Chapter III

Bingham Takes Command

WILLIAM Bingham, the man who was to take over the Maine speculation, had already made a name for himself as one of the leading men of business in the new nation. Born in 1752 of a prosperous middle-class Philadelphia family, he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1768 and immediately went into business. In the early 1770’s he visited Europe, where he made valuable commercial connections and gained a good deal of experience in international trade and finance. On his return to Philadelphia he associated himself with some of the leading merchants of the city and founded a promising mercantile concern. When the Revolution broke out, the Committee of Secret Correspondence picked Bingham as their agent to purchase arms and ammunition in the French West Indies. Accordingly, he left America in 1776 for Martinique, where he spent the next four years procuring supplies, fitting out privateersmen, and, on the side, carrying on a very lucrative business of his own. When he returned to Philadelphia, he was already a wealthy man. Almost immediately upon his arrival in the United States, he married Ann Willing, daughter of the wealthy Philadelphia banker Thomas Willing, and one of the most beautiful and socially accomplished women of her day. The two made a handsome couple and at once began to dominate society in their native city. From 1783 to 1786 Mr. and Mrs. Bingham travelled in Europe with a magnificent equipage and were feted at many brilliant parties and dinners in London and Paris. While in Europe, Bingham published a pamphlet entitled A Letter from an American…to a Member of Parliament in reply to the position taken by Lord Sheffield that the trade of the United States should be of no concern to the British. A friend of Lord Shelburne, later the Marquis of Lansdowne, and of many other prominent Englishmen, Bingham returned to the United States in 1786 with many valuable commercial, as well as social, contacts.

Once back in Philadelphia, the Binghams set up housekeeping on a sumptuous scale, and when the national capital was moved to that city, set the tone for society in the “Republican Court.” Nor did Bingham shirk his business concerns. In 1782 he had joined with Samuel Inglis, a member of the house of Willing, Morris, and Company, and Robert Gilmor, a young merchant of Baltimore, to establish a very successful mercantile firm. During the next ten years, ships belonging to this concern ranged the seven seas, engaging in trade with Europe, the Mediterranean, South America, and the Far East. Bingham was also active in banking circles. He subscribed generously to the stock of the Bank of North America and served as a director during its early years; ten years later he invested heavily in the first Bank of the United States. Despite his commercial and social activities, he found time to engage in politics as well. After his return from England, he served as a member of the dying Congress of the Confederation; in 1790 he was elected a member of the Pennsylvania legislature and soon became its speaker; and in 1795 he was to be chosen a member of the United States Senate. Rich, socially prominent, widely experienced in commerce and finance both at home and abroad, William Bingham was the man to make the Maine speculation prosper if anyone could.169

Just when Bingham became interested in the Maine venture is difficult to determine. His connections in Philadelphia must have made him fully conversant with the land speculations of the day, certainly those of Robert Morris. He had made extensive purchases of land in New York and Pennsylvania before embarking on the Maine speculation and presumably had gained a good deal of experience from these transactions. The conclusion seems unavoidable that it was General Knox, a frequent visitor at the Bingham home, who approached him directly with an offer. As early as the latter part of July, 1792, Knox was asking for an interview to discuss “the subject I mentioned to you yesterday,” which may well have meant the Maine lands.170 There is a possibility that William Green was acting as a front for Bingham in the former’s negotiations with Knox in September and October, though the evidence would seem to point the other way.171 In any event, late in November, after the agreement with William Green had fallen through, Knox wrote to Duer in strictest confidence that he believed Bingham, together with some associates of his, would take over the speculation and give Duer satisfactory security for the purchase of his share in the enterprise.172 The Secretary of War considered the agreement made with Duer in October still binding and hoped simply to substitute Bingham’s name for that of Green.173 On 30 November he wrote Duer that the job was done and that Bingham was ready to come forward. Would Bingham’s personal bonds be satisfactory security, Knox wished to know.174 At this point Duer began to be difficult. He wrote Knox:

Duer to Knox, New York, 2 December 1792 [KP]175

New York December 2d. 1792

My dear Friend:

I received your letter of the 30th at two o’clock this day. I informed you previous to entering into the agreement that I could not give longer than thirty days for its termination—this was on the 20th of October last. My reason was as I explained to you that I had committed myself after that period to make another proposal. You know the quarter I allude to. At five o’clock yesterday Mr. Le Roy176 in behalf of Mr. Casenove waited on me to claim the performance of my promise (the 30 days having long since expired), informing me at the same time that if I did not decide on making a proposal before one o’clock this day, they should conceive themselves at liberty to treat else where. Under these circumstances a regard to my solemn promise as well [as] the principle of self preservation constrained me to give to Mr. Cazenove the offer of the purchase for seven days. I cannot therefore at present enter into any other negotiation.

7 o’clock. I have this moment received from Colonel Walker your letter in answer to mine of the 25th instant. I wish it had come before, though I do not consider your claim on me after thirty days from the 20th October last in the same point of view as you do; if I had received that letter, and that of the 30th sooner, I would have endeavored if possible to gain more time with Mr. Le Roy.

