[Albany, March 18, 1795]
This letter is the first in a protracted—although one-sided—correspondence, which lasted even beyond Robert Morris’s imprisonment for debt on February 16, 1798. Aside from this letter to Morris, all the other letters in this group were written by Morris to Hamilton. Morris’s letters consist almost entirely of discussions of his tangled, multitudinous, and complex financial problems, which in turn arose from his extraordinarily extensive speculations in undeveloped lands in such varied places as the Federal City (of Washington), Philadelphia, and virtually every state and territory in the United States. His holdings at various times were counted in the millions of acres; they were so numerous that he often did not know what he did or did not own; and the entire situation was further complicated by cloudy titles, indefinite boundaries, arrangements for joint ownership with different partners, Indian claims, legal complexities, mortgages on the meaning of which neither Morris nor his creditors could always agree, and intricate manipulations that Morris undertook in his unsuccessful efforts to satisfy his creditors.
Although Morris in his letters to Hamilton touched on many subjects concerning his financial difficulties arising from his land speculations, there are four separate subjects which Morris discussed in his correspondence with Hamilton. These are:
|1.||The debt which Morris owed to Hamilton and to which Hamilton alludes in the letter printed below.|
|2.||The debt which Morris owed to John B. Church.1|
|3.||The debt which Morris owed to William Pulteney and William Hornby and which had been contracted by William S. Smith.2|
|4.||The suit which Charles Bridgen, on behalf of William Talbot and William Allum, brought against Morris.3|
In the letter printed below, however, Hamilton is concerned only with the debt which Morris owed to him. This debt occurred when Hamilton on June 4, 1794, loaned $10,000 to Morris.4 As Hamilton indicates in his letter to Morris, the $10,000 belonged, not to Hamilton, but to John B. Church,5 an Englishman and the husband of Elizabeth Hamilton’s sister Angelica. Hamilton was able to use Church’s money in this fashion, for he handled Church’s extensive business affairs in the United States when Church was in England.
The history of Morris’s payments to Hamilton is summarized in the following account in Morris’s ledger:
|Dr||Alexander Hamilton Esqr6||Cr|
|Dollars Cents||Dollars Cents|
|1794||Augt 4||To Cash||51||500.||1794||June 7||By Cash||26||10,000|
|||July 18||To James
|192||2,333.33||1798||May 21.||By Profit &
|1796||Augt 4||To Cash||323||1,500.|
|Decr 8||To Jos:
|1798||May 21||To Thos
On August 2, 1794, Morris reduced his debt to Hamilton to $9,500 by paying him $500 in cash.8 As Morris’s account with Hamilton indicates, Morris on July 18, 1795, paid Hamilton $2,333.33. This payment was in the form of two bills which Morris had received from James Swan,9 each of which was for £250. These two bills, which were from the firm of Harrison and Sterett,10 had been drawn on J. H. Cazenove, Nephew, and Company11 in favor of Josiah Bacon, a resident of Oneida, New York.12
Although the next entry in Morris’s account with Hamilton states that on August 4, 1796, he paid Hamilton $1,500 in cash, the transaction was somewhat more complicated than Morris indicated. In his journal under the date of August 4, 1796, Morris wrote: “Alexr. Hamilton paid for Joseph Higbee’s13 draft 30th June on Hartshorne & Linsey14 at 30 days remitted Mr Hamilton in my letter 30th June … [$]1500.”15 Morris’s payment to Hamilton on December 8, 1796, also involved Higbee, and Morris’s entry in his journal reads: “Alexander Hamilton Dr. to Joseph Higbee for the latters order of this date on Robinson & Hartshorne16 of New York at 30 days in favor of G. Cottringer,17 remitted said Hamilton … [$]1000.”18
Morris never did pay the remainder of his debt to Hamilton, but in 1797 he attempted to discharge this obligation by assigning to Hamilton the bond for a debt owed to him by Andrew Craigie.19 The origins of Craigie’s debt to Morris are described by Morris as follows: “Watson20 & Greenleaf,21 and A. Craigie. This is a debt for Genesee Lands, $12,500. The whole is unpaid. But at Greenleaf’s desire, I relinquished Watson by letter, and took Greenleaf’s Bond for $6,250, on which suit was brought for me…. I assigned the rest to Alexander Hamilton, Esq., of New York, to secure a debt which I then owed to him.”22 Morris, however, subsequently learned that the bond in question had been assigned to Samuel Ogden,23 and therefore could not be used to pay Hamilton.24
In January, 1798, after Morris had exhausted every other expedient in his efforts to pay Hamilton, he proposed that his son Thomas25 assume the balance of the debt as of November 27, 1797. On that date Morris owed Hamilton $6,002.25, and in February, 1798, this debt was transferred from Robert Morris to Thomas Morris.26 As the entry for May 21, 1798, in the account printed above indicates, Robert Morris was at last free of this particular debt,27 although he did write Hamilton one more time on the subject.28
To secure the payment of what had now become Thomas Morris’s debt to John B. Church, Thomas Morris mortgaged to Church part of the land in the Morris Reserve, which was the name of a tract obtained in 1791 by Robert Morris in western New York.29 In 1800 Church brought a suit in equity against Thomas Morris, and in his bill he set forth the substance of this mortgage.30 No record concerning the outcome of this suit has been found.
