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Announcing the Louisiana Purchase
Announcing the Louisiana Purchase
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Announcing the Louisiana Purchase


Announcing the Louisiana Purchase
William Henry Harrison, 2 August 1803
HARRISON, William Henry (1773-1841). Autograph letter signed (“Willm Henry Harrison”) as Governor of the Indiana Territory to Charles (Don Carlos) DeHault Delassus (1764-1846), Lieutenant Governor of Upper Louisiana, Vincennes, 2 August 1803.

Two pages, 255 x 188mm (silked, small loss to bottom left margin affecting a few words of text).

“I have received very important intelligence. It is no other than the entire cession of New Orleans and the whole of Louisiana to the United States...”

The first report of the Louisiana Purchase to reach Upper Louisiana. An important letter containing the first intelligence received by Spanish (now turned French) colonial officials in Upper Louisiana of the surprise sale of the Louisiana Territory to the United States on 30 April 1803. Harrison reports that since his last letter “I have received very important intelligence. It is no other than the entire cession of New Orleans and the whole of Louisiana to the United States. Our Government has received official information of a treaty having been signed to that effect on the 30th of April last by our Ministers in Paris & a Minister Plenipotentiary on the part of France.” Sending the particulars in a newspaper clipping [not present], Harrison hopes that by sending “the earliest information of this event,” that “it might be material to you in some way or other. Of the truth of it you need not doubt.” He then offers his thoughts on the future of the newly-acquired lands: “I do not know what the United States will do with Upper Louisiana, but think it probable that it will be annexed to this Territory. Should this be the case, it may give me the opportunity of serving some of your friends—If this opportunity does offer, be assured, my dear sir, that it shall not be neglected.” Preparing for the eventual assumption of administration by the United States, Harrison seeks some basic intelligence, including the “number of persons in your government, together with their distribution into the several Commanderies.” After closing, Harrison adds a postscript confirming the news: “Since writing the above I have received official information of the cession of Louisiana from the Secretary of War.”

Reproduced in Walter Barlow Stevens, St. Louis, the Fourth City, 1764-1909, Vol. 1, p. 392; Daniel Graff, Forging an American St. Louis: labor, race, and citizenship from the Louisiana Purchase to Dred Scott, (Madison, 2004), p. 41; William E. Foley and C. David Rice, The First Chouteaus: River Barons of Early St. Louis, (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983), p. 89.Provenance: Don Carlos Dehault Delassus – by descent to Emile Delassus — Armand Hawkins – sold to Alonzo J. Tullock, 1901 – by descent to the consignors.
Post lot text
The Louisiana Purchase Collection of Alonzo J. Tullock (Lots 65-80)

The historical significance of the Louisiana Purchase cannot be understated. With the stroke of a pen, the addition of the vast territory west of the Mississippi nearly doubled the size of the still young United States. The purchase set the nation upon a seemingly inevitable course to dominate the North American continent while simultaneously setting the stage for the sectional disputes that would nearly destroy the Union six decades later. While much has been written on the Purchase itself, less attention has been devoted the actual mechanics of the transfer of sovereignty in the years 1803 to 1804. That story involves three powers: Spain, which had taken control of the French possessions west of the Mississippi at the close of the Seven Years War in 1763; France, which had been awarded the territory in 1800 as per a secret treaty with Spain, but had yet to assume formal administration; and the United States, which had recently lost its trading privileges in New Orleans—nearly going to war with Spain over the matter. While Napoleon's surprise offer of all France’s territory west of Mississippi rendered the prospect of war academic, the sudden acquisition presented a range of logistical issues for the federal government in Washington. Most pressing was the assumption of sovereignty and organizing a government.

In 1804 Congress designated the territory below the 33rd parallel, today the northern boundary of modern Louisiana, as the Territory of Orleans, while the lands northward became, temporarily, a district of the Indiana Territory. Thus the responsibility for overseeing the transfer of sovereignty in upper Louisiana, as it had been called by the Spanish, fell upon the governor of the Indiana Territory, an office occupied by William Henry Harrison (1773-1840), better known for his military exploits during the War of 1812 and for his single-month term in the White House that ended with his untimely death. Appointed by John Adams in 1800, Harrison enjoyed the trust of Adams' successor as well: Thomas Jefferson reappointed Harrison to the post in 1803. During his tenure, Harrison had come to know Charles DeHault Delassus (1764-1846) the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Louisiana. In 1794, the Belgian-born Delassus had been serving in the Royal Walloon Guards for Carlos III of Spain when he learned that his family had fled French political persecution and requested a transfer to the Louisiana Regiment. Upon his arrival, Governor Condelet appointed Delassus civil and military commander of New Madrid, allowing him to be close to his parents in New Bourbon. In 1799, Delassus became the lieutenant governor of Upper Louisiana. Harrison's letters to Delassus begin in March 1803, delivering news of the secret treaty that transferred Louisiana from Spain to France, and concludes with the transmittal of the first governing structure for the newly-acquired Louisiana Territory. Most notable is Harrison's letter informing Delassus of the news of the Louisiana Purchase. This letter was the first news to reach west of the Mississippi River of the momentous event.

The Harrison letters are the centerpiece of the collection assembled by Alonzo J. Tullock (1854-1904), a civil engineer and successful bridge and pier builder based in Leavenworth, Kansas, who built many of the railway crossings over the Missouri River in the late nineteenth century, as well as the construction of the major wharf at Tampico for the Mexican government. Working closely with Andrew Carnegie, Tullock was instrumental in bringing the Carnegie Library to Leavenworth. In memorializing Tullock a year after his passing, the Journal of the Western Society of Engineers recalled that despite his "exceptionally busy" professional life, Tullock was also a voracious reader and avid book and manuscript collector—who paid "particular attention to the acquisition of books and papers relating to the Louisiana Purchase and his collection of these, diligently pursued for years, was unique.” (1905, p. 553).

Tullock acquired much of his collection from the noted New Orleans antique dealer Armand Hawkins in the last decade of the nineteenth century. Hawkins acquired the Harrison letters from Emile Delassus and his mother, direct descendants of Lieutenant Governor Delassus in the 1890s.

Christie’s honored to present this important historical collection assembled over a century ago.

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Gillian Hawley
Gillian Hawley

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