6/1/09 - early american land promoters

In today's excerpt - early American real estate promoters. As with the establishment of many of the colonies themselves, much of the work of settling the West—from Kentucky to Texas to Utah and a thousand other locations besides—was done by real estate promoters exaggerating or fabricating the virtues of their real estate in order to entice settlers to take the high risks of moving. One such promoter, was Richard Henderson and his Transylvania Company, which included Daniel Boone:

"It was not easy to get settlers to come to Kentucky in the midst of Indian raids and title uncertainties, and [Judge Richard Henderson's] Transylvania Company's claim to most of Kentucky, fatally flawed from the outset, came under strong attack from other settlers, was inconsistent with the thrust of the Revolution, and was quickly dying.

"Henderson continued to promote the wonders of Kentucky with a torrent of superlatives. In June 1775 he told his fellow proprietors in North Carolina that the country 'far exceeds the idea which I had formed of it; and indeed it is not surprising, for it is not in the power of any person living to do justice to the fertility of the soil, beauty of the country, or excellence of its range.' The following month Henderson and fellow proprietor John Luttrell wrote to the proprietors who remained in North Carolina: 'The country might invite a prince from his palace, merely for the pleasure of contemplating its beauty and excellence; but only add the rapturous idea of property, and what allurements can the world offer as an equivalent for the loss of so glorious a prospect?'

"In September 1775 the proprietors ran in the Williamsburg newspapers an advertisement calculated to cause prospective settlers to salivate:

" 'This country lies ... in a temperate and healthy climate. It is in general well-watered with springs and rivulets, and has several rivers, up which vessels of considerable burden may come with ease. In different places of it are a number of salt springs, where the making of salt has been tried with great success. ... The fertility of the soil and goodness of the range almost surpass belief; and it is at present well stored with buffalo, elk, deer, bear, beaver and etc., and the rivers abound with fish of various kinds. Vast crowds of people are daily flocking to it, and many gentlemen of the first rank and character have bargained for lands in it, so that there is a great appearance of a rapid settlement, and that it soon will be a considerable Colony, and one of the most agreeable countries in America.'

"It is hard to square the advertisement's claims with Henderson's descriptions in his journal and letters of actual conditions in Kentucky: lack of meat, lack of salt, diminishing game, frequent Indian attacks, and settlers leaving the country. On June 12, Henderson had told the proprietors in North Carolina that 'our company has dwindled from about eighty in number to about fifty odd, and I believe in a few days will be considerably less,' and that the number of settlers in the two neighboring settlements to the west had dropped from about one hundred to not more than sixty or seventy. But promotion is promotion, and sellers of real estate have been known from time to time to overstate the virtues of what they seek to sell."


Meredith Mason Brown


Frontiersman: Daniel Boone and the Making of America


Louisiana State University Press


Copyright 2008 by LSU Press


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