The Depreciation Lands

[western Pennsylvania, including Allegheny and Armstrong Counties]


“The later years of the Revolution were marked by continual gradual depreciation in bills of credit issued by Pennsylvania, as well as in those issued by the Continental Congress, until they fell to a mere nominal value. The officers and soldiers of the Pennsylvania State Troops suffered bitterly as they were paid for their services in this paper. … In 1781 the Pennsylvania State Legislature … gave the officers and soldiers certificates payable in land …. [he] might thus receive, at the depth of the depreciation, in addition to the paper currency, a certificate for land for an amount equal to three-fourths of his pay.


These were called depreciation certificates … received by soldiers throughout the state regardless of whether or not they desired to take up public lands. The merchants received them for supplies to the armies. They consequently were largely held in the eastern part of the state. They were sold by the soldiers for what they would bring and were … sold for a mere fraction of their face values. Many accumulated in the hands of distillers and merchants who took them in payment of bills and accounts.


… The great fortunes of Philadelphia were outstanding examples of the profits in land speculation and, where great profits are, the politicians hastily gather. The Indian lands within the boundaries of Penn’s grant presented an attractive opportunity. The state acquired the Indians’ title to a vast domain lying north of the rivers, Ohio and Allegheny, and the Conewango Creek emptying into the Susquehanna.


The politicians … concocted a scheme which would have popular support and would enable them and Philadelphia speculators to seize the choicest of this land. Before the Indian Treaty of 1784, when the state's title was ratified, their project was launched in the State Legislature and an act was passed in 1783, setting aside the lands north of the Ohio and up the Allegheny to Mahoning Creek, excepting two small reservations opposite Pittsburgh and at the mouth of the Beaver River, for the payment of the depreciation certificates. Surveys into tracts ranging from two to four hundred acres … [were] made, and the land to be sold at public auction for a price to be paid in gold or silver or depreciation certificates. The survey was made with the utmost dispatch as early as 1784 and 1785 …


A number of surveyors, in reality emissaries for spying out the country for the cabal, were employed … [and] evidence shows that each was delegated by one or more of the central figures to pick and chose the choicest lands. James Cunningham surveyed the land between Bull Creek and the Pittsburgh Reservation and from the River to the northern confines of the district; Joshua Elder, the eastern district; and [Jonathan] Leet, adjoining Cunningham on the west.


The first sale was held at Philadelphia in November, 1785, and out of the total of 720,000 acres of depreciation lands, 316,950 acres were sold at an average price of twenty-eight cents per acre. All the choice land from the rivers to the Butler County line and north along the Allegheny to the limits of the district were sold on this day, and the buyers were almost exclusively the members of the political cabal and their speculative partners. The remnants of this tract were largely sold under an act adopted in 1792 at a fixed price, providing for settlement and improvement as a condition precedent to perfecting title. The settlers believed that settlement and the specified improvements entitled them to buy the land. The politicians and speculators first bought the land and claimed the improvements and settlement were incidental, and, where prevented by the Indian Wars, were to be postponed until a propitious time should come. The residue of this area was largely bought by surveyor-advised speculators and, when the Indian menace ended in 1795, the lands were almost wholly owned by the politicians and their friends, the speculators, now known as land jobbers, corrupted to “land-gobers”.


McAninch Family History NL, v.XI.n.1  January 2003  Copyright Frank McAninch   page 2003-06


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