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Pennsylvania Population Company papers


Held at: Historical Society of Pennsylvania [Contact Us]1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19107

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

The Pennsylvania Population Company was established in 1792 by several prominent east coast entrepreneurs, who believed they could profit from land speculation in the western area of Pennsylvania. After the General Assembly of Pennsylvania passed the Act of April 3, 1792, unsettled land in particular areas could be claimed in one of two ways, either by traveling to the available land tracts directly and making settlements or improvements to the land, or by purchasing warrants at the land office in Philadelphia and having the land in the warrants officially surveyed. From 1780-1795 there were several violent conflicts with the Native Americans in western Pennsylvania and many potential settlers were prevented from making improvements in order to lay claim to the land as a result. Wealthy capitalists who lived near the land office in Philadelphia, however, were able to purchase several warrants as soon as the Act of April 3, 1792 went into effect. John Nicholson, Comptroller General of Pennsylvania in 1792, was able to obtain 640 warrants, using a different fictional name for each one. The dishonest and suspicious nature of this practice was disregarded by the courts in Pennsylvania, and prior to paying for the warrants, Nicholson transferred them to the newly formed Pennsylvania Population Company, of which he was the president and largest shareholder. Over the next couple of years, an additional 500 warrants were purchased by the Population Company using even more fictitious names. In the end, the company owned almost half a million acres of land in what today largely consists of Allegheny, Mercer, Erie, Crawford, and Beaver counties.

The public purpose of the Population Company was to promote and assist with the settlement of the frontier land they had purchased, however, its real purpose was to generate a profit by purchasing the land and retaining it until its value increased. Several government officials, politicians, and military personnel were involved as shareholders and managers in the early history of the company including Robert Morris, Supreme Court justice James Wilson, Theophilus Casenove, General William Irvine, Tench Francis, Aaron Burr, Captain Ebenezer Denny, George Mead, and John Hoge. Many of these men were western Pennsylvanians, who were familiar with the land owned by the Population Company, but by 1797 the westerners had been replaced by wealthier easterners such as John Field, William Crammond, James Gibson, and Henry Drinker Jr. James Gibson would later act as both president and legal advisor for the company. It should be noted that the Pennsylvania Population Company and the Holland Land Company during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth cetury were closely linked through Theophilus Casenove, who was a major shareholder in the Population Company, and also an agent for the Holland Land Company. Both companies held land tracts in western Pennsylvania, and both took out a large number of warrants in the same manner.

The Act of 1792 stated that once land had been purchased, improvements or settlements had to be made on the land within two years, and the Population Company turned a large profit by selling its land to settlers, especially during the large influx of settlers during 1797 and 1798. Nevertheless, there was still land available that needed to be sold due to the two year time limit. Because the Population Company wished to hold onto the land it had not yet sold, the company found ways to circumvent the law and postpone providing proof of settlement to the government, while seeking an extension on the two year limit. Around 1800 when the Republicans became the majority party in the government over the Federalists, the government ceased toleration of land speculation companies sitting on warrants and instead supported the settlers, or “intruders,” out in the frontier who were actually settling and making improvements to the land. This forced the Population Company to compromise with and sign over deeds of certain land tracts to many of the intruders. In hopes of overturning the decisions made by the government, the Population Company and the Holland Land Company together pled their case to the courts, contesting several land titles, which prevented people from settling the land for years. By 1805, many of these cases had been settled and sale of land could resume, but the volume never again matched what it had been in the final years of the eighteenth century. With profits lacking and people losing interest in the company, it was decided to liquidate all of its assets in an auction organized by Enoch Marvin and Judah Colt at the end of June 1812. Judge William Griffith of New Jersey and J.B. Wallace ended up purchasing a large amount of the remaining land tracts.

The Pennsylvania Population Company papers (1785-1838) are mostly made up of stock certificates and transfers, deeds, and applications for land. There are also some patents signed by Governor Thomas Mifflin, administrative and financial records, lists of land tracts, a catalog of the company’s sales from 1812, miscellaneous accounts, agreements, and contracts. Several documents relate to Thomas Astley, a large shareholder in the company, including a colored map of land owned by him, and correspondence between Astley and Enoch Marvin. The collection documents several of the names involved with the company through its stock certificates and deeds. Documentation of the company’s administration and finances is sporadic and does not make up a large part of the collection.

These documents may be of interest to researchers studying eighteenth and nineteenth century land speculation companies, or the history of the Pennsylvania Population Company. The lists of land tracts may be of interest to people researching land ownership. Additionally, the collection could be relevant to people studying the history of settlement in western Pennsylvania.

Hale, R. Nelson. “The Pennsylvania Population Company.” Pennsylvania History 16, no. 2 (April 1949): 122-130. Munger, Donna B. Pennsylvania Land Records: A History and Guide for Research. Lanham: SR Books, 1993. Sakolski, A. M. The Great American Land Bubble: The Amazing Story of Land-Grabbing, Speculations, and Booms from Colonial Days to the Present Time. New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1932.,%20Speculations,%20and%20Booms%20from%20Colonial%20Days%20to%20the%20Present%20Times.pdf.

