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Memorial of Richard Henderson and others, proprietors of Transylvania


A Memorial of Richard Henderson, Thomas Hart, Nathaniel Hart, John Williams, William Johnson, John Luttrell, James Hogg, David Hart, and Leonard Hendly Bullock, was presented to the Convention, and read; setting forth, that they, in fair and open treaty held with the Cherokee Nation, at Wattaugh, on the 17th day of March, 1775, for a large and valuable consideration, obtained a grant for part of their lands lying on the River Ohio, and the branches thereof to the westward of the line lately run by Colonel Donelson as a boundary between the inhabitants of the Colony of Virginia and the said Cherokees, with permission to form immediate settlements thereon, and forever afterwards to enjoy the same, promising and protesting that such their settlement should in no wise interrupt the peace and harmony then subsisting between the white people and their Nation; that, ever apprehending the right of disposal to be incident to property, and no particular law then in existence prohibiting such sale or purchase, they considered themselves sole owners and proprietors of the soil so bought at their own disposal as private property, without incurring any penalty or forfeiture whatsoever; that as it was the original design of your Memorialists to open that part of the country for the immediate settlement of every well-disposed person minded to remove thereto, and become benefited thereby, at a very great peril, and a considerable expense, with the blood and loss of several of their friends and followers, they proceeded to take possession of the same, and, under many hardships, difficulties, and dangers, have continued the actual possessors, and, as they conceive, rightful claimants thereof, not doubting the equity or legality of their title, or in any manner apprehending such their private property subject to the absolute will or disposal of any other person or persons whomsoever.

That, for encouragement of those inclined to become immediate settlers, and, as it were, open a way to a country so fraught with advantages to the poorer sort in particular, they gave notice, in writing, that all such as would then go and make or raise corn thereon, and assist in the defence and support of such settlement, and continue therein until the 1st day of September, in the same year, should, as a reward for such service; be entitled to five hundred acres of land, to be chosen by themselves, anywhere within the bounds of their said purchase or grant, except low down on the Cumberland River, for the moderate sum of £5 sterling, or £6 5s˙, current money of Virginia, clear of the expense of surveying, and every other incidental charge necessary to the completion and security of a good title.

That, in consequence of the said purchase, and easy terms of obtaining lands, sundry persons became adventurers, and assisted them in commencing a settlement on the Kentucky, or Louisa River, within the said purchase or country now


called Transylvania, and have continued thereon perfectly satisfied with the terms and title, until some interested, artful, and designing persons, by cunning, specious, and false suggestions, with intent to injure and oppress them, have raised doubts in the minds of some few with respect to the justice and validity of the title, and consequently of the propriety of making payment, according to their original contract and agreement, until such objections shall be removed, or themselves better satisfied.

That they observe with concern that by a Petition exhibited to this Convention, entitled the Petition of the Inhabitants and some of the intended settlers of that part of North America now denominated Transylvania, and also by another Petition from a certain John Craig, the most uncandid and false representation of their conduct is held forth, and an attempt therein made, under colour of publick injuries, to bring on a disquisition on the subject of their private property.

That, relying on the justice of their title, and conscious of the rectitude of their conduct, they are willing at all times to subject them both to proper jurisdictions. Their conduct, so far as relates to the peace, happiness, and safety of the United Colonies in general, or any of the Colonies in particular, is surely within the cognizance, and subject to the restraint or censure of the General Congress, or such particular Colony; but, with great deference, they humbly conceive that matters or disputes relative to private property do not properly come within the consideration or determination of this Convention, or any other Convention or Congress on the Continent, according to the true spirit and plain meaning of their power by delegation, except where, for want of particular existing laws against certain crimes which affect the State, such property becomes the object of their attention, as a punishment which never can be inflicted with justice but on the guilty. But should this Convention think differently on that subject, and that they are possessed of further and other powers with respect to private property, yet the Memorialists apprehend that the good people of Virginia, either by themselves or their Delegates, cannot, with their wonted candour and justice, undertake to determine a question in which they are so manifestly interested, and in an assembly where the Memorialists have no vote or right of representation.

That they have ever been, and still continue, the true friends of America, active and vigilant in every duty and office within their power for the good of the United Colonies, and hope that their constant and unremitted endeavours justly entitle them to the approbation of all good men, and that their estates cannot be adjudged forfeit, or sequestered to the use of any person or persons, without a manifest violation of the principles of right so conspicuously set forth in the first article of that compendious and glorious system of liberty adopted by the present Convention in the declaration of the natural and inherent rights of mankind.

