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Full text of "The Illinois-Wabash Land Company manuscript"

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UNIVERSITY OF 

lLLir~i~ LIBRARY 

AT UR~ANA-GHAMPA!GN 

ILL HIST. SURVEY 



x^*^^^f 



THE ILLINOIS-WABASH LAND 
COMPANY MANUSCRIPT 



manuscript of the Illinois- 
A Wabash Land Company was 
recently purchased at an auction in 
New York City. It is evidently 
one of several copies made for the 
various members of the company at 
the time when the two companies, 
the Illinois Land Company and the 
Wabash Land Company, were 
united. This reproduction has been 
made for private circulation only, 
and I take great pleasure in sending 
it to you. 

CYRUS H. McCoRMicK 

November i, 1914 
Chicago, Illinois 

Copy No MU 



THE ILLINOIS-WABASH LAND 
COMPANY MANUSCRIPT 



WITH AN INTRODUCTION 

BY 

CLARENCE WALWORTH ALVORD 




PRIVATELY PRINTED 

By CYRUS H. McCORMICK 

1915 



[A * " i 



THE ILLINOIS -WAB ASH 
LAND COMPANY 



Trade and land-speculation! The story of these 
activities contain the history of the early exploration 
and colonization of western America. Such docu- 
ments as the following, which have sprung out of the 
very enterprises of nation-builders, tell this story so 
teeming in interest and justify their preservation and 
close study. In the acts here told and in others like 
them is seen the germ of later vast enterprises which 
have resulted in covering the almost deserted forests 
and prairies of the Mississippi Valley with their popu- 
lous cities, their lovely villages, and their wealthy farms. 
The first men to find their arduous way across the 
mountains, that vast buttress against the enterprise of 
the British tide-water settlements, were hunters and 
fur-traders, who were almost contemporary in their 
undertakings. These brought back to the settle- 
ments such glowing stories of the richness of the mid- 
land valley that the land speculators were aroused to 
energy and preceded the farmer in the mad rush west- 
ward; and in many places along the Ohio and 
Mississippi vasts tracts were covered with claims before 
the first real home-builders drove their wagons or 
guided their flat-boats to this Mecca of future hope. 



Who can measure the value to the West of the 
labor of these enterprising speculators who by printed 
pamphlet and spoken word have attracted the troops of 
emigrants to seek out happier conditions? "Go West," 
was the slogan which they cried; and their personal 
gain or loss has resulted in the birth of many states. 

If the complete history of these documents were 
written, it would require many pages, because it 
would develop into a treatise on the British land 
system which cannot be understood without a disen- 
tanglement of the chaotic politics of Great Britain 
during the last half of the eighteenth century; but this 
is neither the time nor place to enter into the many 
complicated problems involved in such a study, and 
it will be sufficient to give attention only to the most 
conspicuous conditions and events. 

To the numerous land speculators of Great Britain 
and her colonies, the government seemed exceedingly 
slow in determining the best means to employ in 
developing the American West that had been ceded 
by France in the Treaty of Paris of 1763; and, when 
it was decided in London that expansion westward 
should be gradual and only after the British Govern- 
ment had duly purchased from the Indians their rights, 
every speculator with his get-rich-quick scheme became 
disheartened. The slow processes of British diplo- 
macy did not offer much to satisfy their eager desires. 
The Indian boundary lines which the British superin- 
tendents ran during the years 1768-1770 along the 
back of the colonies, opening up for immediate 
settlement only part of western Pennsylvania, and 
what is now West Virginia, cut off many a hope for 
sudden wealth. It seemed that the British govern- 



10 



ment was reserving the fair lands along the Ohio and 
Mississippi to be the haunt of the red men and the 
temporary sojourn of the fur-trader. 