Gift of James Gibson.

The papers in each box were thought to be arranged in chronological order before processing, so the folders were labeled and numbered in that order. However, during processing, some further dates were found on materials and have been added to their folder labels. This has resulted in the arrangement not being in strict chronological order, but more of a rough chronological order.

Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Sarah Leu.
Finding Aid Date
; 2013.
Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research.

Collection Inventory

Applications (deeds poll), 1792, 1794.
Box 1 Folder 1
Applications (deeds poll), 1792 August-September.
Box 1 Folder 2
Stock certificates, 1793 February.
Box 1 Folder 3
Stock certificates, 1794 March.
Box 1 Folder 4
Stock certificates, 1794 March.
Box 1 Folder 5
Stock certificates, 1794 March.
Box 1 Folder 6
Stock certificates, 1794 November.
Box 1 Folder 7
Stock certificates, 1794 November.
Box 1 Folder 8
Stock certificates, 1794 November.
Box 1 Folder 9
Stock certificates, 1794 November.
Box 1 Folder 10
Contracts, 1793-1794.
Box 1 Folder 11
Deeds, 1799, 1813.
Box 2
Correspondence - Enoch Marvin to Thomas Astley, 1809, 1813-1814.
Box 3 Folder 1
Correspondence - Enoch Marvin to Thomas Astley, 1815-1818.
Box 3 Folder 2
Correspondence - Enoch Marvin to Thomas Astley, 1819-1824.
Box 3 Folder 3
Miscellaneous financial and administrative records, 1832-1833, undated.
Box 3 Folder 4
List of tracts of land, 1798-1821, undated.
Box 3 Folder 5
List of tracts of land, 1805, 1807, undated.
Box 3 Folder 6
Stock certificates, 1794 March.
Box 3 Folder 7
Copies of patents from 1795, 1815, 1827.
Box 3 Folder 8
Shares owned by John Nicholson transferred to J. Crammond, 1794 March, October.
Box 3 Folder 9
Shares owned by John Nicholson transferred to J. Crammond, 1794 October.
Box 3 Folder 10
Shares owned by John Nicholson transferred to J. Crammond, 1794 October.
Box 3 Folder 11
Colored map of land owned by Thomas Astley, undated.
Box 3
General Physical Description note

The map is folded many times and unfoldered. It is also very brittle and fragile.

Stock assignment book, 1794-1811.
Box 3
Miscellaneous, 1790.
Box 4 Folder 1
Miscellaneous, 1792.
Box 4 Folder 2
Miscellaneous, 1785, 1794.
Box 4 Folder 3
Miscellaneous, 1795-1797.
Box 4 Folder 4
Miscellaneous, 1797-1805.
Box 4 Folder 5
Miscellaneous, 1804, 1807-1811.
Box 4 Folder 6
Miscellaneous, 1812-1813.
Box 4 Folder 7
Miscellaneous, 1813.
Box 4 Folder 8
Miscellaneous, 1813.
Box 4 Folder 9
Miscellaneous, 1812-1821.
Box 4 Folder 10
Miscellaneous, 1815.
Box 4 Folder 11
Miscellaneous, 1812-1821.
Box 4 Folder 12
Miscellaneous, 1829.
Box 4 Folder 13
Miscellaneous, 1834, 1837.
Box 4 Folder 14
Miscellaneous, 1837-1838.
Box 4 Folder 15
Deeds: B-C, 1792.
Box 5 Folder 1
Deeds: D-F, 1792.
Box 5 Folder 2
Deeds: G-H, 1792.
Box 5 Folder 3
Deeds: I-J, 1792.
Box 5 Folder 4
Deeds: M, 1792.
Box 5 Folder 5
Deeds: N, 1792.
Box 5 Folder 6
Deeds: P, 1792.
Box 5 Folder 7
Deeds: R-S, 1792.
Box 5 Folder 8
Deeds: T-V, 1792.
Box 5 Folder 9
Stock certificates for Robert Morris, 1794.
Box 5 Folder 10
Stock certificates for Robert Morris, 1794.
Box 5 Folder 11
Stock certificates for Robert Morris, 1794.
Box 5 Folder 12
Deeds poll: A, 1792.
Box 6 Folder 1
Deeds poll: B, 1792.
Box 6 Folder 2
Deeds poll: C, 1792, 1797.
Box 6 Folder 3
Deeds poll: Da-De, 1792.
Box 6 Folder 4
Deeds poll: Do-Du, 1792.
Box 6 Folder 5
Deeds poll: E, 1792.
Box 6 Folder 6
Deeds poll: F, 1792.
Box 6 Folder 7
Deeds poll: G, 1792.
Box 6 Folder 8
Deeds poll: H, 1792.
Box 6 Folder 9
Deeds poll: J, 1792.
Box 6 Folder 10
Deeds poll: K-L, 1792.
Box 6 Folder 11
Deeds poll: M, 1792.
Box 6 Folder 12

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