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North American Land Company records


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

Robert Morris (1734-1806), James Greenleaf (1765-1843), and John Nicholson (1757-1800) founded the North American Land Company on February 20, 1795. The North American Land Company was one of the largest land trusts in American history. The land company had 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, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia.

From the beginning, the North American Land Company was plagued by serious financial difficulties. Firstly, the authenticity of many of the titles to the lands were questioned. Secondly, the land company owned more than 2 million acres in the Georgia “Pine Barrens.” These large tracts of barren wilderness were uninhabited, covered in sandy soil, and consequently difficult to sell to land purchasers and settlers. Furthermore, Morris, a former delegate to the Continental Congress and signer of the Declaration of Independence, sent his son-in-law, James Marshall, to Europe in order to sell shares in the company stock. Due to financial difficulties in Europe and doubts about the value of the North American Land Company’s holdings, Marshall was unsuccessful.

After Greenleaf was unable to secure loans from Dutch investors because of war and political instability in Holland, he used the company’s securities to pay off private debts. Although Morris and Nicholson were heavily in debt, they bought out Greenleaf because he had continued to embezzle company funds and to engage in corrupt business practices. Morris and Nicholson soon became bankrupt and the promissory notes they used as payment to Greenleaf for his share of the company defaulted. Greenleaf became bankrupt and in 1797 was sent to Prune Street Prison in Philadelphia. Nicholson and Morris soon joined Greenleaf in the same debtors’ prison. Morris was released after serving three and half years, but was left penniless and almost $3 million in debt. Nicholson died in prison, but Greenleaf was released in 1798 after serving less than one year.

In order to prevent land companies from making fraudelent claims on land, the Georgia state legislature passed a law in 1798 requiring all land purchasers to conduct a survey of their lands every ten years. It was a costly and impossible task for the heirs to the North American Land Company to conduct the surveys. When the heirs stopped paying taxes on the lands, the government took ownership of the titles. The North American Land Company remained in existence until 1872.

The North American Land Company Records include financial and administrative records as well as correspondence, deeds, and shares of the company’s stock from throughout its history. The collection documents the administrative functions and financial hardships of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century land speculation company. The papers are arranged in rough chronological order. The collection contains international correspondence from Amsterdam, London, and Paris (Box 1, Folder 1 and Box 3, Folder 5), James Greenleaf’s request for land patents (Box 1, Folder 5), amendments to the Articles of Agreement (Box 2, Folder 7), as well as papers dealing with stocks and shareholders (Box 1, Folder 9), minutes (Box 1, Folder 9-12), and correspondence between the company’s presidents. Researchers interested in land ownership will find useful the maps illustrating the divisions of plots in New York, South Carolina, and Georgia (Box 2, Folder 1). Those researching the company’s financial and legal challenges may be curious to view the protest of notes (Box 2, Folder 3), refusal of trust (Box 3, Folder 9), legal papers regarding the Parks v. Robbins lawsuit (Box 4, Folder 5), and James Greenleaf’s petition for the relief of insolvent debtors (Box 4, Folder 6). Although the collection contains materials regarding some of the company’s financial hardships, information regarding the dissolution of the company is limited.

Friedenberg, Daniel M. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Land: The Plunder of Early America. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1992. Morris, Robert. "Land Fever: The Downfall of Robert Morris," The Missouri Review 15, no. 3 (Summer 1992): 115-161. North American Land Company, Observations on the North-American Land-Company: Lately instituted in Philadelphia: containing an illustration of the object of the company's plan, the articles of association, with a succinct account of the states wherein their lands lie: to which are added, remarks on American lands in general, .. in two letters from Robert G. Harper, .. London: printed, by H. L. Galabin, for C. Barrell and H. Servanté, American agents: sold also by J. Debrett; J. Johnson; and W. Richardson, 1796. (Call number LCP Old HSP Vb 496) Oberly, James. "Land Companies," in Dictionary of American History, ed. Stanley I. Kutler. 3rd ed. Vol. 5. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2003, 26-27. Sakolski, Aaron M. The Great American Land Bubble; The Amazing Story of Land-Grabbing, Speculations, and Booms from Colonial Days to the Present Time. New York: Johnson Reprint Corp, 1966.