The first document in this volume, the opinion 
of Lords Camden and Yorke, in regard to the 
sovereignty of the Indian nations, aroused the land 
speculators from their feeling of discouragement and 
put new life into their schemes to exploit the West 
which now seemed to lie open to them unprotected 
by any imperial restriction. The history of this 
opinion has, so far as is known, never been written. 
In 1769 Samuel Wharton, a merchant of Philadelphia, 
went to London in the interest of an association of 
merchants who had suffered considerable losses at the 
outbreak of the Indian war of 1763, known in history 
as the Conspiracy of Pontiac. At the treaty of Fort 
Stanwix in 1768, the Indians had been persuaded to 
make a large grant of land in what is now West 
Virginia in compensation for these losses, and Wharton 
was sent to England by his partners to persuade the 
ministry to issue letters-patent for this grant. In this 
he did not succeed; but he wrote home that this 
failure made no difference, because he had obtained 
the opinion of Lord Camden and Lord Chancellor 
Yorke as it is written in the following document. 
The exact date of this opinion can not be established. 
Charles Yorke was lord chancellor only a few days 
before his death in January, 1770; and his mental 
condition during that period was such that the opinion 
must have been given some time previous to his 
promotion. The date of the opinion, which was 
wholy private, must, therefore, have been during the 
year 1769. 



1 1 



According to it any man or group of men could 
purchase land directly from the Indian tribes which 
were sovereign nations, and such titles would be 
regarded as legal in the British courts. The opinion 
was soon known in America, although Wharton tried 
to keep it quiet; and it stirred up many an interest- 
ing land scheme, among which are to be found those 
of the Illinois Land Company and the Wabash Land 
Company, later united into the Illinois-Wabash Land 
Company, whose records are here illustrated. 

Before this important event had taken place in 
England, the country of Illinois had been the scene 
of many interesting enterprises, that have a very direct 
connection with this land speculation. 

After the final occupation of the Illinois country 
by the British troops in the fall of 1765, there was a 
rush of traders into the region. The principal and 
first firm to enter the eager competition for the 
western fur-trade was that of Baynton, Wharton, and 
Morgan of Philadelphia, who made elaborate prepar- 
ations. In a letter from a member of the firm there 
is found an estimate that over three hundred boat- 
men were being employed by them to convey their 
goods to Kaskaskia. These merchants were left only 
a short time to enjoy their trade in peace. A Phila- 
delphia and London firm, Franks and Company, 
reached out also for this western trade; and for several 
years there was a very bitter rivalry. Both firms tried 
to obtain the concession to furnish the provisions for 
the British troops in the country and both engaged 
in extensive trading for furs. Baynton, Wharton, and 
Morgan were the first also to attempt to gain a large 
land grant in the Illinois, but in spite of the efforts 



12 



of their representative in London, Benjamin Franklin, 
they were unsuccessful; and since their trading venture 
did not succeed, they gradually withdrew from the 
country and left the field to their rivals. 

The able representative of Franks and Company 
at Kaskaskia was the William Murray who figures so 
largely in the following documents. Concerning him 
little is known. There are in existence, however, 
several of his letters to his partners, which reveal him 
as a man of pleasing personality and of jocose mood. 
He calls himself at the time a merchant residing in 
Philadelphia. He lived, however, several years in 
Kaskaskia and left there finally two years before the 
village was taken by the Virginians in 1778. From 
his letters it is evident that his firm had not prospered 
as the members had expected, and so they determined 
on a bold venture. 

Murray began the trip to Illinois, which ended in 
the purchase of land by the Illinois Land Company 
in the spring of the year 1773. From Pittsburg he 
wrote to two of his partners, Bernard and Michael 
Gratz, a letter in which he says that he had visited the 
famous frontiersman and land speculator, George 
Croghan, who, he writes, "assured me, That Lords 
Camden and Yorke Personally Confirmed to him the 
Opinion respecting Indian Titles, when C[rogha]n was 
last in England. So Courage my Boys; I hope We shall 
yet be Satisfied for our Past Vexations attending our 
Concern in the Illinois. . . . Thos. Minshall, Capts. Col- 
lander & Thompson and John Campbell have Signed 
the Land Affair which makes twenty-two shares." 

