[PENNSYLVANIA PROPERTY COMPANY] - attributed to Robert MORRIS (1734-1806)
Plan of Association of the Pennsylvania Property Company, Established March 1797
Philadelphia: Printed by R. Aitken, 1797. 8vo. (7 7/8 x 4 3/4 inches). 12pp.
Stitched as issued. Within modern full blue morocco box with cloth chemise.
The organization of the Pennsylvania Land Property Company, established by Richard Morris.
In February of 1795, Robert Morris, also known as the "Financier of the American Revolution," founded the North American Land Company, along with James Greenleaf and John Nicholson. The company would grow to become one of the largest land trusts in American history, with 30,000 shares of stock, each valued at $100, and a total of 6 million acres of land in the District of Columbia, Georgia, Kentucky, the Carolinas, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and present-day West Virginia. However, from the outset, the company was plagued by serious financial and logistical difficulties. The company had trouble securing loans and stock from European investors, the authenticity of many of their land titles was thrown into question, and several tracts of land were almost impossible to sell, such as their 2 million acres of non-arable land in the Georgia "Pine Barrens." Throughout the 1780s and '90s, the founders speculated immensely in various land deals and became very wealthy. At the time of the present document, though, all three were spiraling deeper and deeper into irreparable debt. Morris owned large tracts of land in western and central Pennsylvania, many of which were obtained by gaining title to depreciation lands reserved to compensate Revolutionary War soldiers for their service. In March of 1797, Morris established the Pennsylvania Land Property Company in a final attempt to rescue his few remaining assets. He believed he could assuage his creditors by giving them shares of stock in this company as security and assured them they would ultimately receive a large profit. Morris transferred the titles of the property to the company's trustees, James Biddle and William Bell: "A schedule of property within the state of Pennsylvania, conveyed by Robert Morris, to the Hon. James Biddle, Esq. and Mr. William Bell, intrust for the use and account of the Pennsylvania Property Company." By 1798, things were going downhill, as Greenleaf was embezzling company funds and engaging in corruption, and eventually, all three of the founders went bankrupt and were sent to debtors' prison. This scheme marked the downfall of Morris, a former delegate to the Continental Congress, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and friend of George Washington, who was released after almost four years but remained heavily in debt for the rest of his life. The company folded in 1872 after the heirs could not afford to maintain the company and stopped paying taxes on the lands.
Sabin 60355; Evans 32661; North American Land Company records (Collection 1432), The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.