Williamsport PA, Anon, 1792. Folio, 3 pp. pen & ink on laid paper without watermark, 13” x 8”. Two short fold separations with a few small edge chips, unsigned, nearly fine condition.
Diarized travelogue of an unidentified land agent, likely in the employ of Samuel Wallis, from 29 July, 17992 to 14 September, 1792.
The “Memoranda” records daily activities, difficulties and describes soil and timber quality of four large parcels amounting to 40-50,000 acres and one very large parcel near the headwaters of the Genesee River (West Bingham Pa). The author departed from Williamsport, Pa traveling north and west to “Connondaw Creek” in the northeast corner of Westmoreland County then easterly to the “Tyoga Point” in northern Luzerne County, down the Susquehanna River to Wilkes Barre and returning home to Williamsport.
The Land Sales Act of 1792 opened over 4 million acres of frontier Pennsylvania lands for purchase with the purpose of reducing Revolutionary War debt and to promote settlement expansion into the northern tier and west. District Surveyors, although forbidden from doing so, were perfectly positioned to capitalize on land speculation, a practice which District Surveyors Samuel Wallis, John Adlum and Daniel Broadhead were quietly involved. District Surveyors were well informed where the highest quality lands were located thanks to agents and private surveyors they routinely employed such as James Chapman and Robert Lettis Hooper. The content recorded here suggests that this was precisely the purpose of the expedition, over such a vest area only five distinct tracts are valued as to soil and timber and their relative locations recorded.
“Aug 3rd – Travers’d the same and examined the Soil, Timber, Etc. The land has many small streams….the timber in this land I suppose of 15,000 Acres is chiefly of Beech, Sugar Trees, Maypole [sic], Black Oak & Spruce and some White Pine.”
“Aug 27th - …7,000 Acres nearly together, Well watered and Timberd [sic] with Beech, Cherry & Sugar of the Largest kind from four to five feet…”
“ Aug 31st - …there is a very large Body of Land. Rich soil & well timberd Found by Examining that Mr. [Daniel] Broadhead had surveyed on Eastermost [sic] branch to the head [east of Cheenesco Creek]…
Daniel Broadhead at the time was District Surveyor of central Northumberland County, his district to the west of Samuel Wallis’s District. Samuel Wallis and James Wilson with cooperation of fellow District Surveyors John Adlum and Daniel Broadhead would acquire over 1.2 million acres of land between the Susquehanna and Allegheny Rivers by the time of their deaths in 1798.
“Aug 10th – Had my Horse shod got provisions for my route to the heads of the Cheenesco River [creek] & the Allegheny.”
Integral to the land fever schemes of the 1790’s were of course the surveyors, many of whom are little know or rarely mentioned. Five these men are positively identified here and include John Adlum, George Haines. Daniel Broadhead, Robert Lettis Hooper and James Chapman.
“July 31st – About ten o’clock I met Mr. Reese & Mr. [George] Haines with others returning to go up the N.E. Branch of Susquehanna. They informed me that it was almost impossible to get through as they had been trying and failed. So I returned with them to Kyles [?]. A footman from Tyoga informed me that Mr. [James} Chapman was gone down the other way to Phila.”
“Septembr 1st – Took a N.E. Course till I came near the [New] York Line to Mr. Strawbridges, where seed Mr. [John] Adlums party…
“Septembr 6th - Came to Tyoga Point where I was informed that Mr. [James] Chapman was gone up the N.E. branch of Susquehannah to Col. [Robert Lettis] Hooper’s Land.”
“Septembr 7th – Went out to where Mr. [James] Chapman was. Delivered him the warrants & $75 and returned to Tyoga.”
By his own account James Chapman was at Tyoga [Tioga] Point in northern Luzerne County in 1792 involved with surveying 113,650 acres for James Wilson (see our item 100234).
This rare account provides firsthand insight into the myriad network of people involved in frontier land speculation during the 1790’s. Land speculation during this period brought wealthy statesmen, public officials and founding fathers ruin including Supreme Court Justice James Wilson, Robert Morris and John Nicholson. Ironically inland and western settlement may have been stymied in the 18th century had men like Morris, Adlum, Wallis, Wilson and many others not employed these questionable speculation schemes. In doing so, innumerable land agents, scouts and surveyors explored and mapped great swaths of the infant United States. Their exploits and accomplishments would only be surpassed by the railroad barons in the latter 19th century.
Ref: Wilkinson “Philadelphia Fever in Northern Pennsylvania” ; Arbuckle “John Nicholson and the Pennsylvania Population Company”.