With light heart and in an optimistic mood, 
William Murray shortly after set out on the Ohio 

'3 



and reached his destination on June 11, as we learn 
from a letter of Captain Hugh Lord, commandant 
of Fort Gage in Kaskaskia village. Murray, upon his 
arrival, showed the commandant a copy of the legal 
opinion of the two noted jurists, but the captain does 
not appear to have been frightened, for he informed 
Murray that he "should not suffer him to settle any 
of the lands as it was expressly contrary to his Majesty's 
Orders;" but Murray's own narrative, as published in 
one of the later pamphlets of the company, informs 
us of his continued activities in spite of the hostile 
attitude of the commandant. "In the month of 
June, 1773," he writes, "I held several public con- 
ferences with the several tribes of the Illinois Nations of 
Indians, at Kaskaskia village; to all which conferences 
I invited to be present, the British, officers and all the 
inhabitants of the place, and a great number attended 
accordingly." 

He then goes on to relate how on July fifth he 
entered into that agreement for himself and associates 
with the chiefs of the Illinois Indians, a copy of which 
may be found in the later pages. By this the Illinois 
Land Company became the owner, under an Indian 
title, of two large tracts of land, one on the Illinois 
River and the other on the Ohio. This deed was 
duly registered by the notary public at Kaskaskia 
and was attested by Captain Hugh Lord, who reported 
the sale immediately to his superiors with his own 
adverse opinion. His prompt action led to some 
correspondence and at length to instructions, which 
belong to a later period of this story. 

If the list of the members of the Illinois Land 
Company is examined, it will be seen that they all 



belonged to the colony of Pennsylvania, where spec- 
ulation in western lands had always been popular. 
Still it was not to the authorities of that colony that 
these men turned for assistance in making good their 
title, but rather to the governor of Virginia, Lord 
Dunmore. One of the reasons for this was that 
Virginia's charter-claims extended over the Illinois 
country; but probably of much greater importance 
was the fact that Lord Dunmore's ambitions were 
leading him to seek a fortune in land-speculation. 
It was also probably well known to Murray and his 
associates that Dunmore's chief legal adviser in his 
western plans, Patrick Henry, shared the opinion of 
Lords Camden and Yorke in regard to the sovereign 
rights of Indians. 

William Murray now became the prime mover 
in the formation of a new land company, the later 
Wabash Land Company, and the purpose of its 
formation was to induce Lord Dunmore to give sup- 
port to both enterprises. In a letter of May 16, 1774, 
written at Philadelphia, Murray writes of both "the 
old and new Affair," and again he writes, "Eight in 
Maryland have signed to the new Affair." This "new 
Affair" can only refer to the Wabash Land Company, 
several members of which resided in Maryland, but 
most important of all the leading member was John 
Murray, Earl of Dunmore, governor of Virginia. 

The occurrence of this name among the list of 
members of the new company explains quite plainly 
the petition of the Illinois Land Company which was 
addressed to the Earl on April 19, 1774. The peti- 
tion recites the circumstances of the purchase as they 
have been here explained and prays that "your Lord- 



ship be pleased to take the petitioners and their 
settlements into the protection of your Lordship's 
Government of Virginia, and extend to them the 
Laws and Jurisdiction of Your Colony Accordingly." 
This petition Dunmore transmitted in May to Lord 
Dartmouth, the secretary of state for the colonies, 
with his most cordial recommendation. He writes: 
"Whatever may be the Law with respect to the title, 
there are, I think, divers reasons which should induce 
His Majesty to Comply with the Petition, so far at 
least as to admit the Petitioners and their Acquisitions 
if not into this Government, into Some Other. . . . 
I cannot then but think, that, Seeing there is no 
possibility of setting bounds to the Settlements of the 
Americans, it would tend most to the Advantage of 
His Majesty and to preserve the peace and order of the 
back Countries, that His Majesty should indulge the 
views of Adventurers like the Present, who willingly 
conform to Government." In a later letter Lord 
Dunmore denied that he was in any way interested 
in the Illinois speculation, which statement might be 
regarded by a toughened conscience as true. Still the 
Wabash plan was already launched and Dunmore's 
name led all the rest. 