With respect to Mr. Bingham he is certainly solid but I have often told you that the bonds of no single person, for the periods mentioned, would answer my purpose, and at the time of our entering into the agreement, I mentioned that bonds, or notes should be at my option. I mention only these circumstances at present that you may bear them in mind, whenever I may be at liberty to open another negotiation. Of this I will acquaint you in the course of ten days.

You are sensible, my dear friend, that my situation is still more critical than your own. My last resource for relief is in the issue of this business. I cannot therefore place myself in any situation where I may lose the benefit of a certain offer.

I am very affectionately,

Yours Wm. Duer

New York, December 2d. 1792

And a week later, although the expected offer from Cazenove had not materialized, Duer wrote that he still hoped to close with the Dutchman:

Duer to Knox, New York, 8 December 1792 [KP]177

New York 8 December 1702

My dear Friend:

I have received yours of the 7th instant, and am really surprised how your impressions of the limitation of thirty days for the termination of my offer to you, can be different from what I have represented. I repeated it frequently in the course of our conferences, and the last time in presence of Mr. Flint, when you informed me that the affair would be closed in the afternoon. Accordingly you sent me in the afternoon of that day the name of Mr. Greene as one of the principals. The next day you and Mr. Greene sent me the letter of the 21st of October last, in which you definitely accept my offer and say that the necessary papers shall be immediately drawn up. However it is not my wish or disposition to enter into any discussions which may lead to a difference betwixt myself and friend.

When I made you the offer of the pre-emption of my right in the eastern lands, it was with reluctance because I foresaw that it might in its consequences debar me of a more advantageous offer. Having, however, made you the promise of an offer, I esteemed it incumbent on me in an honorable point of view to do as I did. This not being carried into effect by you and Mr. Greene, the agreement betwixt you and myself drawn up by Mr. Harrison remains till the 1st of March next in full legal effect.178 I say legal effect, because it is not my disposition to avail myself of it, unless it should be necessary to effect the sale of the interest I hold. I am no ways disposed, my dear friend, to derive a profit at your expence from the bargain; but at the same [time] I must express the fullest confidence that you on your part will facilitate every thing which may tend to my relief in the negotiation of my interest.

I am led into these reflections by a suggestion of Mr. Le Roy that Mr. Casenove does not appear inclined to treat for a part of the interest; but would be disposed to purchase the whole. I have no doubt each of us can derive for ourselves 60,000 dollars in the sale of the two millions, making some reservation as an offer to Madam Delaval, exclusive of the other townships, and private purchases. Let me, my dear friend, ask you seriously, whether your own interest would not be more essentially promoted by securing a sum, which added to what you have, must make you for ever independent, than to trust to contingencies for a much larger sum. That, if you ultimately succeeded in it, could but make you independent—this does it immediately. I have learnt from experience the dangerous fallacy of too extended prospects, and under this conviction, I wish to see the fortune of my friend anchored in some secure harbour. Let us therefore unite all our endeavors to make an immediate and advantageous sale to Cazenove, and I will in this case surrender my right of pre-emption.

If after all I can say, and advise, you will not enter into this measure, which I am convinced is for our common interest, and your offer either for a purchase of my interest, or for a division of it so as to enable me to sell out are not satisfactory, I shall in that case be compelled to avail myself of my pre-emption right, should it be necessary for me to sell my interest.

It is essential to our mutual interest, to be explicit with each other, and to coöperate in a beneficial negotiation.

You will observe from my not having received a definite answer to my propositions to Mr. Cazenove, that I am at liberty [to] receive a new proposition. At the same time, my friend, as my interest will be more promoted by making a sale for funds in hand, than by receiving the notes, or bonds at long periods, of the most solid people in America, I confess that I am anxious to effect a sale to Mr. Cazenove; this would certainly relieve me. Of the negotiation with Mr. Bingham there might too probably be a doubt, because though his solidity is unquestionable, his punctuality as a paymaster is not. This you may be assured is the case. This however might in some degree [be] remedied, by making the notes payable at the Bank of New York, with a reputable indorser in this city. If you make the purchase, instead of consenting with me in the sale to Cazenove this must be the case. I therefore apprise you of it in season.

What, my dear friend, might you not do with 60,000 dollars paid you in short instalments? Suppose, for instance, you was to invest the greatest part in National Bank stock or Deferred Debt., and establish your summer residence on the Waldo Patent. In a very short time, with your attention, every acre you hold there would be worth 20/ per acre. In making these suggestions believe me, my dear friend, I am guided as much by a warm attachment to your own interest, as by a sense of my convenience. If therefore what I say has any influence, write me so, and open the negotiation with Cazenove at six cents advance, on our pre-emption of the two millions, reserving the offer of the township of Trenton and another township for the Germans to Madam Delaval and La Roche at twenty cents payable at eight installments. It will be the interest of Cazenove to agree to this, and we shall then cut off all just cause of complaint from those persons. Her unjust claims, I mind not. Write me instantly in answer to this. Our decisions must be prompt.

Yours ever W. Duer

P.S. My opinion as to the legal validity of our former agreement is supported by that of the most eminent counsel in this city.

