John Finney to Abraham Lincoln, 28 September 18491A. Lincoln Esq.[Esquire]New Orleans Sept. 28. 1849Dear Sir
Your letter of the 14th inst came to hand to-day.2
Judge James E Davis for several years furnished his brother H. W. Davis, means to purchase & attend to the securing titles to Lands in Texas, for their joint account. Judge Davis furnished the means & H. W. Davis gave his personal attention to the business or pretended to do so. H. W. Davis spent several years in Texas used all the means that Judge Davis could get pretended to acquire a large amount of land, among the rest a great deal of land on the Sulpher Fork.3 Whether he got good titles or not I don't know I think the probability is that with regard to many of his purchases he did not get good titles; for I believe he was utterly incompetent to manage such an affair. All the purchases were made in the name of H. W. Davis; or at all events the legal title was intended to have been vested in him; for he was a citizen of the Republic of Texas & Judge Davis was
<Page 2>not– and the laws of Texas before it was admitted into the Union did not permit an alien to hold real property there.4 After Texas was admitted into the Union Judge Davis was very anxious to have a settlement with H. W. & to have the legal title to his share of the land out of the control of H. W. and to accomplish this purpose, Judge D. prevailed upon H. W. to convey all the Texas lands to Chas. M. Randall Judge Davis's son in law, in trust, ^to convey^ to sundry persons intangled in those lands, their portions of the lands, not specifying persons or the extent of their interest and leaving it to Mr. Randall to convey to any person whatever amount he thought proper.5 It was intended that Mr. Randall should execute a counter–letter, stating that after satisfying the claims of all third persons to portions of the land the balance was to be held for the account of H. W. Davis & Judge Davis. Mr. Randall died last spring without executing such a counter-letter, although one was prepared. And there fore the legal title to all the Land is now in his heirs
This is what I have heard & believe about this matter. I have in my possession the deed to Randall & have seen two unexecuted drafts of the counter-letter among his papers. My wife is a daughter of Judge Davis; but I have so little faith in the Titles to these lands– & they have been neglected so long, while perhaps adverse titles have been attended to & perhaps fortified by possession– That I have resolved to waste no time labour or money about the matter. It appear . . . me as the thing now stands . . . necessary to have a suit with . . . [rep]resentatives to get the title at . . . The heirs to the property, considering, as . . . are his mother & a brother & sister all living in Hamilton County Ohio I believe.6Very Respectly[Respectfully]
Your obt. svt.[obedient servant]Jno. Finney7
<Page 4>NEW ORLEANS La.[Louisiana]
SEP[September] 29A. Lincoln Esq.SpringfieldIllinois
1John Finney wrote and signed this letter, including the address on the last sheet, which was folded to create an envelope.
3Harrison W. Davis began laying claim to land in Texas in April 1840, submitting claims at the U.S. General Land Office in Victoria for 16,000 acres. In April 1845, he acquired title to 8,856 acres in Liberty County, and in May 1845, he received deeds to 37,081 acres on the Sulphur Fork of the Red River. Located in northeast Texas and southwest Arkansas, the Sulphur Fork of the Red River is today known as the Sulphur River.
Bayles v. Crossman, et als, The American Law Record. 1876-1877, ed. by Herman M. Moos and John M. Pattison (Cincinnati: Bloch, 1877), 5:15-16; Library of Congress Subject Headings, 22nd ed. (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, Cataloging Distribution Service, 1999), 5:5686; “Sulphur River,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 06, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/sulphur-river.
4The Constitution of the Republic of Texas, adopted by a constitutional convention in March 1836 and ratified by Texas citizens in September 1836, prohibited non-citizens from holding land in Texas, except by titles emanating directly from the government of the Republic.
John Sayles, The Constitutions of the State of Texas, 4th ed. (St. Louis: Gilbert, 1893), 155, 170.
5The U.S. Congress admitted Texas into the Union by joint resolution on December 29, 1845.
Harrison W. Davis conveyed the Texas lands and claims to Charles M. Randall on April 24, 1847.
“Joint Resolution for the Admission of the State of Texas into the Union,” 29 December 1845, Statutes at Large of the United States 9 (1862):108; Bayles v. Crossman, et als, The American Law Record. 1876-1877, 5:18.
6This page has substantial damage, making it difficult to determine to whom Finney is referring, but it is most likely Charles M. Randall's mother, Elizabeth Randall, his brother, Andrew J. Randall, and his sister, Anna M. Brawley. All three lived in Hamilton County, Ohio, in the 1850s and 1860s.
U.S. Census Office, Seventh Census of the United States (1850), Miami, Hamilton County, OH, 274; U.S. Census Office, Eighth Census of the United States (1860), Miami, Hamilton County, OH, 38.
7After Charles M. Randall’s death, Finney, who took possession of Randall’s papers, gave those related to the Texas lands to Margaret T. Davis, widow of James E. Davis, who gave them to Charles McMicken, Randall’s uncle. On April 13, 1850, McMicken purchased all the claims of Elizabeth Randall, Andrew J. Randall, and Anna M. Brawley, apparently unaware that the heirs of James E. Davis had claim to these lands as beneficiaries under terms of the deed between Harrison W. Davis and Charles M. Randall. In March 1856, Harrison sold his interest to David Bayles, and in April 1856, David conveyed his interest to Jesse Bayles. In September 1859, Jesse Bayles brought suit in the Superior Court of Cincinnati against Harrison W. Davis, David Bayles, Andrew J. Randall, Anna M. Brawley, and others over these land claims. In April 1876, the court decided in favor of Davis and the other defendants.
There is no evidence that Lincoln had any active involvement in this episode.
Bayles v. Crossman, et als, The American Law Record. 1876-1877, 5:13-22.
Autograph Letter Signed, 4 page(s), Private Collection, Clare Van Norman, Neversink, NY.