The minister was not in a mood to receive the 
advice of Lord Dunmore favorably. The problem 
of the West had always been a perplexing one; but 
in one view the ministers were unanimous, namely, 
that no act should be tolerated which would tend to 
arouse the Indians again; and they held that the per- 
mission to form settlements west of the Indian 
boundary line would be such an act. The first news 
of William Murray's action was brought to the secre- 

16 



tary for the colonies by General Gage, at the time 
in England. The result was a letter of censure to 
Lord Dunmore and instructions to the acting com- 
mander-in-chief in America to prevent the undertak- 
ings of Murray and his associates. A quotation from 
the commander's letter to Captain Hugh Lord at the 
Illinois will illustrate the situation: "Having laid 
before His Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for 
America, your report to me of the transactions of 
several persons, who in contempt of the King's Pro- 
clamation herewith sent, have unwarrantly purchased 
from the Indians such lands as are undoubtedly 
intended to be reserved to them, and were never to 
be acquired but under the Sanction of Government; 
it is with great pleasure that I can communicate to 
you his Lordship's Approbation of your commendable 
attention to the very extraordinary attempts to acquire 
a title to the possession of lands in a part of the 
Country where all new settlement has been forbidden 
by the King's said proclamation. 

you will therefore take all opportunities to acquaint 
the Indians with this, His Majesty's concern for their 
happiness and welfare, in preventing persons taking 
advantage of them and purchasing the lands which it 
is the King's determined resolution to reserve to them, 
and to prevent as much as lays in your power any 
purchase so contrary to the Royal will and regula- 
tions * * * and that his Majesty's new Subjects may 
not be deceived and persuaded to act contrary to the 
intent of it, JV. e. the proclamation}^ you will be pleased 
to order the Notary Public to erase from his Registers 
any of the proceedings relative to the purchase already 
made and publicly to protest against them, and to 

'7 



declare all that has been or may be done hereafter 
relative to it void and of non-effect." 

Not satisfied with this mere prohibition the min- 
istry determined to remove the whole Northwest from 
the danger of such lawless attempts. The news of 
Murray's purchase arrived in England at the time when 
the ministry had under consideration some important 
changes in the constitution of the colony of Canada 
and also at a time when the lack of government in 
Illinois was forcibly called to their attention by a 
petition of the Illinois French. The necessity of pro- 
tecting the lands of the Indians from speculators 
appeared to them of sufficient importance to justify 
uniting the Illinois issue with the Canadian. The 
result was the well-known Quebec Bill of 1774 which 
extended the newly formed government of Canada to 
the unsettled prairies of the Old Northwest; and it 
was hoped in London that the new government would 
prevent illegal settlement on the banks of the Ohio 
and Mississippi rivers. 

Meanwhile the news of the opinion of Lords 
Camden and Yorke had become more generally known 
to the land speculators and many purchases of land 
were proposed and some were actually made from the 
Indians, the most notable being that of Kentucky 
and part of Tennessee by Richard Henderson and 
Company of North Carolina. In the Illinois, Murray's 
example was almost immediately followed by a couple 
of Frenchmen who made a large purchase from the 
tribe of the Mitchigami. The plans of the company 
of which Lord Dunmore was a member were also 
carried out and the record of their purchase forms one 
of the following documents. 

18 



That Captain Hugh Lord obeyed his commander's 
orders to annul the purchase by the Illinois Land 
Company we are informed by Murray, who writes: 
"About eighteen months subsequent to this transac- 
tion General Gage ordered the same commanding 
officer to convene the Indian chiefs afresh, after I 
purchased the lands, and to inform them: <That not- 
withstanding the sale they had made, and the con- 
sideration they had received, that they might hold 
those lands, and that they were still their property.' 

"After some deliberation, the chiefs replied, 'That 
they thought what the Great Captain said was not 
right; that they had sold the lands to me and my 
friends not for a short time, but, as long as the sun 
rose and set; * 

That I had paid them what they had agreed for and 
to their satisfaction and the more than they had 
asked for." 

Such a reply was naturally very satisfactory to the 
speculators; and in September, 1775, William Murray 
commenced negotiations at Vincennes with the chiefs 
of the Piankashaw and.Wea tribes "with the same 
caution, deliberation and form observed as in the first 
land purchase." This time he allowed his partner, a 
Frenchman of Kaskaskia, Louis Viviat, to act as the 
agent; and he succeeded on October 18, 1775, in 
consummating a purchase from the Indians of two 
large tracts of land, one above and one below the 
village of Vincennes. This deed was also duly reg- 
istered by a notary at Kaskaskia. 