With what feelings General Knox received these communications from Duer can well be imagined. He had finally won Bingham over and believed that a happy issue of the affair was in sight. On 2 December he had outlined the present status of the speculation for his partner-to-be:

Knox to Bingham, Philadelphia, 2 December 1792 [BP]179

Philadelphia 2d. December 1792

My dear Sir:

Agreeably to your request, I shall endevor to give you a view of the state, and circumstances, of the purchase of the lands in the Province of Maine, whether made of the State of Massachusetts, or of individuals.

The copy of the contract in your possession exhibits the price, terms of payment, and settlement etc. etc. of the two millions of acres agreed for on the 1st of July 1791. One of the said millions is admirably situated for navigation between the rivers Scoodic and Penobscot. The other million although more distant from the sea is also well situated. It commences twelve miles north of the lands of the Plymouth Company, above the flowing of the tide on Kennebec River, and extends on both sides thereof, north, about forty miles, west about twenty three miles, and east of the said river about seventeen miles.

General Henry Jackson and Royal Flint are each to have, of the above two millions, the residuary profits of one hundred thousand acres, which will leave to the proprietors 1,800,000 acres.

Another contract was made with the State in February last, for six other townships, each of six miles square, on, or near the sea coast. These are marked in the map No. 7 adjoining Goldsborough, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 west of Machias. The price twenty cents per acre. Deducting the lots allowed for schools, and ministers, and for the settlers actually on the land, the remainder to be paid for, will be about 100,000 acres. Two thousand dollars has been paid, and 4,500 dollars are to be paid annually for four years from 1 February 1792, amounting in all to 20,000 dollars.

In addition to the above the following tracts, have also been purchased of individuals.

To wit, ist. Fifty thousand acres comprehending the east half of Mount Desert Island, and some small islands, and the greater portion of the township of Trenton. The above quantity is exclusively [sic] of the quantities requisite to quiet the settlers, who are numerous, at 6d Massachusetts currency per acre.

2dly. One eighth of a township on Chandlers River which you will observe on the map. 6,000 acres at 1/3 Massachusetts currency per acre.

3. Part of the Township No. 7, at the head of Union River. 7,330 acres at twenty cents.180

4. Part of Goldsborough. 8,000 acres at twenty five cents.



purchase of the State








of individuals



Mount Desert, Trenton etc.




Chandlers River




Union River











Deduct profits for













Payments made on the foregoing purchases

To wit, paid on the 1st from the State








paid on Mt Desert purchase



due 1 April




1 December




4 August




paid on Chandlers River purchase



due 1 February




paid on Goldsborough



     due 1 June













To be paid

1 on the first purchase within

50 days



2 on the six townships—

1 February 93



3 on Chandlers River—

1 February 93



4 Union River—

12 January 93



5 Mount Desert etc.

1 April 93



6 Goldsborough

1 June 93




Mr. Duer is to have by his agreement with me on the 21st October last 50,000 dollars for his pre-emption right payable in three annual instalments, with interest.

He is also to have his advances of about 15,000 dollars reimbursed to him in four years.

The engagement with Mr. de la Roche, and Madame laVal for about 100,000 acres at three livres per acre is not specified, because it is presumed that by a subsequent agreement, it is not obligatory. But it is highly the interest of the proprietors that the French settlement should proceed. I have accordingly directed General Jackson, to put them into possession of half of Trenton, say 8,000 acres, and No. 8, which they design as a town or sea port. I understand they have sold conditionally, on being able to give titles, a considerable portion of No. 15, a back township, for one dollar and an half per acre to fifty German families at present residing in, and about New York, and who are to remove on the said lands early the next spring. The said Germans sent a deputation to view the lands who returned highly satisfied.181

I am dear sir with great esteem

Your most obedient servant

H. Knox

William Bingham, Esquire

The more Bingham studied the situation, the more determined he became to embark on the venture. Everything now hinged on getting Duer to sign. On 13 December Knox wrote, urging him to give up any idea of treating with Cazenove:

Knox to Duer, Philadelphia, 13 December 1792 [KP]182

My dear Friend:

I yesterday waited on Mr. Cazenove and le Roy. I told them that I was understanding they had been conversing with you upon the subject of the eastern lands, I was highly desirous to facilitate the sale of your proportion in every way and manner possible, and that they should be accommodated in any division of it to their satisfaction.

Mr. Cazenove to my utter astonishment said, that until Mr. Morris183 returned they could not treat at all, and it was uncertain whether they could even do it then, until they received further letters from Europe. This was so different from the opinion I conceived of their intentions that I expressed my surprize at it.

I told them that your situation demanded [and] that I was persuaded from a regard to you, as well as themselves, they would exercise caution in the negociation. That your situation demanded it; that I conceived you entertained a very different opinion of the business, from what they had expressed to me. They seemed to say that however that might be they could not tell and Mr. Le Roy told me that he intended to write you immediately to the effect of his declarations, and that he would send the letter through me. Accordingly at ½ past nine the last evening he sent the enclosed letter open to me.