Purchased, 1950.

A portion of the boxed papers in this collection were once part of the Simon Gratz autograph collection (Collection 250A).

Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Diane Biunno.
Finding Aid Date
, 2014.
Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Collection Inventory

Correspondence and minutes, 1765-1874 .
Box 1
Business papers, 1793-1810.
Box 2
Business papers and deeds, 1795-1898.
Box 3
Mixed business papers, 1793-1872.
Box 4
Mixed business papers, 1873-1880.
Box 5
Items removed from Box 2, Folder 3, 1796.
Oversize 1
Scope and Contents note

Folder contains deeds, division of lands, an assignment in trust from James Greenleaf to George Simpson, and a Letter of Attorney from Daniel Darby to James Crawford.

Items removed from Box 2, Folder 4, 1797.
Oversize 2
Scope and Contents note

Contains a copy of a mutual agreement between James Greenleaf, Edward Fox, Robert Morris, John Nicolson and K. Pratt, T. W. Francis, John Ashley, Jacob Baker to secure certain engagements of James Greenleaf and Edward Fox. Recorded in the District of Columbia in the Office of Records.

Items removed from Box 3, Folder 1, 1811.
Oversize 3
Scope and Contents note

Contains article of agreement between Daniel Rogoy, William Smith, John Millor, William Branch and Claude Grommetier, Julian Grommetier. Also contains original agreement of Greenleaf, Pratt, Ashley and Francis that the first monies received by the North American Land Company shall be appropriated to pay the state $11877.31.

Items removed from Box 3, Folder 3, 1823.
Oversize 4
Scope and Contents note

Contains a copy of the 1803 agreement of James Greenleaf and Henry Pratt.

Items removed from Box 3, Folder 3, 1839.
Oversize 5
Scope and Contents note

Contains land deeds from Henry Pratt to Benjamin Tilghman.

Virginia titles, deeds, and legal documents, 1785-1794.
Volume 1
Stock book (blank), circa 1790.
Volume 2
Stock book (blank), circa 1790.
Volume 3
Lots, City of Washington, 1791-1796.
Volume 4
Land register for Pennsylvania, 1792-1794.
Volume 5
Volume notes

Notes from inside cover 1839-1849

Land transactions, 1792-1796.
Volume 6
Washington index book, 1792-1810.
Volume 7
Deeds, articles of agreement, contracts and miscellaneous records, 1792-1845.
Volume 8
Georgia deeds, grants, and legal documents, 1793-1794.
Volume 9
Articles of agreement, 1793-1795.
Volume 10
Indentures and deeds numbers 83-239, 1793-1795.
Volume 11
North Carolina and South Carolina deeds, grants, and legal documents, 1793-1795.
Volume 12
Warrants, memos, and miscellaneous, 1793-1796.
Volume 13
Deeds, 1793-1796.
Volume 14
Land lots, 1793-1797.
Volume 15
General index for J. Greenleaf Agency, 1793-1805.
Volume 16
Legal agreements and correspondence, 1793-1808.
Volume 17
Deeds to Greenleaf property, 1793-1811.
Volume 18
Virginia and Kentucky titles, patents, and deeds, 1794.
Volume 19
Land lots, 1794-1795.
Volume 20
Registry of lands purchased in Georgia and Virginia by Robert Morris and John Nicholson, 1794-1795.
Volume 21
Division of lands, City of Washington, 1794-1795.
Volume 22
Georgia land book number 2, 1794-1795.
Volume 23
Deeds, 1794-1796.
Volume 24
Georgia land titles (266-282), 1794-1796.
Volume 25
Letter book and expenditures, 1794-1797.
Volume 26
Letter book, 1794-1803.
Volume 27
Deeds for lands in multiple states, 1794-1804.
Volume 28
Deeds for lands in Pennsylvania, 1794-1808.
Volume 29
Deeds, 1794-1809.
Volume 30
Account book, 1795-1802.
Volume 31
Shareholders’ dividends account book, 1795-1802.
Volume 32
Philadelphia account book, March 1795-September 1803.
Volume 33
Book IX, minute book, 1795-1805.
Volume 34
Volume notes

