Alexander Hamilton Papers
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To Alexander Hamilton from John Jay, 4 March 1796

From John Jay

New York 4th. March 1796.

Sir

In pursuance of a concurrent Resolution of the two Houses of the Legislature of the third and fourth instant1 I desire You as a Counsellor at Law to defend in behalf of this State a certain Suit brought against Lewis Cornwall by or in behalf of Alexander Colden for the Recovery of a Farm sold to the said Lewis by the Commissioners of Forfeitures for the Southern District.2

You will herewith receive a Copy of the said Resolution, and of the Petition of Lewis Cornwall which gave Occasion to it.

I have the Honor to be   Sir   Your Most Ob. & H’ble Servt.

John Jay.

Alexander Hamilton Esqr.

LS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress; LC, from the original in the New York State Library, Albany.

1On March 3, 1796, the New York Senate resolved: “That his Excellency the Governor be and he is hereby requested to cause proper counsel to be employed in behalf of this State, to defend the suit brought against Lewis Cornwall, by or in behalf of Alexander Colden for the recovery of a farm sold to the said Lewis Cornwall by the commissioners of forfeitures for the Southern District” (Journal of the Senate of the State of New-York. At Their Nineteenth Session description begins Journal of the Senate of the State of New-York. At Their Nineteenth Session, Begun and Held at the City-Hall, of the City of New-York, on Wednesday, the Sixth of January, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Ninety-Six (New York, 1796). description ends , 59). On March 4. 1796, the New York Assembly concurred with the Senate’s resolution (Journal of the Assembly of the State of New-York. At Their Nineteenth Session description begins Journal of the Assembly of the State of New-York. At Their Nineteenth Session, Begun and Held at the City-Hall, of the City of New-York, on Wednesday, the Sixth of January, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Ninety-Six (New York, 1796). description ends , 111).

2The appointment of commissioners of forfeitures for the various districts of New York State was required by the act of attainder of October 22, 1779, which declared forfeit the estates of New York Loyalists (New York Laws, 3rd Sess., Ch. XXV). The business of the commissioners, who were finally organized by an act of May 12, 1784 (New York Laws, 7th Sess., Ch. LXIV), was to sell “at public Vendue to the highest Bidder” the lands of those named in or subsequently convicted under the act of attainder. One of the earliest entries in their ledger (“New York, Commissioners of Forfeiture, Southern District, Abstract of sales, New York City and Vicinity,” 3 [New-York Historical Society, New York City]) records the location on May 13, 1784, of Lewis Cornwell, a member of a prominent Flushing family, on “The Lands and Tenements situate in Queens County on Nassau Island” formerly belonging to David Colden, and Cornwall’s subsequent purchase of them for £1,800. Colden, a son of the former lieutenant governor of New York, Cadwallader Colden, had lived at Spring Hill Farm, Flushing, and was one of the fifty-nine Loyalists named in the act of 1779. He died in England on July 10, 1784. His widow, after unsuccessfully petitioning the legislature for the use of her husband’s estate, died the following year at the house of her brother-in-law, Cadwallader Colden, of Coldenham, Orange County. The identity of the plaintiff in this suit is not clear, since two members of the immediate family were named Alexander Colden. It seems likely, however, that the plaintiff was David Colden’s nephew, the fourth son of Cadwallader Colden of Coldenham, who farmed in Orange County. The other Alexander Colden was a sea captain and a grandson of David Colden’s oldest brother, Alexander. Other sources apparently give the name of the buyer of this land as William Cornwell. See H. B. Yoshpe, The Disposition of Loyalist Estates in the Southern District of the State of New York (New York, 1939), 46, 137.

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