You will now judge whether it be proper for you to be led any further by the hope for [?] Cazenove. I know not whether they have had the design to protract the business, until the sixty days should elapse, and the contract be lost, or whether their indecision hitherto has been really the effect of want of orders, but in either case the consequence is the same to us.

I have spoke to Mr. B. upon the subject. He had before made up his mind upon it and had authorized me to write you the letter of the 30th of November. Both he and another person who was to have been concerned were much dissatisfied with your letter of the 2d December, the other person has flown off altogether from the subject. If you chuse to offer your entire right to all the lands as on the 21 October to us, and will specify your price and terms of payment precisely, and they should be acceptable, I suppose notes may be given of such denomination as your convenience may require, but if you make it a condition they shall be payable on New York, I apprehend some difficulty. As to Mr. Binghams want of punctuality in the payment of a note, it is unknown, and surely his notes must be as good as money or stocks. Make it a simple offer, of the nature [?] to Mr. Greene and me. As to Madame la Val, I have directed General Jackson to give her the part of Trenton and she has it, and I suppose she may have two townships more at a reasonable price. The offer must be immediate, as General Jackson has no doubt they were so anxious [to] hold us to the sixty days. Consider how much is to be done in that time. Bonds to the State—


Upon receipt of this letter, Duer at last acted. He made a definite set of proposals to Knox and Bingham and sent them by express to Philadelphia:

Duer to Knox, New York, 16 December 1792 [BP]

New York, December 16th. 1792


Mr. William Greene having refused to carry into execution the engagements, entered into with me by you and himself on the 21st of October last, I am now to inform you that I am ready to accept of William Bingham Esquire of Philadelphia as security for the purchase of my preemption on the terms proposed to you and Mr. Greene; that is to say,

That I will assign to you and Mr. Bingham or to such other person or persons as you and he may appoint all my rights in the Province of Main lands whether agreed for with the State or individuals on the following conditions, viz.,

1st. That you shall pay me for the same in three annual instalments with interest on the same at the rate of six per cent per annum the sum of fifty thousand dollars.

2d. That for the security of the above payment I shall receive the notes of William Bingham Esquire to Henry Knox for the above amount payable at the Bank of the United States, the above sum to be divided into sixteen notes and distinct notes to be given for the annual interest arising on the same.

3d. That the actual disbursements made by me whether as payments to the State or individuals or for the settlements of the lands shall be reimbursed in four years with interest at the rate of six per cent per annum, and that Mr. Binghams notes indorsed by Henry Knox, made payable as stated in the second article and divided into such sums as I may find necessary, shall be given for the same.

As nearly as I can estimate the disbursements made by me (including the sum of two thousand dollars) which Mr. Walker at my request has lately advanced is betwixt 24 and 25,000 dollars. The account can be liquidated by Mr. Walker who knows the expenditures.

If, Sir, you think proper to accede to the within proposals I shall expect that you and Mr. Bingham will signify the same in writing by the express, recapitulating my offers and annexing your acceptances, and I hereby engage on receiving the notes, as agreed on within fourteen days from the present date (or sooner if presented), to execute the necessary deeds and cancell the agreements entered into betwixt you and myself on the 8th January 1792 and betwixt Mr. Greene yourself and me on the 21st of October last.

I am dear sir your

obedient humble servant

Wm. Duer

Henry Knox, Esquire

P.S. The answers must be sent under cover to B. Walker Esquire.

Once this offer had been received in Philadelphia, Bingham and his associates moved rapidly. Cazenove was still a competitor to be feared, and delay might wreck the whole transaction. First, it was necessary to get Knox signed up. Here a minor difficulty occurred when the General balked at having all the property vested in Bingham’s name alone; he was glad to cooperate, he wrote Bingham, but this move was “unnecessary and improper.”184 This protest could not have been a very strong one, however, for two days later, Knox signed an agreement on Bingham’s terms:

Memorandum of Bingham-Knox Agreement, 20 December 1792 [BP]185

Memorandum of an agreement made and entered into this 20th day of December 1792 by and between General Henry Knox and William Bingham Esquire both of the City of Philadelphia.

