[M574, roll 13, frame 85-87, special file 96]
Quarter Master General's Office, Washington City, June 9th, 1841
In obedience to your instructions I have examined the claim of the heirs of Hugh Love, deceased, late a licensed trader to the Western Creeks, to certain Seminole Negroes said to have been purchased from a Creek Indian woman, a Mrs. Gray, West of Arkansas in the year 1835 and I have the honor to report that this Office contains no information on the subject, and the papers referred from your Office, though they establish the fact of the purchase by Mr. Love, show no title in the seller, nor did she possess any at the time of the sale. The Negroes who are the subject of the claim were captured by the Army under my command in Florida between December 1836 and May 1838. They were at the time of their capture the property of the Seminole Chief, Micco Potopkee. That chief was the nephew and heir of Kinhartsee, the old Miccasukey King, and succeeded to the Negroes as his heir. Dolly, from who all the Negroes claimed are descended, was purchased by Kinhartsee at or near Saint Augustine, at least sixty years ago (before the cession of Florida to Spain by Great Britain) and her descendants continued in the posession of Micco Potopkee to the time of their capture and no one but that chief himself had a right to sell any of them. Mr. Love, the administrator of the estate of Hugh Love, informed me, yesterday, that he does not claim the Negroes adversely to Micco Potopkee, who is dead, but through him, Mrs. Gray being one of his heirs. If that fact were established by competent testimony, it would, so far as the Negroes were the subject of sale, be conclusive of his right; but there are important questions of public law and national policy bearing upon the case, which however just his claim upon the Government may be, place the Negroes legally beyond his reach.
Those Negroes all surrendered to me: the men were employed as guides to the Army, as spies, and as messengers to the several Indian Chiefs - in those positions their lives were constantly exposed, and the services they rendered were highly important to the country. As the Commander of the Army, and in that capacity the representative of the country, I solemnly pledged the national faith that they should not be separated or sold to white men, but be allowed to settle and remain under the protection of the United States, in the country assigned to the Seminoles West of the Mississippi.
It is not my intention to discuss the question at this time whether or not a license to trade with the Western Creeks would warrant the purchase of Seminole Negroes, who were not, and never had been, in the country embraced by the license, nor to enquire whether there is any legal authority whatever to purchase Indian Negroes. Neither is necessary in disposing of this case. It involves a question not of municipal, but of national law. In a land war moveable property captured from an enemy vests absolutely, under the law of nations, in the Captor. In this case I was the captor. I held the property not in my own right but as the trustee of the nation; and influenced alone by the high obligations of public duty I made that disposition of it, which I honestly believed best comported with the peace and honor of the American people. I earnestly hope that the Executive will not permit the National faith, thus, pledged, to be violated; but that these Negroes, as well as all other Seminole Negroes who surrendered to me, be protected from capture by, or sale to, any of our citizens.
The Florida War was occasioned, not so much by the indisposition of the Indians to emigrate, as by the attempts made by our own citizens, under the sanction of Officers of the Government, to obtain their Negroes. If the Government fail to act with promptness and energy in preventing interference with the Indian Negroes to the West, no matter how many troops may be there, no one can answer for the peace of the frontier.
I return the papers in case; and
I have the honor to be,
Your Obedt. Servant
(Signed) Th. S. Jesup
Quarter Master General
The Hon. John Bell,
Secretary of War,