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Mississippi Land Company

Founded in 1763 to expedite settlement in the Ohio River Valley and along the Mississippi, the Mississippi Land Company was George Washington's most ambitious speculation in western land prior to the Revolutionary War. The company was structured to cover the costs of acquiring and surveying a large tract of land before leasing or selling portions to individual settlers at a profit to the shareholders.

Members of the company argued that their ownership of the land would prevent the encroachment of poor squatters and instead transform the granted land into a profitable agricultural colony of Great Britain. Washington's investment in the company was part of his larger interest in western lands as a source of wealth for not only himself but for Great Britain and later the United States as well.

The company's existence following the Proclamation of 1763 was also indicative of Washington's outlook on the Native Americans who continued to reside on western lands. Washington viewed Native American habitation in the Mississippi River Valley as an intermediate stage before English colonists populated the North American interior. To Washington, the Proclamation was to "quiet the minds of the Indians & must fall of course in a few years."1

The Mississippi Land Company was to be composed of fifty shareholders and at its creation included nineteen prominent residents of Virginia and Maryland including Washington, his brother John Augustine, and members of the Lee family. While the remaining shares were available to other colonial men of wealth, the company reserved nine shares specifically for investors in London.

The company sought a land grant of 2.5 million acres from the King and was to handle joint expenses while each shareholder would own their 50,000 acres individually. In addition to the land itself, Washington and other shareholders sought to hold the grant for at least twelve years tax-free in exchange for settling at least 200 families upon it. The Company drafted their first memorial to the King on September 9, 1763, one month before the Proclamation forbid western settlement. Recognizing the presence of Native Americans in the region, the Company suggested the Crown construct two forts on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, making the settlement "much too powerful to be prevented in their progress."2

When the Marquis of Rockingham instituted a prime ministry friendlier to colonial interests in 1765, the Company again sought their land grant but was foiled by his dismissal in 1766. With the death of Charles Townshend in 1767, and another shift in ministries in 1768, the company submitted a new request in December of 1768, this time shifting the boundaries further north into the Illinois Country and dropping the suggested forts. As the Company's efforts to obtain a land grant paralleled the Imperial Crisis in North America, the Crown never made their requested grant, and by the 1770s the entire effort contributed to Washington's growing hostility to the British government.

Patrick Allan Pospisek
Purdue University

Notes
1
. "George Washington to William Crawford, 21 September 1767," The Papers of George Washington: Colonial Series Vol. 8., ed. W.W. Abbot and Dorothy Twohig (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1993), 28.

2. "Mississippi Land Company's Memorial to the King, 9 September 1763," The Papers of George Washington: Colonial Series Vol. 7, ed. W.W. Abbot and Dorothy Twohig (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1990), 249.

Bibliography
Carter, Clarence E. "Documents Relating to the Mississippi Land Company, 1763-1769," The American Historical Review 16, no. 2 (Jan., 1911), 311-9.

"George Washington to William Crawford, 21 September 1767," The Papers of George Washington: Colonial Series Vol. 8., ed. W.W. Abbot and Dorothy Twohig (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1993), 28.

"Mississippi Land Company Articles of Agreement, 3 June 1763," The Papers of George Washington: Colonial Series Vol. 7, ed. W.W. Abbot and Dorothy Twohig (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1990), 218-25.

"Mississippi Land Company's Memorial to the King, 9 September 1763," The Papers of George Washington: Colonial Series Vol. 7, ed. W.W. Abbot and Dorothy Twohig (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1990), 249.

"Mississippi Land Company's Petition to the King, December 1768," The Papers of George Washington: Colonial Series Vol. 7, ed. W.W. Abbot and Dorothy Twohig (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1990).

Links
George Washington: Surveyor and Mapmaker