1st. The said William Bingham agrees to and with the said Henry Knox that he the said William Bingham will comply with the proposals stated by William Duer Esquire in a letter to the said Henry Knox dated the 16th instant, and also that he the said William Bingham will fulfil the stipulations entered into by Jackson and Flint with a Committee of Massachusetts by articles of agreement bearing date the 1st day of July 1791 for the purchase of two millions acres of land, and also that he the said William Bingham will make the stipulated payments necessary for perfecting the purchase of the said two millions acres of land and of certain other land bought of the said State and of individuals by the said Jackson and Flint, and it is further agreed by and between the parties aforesaid that the said Henry Knox, his heirs, executors, administrators or assigns shall be entitled to have and receive one third part of the profits arising from the sale or other disposal of the said lands and premises after deducting the amount of the purchase monies, the consideration agreed to be paid to the said William Duer for his preemption right to the said lands, the amount of advances made by the said Henry Knox and William Bingham and such contingent expences as may arise on the concern in the said lands and that the said William Bingham his heirs, executors, administrators or assigns shall be entitled to have and receive the remaining two third parts thereof after making the deductions aforesaid, it being agreed and intended that the said lands and premises shall be sold or otherwise disposed of to the best advantage for the benefit of the said parties in the proportion aforesaid as soon as conveniently can be, and the said Henry Knox hereby obliges and binds himself to make and execute to the said William Bingham his heirs and assigns within three days after he shall be thereto required by the said William Bingham a full and complete conveyance of all the estate right and interest of him the said Henry Knox in and to all and singular the said lands and premises. And it is further declared to be the intention and agreement of the parties aforesaid that the conveyance, further assurance and covenants to be made and entered into between the parties aforesaid shall vest in and secure to the said William Bingham his heirs and assigns two third parts of all the profits and emoluments which shall arise on the sale or other disposal of the said lands and premises and that they shall vest in and secure to the said Henry Knox his heirs and assigns one third part of all the profits and emoluments which shall arise on the sale or other disposal of the said lands and premises and that any loss which shall happen thereon shall be borne by them in the like proportions, and that such of the said lands as shall not be disposed of within ten years from the date hereof shall be subject to the lien of either party thereon for his advances made or to be made in pursuance hereof divided between them or their respective heirs or assigns in the proportions aforesaid. And it is further agreed by and between the said parties that such articles, covenants, conveyances, and further assurances shall be made and executed by and between them as shall in the opinion of such counsel learned in the law as they shall mutually agree on be devised or required for the carrying of this agreement into complete effect. Provided always that unless the negociation with the said William Duer be perfected, no part of the present agreement is to be held binding on either of the parties. In witness whereof they have to these heads of an agreement mutually subscribed their names on the day and year first above written. It is further understood and agreed to by and between the parties to this agreement that the residuary profits of one hundred thousand acres of the said land shall be granted to Henry Jackson and Royal Flint and to each of them in virtue of a promise heretofore made.


  • W. Jackson
  • W. Lewis
  • Wm. Bingham
  • H. Knox

With this foundation firmly laid, the next step was to reach Duer before he changed his mind or before Cazenove changed it for him. To accomplish this purpose, Bingham chose as his agent William Jackson. Major Jackson was an Englishman by birth who had been brought at an early age to South Carolina, where he received the education and training of a gentleman. During the Revolution he was made aide to General Benjamin Lincoln when the latter commanded in the South, a position which he held until 1781, when he went abroad with John Laurens on the latter’s mission to France. On his return, Benjamin Lincoln, then Secretary of War, appointed him assistant secretary in the War Department, where Jackson served for two years. After another expedition to Europe on business, where he may have met Bingham and his wife for the first time, he applied to George Washington for the position of secretary to the Constitutional Convention, then about to convene, and was gratified to receive the appointment. Jackson has been severely criticized by historians for the sparseness of the records which he kept, which remain the only day-to-day account of the proceedings, though there is reason to believe that he kept fuller notes which have disappeared. Upon the formation of the new government, Major Jackson became one of Washington’s personal secretaries and served with the President until 1791. He was at this time a member of the Pennsylvania bar, very much in love with Betsy Willing, younger sister of Mrs. Bingham, and anxious to engage in any enterprise which might raise him to a position where he could keep Miss Willing in the style to which she was accustomed.

On the night of 20 December 1792 Bingham, Knox, Jackson, and William Lewis,186 a leading Philadelphia lawyer and Bingham’s counsellor in many a business matter, met to draw up the papers necessary for the transaction with Duer. Since Major Jackson planned to take the morning stage for New York, the job had to be finished, and most of the night was devoted to it. Finally the necessary preparations were complete and Jackson, armed with the requisite documents, with notes from Bingham to Knox, endorsed over to Duer as a means of payment, set out for New York.187 So that Duer might be fully prepared to complete the transaction, Knox wrote him:

Knox to Duer, Philadelphia, 21 December 1792 [KP]188

My dear Sir:

Major Jackson goes on to you possessed of the fifty thousand dollars in the notes specified and the interest in seperate notes. He and Colonel Walker will liquidate the account for actual advances, and the amount of the sum agreed upon shall also be delivered to you by Major Jackson.

It will be necessary that you and Colonel Walker deliver to Major Jackson every original paper relative to this concern, whether made with the Committee, individuals of whom lands have been purchased, Mr. la Roche and Madame la Val, Boulougne189 or any other person, and also my conditional agreement with you the 8th of June, and my letter of the 21st October signed by Mr. Green and myself.

There is a copy of General Dearbournes contract in your possession which you will also give him.

Your assignment or conveyance to be to Wm. Bingham and should be written on the same purchase, on which Jackson and Flint assigned to us, you and me.

The subordinate purchases, to wit, the six townships No. 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, purchased of the Committee, the tract purchased of John Cabot on Union River, the tract purchased of William Shaw at Gouldsboro, and the tract purchased of John Lucas on Chandlers River, yet stand in Henry Jackson and Royal Flint’s name. You will see that Mr. Flint assigns these to Mr. Bingham, the instrument to be drawn up in Henry Jackson and Flints name. I shall be responsible that Jackson signs it, Mr. Flint also to assign to Mr. B. the last contract made with the State in March last for back lands.

