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From Alexander Hamilton to Herman LeRoy, William Bayard, and James McEvers, 16 December 1796

To Herman LeRoy, William Bayard, and
James McEvers

New York, December 16, 1796. Discusses the Holland Land Company’s interest in Robert Morris’s proposed negotiations with the Seneca Indians.1

ALS, Gemeentearchief Amsterdam, Holland Land Company. These documents were transferred in 1964 from the Nederlandsch Economisch-Historisch Archief, Amsterdam.

1LeRoy, Bayard, and McEvers were partners in a New York City mercantile firm which represented the Holland Land Company in the United States.

H wrote this letter in his capacity as an attorney for the six Dutch banking firms which formally organized as the Holland Land Company on February 13, 1796.

The treaty to be negotiated concerned approximately four million acres of land in New York which Morris had acquired from Massachusetts in 1791. The Massachusetts claim to these lands, which went back to the 1620 charter of the Plymouth Company, was settled in 1786 by an agreement between Massachusetts and New York. Under this agreement, Massachusetts was given the preemption rights (that is, the right to purchase the title to the land from the Indians), while New York was given all governmental rights over the lands in question (see H’s “Notes on the History of North and South America,” December, 1786; “Defence of the Funding System,” July, 1795, note 34; H to Morris, March 18, 1795, note 29). Thus, in 1791, Morris purchased not the land but rather the right of Massachusetts to deal with the Indians for this land. Morris sold about 3.6 million acres of this tract to the Holland Land Company. The company retained £37,500 of the purchase money until Morris secured the Indian title and completed the necessary surveys.

From 1791 to 1795, warfare prevented any settlement, and in 1795, when peace was restored by the Treaty of Greenville, Morris lacked the necessary funds to treat with the Indians. Accordingly, the Holland Land Company advanced him £9,000 out of the £37,500 retained to begin the negotiations. The Holland Land Company desired the treaty, for it could not sell the lands purchased from Morris until the Indian title had been extinguished. Morris wanted the Indians to relinquish their title so that he could use his lands west of the Holland Land Company’s purchase to secure or pay some of his numerous debts.

On March 2, 1797, George Washington sent the following letter to the Senate: “Application has been made to me, to permit a treaty to be held with the Seneca nation of Indians, to effect the purchase of a parcel of their land under a pre-emption right derived from the State of Massachusetts, and situated within the State of New York, and it appearing to me reasonable that such opportunity should be afforded, provided the negotiation shall be conducted at the expense of the applicant, and at the desire and with the consent of the Indians; always considering these as prerequisites, I now nominate Isaac Smith, to be a Commissioner to hold a treaty with the Seneca nation, for the aforesaid purpose” (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 229). On the following day the Senate approved Smith’s nomination, but Smith declined the appointment, and Jeremiah Wadsworth was appointed in his place (ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Indian Affairs, 1, 626). Smith was a Federalist member of the House of Representatives from New Jersey from 1795 to 1797 and an associate justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court from 1777 to 1804.

Negotiations with the Seneca Indians began on August 28, 1797, and an agreement was signed on September 15, 1797. Morris, who did not attend the negotiations, was represented by his son Thomas. The Indians agreed to sell to Morris the lands in question (except for some reserved lands or reservations) for one hundred thousand dollars, which was to be invested in stock of the Bank of the United States. The treaty, or more accurately, the agreement, is entitled “Contract entered into, under the sanction of the United States of America, between Robert Morris and the Seneca Nations of Indians” and is printed in ASP description begins American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States (Washington, 1832–1861). description ends , Indian Affairs, I, 627.

For background to this letter and for other relevant documents, see 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 , forthcoming volumes.

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