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The Holland Land Company was an unincorporated syndicate of thirteen Dutch investors from Amsterdam who in 1792 and 1793 purchased the western two-thirds of the Phelps and Gorham Purchase, an area that afterward was known as the Holland Purchase. Aliens were forbidden from owning land within the United States, so the investors placed their funds in the hands of certain trustees who bought the land in central and western New York State, and western Pennsylvania. The syndicate hoped to sell the land rapidly at a great profit. Instead, for many years they were forced to make further investments in their purchase; surveying it, building roads, digging canals, to make it more attractive to settlers. They sold the last of their land interests in 1840, when the syndicate was dissolved.
The tract purchased in Western New York was a 3,250,000 acre (13,150 km²) portion of the Phelps and Gorham Purchase that lay west of the Genesee River. It was purchased in December 1792 and February and July 1793 from Robert Morris. Morris was a signatory of the Declaration of Independence and a financier of the American Revolution, and at the time was the richest man in America. Morris had purchased it from Massachusetts in May 1791, after Phelps and Gorham failed to extinguish Indian title to this tract and had defaulted on payment in 1790.
Morris purchased all lands west of the Genesee River except for the 185,000 acres (750 km2) Mill Yard Tract, which Phelps and Gorham retained, along with their other lands east of the Genesee. Morris paid Massachusetts $333,333.34 (about $5.02 million today). Morris' purchase from Massachusetts was for some 3,750,000 acres (15,200 km2), but Morris kept back some 500,000 acres (2,000 km2) for himself in a tract 12 miles (19 km) wide and running the breadth of Western New York from Lake Ontario to the Pennsylvania. This 500,000 acres (2,000 km2) tract was known as the Morris Reserve.
Treaty of Big Tree
Before Morris could give the Holland Land Company title to this land, however, it was necessary to extinguish the Indians' pre-emptive right to the land. This was achieved at the 1797 Treaty of Big Tree, executed on the Genesee River near modern-day Geneseo, south of Rochester, New York. Representatives of the Holland Land Company, Robert Morris, the Indians, and a commissioner for the United States gathered at Big Tree in August, 1797 and negotiations began. Chiefs and Sachems present included Red Jacket, Cornplanter, Governor Blacksnake, Farmer's Brother and about 50 others. Red Jacket and Cornplanter spoke strongly against selling the land. They held out for "reservations," that is, land which the Indians would keep for their own use. After much discussion, the treaty was signed Sept. 15, 1797. The native Indians were to receive $100,000 (about $1.51 million today) for their rights to about 3.75 million acres (15,000 km²), and they reserved about 200,000 acres (809 km²) for themselves.
In 1798, the New York Legislature, with the assistance of Aaron Burr authorized aliens to hold land directly, and the trustees conveyed the Holland Purchase to the real owners. It was transferred to two sets of proprietors, and one of these sets soon divided into two, making three sets of owners altogether. Each set of proprietors owned their tract as "joint tenants" with right of survivorship, which means as proprietors died off, the surviving proprietors took the deceased's share, and that share did not pass by will or inheritance, except in the case of the last survivor.
The first transfer by the trustees was all of the Holland Purchase except 300,000 acres (1,200 km²), which went to Wilhelm Willink, Nicolaas van Staphorst, Pieter van Eeghen, Hendrick Vollenhoven, and Rutger Jan Schimmelpenninck. The 300,000 acre (1,200 km²) remainder was conveyed to Wilhelm Willink, Wilhelm Willink, Jr., Jan Willink and Jan Willink, Jr. About two years after the first transfers, the proprietors of the large tract reconveyed title to the original five, plus Wilhelm Willink, Jr., Jan Willink, Jr., Jan Gabriel van Staphorst, Roelof van Staphorst, Jr., Cornelius Vollenhoven, Hendrick Seye and Pieter Stadnitski. The members of the Holland Land Company never travelled to America.
In 1789 the Holland Land Company sent a general agent, Theophile Cazenove, to oversee land sales and keep them informed. Cazenove was located in Philadelphia. They bought American funds, including the South Carolina Funded Debt and the Massachusetts Deposit, and shares in the Pennsylvania Population Company. On the advice of Cazenove, the Dutch bankers and investors also obtained shares in canal companies in the years 1791–1792, including the Patowmack Canal, James River and Kanawha Canal, Santee Canal, Western Canal and the Connecticut Canal.
In 1798, they hired Joseph Ellicott and he, along with his brother Benjamin and 130 men, surveyed the purchase for the next three years at a total cost of USD$70,921.69½ (about $1,068,404 in today's dollars). In November, 1800, Paolo Busti (Paul Busti) succeeded Cazenove as General Agent. Busti was an Italian from Milan, Italy, who had married one of the syndicate member's sister. He would serve until his death in 1824. Agents with Dutch roots were Gerrit Boon and Adam Gerard Mappa. David A. Ogden and his brother Thomas Ludlow Ogden were legal advisors to the company.
The Holland Land Company opened a main land office in 1801 in Batavia, New York; and in Danby, Vermont. They selected Batavia because the land purchased was located within Genesee County and Batavia was the county seat. Busti also appointed local agents at other offices within different parts of the area. They located subagents in Mayville, Ellicottville, Buffalo, Meadville, Instanter (a small village of German settlers in McKean County, Pennsylvania), two districts in Eastern Alleghany, Lancaster, Cazenovia, and Barneveld. From the very beginning the agents were urged to keep the records in stone fireproof safes or to deposit them with banks. By 1840, all the land in Western New York was sold off to local investors and settlers. Around 1846, all the affairs of the company in the United States were liquidated and the company dissolved.
The town of Holland, New York bears its namesake.
- Kirby, C.D. (1976). The Early History of Gowanda and The Beautiful Land of the Cattaraugus. Gowanda, NY: Niagara Frontier Publishing Company, Inc./Gowanda Area Bi-Centennial Committee, Inc.
- Elizabeth M. Nuxoll, Congress and the Munitions Merchants (1985)
- Historical sketch of the Village of Gowanda, N.Y. in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of its incorporation, August 8, 1898. Buffalo, NY: The Matthews-Northrup Company, Leonard, I.R., Reprinted 1998, Salem, MA: Higginson Book Company.
- Bernard C. Steiner and James McHenry, The life and correspondence of James McHenry (Cleveland: Burrows Brothers Co., 1907).
- Amsterdam City Archives. Archief van de Holland Land Company. Inv. 333. Introduction.
- "The Holland Land Company in Western New York", by Robert W. Silsby, Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, Adventures in Western New York History, volume VIII, 1961, (downloadable from http://bechsed.nylearns.org/, click on Adventures in WNY History)
- Joseph Ellicott and the Holland Land Company bibliography of books and manuscripts in the library collection at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.
- Visiting the Holland Land Office Museum in Batavia by Donovan A. Shilling
- Holland Land Company: Selected Resources
- Advance Information on an American Land Speculation, by Peter Stadnitski, Amsterdam, 1792
- A HISTORY of the TOWN of AMHERST, NEW YORK
- Archive of the Holland Land Company
- New York Heritage - Holland Land Company Maps