The Mount Desert and Trenton purchase of Gregoire stands in Henry Jacksons name, which he will also assign.

Mr. Bingham and myself will be responsible for the obligation to Jackson, and Flint for their respective proportions, that is, the residuary profits of 100,000 acres each.

We also shall make an equitable, and I doubt not a satisfactory agreement with la Roche and Madame la Val, as we are both peculiarly impressed with the propriety of their having an object on which their genius and industry may be exerted.

To William Duer, Esquire

[Date on endorsement]

Once arrived in New York, Major Jackson found evidence to indicate that Cazenove was indeed still interested and that Duer might balk unless great circumspection were used. Accordingly, he remained in his lodgings drawing up every necessary paper so that when he did approach Duer, there could be no possible delay for want of legal preparations. Finally, he called on Benjamin Walker, one of Duer’s business associates of long standing, and together the two betook themselves to debtors’ prison, where they found Duer. Jackson told him that Bingham had authorized the acceptance of the proposals. Would Duer be willing, Jackson wanted to know, to lodge the papers in escrow until the Massachusetts Land Committee had transferred the contract to Bingham? To this request Duer replied with an emphatic refusal, whereupon Major Jackson, on his own responsibility, agreed to waive that condition. When Duer then said he would sign but presumed that it would be some days before the necessary papers could be prepared, Jackson whipped out the documents in blank, and the outmaneuvered Duer could do nothing but close the transaction. When Jackson returned to Philadelphia, it was to receive Bingham’s hearty congratulations. Fearing a disagreement over the escrow, Bingham had written his agent not to insist on that condition. Though Major Jackson had never received the letter, he had acted just as his principal would have wished.190

With Duer out of the way, to the relief of all concerned, a final agreement with Knox was drawn up191 and Bingham was then free to go to Boston to have the contract assigned to him by the Massachusetts Land Committee. A letter from General Henry Jackson showed that he was fully prepared for the transaction:

Jackson to Knox, Boston, 30 December 1792 [KP]192

Boston December 30. 1792

My dear Harry:

Your two favors of the 17th and 21st I have received. I am much pleased to find things ripen so fast, and I hope your next will inform me that Duer has sign’d, seal’d and deliverd, and put it compleatly out of his power to embarrass the business any longer. I send you herewith a copy of the journal kept by Mr. Pierpoint,193 one of the persons employd under oath to explore the million acres between Penobscot and Schoodic, with a plan of their rout, showing their track, and the ground they went over, which I think will be satisfactory to you, also a copy of the information received from Mr. P. Bruce in September 1791, respecting the soil etc. of the back land purchased in the last contract dated April 18, 1792, at twenty one cents. The above is the whole of the information I have on the subject. I wish it may be in your power to form a company to hold on the last contract, as it may in time turn out a good speculation.

I am informd that Robert Morris has sold to some Dutchman a tract of his land for £75,000 sterling. This will nearly pay for his whole purchase. I am glad he has done so well with his speculation, and I think he deserves it for the bold enterprise.194 When you see Samuel Ogden ask him (not directly) for my deed of 5,000 acres, that is, whether he ever gave me a deed of the land as he promised me.195

I shall like Mr. B— coming here for the purpose you mention. I have no doubt but the Committee will be disposed to acommodate and modify as shall be agreeable to Mr. B—, provided they do not relinquish any substantial security for such as may be hazardous. As to the six per cent stock, they will not insist on that, if we can lodge with them any other paper, say bank shares, State paper, 3 per cents or defferd, but I think the Committee will hesitate to take personal security for that deposit.

The legislature will be in session at the time, and if we have paid the 30,000 dollars, and given the bonds, agreeable to contract, I am persuaded the legislature will grant us any reasonable indulgence we may ask.

You may remember I have frequently mentioned to you, that there are a number of persons who have lands granted to them, within the lottery townships, for prizes drawn in the lottery, of which they have certificates from the Committee. I suppose there is 20,000 acres at least, in those certificates and scattered all over that tract. Unless we buy them up, they may sometime or other give us trouble. If you will give me authority and furnish me with the money, I shall be able in a short time to possess myself of the whole of those certificates, and on reasonable terms. The sooner this is done the better. I have had a number of applications to purchase, but I was affraid to engage them. I have sent the books to Henry196 as you requested.