1. For the background and history of this debt, see the introductory note to Morris to H, June 7, 1795.
2. For the background and history of this debt, see the introductory note to Morris to H, April 27, 1796.
4. On June 7, 1794, Morris entered in his journal the following: “Alexander Hamilton Esqr. received of him 4th Instt… [$]10,000. 0” (“Journal, 1794–1801,” 26, Robert Morris Account Books, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia).
5. On July 25, 1795, H wrote to Robert Troup: “… You will also find in the bundle AA a note of Mr. Morris for Nine thousand five hundred Dollars on account of which the above mentioned bills are—This note was for money lent belonging to Mr. Church. Mr. Morris will not dispute that it bears interest from the date. Indeed the real sum was Ten thousand Dollars but Mr. Morris after some time paid me five hundred. The interest ought to be calculated accordingly. Mr. Morris can furnish the data.
“As this money was thus disposed of without being warranted by the spirit of Mr. Church’s instructions I consider myself as responsible for it. And I trust that Mr. Morris will exert himself to pay the ballance speedily….”
6. Ledger C, 73, Robert Morris Account Books, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. The numbers which appear after each entry in the ledger refer to the pages in the “Journal, 1794–1801,” Robert Morris Account Books, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
7. This entry is explained by Morris in his journal as follows:
|“Profit & Loss Dr. to Alexr. Hamilton|
|for interest on $10.000 from 4 June 1794
to 27 Novr 1797 is 3 yrs. 5 Mos. 23 days
|deduct for interest on $500 pd 2 August 1794|
|is 3 yrs. 5 Mos. 28 days||99.58|
|on $2333.33 paid 18 July 1795|
|is 2 4 9 do.||330.17|
|on $1500. paid 30 July|
|on $1000 paid 8 Jany 96|
|1 10 18 do.||113||752.75||1.335.58”|
(“Journal, 1794–1801,” 400, Robert Morris Account Books, Historical Society of Pennsylvania).
8. An entry in Morris’s journal for August 4, 1794, reads: “Alexander Hamilton Esqr paid him 2d Instt … [$]500.” (“Journal, 1794–1801,” 51, Robert Morris Account Books, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia).
9. Swan, a native of Scotland, immigrated to Boston in 1765. He fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill and was a member of the Massachusetts legislature in 1778. During and after the American Revolution he was a large land speculator. By 1787 he was in debt, and he moved to Paris, where he formed the partnership of Dallarde, Swan, et Cie., contractors for the French government.
10. George Harrison and Samuel Sterett were members of a Philadelphia mercantile firm. See Willink, Van Staphorst, and Hubbard to H, May 1, 1794, note 2. Morris and Harrison and Sterett were involved in several land and financial transactions. See Ledger C, 85, 164, 224, 258, Robert Morris Account Books, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
11. John Henry Cazenove, Théophile Cazenove’s brother, was the head of this London banking house. Morris dealt with the firm on numerous occasions. See Ledger C, 12, Robert Morris Account Books, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
13. Higbee was a Philadelphia merchant and a business associate of Morris. In summarizing his account with Higbee, Morris wrote: “This account is credited for large sums supplied as my necessities required, when Mr. Higbee was in the habit of assisting Mr. [John] Nicholson and myself, and is entitled to farther credits; there are also articles to come to his debit. I have often requested from him a statement of our dependencies; that I might enter the particulars in my Books. A large balance must be due to him; but as I have for a long time been without money to pay, he has been neglectful of the Account, and without his statement I cannot strike a balance” (Morris, In the Account of Property description begins Robert Morris, In the Account of Property (King & Baird, Printers, No. 9 Sansom Street [Philadelphia], n.d.). description ends , 62).
14. Although Richard Hartshorne had formed a partnership with Joseph Lindley in New York City(Goebel, Law Practice description begins Julius Goebel, Jr., ed., The Law Practice of Alexander Hamilton: Documents and Commentary (New York and London, 1964– ) description ends , II, 450), no record has been found of the firm of Hartshorne and Linsey. See Ledger C, 185, Robert Morris Account Books, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
15. “Journal, 1794–1801,” 323, Robert Morris Account Books, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
16. Robert Robinson and William Hartshorne were partners in a firm of New York City insurance and commission brokers.
17. Garrett Cottringer was Morris’s bookkeeper and one of his closest business associates. In summarizing his account with him, Morris wrote: “This account as it now stands on my books, differs in one article from an account rendered by Mr. Cottringer, wherein he charged considerably more for compensation for his services than I have credited; and I readily declare that if myself alone were affected by it, I would not hesitate one moment to allow all he asks, and probably more; for if I had not lost my own fortune I should have made his; or at least have put him in a position to make one for himself. It is not only personal service that merits compensation, but his zeal, which both led him into embarrassments, and his fidelity entitles him to the highest consideration” (Morris, In the Account of Property description begins Robert Morris, In the Account of Property (King & Baird, Printers, No. 9 Sansom Street [Philadelphia], n.d.). description ends , 66).
