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Aaron Burr Resells 20 Lots in Greenwich Village After Initial Buyer Couldn’t Pay Mortgage to Burr’s Manhattan
Company – the Predecessor of JP Morgan Chase
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Available as part of The Alexander Hamilton Collection

AARON BURR. Manuscript Document Signed, November 1, 1803, Deed to David Gelston for twenty lots in New York City. 4 pp, 9¾ x 16 in.

Inventory #24022.088      

Historical Background

On October 22, 1802, Aaron Burr had conveyed 20 lots in New York City bounded by Downing, Bedford, and Carmine Streets (present-day Greenwich Village, near New York University) to Timothy Green. As partial payment, Green gave Burr a $4,000 promissory note for $1,000 a year at 6 percent interest. Green secured the note with a mortgage, which Burr transferred to the Manhattan Company, which Burr had founded in 1799. (Ostensibly chartered to bring clean water to New York City, Burr included a clause that allowed it to use excess capital for banking.) Green could not make the first annual payment, so on October 22, 1803, Burr did so. Ten days later, Burr re-sold the same 20 lots to David Gelston for $5,300. Gelston paid Burr $2,300 in cash and assumed the remaining $3,000 to the Manhattan Company to be paid over three years. In September 1812, the deed was recorded in the New York Register’s office.

Although Burr earned large fees from his law practice in New York, he spent lavishly, and his negotiations for loans and adjustments of debts consumed much of his time, leading to frequent financial trouble. In December 1800, Alexander Hamilton wrote of Vice President-elect Burr, “He is bankrupt beyond redemption except by the plunder of his country.”

Aaron Burr Jr. (1756-1836) was the third Vice President, serving during Jefferson’s first term, through March 4, 1805. He graduated from Princeton University in 1772, at age 16. His first public service was as a Continental Army officer, where he distinguished himself at the Battles of Quebec, New York, and Monmouth. While Vice President, on July 11, 1804, Burr fatally wounded Alexander Hamilton in a duel. With his political fortunes in decline, Burr is reputed to have formed a conspiracy to establish a private army and set up an empire from portions of Mexico (then belonging to Spain) and/or Louisiana (a U.S. territory). Burr was brought to trial for treason on August 3, 1807, with Chief Justice John Marshall presiding, and acquitted on September 1. Following the trial, he lived in Europe in self-imposed exile for four years, then returned to New York to practice law.

David Gelston (1744-1828) was born on Long Island, New York, and became a merchant. Active as a patriot, he represented Suffolk County in the New York Provincial Congress from 1775 to 1777, and in the New York General Assembly from 1777 to 1785, the last term as Speaker. In 1787, he moved to New York City. From 1801 to 1821, he was the Collector of the Port of New York.

Manhattan Company (1799-1955). Aaron Burr founded the Manhattan Company in 1799. Its charter was approved by the state for the company to bring clean water to Manhattan to combat a yellow fever epidemic. A clause in the charter allowed the company to use surplus capital for banking operations. Only $100,000 of the $2 million the company raised was actually used for building a poor water supply system. The remaining capital was used to compete with Alexander Hamilton’s Bank of New York and the New York branch of the Bank of the United States. After selling its water system to the city in 1808, the Manhattan Company continued its banking operations until it merged in 1955 with Chase National Bank to become Chase Manhattan, which in 2000 became part of J. P. Morgan Chase.

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