Mississippi Land Company’s Petition to the King
To the Kings most excellent Majesty in Council
The humble Petition of Sundry Inhabitants of Great Britain, Virginia, and Maryland.1
May it please Your Majesty December 1768.
Your Petitioners, considering it the Duty of all good ⟨Subjects⟩ to improve to the utmost of their power the blessings of Peace; and reflecting how this Improvement may be best obtained by the Exertion of their Abilitys, and the application of their Fortunes; have proposed, with the approbation and protection of Your Majesty, to settle, as speedily and effectually as possible, some part of that Vast Country, to the Westward of the Alligany Mountains, now unquestionably Your Majestys Territory by the late Treaty of Peace.
The increase of People, the Extension of Trade, and the Enlargement of the Revenue are, with certainty, to be Expected, where the Fertility of the Soil, the mildness of the Climate, and the Attainment of Lands on easy Terms, invite Emigrants to settle, and Cultivate those Commodities most wanted by Great Britain, and which will bear the charge of a tedious Navigation, by their Great Value; such as Hemp, Flax, Silk, Wine, potash, Cochineal[,] Indigo &c. By these means, the Mother Country will be supplyed with many necessary materials, which are now purchased from Foreigners at a very great Expence, Especially Naval Stores, so essential to the very being of a commercial State, that it must be under great and perilous restraints in all Transactions with those powers by whom they are furnished; while the Inhabitants of the Infant Settlement, finding their Labour most profitably bestowed on Agriculture will not think of interfering with the parent State in Manufactures; but on the Contrary, will afford for these a large, and never failing Demand.
To effect these good purposes, Your Petitioners have formed themselves into a Company, by the name of the Mississippi Company, that by an union of their Councils and Fortunes, they may, in the most prudent and proper manner, explore as quickly as possible, that part of the Country hereinafter mentioned; if your Majesty shall be Graciously pleased, to indulge them with these Conditions.
1st That Your Majesty grant unto Your Petitioners, to be 50 in number by the name of the Mississippi Company 2,500,000 Acres of Land, in one or more Surveys, to be located or laid off between the thirty eighth and forty second Degrees of North Latitude, the Alligany Mountains on the Eastward, and thence Westward to the dividing line, the running of which your Majesty has been lately pleased to order.
2nd That your Petitioners shall have Liberty of holding their Lands, twelve years, or any Greater number that your Majesty shall approve, (after Survey of these be made and returned) clear of all imposition money, Quit Rents or Taxes, and that your Petitioners shall be obliged to seat the said Lands, within 12 years, with two hundred Families at least, if not interrupted by the Savages or some Foreign Enemy, and return the Survey thereof to such Office as your Majesty shall be pleased to direct; otherwise to forfeit the Grant.
Your Petitioners humbly hope, that your Majesty may be graciously pleased to Grant these favourable Terms in Consideration of the heavy Charges, great Expence, dangers, hardships, and risques they must necessarily incurr in the exploring Surveying and settling this distant Country; and because it appears from reason and Experience that large Tracts of Land taken up by Companies may be retailed by them to Individuals much cheaper than the latter will obtain them from the Crown, Embarrassed as such Individuals must be with the Charges arising from the Sollicitation of Patents, making Surveys and other Contingent Expences, together with the difficulty the poorer sort are under from their ignorance of the proper methods to be pursued, as well as their inability to advance ready Money for such purposes; whereas, from Companies, they have only to receive their Conveyances without any previous Expence, and are indulged with Credit ’till their Industry enables them to make payments; a Method so Encouraging, that it cannot fail of Answering the intention of speedily populating, this your Majesties Territory, so as to be profitable to the Crown and Useful to the State.
And tho’ attempts to settle in this way, have sometimes failed in the hands of Gentlemen possessed of Affluent Fortunes, in consequence of an Indolence and inattention frequently attending persons in such Circumstances, especially when not excited by the prospect of immediate and considerable profit, Yet the greater part of the present Adventurers, being of good Families and considerable influence in the Countries where they live, tho’ possessed of but moderate Estates, are induced from the goodness of the Soil and Climate of this Country beyond the Mountains to believe that by a proper application of their Money and Industry’s they shall acquire a sure and happy provision for their Children; which pleasing prospect, Animated with the View of public Utility, will conduct all their Affairs with that spirited Assiduity which only in matters of Danger and difficulty can insure Success—In pursuance of this, several of the Members are determined to be themselves among the first Settlers; the dearness and pre-occupancy of the Lands ⟨within their⟩2 respective Colonies rendering it impracticable to make a proper Landed provision for their numerous Families; a circumstance which begins already to restrain early Marriages, and therefore speedy population.
