William Charles Cole Claiborne

Territorial Governor: 1804-1812

Governor of the State: 1812-1816

WCC Claiborne, Philidelphia, 1798
  • Born: Virgina, 1775
  • Education: Richmond Academy, William and Mary College
  • Career: Copyist, Lawyer, Tennessee Supreme Court Justice, U.S. Representative; Territorial Governor of Mississippi, Territorial Governor of Orleans, Louisiana Governor, U.S. Senator
  • Died: New Orleans, 1817

In 1801, W.C.C. Claiborne was appointed by Thomas Jefferson to serve as governor of the Territory of Mississippi. While serving in this post, Jefferson requested Claiborne's assistance in the transfer of the Louisiana Territory. It was W.C.C. Claiborne who formally accepted the Louisiana Territory from France on behalf of the United States at the signing of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, and he was thereafter appointed governor of the Louisiana Territory.

Tension with Louisiana natives was high in the beginning of his governorship. However, Claiborne eventually earned the favor of the French, Spanish and Creole residents of Louisiana by embracing the variety of cultures both personally and through policy. On January 7, 1809, Claiborne was initiated an entered apprentice at the Perfect Union Lodge No. 29 in New Orleans. However, proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Mississippi indicate that prior to this, Claiborne had been a member of the Holston Lodge No. 33 in Tennessee.

When Louisiana became part of the union in 1812, Claiborne was also the first governor to be elected in this state. That year, Claiborne replaced an eagle on the Louisiana seal with the pelican scene still seen on the state flag today. There is debate over the reason he chose this as the seal. However, the pelican piercing its own breast to feed its young is one of the emblems of the Masonic Degree of Knight Rose Croix, which is the 18th degree in the Scottish Rite, also known as the Knight of the Eagle and Pelican. Perhaps it was the symbol's masonic association which led the governor to select the pelican to replace the eagle on the seal of the 18th state.

Under Claiborne's leadership, Louisiana was established as a civil law jurisdiction, and a system of public education was created. Claiborne was not eligible for a second term as governor. After leaving office in 1816, Claiborne was elected to the U.S. Senate. He died in 1817, at the age of 42, before taking his seat.

Click on thumbnails below to view a full-size image:

Trilingual Proclamation of Louisiana Purchase, 1803 (National Archive)

Letter announcing surrender of Louisiana, 1803 (National Archives)

Jefferson's nomination of Claiborne for governor of the Territory of Orleans, 1804 (National Archives)

Initiation, Perfect Union Lodge No. 29, Minutes from January 7, 1809

Translation the 1809 Minutes

Perfect Union Lodge No. 1, Tableau, 1808

Perfect Union Lodge No. 1, Tableau, 1812

Perfect Union Lodge No.1, Tableau, 1815

Some Early Visiting Brethren, Grand Lodge of Mississippi, 1943

Correspondence from the Grand Lodge of Tennessee, 1943

Correspondence from the Grand Lodge of Virginia, 1960

Grand Lodge Sesquicentennial Program, 1962 (part 1)

Grand Lodge Sesquicentennial Program, 1962 (part 2)

Grand Lodge Sesquicentennial, 1962