Bourbon County Act 235 years ago — Georgia State Quarter Coin

Today, the Georgia State Quarter Coin remembers the Bourbon County Act of February 7, 1783 when state officials agreed the state’s boundaries went as far as the Mississippi river.

From A Digest of the Laws of the State of Georgia, published in 1801:

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When the British colonies, including South-Carolina and Georgia, dissolved their connection with the mother country in the year 1776, and erected themselves into independent States, they agreed that each should hold by its former limits; that each State should possess the same extent of territory that belonged to it while a colony.

This indeed was not readily consented to: For as the limits of, several colonies, as Massachusetts, Connecticut, New-York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North-Carolina, South-Carolina-and Georgia, included a great extent of unsettled country, while others, as New-Hampshire, Rhode-Island, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland, possessed little or none, the latter contended that these unsettled lands should be considered as a common property among all the States, and appropriated for their mutual benefit; and some of them, particularly Maryland, refused to accede to the union, until some of those States which possessed the most extensive limits, should relinquish a part of their claims for this purpose.

This was at length done, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New-York and Virginia, made relinquishments, retaining however very considerable portions of the land in question.

The articles of confederation were then ratified, leaving all those States which had made no relinquishment in the quiet possession of the whole territory comprised within their ancient limits.

Of this number was Georgia; which was so far from relinquishing, that on February 7, 1783, she passed an act asserting, that her jurisdiction and right of soil extended over all the country between the Mississippi, the Atlantic, the southern boundary of the United States as established by the treaty of peace, and the southern boundary of the Carolinas.

By another act: passed February 7, 1785, she proceeded to exercise the rights which she had thus asserted.

It was thereby enacted, “That all the country contained within a line to br drawn down the Mississippi from where it receives the Yazoo, till it intersects the 31st degree of north latitude, then due east as far as the lands might be found to reach which had at any time been relinquished by the Indians, then along the line of relinquishment to the river Yazoo, and down it to its mouth, should be erected into a county called Bourbon, and that when the land office should be opened, all persons previously settled there should have the right of pre-emption, &c.”

This measure was deemed the more necessary on account of the treaty between Great Britain and Spain, in 1783, which was found to have been signed on the same day as that with the United States, and by which Great Britain had ceded the Floridas to Spain, without defining their limits.

Under this act, commonly called the Bourbon county act, no settlements were ever made. The relinquishment of land which is spoken of in it took place at Mobile, in May, 1777, by virtue of a treaty between the Choctaw nation, to whom that country then belonged, and the British superintendant of Indian affairs, and was confirmed by the treaty between those Indians and the United States, held at Hopewell, on the 3d of January, 1786. It extended from the mouth of the Yazoo 110 miles down the Mississippi; at the upper end it was 15, at the lower 60 miles broad.

About the same time a dispute arose between the States of South-Carolina and Georgia, respecting their boundaries. South-Carolina contended that as the original boundaries of Georgia were the rivers Savannah and Alatamaha, and lines drawn due west from their sources to the Mississippi, all the land lying south of the Alatamaha and of a line drawn due west from its source to the Mississippi, as far as to the northern boundary of the Floridas, continued to be a part of the province of South-Carolina, out of which Georgia was taken: And that when the British crown, by its proclamation of October 7, 1763, annexed to Georgia, all the lands lying between the rivers Alatamaha and St. Mary’s it meant only the lands actually between those rivers below their sources, and not such as lay above those sources, and between lines drawn from them respectively west to the Mississippi; which tract of country, of course, even after the proclamation, sill continued a part of South-Carolina.

Georgia, on the contrary, maintained, that when the proclamation annexed to its government all the lands lying between the rivers Alatamaha and St. Mary’s it meant to include not merely the tract of country which lay between those rivers, below their sources, but also the whole territory held by the British crown, between the northern boundaries of the Floridas, as established by the same proclamation, and the ancient southern line of Georgia.

This dispute was referred to congress under the articles of confederation by a petition from South-Carolina.

A court was appointed, and a day fixed for hearing between the two States.

But they afterwards agreed to withdraw the petition and settle the matter by negotiation.

Their commissioners met at Beaufort in South Carolina for this purpose, and on the 24th of April, 1787, agreed on a convention by which that State relinquished the claim.

On the 29th of February, 1788, this convention was ratified by an act of the legislature.

It had previously been laid before congress and filed among the official papers of the United States.

Through the whole course of this investigation, the before mentioned commission to governor Wright, seems also to have been overlooked, or in some unaccountable manner disregard.

Still it appears by the dissent of one of the commissioners, Mr. Houstoun, that he was of opinion, even from the documents before them (and it is presumed they had not that commission) “that the pretensions of South Carolina to the southern country were so slender that the right of Georgia to those lands was neither strengthened or weakened” by the convention at Beaufort.

He appears to have been perfectly satisfied with the title of Georgia, and to have been also of opinion that the lands lying between the forks of Tugaloo and Keonee, then belonged to this State.

These opinions are said to have been aided by the uniform understanding of the people and government of Georgia, and the government of great Britain, until that period.

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The Georgia State Quarter Coin shows with a map showing the boundaries and their disputes of the late 18th century.

Georgia State Quarter Coin

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