RARE JOHN WILLIAMS WALKER LETTER WRITTEN DURING ALABAMA’S TERRITORIAL PERIOD IS DONATED TO AUBURN UNIVERSITY LIBRARIES
AUBURN, AL – With many significant anniversaries in Alabama history fast approaching, documenting Alabama’s past has taken on a high priority in the state. The recent donation to Auburn University Libraries of a letter composed by early Alabama statesman and politician John Williams Walker (1783–1823) sheds light on a significant chapter in Alabama history as Walker lobbied for a western boundary with Mississippi that would keep the majority of the Tombigbee River within Alabama’s borders.
“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.”
The February 1, 1818 letter, approximately 800 words long and opening with the salutation “My dear friend,” is a plea from Walker for the recipient in Washington, D.C. to work hard to ensure the largest part of the Tombigbee, then known as the “Tombeckbe,” stayed within the Alabama Territory and not to allow it to become part of Mississippi. The letter was written by Walker 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 of 1817.
Walker’s efforts were ultimately successful, and when the state of Alabama was admitted to the union on 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.
Schmidt hopes that scholarly research on the letter will ultimately reveal whom Walker was addressing with his “My dear friend” salutation, which will better place the letter in the context of Alabama history. 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.
The letter was acquired from a reputable dealer and donated by a friend of Auburn University Libraries, and it is the only known pre-statehood letter from Walker held in a public archive within the state.
“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 the importance of this document.’
Once processed into the library’s collection, the Walker letter will be put on display within the Ralph Brown Draughon Library Special Collections Department and a digital copy will be available for study by students and scholars all over the world through the library’s digital collection.
(Contributed by W. Jayson Hill)