With notes and annotations (1844)

Land transactions, 1796.
Volume 35
Deeds, 1796-1798.
Volume 36
Receipt book, 1796-1799.
Volume 37
Greenleaf Agency real estate and accounts, 1796-1803.
Volume 38
Deeds, 1796-1807.
Volume 39
Land records, 1796-1844.
Volume 40
Montgomery County and Georgia survey notes, 1797.
Volume 41
Account and deed book, circa 1797.
Volume 42
Account book, 1797-1802.
Volume 43
Volume notes

With notes and annotations (1839-1842). Contains accounts of Greenleaf, Morris, and Nicholson.

Stock certificates, 1797-1830.
Volume 44
James Greenleaf agency accounts, 1803-1842.
Volume 45
Agents’ account book, 1804-1843.
Volume 46
Aggregate fund book, circa 1805-1811.
Volume 47
Stock certificates, 1808-1853.
Volume 48
List of lands owned in Pennsylvania and expenditures, circa 1816-1820.
Volume 49
Letter book, aggregate fund, 1836-1850.
Volume 50
Agent agreements and other agent related legal documents, 1836-1851.
Volume 51
Day book, 1836-1866.
Volume 52
Ledger, 1836-1866.
Volume 53
Invoice book, 1839,1859-1866.
Volume 54
Letter book, 1842-1845.
Volume 55
Items removed from Volume 55, 1859.
Box 5 Folder 6
Charles Dutilh’s copy of Fair Mount Bridge Company account book, 1842-1883.
Volume 56
Day book, aggregate fund, 1844-1865.
Volume 57
Deeds for Virginia lands, 1846.
Volume 58
Account of land purchases in Virginia and South Carolina, 1846-1853.
Volume 59
Estate of Charles Graff, 1846-1876.
Volume 60
Account book of Estate of Charles Graff, 1846-1880.
Volume 61
Account book, 1850-1866.
Volume 62
Account book, 1850-1866.
Volume 63
Deeds to North Carolina lands, circa 1851.
Volume 64
Account book, 1853-1864.
Volume 65
Minutes of the Board of Directors of the Oriental Savings and Loan Association, 1853-1865.
Volume 66
Mine a la Motte account book, 1853-1869.
Volume 67
Shareholders account book, 1854-1859.
Volume 68
Deeds for lands in Kentucky, circa 1855-1859.
Volume 69
Account book of the executors of Thomas Fleming’s estate, 1855-1887.
Volume 70
Day book, 1857-1861.
Volume 71
Account sales, 1857-1866.
Volume 72
Thomas F. Fleming account book, 1857-1868.
Volume 73
Cash book, Estate of Charles Graff, 1857-1881.
Volume 74
Account book of executors of Peter Laguerenne, 1859-1880, 1890-1902.
Volume 75
Account book for Estate of Peter Laguerenne, 1859-1882.
Volume 76
Items removed from Volume 75, 1853-1854.
Box 5 Folder 7
Index to the original ledger of 1795-1798, 1860.
Volume 77
Sales book, 1860-1866.
Volume 78
Estate of North American Land Company notes of audit, 1860-1869.
Volume 79
Day book, 1861-1866.
Volume 80
Account book of James Dundas, 1862-1866.
Volume 81
Letter book, 1862-1867.
Volume 82
Account book of Hutchinson’s Estate, 1866-1874.
Volume 83
Account book of Mrs. Ann Holmes’s Estate, 1869-1882.
Volume 84
Transaction record, 1870-1875.
Volume 85
Estate of Annie Powel, 1873-1904.
Volume 86
Items removed from Volume 86, 1873-1904.
Box 5 Folder 8
Index, undated.
Volume 87
Index and register of the papers of E. Fox and J. Greenleaf, undated.
Volume 88
Land description and transactions book, undated.
Volume 89
Volume notes

Mostly blank except for loose notes

Land description and transaction book, undated.
Volume 90
Volume notes

Mostly blank except for loose notes

Legal exercise book, undated.
Volume 91
Lots, City of Washington, undated.
Volume 92

Print, Suggest