Alexander Hamilton Papers

To Alexander Hamilton from Benjamin Walker, 4 October 1796

From Benjamin Walker1

New York, October 4, 1796. “It is six months since I furnished Col Smith with a Copy of the inclosed accounts and pressed him for a settlement.… Col Smith himself cannot require this nor can he be surprized that I desire you to commence process against him without any further delay this and nothing else will bring this tedious business to an issue.…”

ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.

1This letter refers to debts which William S. Smith owed to William Pulteney and William Hornby when Smith was acting as the representative of the Pulteney Associates. Pulteney and Hornby subsequently employed Benjamin Walker, not only to succeed Smith, but also to collect the money which Smith owed to them. Walker, in turn, hired H and Robert Troup, H’s college friend and a lawyer, to represent Walker, Pulteney, and Hornby in their efforts to recover the money owed by Smith. For the Pulteney Associates and the relation to them of Smith and Walker, see Walker to H, September 15, 1793, note 1, and the introductory note to Morris to H, April 27, 1796.

A biased, but detailed, account of Smith’s relationship with Pulteney and Hornby is contained in a letter, dated November 30, 1823, from William Coleman, editor of the New-York Evening Post, to Timothy Pickering. In response to a request from Pickering, Coleman enclosed the following decidedly unfriendly view of Smith’s activities from an unidentified correspondent who, Coleman stated, was “in the 68th. year of his age & therefore allowances must be made for time & failure of memory; but verily believes the facts may be relied upon as stated.… Implicit reliance may be placed on his statement.” The statement reads: “… Col. Smith, soon after the funding system was established by Congress & a national Bank was organized went to England, with statements said to have been furnished by Mr [William] Duer & others of a nature to shew that capitalists could advantageously employ their monies in the purchase of our funded debt & of Bank stock. Smith after his arrival in England, got introduced to Sir Wm. Pulteney, a great capitalist & to his friend Mr. Wm. Hornby, commonly called governor Hornby, from his having been in the East Indies & governor, I think of Bombay. Mr. Hornby was also a respectable capitalist. Smith put into the hands of these gentlemen his statements. It is very likely the statements recommended the investment of monies in wild lands, as well as in funded debt & bank stock.

“Smith, through his address & by the influence of some one of the Adams family then in London, as I believe in some public character, induced Sir Wm. Pulteney & Gov. Hornby to put into his hands the enormous sum of £60,000 stg: that is, to say, Sir Wm. entrusted him with £30,000 & Govr. Hornby entrusted him with a like sum.

“With this money in his pocket, Smith, always light-headed, got completely ballooned. He soon afterwards returned to New York with a large family coach big & heavy enough for 4 horses to draw without himself or any of his family in it. He set up a wondrous establishment of horses, dogs & servants in the style of many of the English noblemen. Soon afterward, he purchased a large parcel of ground about 5 miles out of New York, & began to erect on it a large building, (with a cellar cut of solid rock that alone cost $5000 & the money to pay for it borrowed at 3 per cent a month) that was immediately nicknamed Smith Folly.

“Smith, forthwith, after his return from England, went into the most dashing speculation in the funds—in Bank stock, in wild lands, & in loans of money on hypothecations, according to report. Among his speculations in lands, he purchased of this state upwards of one hundred & three thousand acres of wild lands in that part of the state then called the Chenango country. These lands, he is understood to have purchased for aliens at a quarter of a dollar per acre. The purchase was made with his trust monies as above acquired. It ought here to be mentioned that Smith was, by his agreement with Sir Wm. Pulteney & Gov. Hornby to employ their monies on certain commissions which Smith was to receive for his services. The lands thus purchased by Smith he obtained patents for, in his own name, whereby the lands were vested in him in fee simple. The lands, before they were patented, were divided into townships, & a patent issued for each township.

“Since writing the above, I have recurred to deeds & papers & find that Smith purchased several tracts of wild lands; & a number of lots in New York. He went on in a course of extravagant speculation & extravagant living for a considerable time; always confused, careless & irregular in his business, or rather what he used ridiculously to term his modus agendi. He finally got involved head over heels in pecuniary embarrassments of every sort. His credit soon afterwards was destroyed.…

“Sir Wm. Pulteney & Gov. Hornby received no monies whatever from Smith nor any accounts whatever respecting the application & use of their funds. At length despairing of any accounts or remittances from him, they employed Charles Williamson then in the Genesee country to apply to him for a settlement of his accounts & for a surrender of their property in his hands. Mr. Williamson was the person then entrusted with what Mr. Pickering calls Sir Wm. Pulteney’s ‘vast landed estate in New York.’ This ‘vast landed estate’ was situated in the western part of the state of New York generally called the Genesee country. Smith never had any concern with this ‘vast landed estate.’ The monies entrusted to him formed altogether a separate concern, & Mr Williamson the general had no control over Smith or connection with him. Gen. Williamson received instructions to apply to Smith at a time when there was a general scramble among his creditors to get what property they could find in payment of their debts, it being then known that he was deeply insolvent. Mr. Williamson having been bred an officer in the British army, was not much a man of business & he employed Col. Benja. Walker to make the application to Smith.…

“The effort of Col. Walker to get back the property in Smith’s hands was exactly like the effort commonly made at dwelling houses much on fire to save the furniture. A great deal was lost & a little comparatively speaking was saved. As to any account from Smith relative to the execution of his trust none was rendered. No funded debt, nor any bank stock that I ever heard of was transferred to Col. Walker or any body else on account of the trust monies. All that Col. Walker got out of the 303,000 acres of wild lands was about 41,000, and the remainder, Smith had disposed of.…” (Copy, in the handwriting of William Coleman, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.)

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