TWO HUNDRED YEARS AGO: Gov. William Wyatt Bibb wrote this message to the Legislature of the Alabama Territory.
(Transcribed from Natchez Gazette, Natchez, Mississippi, November 25, 1818)
Of his excellency Gov. Bibb to the Legislature of the Alabama territory
Gentlemen of the Legislative Council, and of the House of Representatives,
The events of the present year furnish flattering evidence of the increasing prosperity, and distinguished advantages of our territory. Attracted by a genial climate, productive soil, and navigable rivers—numbers have been added to our population, and crowds from all quarters are exploring our forests in search of situations for their future residence. The demand for the public lands is unprecedented; and prices are obtained which would be deemed more than adequate for improved farms in many of the states. Places which were lately the wretched abodes of the unfortunate Savage, now present fruitful fields and flourishing towns; and, withal, a degree of health prevails, which probably has not been exceeded in any country. I am satisfied, from observations in the various directions I have been called by the public concerns, that in estimating the character of this portion of the union, a salubrious atmosphere may be justly regarded among its prominent traits.
Amid these peculiar blessings and cheering prospects, for which we are so much indebted a kind Providence; we have, however, to lament the murderous incursions of a misguided enemy on a portion of our southern frontier. Hostilities were commenced on the part of the Indians whose residence has been occasionally on either side of the Florida line, in the month of January last, and have been since continued with remarks of cruelty almost unexampled. Many of the inhabitants were compelled to seek safety in the interior, and not until within a few weeks have they been permitted to return to their dwellings. Extensive swamps, and the adjoining Spanish possessions, furnished retreats for the Savages, where, in despite of the utmost vigilance, they might annoy our neighboring settlements. The regular troops being inadequate to afford the necessary protection, it became indispensable to station militia at the most exposed points, and to employ detachments to scour the neighboring woods. In September last, an expedition was arranged under the command of the gallant colonel Dale, when most of the party which had so long disturbed the repose of the frontier that crossed the Alabama, and pursued their courage through the neighborhood of the Falls of Tuskaloosa, towards the Mississippi. This very extraordinary movement may be easily ascribed as the occupation of Pensacola by the American forces.
Lack of funds
You will readily imagine the extreme labor and embarrassment to which the executive has been subjected –without funds, and at a per…..when the organization of the civil and military system of the territory required his constant attention. In a newly settled country, moreover, it was ruinons (sic) to call the militia from their homes and nothing less than the most imperative obligations, could have justified the measure. The occasion, nevertheless, has afforded numerous instances of patriotism, worthy of the highest commendation.
I have been authorized to draw upon the war department for the necessary funds to defray the expences incurred in defending the country, and the accounts are now in a train of adjustment.
Notwithstanding these unfortunate occurrences which were calculated to make impressions abroad unfavorable to emigration, it is probably the whole number of our inhabitants; at this time (that) exceeds seventy-five thousand. In the year eighteen hundred and sixteen, this portion of the then Mississippi territory, contained only twenty-eight thousand six hundred and seven; and it appears by the census taken the present year that excluding the counties of Lawrence and Marion, from which no returns have been received, our population amounts to sixty-seven thousand five hundred and ninety-four. So soon as the lists are completed, they shall be laid before you. There can be no doubt, that an application of the part of the territory for admission into the union will be readily granted by the national legislature. That subject, so interesting to us all, and the apportionment of representation, will doubtless attract your early attention.
Request funds from State of Mississippi
Pursuant to resolutions passed at the last session of the general assembly, I addressed a letter to the governor of Mississippi respecting the monies in the treasury of that state, claimed by this territory, under the act of congress; and at the same time, adopted measures for procuring one hundred copies of the digest of the laws of the late Mississippi territory. – The correspondence which is herewith transmitted, will show, that, although it has not been practicable to obtain the digests in due season, they will be forwarded in a few weeks. In the mean time, aware that the officers in the newly created counties could not proceed, without the means of ascertaining their respective duties: and, desirous to afford them every aid, I called on the clerks of the neighboring counties for such copies of the laws as had not been distributed. I have been thus enabled to transmit a small number to each county. It is also desirable that some legislative provision should be made for furnishing the officers of the militia with copies of the militia laws.
Courts in territory
An act of congress passed at the last session, vests in the territorial legislature, authority to appoint, change, and regulate the times and places of holding courts; and it is probable, the public convenience may be promoted by directing your attention to the subject. Permit me also to recommend an extension of the powers of the county courts. The number of the judges of the superior courts, and the amount of their salaries, are inadequate to the duties they are required to perform; and the difficulties of travelling from county to county, are frequently insuperable. Failures in holding courts, and delays in the administration of justice, are therefore the unavoidable consequence. In some of the states, the county courts are clothed with criminal jurisdiction to a certain extend; and in my view the system appears suited in a peculiar degree, to the situation of our country. I would submit, moreover, the propriety of fixing, as far as practicable, permanent limits to the respective counties. With the knowledge acquired by the surveys of various parts of the territory, that object may be ….. judiciously accomplished, and many considerations urge its importance. So long as the seats of justice are temporary, it is not to be expected that convenient accommodations for the courts will be provided. It may also be proper that the legislature should adjust the rates of ferry passage (?) on our principal rivers. At present the power of establishing and regulating ferries is —sted in the county courts; and it is believed, that different rates on the same stream, are prescribed in different counties. I learn, that, owing to the ambiguity of the provisions of the act imposing a tax on lands, the construction has not been uniform among the assessors. An amendment, therefore, is necessary.
