1825: Col. Silas Dinsmoor to Jesse Gordon

This letter was written by Silas Dinsmoor (1766-1847), the son of John Dinsmoor (1720-1793) and Martha McKeen (1723-1803). A native of Windham, New Hampshire, Dinsmoor graduated from Dartmouth College. He taught school while attending college and afterwards at the Atkinson Academy. The following biography comes from Wikipedia.

Silas Dinsmoor

“In 1793, Silas traveled to Philadelphia to look for a position with the government. He was offered the appointment of United States Agent to the Cherokee by President George Washington, a job that would last the next four years. In that capacity, Dinsmoor was expected to keep peace between the Native Americans and white settlers, serve as treaty commissioner, and introduce “civilization” to the Indians. This last task meant that he was to attempt to coax the males of the tribe to take up farming which was traditionally the occupation of females, and to teach the women to plant cotton, spin, and weave textiles. He spent much of his time at Tellico Blockhouse in present-day Tennessee. As the agent, Dinsmoor was a witness to the First Treaty of Tellico, signed in 1798 between the U. S. Government and tribal leaders, which signed away land in eastern Tennessee. At the time, Silas wrote to his brother, “the Cherokees know the worth of their land too well to sell it for a song or anything under the value.”

In 1798, when his term expired, Dinsmoor again went to Philadelphia in hopes of another post. Instead, in 1799 he accepted the job of purser on the naval frigate, USS ”George Washington”. In that capacity he sailed with the ship on a historic mission, it being the first U. S. warship to enter the Mediterranean Sea. Under the command of William Bainbridge the frigate was sent to Algiers with trade items and tribute for the Barbary pirates. When they arrived in Algiers, the Dey ordered the Americans to carry an ambassador, slaves, and exotic animals to Constantinople for the Sultan of Turkey under the flag of Algiers.

Returning to the states, Dinsmoor was appointed by President Thomas Jefferson as Agent to the Choctaw and he proceeded to the small outpost of Washington, Mississippi Territory, located at the southern end of the Natchez Trace. It was presumed he would carry out a similar set of tasks as before, with the added expectation of encouraging the Choctaw to cede large sections of their land to the government. Again, the Native Americans were less than willing to give up their most valuable lands. The Treaty of Mt. Dexter, signed in 1805, which sold away more than four million acres of Choctaw land in southeastern Mississippi and parts of Alabama, angered President Jefferson because he had wanted the more valuable lands along the Mississippi River. Dinsmoor also witnessed the Treaty of Fort St. Stephens of 1816 and the Treaty of Doak’s Stand of 1820. By this time, though, he was no longer serving as agent.

In 1811 Dinsmoor found himself embroiled in a controversy with Andrew Jackson and by 1813 he was looking for a new government post. The controversy began with reports from the Natchez region that slaves were being encouraged to run away by traders from Tennessee. Dinsmoor was asked to protect the property of the local planters and he began instituting an often ignored requirement that anyone traveling the Natchez Trace carry papers with them proving their ownership of any enslaved people they claimed. Jackson refused to do so and became quite furious when he heard the rule was being vigorously enforced, at one point threatening to arm his slaves on his next time through, kill Dinsmoor, and burn the agency house to the ground. Though he never found the right moment to carry out his threat, his missives to the War Department may have had something to do with Dinsmoor being replaced in 1813.

Dinsmoor moved with his wife, Mary Gordon, and children to St. Stephens, the capital of the Alabama Territory, and then to Mobile. He served for a time as Principal Surveyor for the Land Office in New Orleans. Again, he had personal troubles with his superior, George Davis, and was let go. Suffering financially from unpaid wages and a debt he had incurred as security for a friend, he was forced to go to Washington, D. C. in 1826 to plead for money. While he was away from Mobile, he learned of the death of a son [John Gordon Dinsmoor died 25 July 1826] and the burning of the bank where he had stored his valuable surveying journals, business papers, and a silver sword Washington had presented to him during a visit to Mt. Vernon in 1798.

In 1829 he moved to Cincinnati and a year later he purchased land in Boone County, Kentucky. The approximately 100 acre purchase included an orchard, a cabin, and Loughery Island in the Ohio River. He lived here with his wife and son, Thomas Dinsmoor, until his death in 1847. He was buried in the family graveyard of his nephew, James Dinsmore, which is now part of the Dinsmore Homestead. The papers he left are housed at Dartmouth College.”

Col. Dinsmoor was married to Mary Gordon (1777-1854) in 1790. She was the daughter of John Gordon (1749-1810) and Mary Johnson (1759-1807). Mary Gordon was the sister of Jesse Gordon (1788-1835) — the recipient of this letter — who was married to Harriet Connor (1790-1861) and resided in Hampstead, Rockingham County, New Hampshire. Three of Col. Dinsmoor’s children are mentioned in this letter: Silas Gordon Dinsmoor (1807-1849), John Gordon Dinsmoor (1809-1826), and Martha Eliza Dinsmoor (1815-1825) — the latter dying only three months after this letter was written.

We learn from this letter that Capt. Dinsmoor’s wife, Mary Gordon, was a virtual invalid before leaving New Hampshire in 1808 and coming to the warmer, southern climate of the gulf states. He humorously states that she now does the work of “two Negroes” and that he wouldn’t trade “two cows” for her.

Stampless Letter


Addressed to Mr. Jesse Gordon, Hampstead, New Hampshire

Mobile [Alabama]
15th May 1825

Dear Brothers,

Poor folks are glad of nothing and so are we. You sent us a consignment of boots & shoes some years ago. You sent them to a fish company in Blakeley, by some such name as Trout, Sturgeon & Whale. They put them in the lower hold of their boat which foundered and as they were not of the Cape Cod quality water proof, much damage was sustained. They were detained nearly six months before we heard of them and they then came in a very moldy & unsalable state. Had they been sent at once, they would have sold at a good profit, but did not arrive till the market was glutted. Some of them sold for less than half cost but on an average they will cover cost and charges. My avocations have been such as not to allow me time to make out a general account current but will endeavor to do so soon. Our brother Lobdell gave me a power of attorney to sue for a debt due him in St. Stephens. I did so & recovered & advised him of the first authorizing him to draw on me for the amount. It would seem that he has not received my letters & is unfortunate. I will take the liberty to draw on you in his favor not exceeding three hundred dollars which I expect you to honor on account of Mary’s share of the personal estate in your hands.

Our oldest son [Silas Gordon Dinsmoor] is engaged in business as a clerk with a Mr. Rufus Sewall, formerly of Hallowell, Maine, and is stationed at the head of St. Andrews Bay, West Florida, and writes that he is satisfied & doing good business for his employer.

John Gordon [Dinsmoor], our second son, is with a Mr. Snow of Tuscaloosa, formerly of Masssachusetts. He (Gordon) is so well satisfied that he solicits not to see us for three years. Martha Eliza is a fine healthy girl and I intended to write you something clever about her but at the moment I got thus far, her dear mother exclaimed, “I don’t know what to do with Martha. She is such a slut. I am afraid she will never come to anything!!” I have just read this to Martha Eliza. Her heart was too full to make a pertinent reply but I verily say she is not quite so bad as the above exclamation of her dear sweet mother would seem to imply.

N.B. Better all come to this mild climate. Mary Gordon, my dear wife, who you know was not able to walk unsupported across the room when we left Hampstead, can not habitually, but merely by experience out scold Aunt Shepperd & do more work in the house than any two Negroes in the county. I would not take two cows to boot between Mary now & Mary in 1808 when we left Hampstead. Thomas H. Williams is the finest boy in the 23 states.

— Silas Dinsmoor


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: