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Special Message

December 26, 1837

To the House of Representatives of the United States:

I herewith transmit to the House of Representatives a report from the Secretary of State, in answer to their resolution of the 9th of October last.



Washington, December 23, 1837.


The Secretary of State, to whom has been referred the resolution of the House of Representatives of the 9th of October last, requesting the President to communicate to that House "at its next session, so far as in his judgment is consistent with the public interest, whether any foreign power, or the subjects of any foreign power, have possession of any portion of the territory of the United States on the Columbia River, or are in the occupancy of the same, and, if so, in what way, by what authority, and how long such possession or occupancy has been kept by such persons," has the honor to report to the President that a trading establishment called "Astoria" was founded at the mouth of the Columbia River about the year 1811 by J.J. Astor, of New York; that his interest was sold to the British Northwest Company during the late war between the United States and Great Britain; that this company held it, and were left in possession at the time the country was formally delivered to the American commissioners, and that this company afterwards united with and became a part of the Hudson Bay Company under that name, which company, it is believed, have from the period of such union occupied the post in question, now commonly called "Fort George." The Hudson Bay Company have also several depots situated on water courses in the interior of the country. The principal one is at Fort Vancouver, on the northern bank of the Columbia River, about 80 or 100 miles from its mouth. It is known by information recently obtained that the English company have a steamboat on this river, and that they have erected a sawmill and are cutting timber on the territory claimed by the United States, and are shipping it in considerable quantities to the Sandwich Islands.

The original occupation was under the authority of the purchase of J.J. Astor's interest, and it has been continued under the provisions of the conventions of 1818 and 1827 with Great Britain. By the third article of the first of these conventions it is stipulated that the territory claimed by either power westward of the Rocky Mountains shall be free and open for a term of years to the citizens and subjects of both. By the second convention this stipulation is extended and continued in force indefinitely, liable, however, to be annulled at any time after the 20th of October, 1828, at the will of either party, on due notice of twelve months.

Respectfully submitted.


Martin van Buren, Special Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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