18. “Journal, 1794–1801,” 345, Robert Morris Account Books, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
Craigie was an apothecary, financier, and speculator who lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During the American Revolution he was Continental apothecary and apothecary general. He accumulated a large fortune through various speculations.
20. James Watson, a native of Woodbury, Connecticut, had acted as agent and subcontractor for the firm of John Carter (John B. Church) and Jeremiah Wadsworth during the American Revolution. In 1786 he moved to New York City, where he practiced law, engaged in business, and served as director of the Bank of the United States and of the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures. In 1791, 1794, and 1795 he represented New York City in the state Assembly.
21. James Greenleaf, a native of Massachusetts, a member of the former New York City firm of Watson and Greenleaf, and a former United States consul at Amsterdam, engaged in extensive land and securities speculations. In 1793, Greenleaf, Morris, and John Nicholson made vast land purchases in the Federal City. Greenleaf proved to be dishonest. He failed to honor notes endorsed by Morris; he did not meet the payments on his Washington lots; and he misused money entrusted to him by Morris. Morris and Nicholson eventually bought out Greenleaf’s interests in the Federal City and the North American Land Company.
On December 9, 1796, Morris wrote to Watson: “In reply to your letter of the 4th Instt. I am to inform you that I did agree to take James Greenleaf for my Paymaster for that part of the debt which Messrs. Watson & Greenleaf were bound to discharge on accot of the residuary part unsatisfied on the purchase of Genesee Lands, and I now confirm that I am content to take Mr. Greenleaf and release you” (LC, Robert Morris Papers, Library of Congress).
23. Ogden, a resident of Newark, New Jersey, was an iron founder and land speculator who had numerous business transactions with Morris (Ledger C, 21, Robert Morris Account Books, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia). See also H to Watson, October 9, 1792, note 4.
24. Morris to H, November 23, 1797; Morris to Seth Johnson, November 23, 1797 (LC, Robert Morris Papers, Library of Congress). As late as June, 1798, Morris maintained that his claim on Andrew Craigie was valid and that Craigie’s bond could be used for payment to H. See Morris to H, June 6, 1798.
25. Thomas Morris was his father’s principal agent and representative in the Genesee country in western New York.
27. The following entry, dated May 19, 1798, appears in Morris’s journal: “Alexander Hamilton Dr. to Thos. Morris who has assumed to pay the balance of his Acct as Stated to 27th Novr 1798 and sent to him … [$]6002.25” (“Journal, 1794–1801,” 400, Robert Morris Account Books, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia).
29. The Morris Reserve is what remained of Morris’s formerly extensive land holdings in western New York. Massachusetts, on the basis of documents extending back to the 1620 charter of the Plymouth Company, claimed all lands—amounting to approximately six million acres—in New York State west of the so-called Preemption Line, which extended south from Sodus Bay on Lake Ontario through the western part of Seneca Lake to the Pennsylvania boundary. In an agreement reached in 1786, Massachusetts retained the preemption rights (that is, the right to purchase the title to the lands from the Indians) to these lands, while New York was given governmental jurisdiction over the area. (See H’s “Notes on the History of North and South America,” December, 1786.) In 1788 Massachusetts sold the preemption rights to Nathaniel Gorham and Oliver Phelps, who could, however, obtain from the Indians title only to the eastern third of the entire tract; the western two-thirds of the tract reverted to Massachusetts in 1790. Phelps and Gorham sold approximately 1.2 million acres of the eastern third to Robert Morris, who in 1791 resold this land to William Pulteney and his associates. In the same year Morris purchased the rights to the remaining two-thirds—approximately 4.1 million acres—from Massachusetts, and in 1792–1793 he sold the rights to about 3.6 million acres to the six Dutch banking firms which on February 13, 1796, were formally organized as the Holland Land Company. What was left, or approximately five hundred thousand acres, constituted the Morris Reserve. This tract was a corridor running from the Pennsylvania line to Lake Ontario. It was bounded on the east by the border of the Pulteney Purchase and on the west by the lands Morris had sold to the six Dutch banking firms. It was twelve miles wide at its southern border. This tract is described in detail in Morris, In the Account of Property description begins Robert Morris, In the Account of Property (King & Baird, Printers, No. 9 Sansom Street [Philadelphia], n.d.). description ends , 1–2.
30. Bill, filed March 10, 1800, Church v Thomas Morris, New York Chancery Papers, BM-719-C, Hall of Records, New York City.