Your affectionate

H. Jackson

General H. Knox

Thomas Russell, Boston Merchant

Surety for Bingham in the Purchase of the Maine Lands Miniature by Edward Green Malbone

Bingham determined to take Major Jackson with him to Boston, and by the first of January they were ready to leave. General Knox wrote General Jackson in Boston a special letter of instructions to see that all went well:

Knox to Jackson, Philadelphia, 31 December 1792 [KP]197

Philadelphia 31st December 1792

My dear friend:

Mr. Bingham will deliver you this letter. You will devote yourself to him while he shall remain at Boston. He may want some assistance relatively to the bonds to be given. This business you negotiate for him as far [as] shall be necessary, he giving collateral bonds of indemnification. All the deeds are to be made him, solely, and all the contracts are also to be conveyed to him, excepting Dearbournes, and the last contract for back lands. But he is also to have the refusal of these upon terms yet to be agreed upon with me. Mr. Jones will relinquish the mortgages upon Mount Desert and Trenton upon Mr. B’s indemnifying him from the stipulated payments.198 I think besides Mr. Gore, it would be proper to advise, if necessary, with Judge Sullivan about the conveyances etc.199 I have written to Madame la Val by the post. I wrote you before that any recognition of the last contract was a wrong step. But the same not having [been] authorized it cannot be obligatory on me. Your deed will however secure to her at the sum and on the terms mentioned therein the part of Trenton of which you have put la Roche and her in possession. They must for any thing further negociate with Mr. Bingham who is fully impressed with the propriety of retaining them on reasonable terms. You may be useful in this business.

Mr. Bingham will depend on you for good lodging and every thing else to render his and Major Jackson’s continuance comfortable and convenient. It is unnecessary for me to say more, that you will facilitate all the objects of Mr. B’s agreements with us both [to the] utmost of your power.

Knox also gave Bingham a list of agenda to help him in the coming negotiations:

Knox’s Memorandum for Bingham, 31 December 1792 [KP]200

Memorandum for Mr. Bingham

  1. 1. To endevor through such agents as General Jackson may point out, to purchase all the intervening townships the State have for sale lying north of the Plymouth Company lands, and south of the Kennebec million. These townships are about fourteen and may perhaps be bought at twenty five or thirty cents per acre.
  2. 2. To inquire as to the goodness of General Dearbournes contract for twelve townships between the Kennebec and Penobscot at twenty five cents per acre.
  3. 3. To inquire of the goodness of the lands back of the million between the Schoodic and Penobscot.
  4. 4. The deeds from and contracts with the State to be recorded in the Secretary of States office, as well as in the county in which they are, all the individual purchases to be recorded in the counties [in which] they are.
  5. 5. Let the deeds and contracts with the State run “William Bingham and his associates.”
  6. 6. Major Jackson to see Capt. William Morris and endevor to get more information from him of the lands.
  7. 7. General Jackson will probably have received the reports of both tracts,
  8. 8. which he will give Mr. Bingham.201
  9. 9. If Mr. Bingham should direct the purchases herein suggested it is expected by HK they will be upon the same principles as the two millions and no other principles, according to the agreement of this date.
  10. 10. General Jackson will have made a motion [?] of inquiry relative to the produce, exports, etc. of the lands in question.
  11. 11. Major Jackson will be able to obtain abundance of information from his friend General Lincoln202 concerning the province of Maine.
  12. 12. In any agreement made by Mr. B., with Madame la Val and Mr. de la Roche, the agreements with them of HK and W. Duer, of the 14th of January, and the 14th of September last past are to be cancelled and delivered to Wm. B—. This is to [be] the primary condition of any new agreement.

Philadelphia December 31. 1792


After Bingham and Major Jackson had left for Boston, General Knox came into contact with a certain Captain William Morris,203 who had just finished exploring the Kennebec tract for Cazenove—additional evidence that Cazenove had really been interested in the Maine lands. The Secretary of War was able to get a look at Morris’s report, which was certainly an unfavorable one, he wrote Bingham; still, there were compensating features:

Knox to Bingham, Philadelphia, 8 January 1793 [BP]

Philadelphia 8th January 1793

My dear Sir:

You may remember I told you I had written to William Morris at New York requesting information relatively to the Kennebec million. On the 1st of January he wrote me a line informing me that he would comply with my request. Yesterday I received the enclosed from him through Mr. Caznove, who sent it, and the description of the million together. I have taken a copy without requesting leave, therefore I request you sacredly to keep it to yourself. But I thought it so extraordinary, so different from what he communicated to Major Jackson, and at the same time, (if true) so interesting to us, that I conceived it to be important that you should possess it as soon as may be.

The chain of mountains which he describes as running through the tract, on the west side of the river, either cannot be justly described, or it does not exist. For he says that the course is nearly north east, and south west intersecting the Dead River, and passing through the north boundary of the tract, not a great distance to the westward of Moosehead Lake. This course of the said mountain, would only pass through a small angle of the north west part of the tract.204

I have strong incredulity on that part of this report which describes the million tract. But the people whom General Jackson sent at my request will better ascertain the quality of the soil. I have inquired relatively to the value of Morris’s judgement of land and I find it proverbial that he takes things upon trust. Besides he may have had local reasons for showing the lands in their least agreable appearance to Caznove. I think this is visible when comparing them to the back parts of New York. The season of the year was unfavorable. Morris could have had but little time. He left New York the 22d of October and his report is dated the 9th of December and he seems by his writing before to have been at least a day or two in New York prior the date of the report. I cannot but suspect there is some inaccuracy of some sort or other in this business.

I hope you are impressed with the importance of adding to the Kennebec million the fourteen townships, or all that are unsold of them, to the purchase, almost at any price that will be demanded. I mean the intermediate townships to the southward of the million, and between that and the Plymouth claim. These will be serviceable to the million and contribute to bring them in demand.