The outbreak of the Revolutionary War changed 
the whole condition in the West, which became the 
scene of the murderous attacks of the savages and of 

19 



the dramatic defense of their feeble settlements by the 
frontiersmen. The destiny of the West remained in 
the balance till the very end, when fate decreed that 
a new nation should control the region. 

One very dramatic western event belongs to this 
period. The occupation of the Illinois country by 
the Virginians under George Rogers Clark is so well 
known in history and novel that the event does not 
need to be described here; but the expedition of 
Clark was not wholly unrelated to the actions illus- 
trated by these documents, nor were the men 
connected with the two land companies wholly 
uninterested spectators of the deeds of Clark. Although 
the proof of their direct influence upon the expedition 
of that bold Virginian hangs upon a weak and 
tortuous line of reasoning, yet the writer of this 
introduction, who has long and carefully investigated 
the men and measures of the West, is convinced that 
the account which follows is approximately true. 

In 1776 William Murray went to New Orleans 
and was there when some Virginians under Captain 
Gibson came down the Mississippi River to purchase 
powder for the colonies from the Spaniards. The 
expedition did not ascend the river until the spring 
of 1777. With it went two letters. One we know 
was written by William Murray to his brother Daniel 
at Kaskaskia, wherein the latter was instructed to be 
prepared to assist any company of Americans who 
might come. The other letter, of which we know 
very little, was to a merchant of Kaskaskia, Thomas 
Bentley, from which he learned that spies were to be 
sent to the village to investigate the conditions. A 
few weeks later such spies were actually sent by 



20 



George Rogers Clark. Here is certainly a connec- 
tion between William Murray and Clark. 

There is also some evidence of an eastern connec- 
tion between the land companies and Clark, although 
the character of the connection is very difficult to 
discover. The governor of Virginia at the time was 
Patrick Henry who had been the right hand man and 
chief adviser of Lord Dunmore in all his western 
enterprises. It was before Henry that Clark laid his 
plans for the taking of the Illinois posts; and, when 
he had successfully persuaded the governor to give 
his consent to them he wrote triumphantly in his 
diary: "taken in partnership by his Excellency P. 
Henry in taking a Body of Land." Although we 
know no more about this partnership, it seems very 
probable that, when land speculation was being dis- 
cussed, the purchase of the two land companies, so 
well known to Henry, must have entered into the 
conversation. It must be remembered, however, that 
there is no evidence that Governor Henry ever had 
any direct connection with either of the companies. 

That the companies were carefully watching the 
events in the West is shown by the immediate appear- 
ance of their representative William Murray at the 
capital of Virginia, as soon as Clark's success was 
known, to petition the legislature to allow their pur- 
chases. Virginia was not prepared, however, to grant 
such a request and, in fact, prohibited all settlement 
north of the Ohio River until the war was closed. 

From the later documents it will be seen that 
the two companies were united and preparations were 
made to push their claims, but for the purposes of 
this introduction the later history of the Illinois- 



21 



Wabash Land Company need not be given in detail. 
From scattered notices, it is evident that some few 
settlers were actually sent by the company to Vin- 
cennes. It is also well known that the company 
pressed its suit before the Continental Congress, and 
later before the Congress of the United States, but 
all without success. Thus the purchases by the com- 
pany came to naught; but the enterprise itself was 
not without significance, for the Illinois -Wabash 
Land Company was one of the first great companies, 
some successful, some unsuccessful, which have aided 
in the settlement of the West. William Murray, 
whose name is almost unknown in history, was but 
the prototype of hundreds who have followed his 
example; and his name should be linked with those 
of his contemporaries, Richard Henderson and George 
Morgan, who, though unsuccessful, were pioneer 
promoters of settlement on a large scale in the Mis- 
sissippi Valley. 



22 



FAC-SIMILE OF 

THE ILLINOIS-WABASH LAND 
COMPANY MANUSCRIPT 

IN THE POSSESSION OF 

CYRUS H. McCORMICK 



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