That, notwithstanding they consider their lands so purchased by them of the Cherokee Indians, the aborigines, sole owners and occupants of that part of America, to pertain to them as private property, yet, as it was their original design, as before declared, to form an immediate settlement thereon, and dispose of the lands to such as chose to become adventurers, on moderate, low, and easy terms, so they have in all things relating to such settlement and sale observed the strictest justice and impartiality, without respect to persons, or the different sects or persuasions of religion, giving timely notice, in the publick newspapers in the adjacent Colonies, of the certain terms on which lands might be had there, and are much at a loss, as those terms have never been altered but for the benefit of adventurers, for the reasons of the heavy charges against them, in the petitions before mentioned, of injustice, exorbitance, and arbitrary measures; that, well aware of the impropriety and danger of erecting or suffering a separate Government within the limits or verge of another, they do declare they never entertained thoughts of such an absurdity, and that their doings, together with the Delegates chosen by the inhabitants of Transylvania for the purpose of legislation, were intended as mere temporary by-laws for the good of their little community, and which the necessity of the case, too obvious to need explanation, they hope will sufficiently justify; and that, from the beginning, their constant attention and tenour of conduct has been to make the benefit of their lands as


diffusive as possible, and that they now are, and at all times have been, ready to submit to such Government as should be placed by authority over them, wishing and desiring their case may be thought of sufficient importance to call the attention of such power.

That this being a true and candid state of the affair, they hope that no insinuations or unjust assertions to the contrary, either from the Petitions aforesaid, or others, will be so far credited as in any manner to prejudice the minds of this Convention, or the rest of the good people of Virginia, against the Memorialists, they having, in their opinion, acted in a fair, open, and impartial manner. That notwithstanding they consider the allegations of their Memorial, with respect to the right of the Convention in matters of private property to be just, they are far from wishing to avoid a proper inquiry into the legality of their title, but, at the same time, cannot help expressing their surprise and utter astonishment that any right or claim to the said country or land is set up or opposed to theirs on account of the treaty held at Fort Stanwix in the year 1768, by Sir William Johnson, with the six United Nations of Indians, inasmuch as it is a matter well known to every person conversant in Indian affairs that those Nations never were possessed of, or could justly claim title to, any part of the lands or country now in dispute; and that the right confessedly was in the Cherokee Nation, or tribe of Indians, appears not only from their own constant and perpetual claim and occupancy, but by the several treaties and purchases heretofore made between the good people of Virginia and the Cherokee Nation, at sundry times and places, for lands lying northward of those now in question, particularly the last purchase made at Lochabar, in the year 1770, in consequence of which a boundary line between the Virginians' and Cherokees' land was ordered and directed by authority to be run, crossing in a northward direction from the Holstein River six miles above, or eastward, of the Long-Island therein, and from thence a direct course to the Ohio River, at the mouth or confluence of the Great Kanawha, or New River, to be and remain a perpetual boundary between the lands then belonging to the Crown of England in the Colony of Virginia and those of the Cherokee Nation, or tribe of Indians; by which, and many other arguments too numerous to be inserted in this Memorial, no claim was or could be made to the land on the west and southwest of the said line in consequence of the aforesaid treaty, or for any other cause or reason whatsoever, nor any title derived thereby to the King or Crown of England, nor to the good people of Virginia.

They beg leave to suggest that the treaty between them and the said Cherokees, for the land now in dispute or contemplation, was begun in the fall of the year 1774, and finished on the 17th day of March, in the year following. That at that time the contest between Great Britain and America was but in commencement, and it seemed to be the wish and hope of every person that a reconciliation might take place, and of course the regal powers and laws exercised as usual in America; and that they then were, and Still remained, freemen, as capable of purchase, or inheriting an estate which might come to them by descent or otherwise, as any other person or persons in England, or any of the Colonies in America; and having made such their purchase under certain known laws, by which every person was secured in the possession of their property, whilst the Government of England was acknowledged throughout the American Colonies; and that a Confederacy of the United Colonies and a Declaration of Independence by some or all of them, cannot alter the tenure of estates. That as the means of acquiring and possessing property is an unalienable right, so such Confederacy, Declaration of Independence, or non-allegiance to the King of England, or any other Power or State whatever, and declaring ourselves to be a free people, does by no means interfere with the right of individuals; and that every attempt to destroy such idea of property, as well with respect to them as others, is injurious, and they hope will be considered as infringements on the rights of humanity, and treated accordingly.

Ordered, That the said Memorial be referred to the Committee on the state of the Colony.