The acts of congress prohibiting the importation of slaves from any foreign country, leave the –position of such as may be unlawfully introduced, to the legislative authorities of the states and territories in which they may be found: and may be important that the subject should occu — your consideration.
I have received a commission for George Phi—, John Gayle, jun., Matthew D. Wilson, Le—el-Mead, and Henry Chambers, as members of the legislative council; the two last in the place of Robert Beatty, resigned, and Joseph Carson, deceased; and I have to inform you that it –ll be expire on the fifteenth day of February next.
Seat of government
You are apprized of the distinguished spirit of —- erality which was manifested on the part of the —-tional legislature, during their last session, to—–rd our territory. An act passed authorizing the reservation of an entire township of land for the support of a seminary of learning; and al — of “any one entire section” for the seat of government. Fully aware of the sensibility of which the selection of a site for the seat of government always excites, and of the influence of (lo)cal feelings in the determination of the question, (c)ould not expect by any choice, however judicious, to afford universal satisfaction. And the (deli)cate task assigned to executive, has been (ren)ered the more embarrassing by a combination of accidental circumstances. A copy of the —- did not reach me until the month of June, when the town of Cahawba, which, among many other –es, had attracted the attention of our fellow citizens, was offered for sale, on the first Monday of October. Should that place be considered the most eligible, not to have examined its claims in the season, would have deprived the territory of their choice – while on the other hand, it was sensible that the selection made by the executive might not be approved by the legislature. That I (w)ould endeavor to prevent the former, appeared —me an imperative duty; while at the same time, to avoid the injurious consequences of a col—-ion of opinion between the public functionaries, was much to be desired. In this dilemma, — was diposed to confer with the commissioners appointed at the last session of the general assembly to report the situation they might deem most eligible; and, without delay, addressed a letter on the subject to the gentleman first named in the (?)t. Owing to causes beyond their control, they were unable to meet me, and I lost the benefit of their views.
Anxious only to promote the general interests of the territory, and guided by an impartial judgment, I was pursuaded (sic) that the site which might present the best prospect of permanency, and of advoiding, hereafter, those unpleasant dispossions (?) which have so much disturbed the repose, and distracted the councils of our sister states, (?)ught to be selected. Considerations resulting from our future prospects, and connected with the general convenience, were not to be over-looked; nor the gratification of a part of our population to be regarded, in opposition to the rights and interests of the whole. The experience of other states had shewn, that to consult as far as possible in the choice of position, the convenience of every portion of the country, is the surest method of rendering that choice permanent. In pursuing that principle, the nearest eligible site to the centre of the territory, presented the highest claim, while the probable future population of the different parts, was also to be considered.
The latter, however, being necessarily matter of conjecture only, and liable to be estimated according to various impressions, furnished a crite—on altogether uncertain; and, therefore was entitled to the less attention. With such views I (p?)roceeded to view the junction of Cahawba and Alabama. The bluff on the west side of those waters, presents a beautiful site, with springs of good water, and a prospect of health. Situated on a river capable of being navigated by boats of great burden, and supported as it will be, by the abundant productions of an extensive and fertile back (?) country on the Alabama and Cahawba, and their tributary streams, the town of Cahawba promises to vie with the largest inland towns in the southern country. Possessing, in my judgment, the necessary advantages — approaching certainly nearer to the centre of the territory, and probably of its future permanent population than any place otherwise equally eligible, I communicated the result of my examination to the president of the United States, with the request, that such parts of the section as I thought best calculated for the seat of government, might be reserved from sale. The request has been granted, and I herewith transmit a copy of the correspondence, together with a letter from the commissioner of the general land office to the register and receiver, and a report signed by three of the commissioners appointed at the last session of the general assembly, “to examine and report to the governor the most eligible site for the seat of the territorial government.” It is possible that the geographical views presented in my communication to the secretary of the treasury, may not be entirely accurate; but should there be any error, your liberality will find an apology in the very limited means of information which were within my reach.
In submitting the further disposition of the subject to the wisdom of the legislature, I feel no other solicitude, than that the course may be pursued, which shall best promote the welfare of the country, and the happiness of our fellow citizens. And I have the fullest confidence that such will be the object of your deliberations.
WM. W. BIBB
St. Stephens, 3d Nov. 1818
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