From Charles Wilkes1
[New York] Tuesday Morning 22nd. April 1800
Mr Robert C Johnson2 placed in your hands some time ago, some papers relative to lands in Tioga county & on the seneca lake, for the purpose I believe of having your opinion relative to the title. Among them were some conveyances from Watson3 & Greenleaf.4 I am concerned, with two other friends, in some part of these lands with Mr Johnson, and we were very desirous, for particular purposes, to get these papers.5 Mr Johnson informed us that he had or would apply to you for them. He has since left town & we understand from him that he has not obtained them. There is no objection on his part to our having them, on the contrary it is entirely his wish. If you see no impropriety in it, I should esteem it a great favor if you would let me have them, and I will undertake to return them to you if necessary. I beg you to excuse my giving you this trouble & to believe me with great esteem
Your obliged & obed
P.S. Will you permit me to remind you of the renewal of your notes? Your account, by the former ones being charged, is now overdrawn $5300.
ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
1. Wilkes was cashier of the Bank of New York.
2. Johnson was the son of William Samuel Johnson, the president of Columbia College from 1787 to July 16, 1800. Robert C. Johnson received his master’s degree from Columbia in 1786, and in 1792 he left the United States for a tour of England and the Continent. See William Henderson to H, September 24, 1792, note 7; William Samuel Johnson to H, September 30, 1792. In addition to the purchase of land mentioned in the letter printed above, in 1795 Johnson had bought land in the Western Reserve for which he paid sixty thousand dollars (G. H. Hollister, The History of Connecticut, From the First Settlement of the Colony to the Adoption of the Present Constitution [Hartford: Printed by Case, Tiffany & Co., 1857], II, 574).
3. 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.
4. 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, Robert 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.
5. The land in question was in Watson’s name and consisted of almost twenty-five thousand acres “on the west side of Seneca Lake” (David E. Mix, Catalogue: Maps and Surveys, in the Offices of the Secretary of State, State Engineer and Surveyor, and Comptroller, and the New York State Library [Albany, 1859], 129, 235). In 1800, Watson asked Josiah Ogden Hoffman, attorney general of New York, for an opinion on the title to this land (Calendar of N. Y. Colonial Manuscripts: Indorsed Land Papers; in the Office of the Secretary of State of New York. 1643–1803 [Albany, 1864], 1018). Johnson bought at least part of this land, for a provision in the will of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, dated September 2, 1825, reads: “I devise to my Grandchildren Charles Carroll Harper, Robert Goodloe Harper, and Emily Harper and their Heirs forever as tenants in common all my Lands in Tioga and Steuben Counties in the State of New York commonly called Moreland Manor, as well as that part which I purchased from a certain Robert C. Johnson, as those parts which were purchased by my late Son-in-law Robert Goodloe Harper from the said Robert C. Johnson and a certain Isaac Bronson, and conveyed to me by the said Robert G. Harper by way of mortgage” (Kate Mason Rowland, The Life of Charles Carroll of Carrollton; 1737–1832 [New York, 1898], II, 400).