Rare early-19th century letter by Alabama politician donated to Auburn University Libraries

AUBURN – The recent donation to Auburn University Libraries of a letter written by Alabama statesman and politician John Williams Walker (1783-1823) sheds light on an important chapter in Alabama history. In the letter, dated February 1818, Walker lobbied for a western boundary with Mississippi that would keep the majority of the Tombigbee River within Alabama’s borders.

The letter is a plea from Walker for the recipient in Washington, D.C., as yet unidentified, to work hard to ensure that the largest part of the Tombigbee, then known as the Tombeckbe, stay within the Alabama Territory and not become part of Mississippi. Walker wrote the letter from the Alabama Territory capital of St. Stephens as he served in the territorial legislature less than two months after Mississippi was admitted to the union in December 1817.

“This is truly a foundational document in the history of Alabama,” said Greg Schmidt, special collections librarian at Auburn University Libraries. “I can think of few things that are more significant to a state and its ultimate character than the lands and people that fall within its borders.”

Walker’s efforts were ultimately successful, and when the state of Alabama was admitted to the union December 14, 1819, the western boundary of the state included the majority of the Tombigbee River system that would prove so important for development of the western part of the state. After writing this letter, Walker would go on to become the president of the Alabama constitutional convention and one of the state’s first two federal senators.

Acquired from a reputable dealer and donated by a friend of Auburn University Libraries, this is the only known pre-statehood letter from Walker held in a public archive within the state. It will be displayed in the Special Collections Department with a digital copy made available for study through the library’s digital collection.

“We are very grateful for the donation of this significant piece of Alabama history,” said Bonnie MacEwan, dean of Auburn University Libraries. “This artifact of Alabama’s pre-statehood period will be treasured, preserved and treated with the respect befitting its importance.”

Auburn University Libraries serves the more than 24,000 students and faculty of Auburn with a collection in excess of 3.2 million volumes. The Special Collections and Archives Department collects, preserves and houses rare and unique items relating to the histories of Auburn University, the state of Alabama, the southeastern region, the Civil War, Native Americans and aviation. The Auburn University Digital Library develops accessible digital collections of materials that support the teaching and research of Auburn faculty and students.

(Contributed by Jayson Hill)

Contact: Jayson Hill, (334) 844-7439 (wjh0008@auburn.edu), or
Mike Clardy, (334) 844-9999 (clardch@auburn.edu)