Although I am not in the least discouraged by this report, relatively to the Kennebec tract, yet it is possible it may be bad. I have judged of it only by analogy. The lands directly east, on the Penobscot I know to be good, and I have often heard that the great mass of land lying between the Kennebec and Penobscot was good. As we have [?] from the report, General Jackson will give you every reason to be highly satisfied with the million east of Penobscot; perhaps the Kennebec tract, if it should hereafter prove to be bad, may be exchanged for the lands north of the eastern million, at least so far as should be to the southward and westward of the southern branch of the Schoodic, for I would not on any consideration cross that river.

Colonel Walker the great friend of Madame laVal is here. He says he has no doubt that you will find her reasonable in her demands, and he will write her by this post to be so. I beg you to settle finally with her so that there be no future germ of mischief or disquiet.

Mrs. B. was at the play last evening and well. Mrs. K. was there, but I have been tied down since your departure. Unless something of importance occurs I shall not write you again, estimating that you will be about returning by the next post or the one after it.

I am my dear sir with great sincerity

Your friend and humble servant

H. Knox205

Present my love to the laughing major.

A few days later Knox wrote that he had talked with Colonel Febiger, who had been on the Arnold Expedition through the Kennebec country. Colonel Febiger thought both the land and the timber good and added that Aaron Burr had been so convinced of its excellence that he was desirous of buying into Duer’s speculation.206

Unfortunately, there is little material available on the details of Bingham’s negotiations in Boston. As a man of wealth and position, he was given the keys to the city and much eating, drinking, and visiting followed. The negotiations were drawn out far longer than Bingham had anticipated. On 21 January he reported to Knox:

Bingham to Knox, Boston, 21 January 1793 [KP]207

Boston January 21. 1793

My dear Sir:

I have received your two letters of the 8 and 12 of January, the first enclosing a copy of Morris’s report, respecting the Kennebec tract. It was rather discouraging; but was happy to find it in some measure counteracted by the communications of Colonel Febiger. I believe the only sure mode of procuring an accurate and just account of the quality of the soil and situation of the country, is by an actual survey into townships. There is no doubt of the Penobscot tract being excellent.

I have met with considerable delay beyond my expectations, arising from various causes, but particularly from the interruptions to business, occasioned by the excessive hospitalities of this place, which engage a very great portion of my time. The governor208 has been remarkably civil, and full of attentions. I hope to be able to return by Thursday’s stage, but am not altogether confident of its being in my power. I have delayed an interview with Madame Laval, untill I have compleated my business with the Committee, being convinced that if I opened a negotiation with her, it would interrupt the progress of the more important business.

Make my respectfull compliments to Mrs. Knox. I shall not enter into a minute detail of the difficulties I have met with in new modifying any of the articles, but shall reserve any ideas on this subject, untill I can have the pleasure of seeing you.

I am with sincerity and esteem, my dear sir

Your friend and obedient servant

Wm. Bingham

By this time a basic agreement had been reached, and on 28 January the formal transfer of the Maine contracts to Bingham was completed. By this agreement, he received sixteen deeds for the first purchase of two million acres and two deeds for the six townships,209 the “back tract” contract being held in abeyance since the survey had not as yet been completed. Bingham paid the $25,000 due on the first purchase, together with $983 interest, and received the first deed outright.210 The rest of the deeds were placed in escrow in the hands of Nathaniel Appleton, John Coffin Jones, and Oliver Wendell until further payments and the settling duties had been completed.211 Eight of the remaining deeds were to be held until the settling duties had been complied with, according to the terms of the original contract, while the other seven were to guarantee payment. Each year, if Bingham had fulfilled both types of obligation, he was to receive two deeds. Including what had been paid and what was due in the future, Bingham tied up well over $300,000 in the speculation.212

To insure payment, Bingham was obliged to give fourteen bonds to the Commonwealth. Seven of these were signed by him alone, the other seven by him and Thomas Russell of Boston.213 Bingham had hoped that the Commonwealth might be willing to accept deposits of deferred stock of the United States to guarantee the performance of the settling duties and thus make it easier for him to obtain his deeds, but to this proposal the State would not agree. As we shall see, this necessity of lodging one half the deeds in escrow to ensure the performance of the settling duties was to prove a great embarrassment in later years. The same general provisions were made in connection with the contract for the six townships, with approximately $25,000 to be paid in three years. After Bingham’s return to Philadelphia, he and Mordecai Lewis signed joint bonds of double the value of those jointly signed by him and Thomas Russell as counter security for the latter. With this final transaction, the job was done.

Bingham appeared well satisfied with his purchase. He had handled the matter with great “manner and address” and had made a great impression on Boston, wrote General Jackson to his friend Knox.214 For the first time since its inception, the speculation had been placed on a secure financial footing. If reports on the excellence of the tracts were true, and if an energetic system of development and advertisement were pursued, sales, either in large tracts or at retail, might make Bingham’s Maine venture one of the most profitable of his whole business career.