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Moses Austin’s report on lead mines—First U.S. Book on Missouri


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547.     UNITED STATES. PRESIDENT (Thomas Jefferson). Message from the President of the United States to Both Houses of Congress. 8th November, 1804. Read, and Ordered to be Referred to the Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union. Washington City: Printed By William Duane & Son, 1804. [2], [1]-8, [11]-13 [1], [3]-22, [2, blank] (text complete). 8vo (21.3 x 13.5 cm), modern sympathetic plain paper wrappers. Light overall foxing and browning, stab holes in gutter margin; first eight pages with contemporary ink notations partly shaved (but many still readable), ink stain on final blank. With ink signature of Connecticut Congressman Samuel W. Dana on title page; the ink notes are also probably his. Eberstadt pricing notes ($50 in 1929) and codes in pencil on title and final blank. Overall, a good copy with an interesting provenance, of which one sometimes sees mere sections offered. This copy is complete as issued. Scarce.

     First edition of one of the earliest selections in Becker’s fourth edition of Wagner-Camp’s Plains & Rockies (entry 2d). American Imprints (1804) 7551. Graff 4405. Howes A401 (listed under Austin). Plains & Rockies IV:2d: “President Jefferson’s State of the Union message carried with it three documents. The first consists of an extract of a letter from Don Pedro Cevallos to Charles Pinckney, Esq. with a translation, and a letter from the Marquis of Casa Yrujo to Secretary of State James Madison with a translation. Both communications express Spain’s abandonment of opposition to the Louisiana Purchase. The second is a proclamation by the President establishing a Customs District and Port of Entry at Mobile on the Gulf Coast. The third is Moses Austin’s Summary Description of the Lead Mines in Upper Louisiana, Also, an Estimate of Their Produce for Three Years Past.” Sabin 2419 (listed under Moses Austin). Streeter Sale 1580 (listed under Austin; fetched $250 in 1967): “Austin’s description of the various mines in the district, pp. [7]-17, is followed by his general comments, pp. 17-22, and signed [in print], ‘Moses Austin, February 13, 1804. copy.’ Austin mentions Mine à Burton first, describing it as 38 miles west of St. Genevieve, and says he moved his family [including young Stephen F. Austin] to Mine à Burton in June 1799.-TWS.” Tompkins, Bibliotheca Jeffersoniana, p. 97 (W151).

     Austin’s report is described as the “First United States’ book on Missouri” (Howes) but was never separately issued. It is also likely the first publication concerning mining west of the Mississippi River. It certainly precedes Henry R. Schoolcraft’s 1819 A View of the Lead Mines of Missouri, sometimes considered the first book on the subject of Western mines. Austin gives a glowing account of the mining area and urges that certain “improvements,” such as suppression of the Osage, be made in the area by the U.S. government. He praises the area’s potential as a vast source of iron, stating that lack of population is the chief impediment to proper development; by his calculations, only 728 people live in the entire region, far too few to properly work all the potential and proven mines. He justifiably brags that his own mine, Mine à Burton, is the most successful one in the area. Austin received a land concession from the Spanish government which by his innovations and industry he turned into one of the most productive lead mining regions in the United States. In one instance, he departed from the conventional methods employed in the area by sinking deep shafts and following lead veins rather than relying on surface digging. He also set up a reverberatory furnace, which was far more efficient at extracting ore than other methods then being employed. Finally, he established a permanent year-round settlement in the area so that mining could proceed twelve months a year instead of seasonally, the first such establishment west of the Mississippi River. He could thus report to Jefferson with both some pride on his accomplishments as well as on the prize acquisition this area would be for the United States. The type of mining Austin pioneered in Missouri remained the standard until the Civil War; this era is known as the “Moses Austin Period.” Regrettably, despite his successes, in the end Austin had to declare bankruptcy shortly before his death, a setback that caused him to turn to Texas for a land grant and another venture. Thus, in one of the odd twists of history, a mining venture in Missouri eventually led to the Republic and State of Texas.

     Jefferson’s state of the union report covers a number of topics, including organization of the newly acquired Louisiana Territory and measures taken against the Barbary pirates. In the former case, he reports that governmental structures are being established in the newly acquired area near New Orleans. He also reports that he is hoping to deal peacefully and productively with the area’s Native Americans, a policy that would be abandoned later in the century by other presidents. The reports that Spain had dropped its opposition to the acquisition were undoubtedly welcome.

     The provenance of the present copy is quite significant, combining as it does two prominent Connecticut figures. Moses Austin himself was from Durham, Connecticut, whence he emigrated west in 1799, bringing young Stephen F. Austin with him. Samuel W. Dana (1760-1830) was born in Wallingford, Connecticut, and in 1804 was a member of the U.S. House from that state. Ironically, he opposed the Louisiana Purchase. For more on Moses Austin, see Handbook of Texas Online.


Sold. Hammer: $2,000.00; Price Realized: $2,400.00

Auction 22 Abstracts

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