An ambitious 1772 plan for a British settlement on the Mississippi

“Sylvanus Urban” [aka, Edward Cave], editor, The Gentleman’s Magazine for February, 1772. London: Printed for D. Henry, [March, 1772].
8vo. [49]-96pp, plus engraved folding MAP of Part of WEST FLORIDA, from Pensacola to the Mouth of the Iberville River, with a View to shew the proper Spot for a Settlement on the Mississipi by John Lodge, 7 ¼”h x 13 ¼”w at neat line plus margins. String-tied, retaining original printed front wrap on blue paper. A bit of creasing and minor edge wear, rear wrap perished, else excellent.

The Gentleman’s Magazine for February 1772, complete with the original front wrap and the interesting folding map of West Florida to accompany the text “Proposal for a new Settlement on the Borders of the Missisippi in West Florida”.

The map depicts most of the Province of West Florida, acquired by the British from Spain through the 1763 Treaty of Paris. Per the Treaty the province was bounded on the west by the Mississippi River, to the north by the 31st parallel, and to the east by the Apalachicola River. The map features a tiny symbol labeled “Plantations” on the east bank of the Mississippi at its junction with the Iberville, which is expanded on by an inset “Plan for a New Settlement” at lower right.

The principal purpose of the map, as expounded in the accompanying text (pp. 63-64), is to depict the letter-writer’s proposal for a new British settlement at the junction of the Mississippi and Iberville Rivers. This would both enhance the security of West Florida and help control trade along the Mississippi. The letter-writer, identified only as J.P., comments,

“Mr. URBAN [editor of the Gentleman’s Magazine], … having lately seen some hints thrown out in the daily papers, that Government was going to settle a colony on the Banks of the Missisippi, I take the liberty to present you with some cursory thoughts on that subject. The sketch annexed… is, in my opinion     the only spot, where a first settlement can be made with any propriety. It lyes at the Mouth of the river Abbeville, on the banks of the Missisippi, in about 31 degrees of North latitude; its situation the best that can be for carrying on the trade of that very extensive country.”

J.P. goes on to describe the Mississippi River and discuss suitable sites for settlement. He also proposes the use of West Indian slaves as labourers, on an indenture system of seven years’ service after which they would be freed and given grants of land to live upon. The article ends with a long list of “References”, keyed to 15 numbered locations on the inset “Plan for a New Settlement”. These references reveal that J.P.’s plan was ambitious in the extreme, envisioning a “town” 6000 feet square surrounded by several dozen plantations of 800 acres apiece.

Though not mentioned by the writer, there already was a British presence at the site: In 1766 engineer Archibald Robertson had designed and overseen the construction of Fort Bute, a small stockaded fort designed to hold 200 men in a pinch. During the Revolution the fort changed hands several times until it was captured in 1779 by the Spanish, who held it through 1794, when it was abandoned. To my knowledge, like so many similar projects in British North America, J.P.’s ambitious plan never progressed beyond the drawing board.

“J. P.”
The accompanying text in this pamphlet gives few clues as to the identity of J.P. His description of the Mississippi region is very detailed and knowledgeable; it might be first-hand, but he also refers to the account in Philip Pittman’s The Present State of the European Settlements on the Missisippi (1770), which might have served as a source. J.P. himself tells us that he had contributed a short essay to the February 1770 edition of The Gentleman’s Magazine, a generic proposal titled “New Plan for an American Town”, itself a response to an earlier article on the same subject from the October 1769 issue, titled “Plan for settling new Colonies”.

Jolly, Maps of America in Periodicals before 1800, #247. Sellers & Van Ee, Maps and Charts of North America and the West Indies 1750-1789, #1650.

Transcription of J.P.’s letter

“Mr. URBAN, IN your Magazine for Feb. 1770, you was pleased to insert something of mine in the plantation way; and having lately seen some hints thrown out in the daily papers, that Government was going to settle a colony on the Banks of the Missisippi, I take the liberty to present you with some cursory thoughts on that subject. The sketch annexed*, is, in my opinion the only spot, where a first settlement can be made with any propriety. It lyes at the Mouth of the river Abbeville, on the banks of the Missisippi, in about 31 degrees of North latitude; its situation the best that can be for carrying on the trade of that very extensive country. Its distance from Pençacola is about 80 or 90 leagues; and it has an easy communication with that place, by way of the Lakes Maurepas and Ponchartrain, by means of vessels of a small draught of water, that can come within six or seven miles of the Missisippi, at all seasons of the year. The navigation from the sea by way of the Missisippi, is not indeed above 60 leagues, but is more tedious and difficult, on account of the strong current of the river, which in time of the floods runs at the rate of 6 and 7 miles an hour. This mighty river according to Capt. Pitman’s account of it, who was lately employed by Government to survey it, is 2000 feet broad, and 60 fathoms deep, and carries this amazing depth and body of water above 130 leagues thro’ the country. It rises sometime, by floods, between 30 and 40 feet in perpendicular height. The lands here in general are flat and subject to periodical inundations, which begin to encrease in March, and by the latter end of July subside. The spot I am now speaking of is overflowed at the height of the floods, about a foot, or a foot and a half, a little more or less; and must be all banked in for plantation use, which must make the formation of a settlement here an arduous task: But then, this difficulty once overcome, this country is perhaps, one of the finest upon earth. If the expence of making an advantageous settlement here is the reason that now deters our Ministry from undertaking it, I do not see why the same reason may not always hold good, and so the advantages that might accrue to the nation from it be for ever lost. Individuals, indeed, can do but little in such undertakings. Combined numbers, with prudence and perseverance, can do any thing. But, if Government, by keeping a garrison at Pençacola, or even here on the banks of the Missisippi, think it sufficient, without doing something more, to bring in settlers to cultivate the lands and create commerce, I fancy they will be mistaken, and in the end find that a profusion of expence has been lavished without either benefit or credit resulting from the application of it. — And here, Mr, URBAN, I am going to hazard my opinion, in what manner an effective settlement may be accomplished. — I would have 2000 young, healthy men, regimented and sent over at the national expence; some good engineers, and 4 or 500 handicraftsmen of different occupations, with 12 batteau’s of 42 feet keel, 14 feet beam, and 5 or 5½ feet in depth, decked, to go with sails, oars, and gunter-masts, to keep open the communication with Pençacola. It would be improper to send out many women or children with these first adventurers, which would only tend to create misery, increase expence, and retard the work. Women and children may follow in a year or two afterwards, when the place will be fit to receive them. The first embarkation should arrive at the mouth of the river about the latter end of June, or beginning of July. — But, previous to their setting out, the consent of the Spanish government should be obtained, if possible, and a contract made to supply them with lumber, and materials for building, and an agent of that country should be employed for that purpose. And, as boards will be greatly wanted to make an immediate shelter, and cannot be readily purchased there, seven or eight hundred thousand feet should be provided at New-England, to be carried along with the new settlers, who should be joined by at least a thousand slaves from the coast of Guinea, as soon as they arrive. — It may, perhaps, be asked, Why white men alone will not do for this undertaking? I answer, because it has been found by experience, that white men from a northern climate cannot stand the sun, in the hard labour and drudgery of plantation-work, in the open [catchword: ‘field’] field in this hot country; neither can white men live in the manner of negroes. A negro-slave will cost his owner scarce four pounds a year in clothes and food, and his labour will be worth fifteen pounds; here, therefore, is a gain of eleven pounds; but a white man cannot be maintained for less than eighteen pounds a year, and it will be well if the white man is found to do half the labour of the negro. And this, by the way, may serve to shew how it must fare with those who carry out white men, from England to work plantations in this southern climate. The negroes, thus imported, on their arrival in the country, I would have baptized and registered; and a medal given them, to be always hung about their necks, with their name and the date of their baptism; and, after they had served the purposes of government for seven years, be made free subjects (under some little restriction). During the time of their servitude, a proportionable part of them should be given to planters and tradesmen, to encourage them to come and settle in the country; the rest may be employed in dykeing the lands and other public works. They should, on their obtaining their freedom, have a portion of land in the country (as here is room sufficient) allotted them; and, to keep them a distinct people, no white person should be permitted to build, or make any purchase, within their district: their lands should be portioned out in 50 acres to a family. These people, trained up in labour and hardships, and having had time to learn some of our manners and useful arts, would prove in the end a hardy, frugal, and industrious people; and, in a country where the soil is so rich, and the climate so favourable to their natures, they would, it may be supposed, increase exceedingly, prove loyal subjects, and taste with a true relish that freedom and liberty we so much prize, and be a lasting monument of the wisdom, generosity, and humane spirit of Government. Add to this, that, if the colony was to be proclaimed an asylum for all distressed persons to resort to, instead of flying into foreign countries, where they are lost to the state, such a measure would greatly facilitate the peopling the country, and would lessen the charge to Government. <signed:> I am, Sir, Your most humble servant, J.P.

“[key] References to the Sketch in the Plate. 1. Fort, about 400 feet on the square — 2. A piece of waste ground between the Fort and Town-bank 300 feet wide — 3. Fort-ditch, deep and 1000 feet wide, may have a communication. with the Missisippi, and serve as a harbour to small vessel — 4 A Canal of communication between the fort-ditch and grand canal — 5. Grand Canal for batteaus and small vessels in time of the floods, six or seven miles in length, with a good carriage-road on each bank — 6. Town about 6000 feet square — 7. Town-banks, to keep out the inundation of the river — 8. Town ditch on the front of the river, 50 feet wide and sufficiently deep to receive boats and small vessels in time of the floods — 9. Ditches of communication with the Town-ditch, of nearly the same breadth and depth — 10. Common land of communication with the river, about 100 feet wide — 11. Missisippi river — 12. River Abbeville — 13. Wharfs or landing places, with a passage or road over the Town-bank — 14. Negro quarter — 15. Lands banked in for plantations, 6000 feet on the square, containing 800 acres, and may serve for 24 family lots in each square — 16. Banks thrown up, about 24 feet wide, to keep out the inundation of the river, and to serve as public roads. — N.B. The cultivation of the mulberry-tree should be early remembered; and, for any thing I can see to the contrary, after a good canal is finished, the mouth of the river Abbeville might be banked up, which, in time of the floods, would greatly facilitate the navigation up the river Amit, by lessening the strength of the current.

“<dated:> Feb, 1, 1772.”