In consideration of the reasons here offered, your Petitioners most humbly pray your Majesty will be graciously pleased to grant their humble request, and as in Duty bound, Your Petitioners will ever pray.3
D, P.R.O., P.C. 1/54, pt. 1; D, P.R.O., P.C. 1/54, pt. 1; D, P.R.O., C.O., 323/28., pp. 127–38. The two copies of the petition in the Privy Council Papers are in the hand of William Lee. The copy printed here is docketed: “⟨Petition⟩ of Sundry Inhabitants of Great Britain Virginia and Maryland ⟨calling themselves⟩ the Mississipi Company ⟨Pray⟩ing a Grant of 2,500,000 Acres in ⟨North⟩ America between the 38th ⟨illegible⟩ Degrees of North Latitude—16th Decr 1768 Read and Referred to a Committee,” and in a different hand, “9th March 1769 Read at the Committee & Ref[erre]d to the Board of Trade.” The second copy is almost identical except for some rearrangement of material and for its use of the term “memorial” throughout instead of “petition.” It also omits in the signatures the name of Stephen Sayre and such descriptive terms as “of Marmion.” The copy in P.R.O., C.O., is almost identical to the printed version.
1. In the fall of 1768 the company’s new agent, Arthur Lee, decided to present again the Mississippi Land Company Memorial to the King dated 9 Sept. 1763 (see Arthur Lee to Richard Henry Lee, 27 Dec. 1768, PPAmP), but Lord Hillsborough, secretary of state for the colonies, refused to accept the memorial, informing Lee that “no Lands woud be granted to the west-ward of the line, order’d to be run from Chiswell’s Mines to the head of the Kunhaway” (Arthur Lee to Richard Henry Lee and Richard Parker, 23 Dec. 1768, ViU). Hillsborough was referring to the Treaty of Hard Labor made with the Cherokee on 14 Oct. 1768, which fixed the line from Chiswell’s mines on the New River in Virginia to the mouth, not the head, of the Kanawha River. Although aware that there was little chance of procuring the grant under the present administration, Arthur Lee followed Hillsborough’s instructions to revise the memorial so that the land petitioned for would lie outside the line drawn by the treaty. He then presented the petition of 16 Dec. 1768, printed here, in order to “put the affair in the proper situation for embracing the first favorable opportunity for its prosecution” (Arthur Lee to Richard Henry Lee and Richard Parker, 23 Dec. 1768, ViU). After the petition was finally read by the king’s council and referred to the Board of Trade on 9 Mar. 1769 but before it was considered by the Board of Trade on 4 May 1770, Arthur Lee by the end of January 1770 had learned of the likelihood of the Walpole Company’s procuring a huge grant of twenty million acres in America, including the area being sought by the Mississippi Land Company. On 24 Jan. 1770 Lee presented another petition to the Board of Trade seeking to delay the grant to the Walpole Company, but by 12 July 1770 he was ready to concede that the business of the Mississippi Land Company was “concluded in effect, tho’ not in form” (memorial to the Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations, 24 Jan. 1770, P.R.O., C.O. 5/1332, ff. 152–53; Arthur Lee to Richard Henry Lee, 15 Feb., and 12 July 1770, ViU, and 20 May 1770, PPAmP). At the beginning of 1772 when GW transferred his accounts to a new ledger, he wrote off the £27.13.5 that he had invested in the Mississippi Land Company as a loss.
2. These words were taken from the docket on the second copy in the Privy Council Papers.
3. The petition was signed: “The Honorable Presley Thornton, The Honorable Benedict Calvert, Thomas Ludwell Lee, Thomas Cumming, Stephen Sayre, Richard Henry Lee, Colonel George Washington, Colonel Adam Stephen, Francis Lightfoot Lee, Captain William Fitzhugh, Francis Thornton, Anthony Stewart, William Lee, Arthur Lee M.D.R.S.S., John Augustine Washington, Henry Fitzhugh, Samuel Washington, William Fitzhugh of Marmion, William Brent, William Fitzhugh of Somerset, Richard Parker, William Booth, Thomas Simpson, William Flood, William Brockenborough, The Reverand Henry Addison A.M., Robert Woddrop, John Baylor, Bernard Moore, Ralph Wormeley, Warner Lewis, Junr:, Mann Page, John Alexander, Cuthbert Bullitt, Henry Rozer, John Turberville, [and] Arthur Lee, agent.” The seven new names are: Stephen Sayre (1736–1818) of New York, a business associate of William Lee; Ralph Wormeley (1715–1790) of Rosegill, Middlesex County, or his son Ralph Wormeley, Jr. (1744–1806), a recent student at Cambridge University; Mann Page (b. 1718), now living at Mannsfield in Spotsylvania County; John Alexander (1735–1775) of King George and Stafford counties; Cuthbert Bullitt (d. 1791), a lawyer in Prince William County and brother of Thomas Bullitt; and John Turberville (1737–1799) of Hickory Hill in Westmoreland County.