LSU acquires Claiborne Archive

Engraving of William C. C. Claiborne by John B. Longacre.

The LSU Libraries Special Collections recently acquired a small but important William C. C. Claiborne archive that contains very useful sources on the territorial post at Natchitoches, relations with the Creole French and Spanish and Native Americans in the Natchitoches area, and efforts to establish American rule and governmental structure in territorial Louisiana. The bulk of the eighteen item collection dates from 1805, but documents from 1805 to 1812 are included. It is comprised primarily of letters to Claiborne from and affidavits taken by Dr. John Sibley, Justice of the Peace at Natchitoches and U.S. Indian Agent.

Sibley’s letters are newsy and descriptive, and they provide both a sense of the danger and uncertainty on the ambiguous border between Spanish Texas and Louisiana and local attitudes toward the new American government, so recently established in New Orleans. For example, two affidavits forwarded by Sibley describe instances of “Spanish depredations” against citizens in which they took horses and goods. Additional affidavits record Natchitoches residents’ experiences living at and knowledge of the location of “ancient” French posts and Caddo settlements, apparently in an attempt to identify lands useful for further settlement. In a letter of 3 March 1805, Sibley relates efforts to equip the local Native Americans for farming and to win their allegiance over the Spanish, as well as the organization of the Caddo nation and fighting and alliances among its members– “the nearly thirty tribes in what I sepose to be Louisiana south of the Arkansas River.” Further, Sibley addresses topics from the need to regulate weights and measures to disputes about how to handle runaway slaves, how national politics are playing out locally, and the sense of those in the “Interior of the Territory” that they are being neglected in favor of New Orleans. He writes, “I hope they [the Legislature] will not give us reason to draw unfavorable inferences relative to their industry or capacity or reason. I think that they sepose the object of their creation was only to regulate New Orleans. We wish them to understand that we consider ourselves much neglected.”

In addition to the Sibley letters, the collection includes miscellaneous documents related to Claiborne’s family, a letter from Claiborne to his father recommending Gen. James Wilkinson (whom he describes as having served his country with fidelity), and two letters from Captain Edward Turner, Civil Commandant of the District of Natchitoches. Turner’s letters further illustrate the uneasy relations between the Creoles and the Americans. He reports the Creoles’ “wait and see” attitude about embracing the Americans, with them apparently hoping for the territory to be taken by the Spanish, and the role religion played in the mingling (or not) of the two populations. He writes, “They [Creoles] proposed to discountenance all persons settling within the district but true Romans, and they were to bind themselves to each other, to throw stumbling blocks in the way of any settler of different religious tenets- and to permit no person but a Roman Catholic to enter Church.”

This brief description gives only a hint of the rich sources in this collection. Though the documents are few in number, their writers were articulate, politically savvy, and, luckily for us, eager and able to convey a sense of the challenges of their duties and of the place in which they found themselves.

For additional information on this acquisition, contact Curator of Manuscripts Tara Laver,

Posted in Resources, Special Collections Tagged with: ,

In Archive