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|Spanish handled boundary work better than Americans|
When the Spanish transferred possession of Natchez country to the American government in March 1798, one of the biggest projects ever seen in this region at the time was the marking of the new border between the two countries.
The boundary, the subject of this column during the past few weeks and in months past, required a large labor force, astronomers, military escorts and money.
From the beginning to the end, the Spanish government better planned and executed its part of the work than did the Americans. Under the leadership of former Natchez District Gov. Manuel Gayoso who ascended to the governorship of Louisiana prior to the boundary work, the Spanish took much better care of their people.
Part of the problem for the Americans rested solely in the lap of the U.S. Boundary Commissioner, Andrew Ellicott, an irritable Pennsylvania Quaker who knew his business but didn't know much about working people.
Ellicott did what little planning was done for the Americans in marking the boundary along the 31st parallel beginning south of Fort Adams on the eastern side of the Mississippi all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.
The Spanish, known for their meticulous record-keeping, planned every phase of the project in detail.
Jan Trogdon of Missouri, who is writing a book on William Clark of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, translated some of the Spanish records concerning the boundary project. She shared her work with us.
Gayoso ordered "25 laborers to serve as woodcutters, to receive 4 reales (50 cents) each day, to be directed by an overseer named Felipe Angel (Philip Engle)..."
He ordered Captain Stephen Minor "to purchase and furnish 16 horses and pack saddles for the baggage handlers to transport cargo and instruments...."
In naming Minor as a boundary commissioner and chief financial officer, Gayoso also set his pay at no more than the rank of his military status allowed.
For the laborers on the line in the employment of Spain, rations included one and one-half pounds of bread or flour, one and one-half pound of fresh or salted meat, one quart of bottle taffia (unprocessed rum) of any sort, two pounds of ham per 10 rations, one pot of salt per 100 rations, two bottles of vinegar per 100 rations, and candles as necessary.
Rations for the Spanish troops included 18 ounces of bread or flour, 18 ounces of fresh or salted meat, a daily ration of liquor, two pounds of ham per 100 rations, two bottles of vinegar per 100 rations, a half pot of salt per 100 rations and candles as necessary.
The commander of the troops augmented rations when troops were "employed beyond military function," notes Trogdon. "This suggests the Spanish troops may have been pressed to labor on the line, something (U.S.) Captain (Isaac) Guion strictly enjoined Ensign McClary from allowing among the American troops."
Officials with the Spanish Boundary Commission were provided two daily rations per day, transportation by horse and conveyance of equipment.
Meals for Spanish Boundary Commissioner Thomas Power were "paid at his discretion, the same for the costs of equipment and whatever else" he needed.
Some of the expenses paid by Spanish for the boundary work in 1798 included:
• William Miller, $810 or $58 each, for 14 horses.
• Expenses of Stephen Minor for carbines, pack saddles, leather straps for securing cargoes to horses, and American-made axes.
• Renting a horse for one month (amount not listed) from David Ferguson in Natchez.
• Minor to George Cochran, the contractor for provisions, $15 for transporting workers and baggage to the boundary.
• Minor to John Miller and John Wells, $15.75 for costs of transporting pack horses and oxen from Natchez to the Union Hill boundary camp (two trips).
• At Union Hill, Isaac Williams was paid $10 for the sale of a flatboat used to transport baggage and astronomical instruments from Natchez.
• John Smith and George Bailey were paid $15 for rowing William Dunbar's baggage and instruments from Natchez to Union Hill, and for the return trip. Dunbar was the astronomer for the Spanish who helped marked the line.
Other supplies sent to the camp at Bayou Sara included trunks of paper, blank books, ink, 72 pounds of papers, blank folios, French ink, pens, pencils, tin lanterns, 113 gallons aguardiente (cheap rum).
In preparing for the boundary work, Gayoso, in correspondence with Intendant Juan Ventura Morales, said that should commissioners and employees "have to provide their own provisions, their salaries will be considered liquid so that they may defray them as they see fit."
Notes Trogdon, "I think this means they may spend portions of their pay on meals beyond their daily rations, if they wish."
Gayoso said all employees "should work in accord and in an amicable manner with the Americans concerning the escort, the furnishing of provisions, instruments, and whatever other items (may be necessary) for the execution of boundary work. As the Americans did not consult our opinion on how to organize their commission, we have good reason not to depart from our rules, uses, and customs on particular matters. But because the Boundary Article of the Treaty aims to avoid confusion, disputes, offenses, and complaints, as a practical matter we should conform ourselves with the policies of the American commission."
Gayoso also advised that all of the employees of the Spanish on the line were Americans. He said "finding others is neither easy nor convenient. They have to travel and work together (with the American commission workers), and you can conclude that for the sake of avoiding unpleasant comparisons, quarrels, and complaints, they ought to have the same meals."
In one of the galleys sent from New Orleans up the Mississippi to the boundary line, Gayoso provided "six common tents, three marquees (big tents) now being built..., 28 calvary tents, 25 shovels, 25 machetes, 3 axes which Captain Minor has stored in the squadron warehouse, 30 axes reinforced as much as possible, 8 camp chairs, 8 lanterns, 6 pounds of candles..."
While the Spanish did a superior job in planning their part of the boundary work and in paying their workers, the Americans didn't fare as well under the young government of the United States.
The main problem for the Americans was the leadership of Andrew Ellicott, who spent a year in Natchez before the boundary work began. There, stirred up the entire community and his abrasive personality upset almost everyone -- American and Spanish -- on the boundary line.
Even Captain Guion, the top federal officer in Natchez before the arrival of Gen. James Wilkinson, had little good to say about Ellicott, who along with his son had a mistress on the boundary line. There were accusations that Ellicott mistreated the woman.
On May 5, 1798, slightly more than a month after Ellicott and his party left Natchez for the boundary line, Guion wrote Wilkinson:
"Ellicott left here on the 9th ult., for Willing's bayou, a little below Mr. Daniel Clarke's plantation, where he now is, doing little or nothing. He has very much lessened himself and sullied the commission he holds by his conduct, both before and after his arrival here. I did not believe it till I saw it, and had supposed it calumny.
"He is clearly striving to make a job out of his office, and difficulties and delay in running the line attributed to the Spaniards are really occasioned by his intrigues, to prolong his commission and per diem."
Apparently, few missed Ellicott after departure from Natchez country. Although he was a brilliant man, his confrontational style and annoying personality marked him unfavorably here.
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