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Story Archives: Outfitting the Spanish boundary line crew in 1798; Minor, Dunbar roles
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|Outfitting the Spanish boundary line crew in 1798; Minor, Dunbar roles|
When you're driving Hwy. 61 south of Natchez you cross the boundary line that separates Louisiana and Mississippi. Woodville's just to the north of the line and St. Francisville is to the south
That border you cross was marked more than 200 years ago in a joint effort by the Spanish and U.S. governments. At that time, the boundary line separated the two countries.
We've written many times about the massive project of cutting the line out of the wilderness from east of the Mississippi just below Fort Adams all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. The work was done from 1798 to 1799.
Recently, our good friend Jo Ann (Jan) Trogdon of Missouri shared with us some of her research -- Spanish government records concerning the boundary line.
Jan is currently writing a biography of William Clark of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. She also is fluent in Spanish and translated the source material for this column.
The information she provided concerns, she said, "the expenses and personnel of the Spanish Boundary Commission of 1798. This is by no means all of the information available -- just samples of what I've gotten."
Jan says she has yet to find similar details about the American Boundary Commission led by Andrew Ellicott. The Spanish information she transcribed and shared with us came from the files (called "Legajos" in Spanish) in the Spanish archives of Papeles de Cuba.
TOP OFFICIALS FOR SPANISH
Thomas Power, Secretary & Commissary of the Spanish Boundary Commission, wrote to Juan Ventura Morales, Intendent of Spanish Louisiana, before the work marking the line began. This letter dealt with compensation for some of the key workers for the Spanish.
William Dunbar, the great explorer, scientist, planter and inventor from Natchez, was long associated with the Spanish before the Americans took possession of the region in 1798 and formed the Mississippi Territory. Dunbar's pay was to amount to $3,500 per year, but due to ill health and pressing problems back in Natchez, he only worked a few weeks. He primarily assisted Ellicott, the American commissioner, with setting up an observatory to read the stars and properly mark the beginning of the line along the 31st parallel.
What would Dunbar's salary buy today? According to The Inflation Calculator, what cost $3,500 in 1800 would cost more than $40,000 today. Or more simply, what cost $1 in 1800 would cost about $11 today.
Others given key roles included Nicholas Gensack, Adjutant of Provisions, $45 per month; Henry Flowers, Second Adjutant, $30 per month; Philip Engle Sr, Senior Overseer, $30 per month plus ration; Philip Engle Jr., Junior Overseer, $7.50 per month plus daily ration; Patricio Fevvart (or Fequnt), First Assistant Surveyor, $30 per month; Francisco Cabrera, baker, $15 per month plus daily ration; James Scott, Surgeon, $30 per month (Scott also served as U.S. commission surgeon); and Zadok Brashears, Baggage Superintendent, $40 per month plus daily ration.
(Incidentally, the Engles, both Junior and Senior, were among early recipients of Spanish land grants in Concordia after the Post of Concord (Vidalia) was established in 1798, just days after the Spanish gave up the Natchez District to the Americans by treaty. The two were likely rewarded for their service on the boundary.)
TENTS, BISCUITS, POWDER, CLOTHES
In correspondence sent to Louisiana's Spanish governor, Manuel Gayoso, who previously served as governor of the Natchez District for Spain prior to American possession, we learn that on May 16, 1798: "Supplies to be disbursed to the artillery at the line: 77 1/2 bolts striped ticking, 1 lb. sulphur, 11 lbs. candle wick cord, 3 scarlet flannel streamers (for cockades & trimming uniforms), 41 ridge poles & tent hardware, 34 ridge poles for calvary tents, 400 wooden pins, oiled clothes, other fabrics, 40 pots."
On May 18, 1798 at New Orleans, 6,000 pesos were sent to pay Thomas Power, Spanish Commissioner, for his boundary project costs.
On June 1, 1798, Power as commissary received five sacks of biscuits -- 237.5 pounds -- delivered on the Mississippi River by Antonio Molina, commander of the galley -- La Vigilante.
Later that month, Felipe Garcia delivered from the galley Activa a 100-pound barrel of powder and a crate of 100 balls.
MINOR SUPPLIES BOUNDARY COMMISSION
According to the records, expenses at the boundary for the Spanish until June 1798 included 1,450 pesos paid by Power to Spanish Commissioner Stephen Minor, an American who, like Dunbar, had spent years in Spanish service. Minor, in fact, served with the Spanish -- an American ally -- during the revolution.
Minor invested heavily in Natchez real estate in the late 1700s, became a major cotton producer and one of the wealthiest men in the region. An opportunist with a shrewd but fair eye for making a dollar, Minor's friendship with Gayoso and his contacts within the American government, particularly Gen. James Wilkinson, didn't hurt things a bit.
The 1,450 pesos he received from Power were for expenses Minor incurred for camp stoves, pack saddles, carbines, horses, yokes of oxen, the transportation of Dunbar's supplies by flatboat, and for dozens of axes. Those axes, incidentally, were manufactured in Natchez.
Minor also was paid for various other items he provided the boundary line crew from April to May 1798, including, says Jan Trogden, "the cost of transporting workers and their things to the line, horses, Dunbar's things." Plus, the men who rowed the boats had to be paid.
Also in May, Minor rented buildings in Natchez for the boundary commission, most likely to warehouse supplies.
The Spanish also had to buy writing materials such as tin candlesticks, 200 pens, 12 pencils, ink and sealing wax.
Kitchen gear was needed such as earthenware bowls, steel plates, cutlery, copper pots, coffee, pepper mills, jugs, iron basins, gallons of whiskey, cheese, Madeira and Castillian peppers
On May 1, 1798, Dunbar received a new astronomical circle and a storage box.
Polly Williams, the wife of cook Stephen Williams, was hired as a laundress for the Spanish.
(More on the boundary line work from Jan Trogden's translation of the Spanish archives next week.)
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