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Jefferson, Thomas

A manuscript letter, signed, to Juan Nepomonco D'Quesada, Spanish Governor of Florida]. New York. Aug 12, 1790. [2]pp. Written on Single Folio Sheet. This extraordinary letter bears a horizontal crease repaired with tape. The text is written in a secretarial hand and boldly signed, "Th: Jefferson," on verso. The letter is housed in a blue, half morocco box.

This official letter from Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State sends official greetings to the new Spanish governor of Florida, Juan Nepomonco D'Quesada. Quesada assumed the office of Governor of East Florida in July 1790, following a six year term as Governor of Honduras. On July 17, 790, from St. Augustine, Quesada wrote a letter to George Washington, President of the United States, announcing his command of the town and province and expressing some hope that he could be useful to Washington and to some of the states. This letter, dated August 12, 1790, is the response to Quesada, written by Jefferson at the request of President Washington. The letter reads:

"Sir, I am charged by the President of the United States of America to acknowledge the receipt of your Excellency's polite and friendly letter of the 7th of July, to congratulate you on your Accession to the Government of Florida and your safe arrival there, and to thank you for your Offers of friendly service to the United States. I am authorized to assure your Excellency, that on the part of the United States there is a strong sense of the Advantages of being on Terms of the strictest friendship with their neighbors, and a Disposition to cultivate that Friendship by all the Attentions and good offices in their Power. Having the Honor to be charged with the Department of Foreign Affairs in our government, I may perhaps have Occasion sometimes to solicit the Permission of your Excellency to make such Communications as may tend to preserve and promote a good Understanding between out two countries; and shall count among its other Advantages, the personal one of repeating to you Assurances of the Sentiments of Respect and Esteem with which I have the Honor to be, Your Excellency's Most Obedient Most Humble Servant Th: Jefferson."

Governor Quesada responded to Jefferson on August 28, 1790, acknowledging the receipt of this letter and addressing the issue of fugitive slaves. Jefferson corresponded frequently on this topic. The citizens of Georgia were very concerned about escaped slaves crossing the border into Spanish Florida. Quesada assured Jefferson: "Having received the king's order to permit, on no account, that the slaves of the U.S. introduce themselves into this province (Florida) as free persons, I avail myself of the first occasion which presents itself to me to forward you notice of it. It seems to me useful, as well to preserve in part the interests of both parties, as that it may be a means of preventing wars, and finally shews that they are eradicating every where the remains of those laws which subsist to our shame."

Official letters signed by Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State, especially to foreign officials, are of great rarity. This example, written only five months after Jefferson assumed the position of Secretary of State, to one of the few major colonial officials of a European power in North America, is of particular interest.

Despite Jefferson's friendly tone, relations between Spain and the United States, especially with regard to Florida, were of the utmost delicacy. Spain surrounded the United States on its southern and western border, and was in fact the only real "neighbor" with whom "friendly relations" were an issue, since the situation with Great Britain on the Canadian border was fairly static at this point. The United States had serious disagreements with Spain over borders, particularly the Florida boundary, which Spain set farther north than the United States, and about which negotiations did not begin until 1792. Furthermore, no treaty had been concluded between the two powers on any point, and Spain had only grudgingly recognized the independence of the United States. This important and significant document, is boldly signed by Jefferson as first American Secretary of State.