 cm
  • Local Code: Coll. 420, Box 58/24
  • Collection: John S. H. Fogg autograph collection
  • Object Type: Text

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Maine Historical Society
485 Congress Street, Portland, ME 04101
(207) 774-1822 x230

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