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Hamilton Asks His College Roommate and Two Other Good Friends to Pay Their Share of Surveying Expenses for a Speculative Joint New York State Land Investment
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ALEXANDER HAMILTON. Autograph Endorsement Signed, below Arthur Breese, Autograph Letter Signed, to Alexander Hamilton, September 13, [1801?], 2 pp.

Inventory #24642       Price: $13,500

Transcript

D Sir.

            Your favor of the 1st Inst. I had the honor of receiving by fridays Mail. I should have had the survey completed, had I not relied upon Mr Brodheads[1] executing it, he being much engaged I have at length employed a substitute who is now engaged in the Job. The whole expense will be about $500. I have been obliged to advance one hundred & upwards, in Provisions & have taken the liberty of drawing upon you in favor of Suydam & Wykoff[2] Merchs N. York, for $200.

            The survey will be completed well & expeditiously. Two good surveyors being employed.

                                    I am with much Respect / Yr most obed. Sert

                                                                        Arthur Breese

                                                                        Whitestown Sep. 13th 180[1?][3]

[Endorsement, in Hamilton’s hand:]

As I expect momently to be called upon for the amount of the abovementioned Bill, I request the following Gentlemen to pay their respective proportions to the bearer

                                                                        A Hamilton

            John Laurance                        Dollars 50

            Robert Troupe                         do

            Nicholas Fish                          do

<2>

[Address:] Whitestown/ Sept 13th

Honle Alexander Hamilton / New York / Mail

Historical Background

In 1795, Hamilton, in partnership with John Laurance, Robert Troup, and Nicholas Fish, purchased 21,800 acres in Herkimer County, New York, from Arthur Noble.  Hamilton and Fish paid £300 annual installments on the bond to Arthur Noble in July of each year from 1796 to 1805.  Hamilton still owned his quarter interest, worth about $9,000, in the area called Noblesborough, at the time of his death.[4]

John Laurance (1750-1810) was a delegate to the Confederation Congress from 1785 to 1787 and served in the New York Senate from 1788 to 1790.  From 1794 to 1796 he was U.S. judge for the District of New York.  He served as a U.S Congressman from 1789 to 1792 and as a U.S. Senator from 1795 to 1800.

Robert Troup (1757-1832) studied law and served in the military in the Revolutionary War. At King’s College (Columbia University), he was Alexander Hamilton’s roommate, and he studied law under John Jay. After the war, he was a lawyer in Albany and New York City and a land agent.  In 1796, he became judge of the U.S. district court for New York.  From 1801 to 1832, he was a land agent for the Pulteney Estate of England for its properties in western New York.

Nicholas Fish (1758-1833) was the son of Loyalist parents, who broke with them to support the Patriots. While studying law at King’s College and working as a legal clerk in New York City from 1774 to 1776, he made close friendships with Alexander Hamilton and Robert Troup. He served in the military throughout the Revolutionary War and rose to the rank of colonel.  In 1784, he received appointment as the first adjutant general of New York and held the position until 1793.  President George Washington appointed him in 1794 as supervisor of the Federal revenue in New York City.

Arthur Breese (1770-1825) was born in Shrewsbury, New Jersey. Breese graduated from Princeton University and received an honorary degree from Yale College in 1789. In 1793, he married Catharine Livingston, the daughter of Henry Livingston Jr. of Poughkeepsie, New York. They had nine children before her death in 1808. Breese was admitted to the bar of the New York Supreme Court in 1792, and settled in Whitestown, New York, in 1793. He speculated in land in northern New York and assisted others, including James Madison, in doing so. In 1796-1797, he served in the New York State Assembly, and he was the first surrogate judge of Oneida County from 1798 to 1808. In 1808, he relocated to Utica as a clerk of the Supreme Court. In 1810, he married Ann Carpenter, with whom he had six children.

Provenance

Descended in the Hamilton family until acquired by us at Sotheby’s, Alexander Hamilton: An Important Family Archive of Letters and Manuscripts, January 18, 2017.


[1] Charles C. Brodhead (1772-1852) learned the business of surveying and settled in the Utica area in 1792. The surveyor-general of New York employed him as a deputy. He was Oneida County sheriff from 1800 to 1804, and he was in the mercantile business in Utica.  In 1816-1817, he led the survey of the eastern third of the Erie Canal.

[2] John Suydam (1763-1841) and Henry J. Wyckoff (1768-1839) formed the merchant firm of Suydam & Wyckoff in 1794, and dealt in teas, wines, and groceries.  The firm continued until 1821. Walter Barrett, The Old Merchants of New York City, 5 vols. (New York: Thomas R. Knox & Co., 1885-1889), 2:265-66, 274.

[3] The handwriting is unclear, but on March 20, 1803, Hamilton wrote to Albany attorney John V. Henry that the tract “formerly belonged to Arthur Noble was either the whole or part of the tract called Nobleborough & is situate in Herkermer County. If these indications do not enable the Comptroller to pronounce with certainty whether it has been taxed or not, I will entreat you to take the trouble to write to S Breese Esqr of Whites Town under whose superintendence it was not long since surveyed and who doubtless can name the Town in which it lies and afford any auxiliary description which may be requisite.” This letter declares that the survey, which Arthur Breese said in September would be completed “expeditiously,” had “not long since” been completed by March 1803, suggesting either an 1801 or 1802 date for this letter. Samuel Sidney Breese (1768-1848) was Arthur Breese’s older brother, who was also an attorney and lived in Whitestown.  Harold C. Syrett, ed., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 26, 1 May 1802 – 23 October 1804 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1979), 96-99.

[4] The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, 18:503­7, 26:283-87; Julius Goebel and Joseph H. Smith, The Law Practice of Alexander Hamilton: Documents and Commentary, 5 vols. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1964-1981), 5:410-11, 431, 513, 561, 597, 646.


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