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John Jacob Astor to MVB, Tho[ma]s J[ackson] Oakley, and N[athan] Williams, 16 January 1819


I had the pleasure to receive your letter of 9th inst. in which you desire to be informed of the terms on which I am willing to compromise with the state for my claim on the lands in which Roger Morris and his wife had a life estate. In 1813, or 1814, a similar application was made to me by the commissioners then appointed by the hon. the Legislature of this state, when I offered to compromise for the sum of three hundred thousand dollars; which, considering the value of the property in question, was thought very reasonable, and at the present period, when the life of Mrs. Morris is, according to calculation, worth little or nothing, she being near 80 years of age, and the property much more valuable than it was in 1813. I am still willing to receive the amount which I then stated, with interest on the same, payable in money or stock, bearing an interest of [intentionally blank] per cent, payable quarterly. The stock may be made payable at such periods as the hon. the Legislature may deem proper. This offer will, I trust, be considered as liberal, and as a proof of my willingness to compromise on terms which are reasonable, considering the value of the property, the price which it cost me, and the inconvenience of having so long laid out of my money, which if employed in commercial operations, would most probably have produced better profits.

I notice with regret, that the learned counsel whom you have thought proper to employ should differ on one point relative to improvements, from the opinion of the learned counsellors whom I have employed. To this, however, I beg leave to remark, that it is but an opinion, and though no doubt an opinion of a gentleman of great eminence, yet it does not produce any weight, in my mind, as I have the opinions of several gentlemen equally eminent, and by whose opinions I must be guided.

In having made the offer which I have done, I make no account of the opinions of counsel, the one way or other—I am, in this respect, governed by a desire to settle with the state, and as I have before observed, on terms which I hope will be considered as reasonable. If even the improvements were left out of sight, the lands would still amount to much more than the price which I ask. For it appears that when lands were of less value than they are now, the worst part of similar lands belonging to Capt. Phillips, were appraised by appraisers chosen by the parties, at an average of about nine dollars per acre; at which the rate the lands in question, say fifty thousand acres, would produce $450,000: so that even on a principle which I can never admit, and on which you may probably lay some stress, my offer for compromise must appear very low. I beg leave, however, to observe, that this offer is made under the belief, that Mrs. Morris is still living, and that when I receive the account of her death, I will feel myself at liberty to bring suit against the occupants, and that I am not to be bound by this offer for any period longer than the first of April next.

I am, Gentlemen,

Very respectfully,

Your most ob'dt. Serv't.


P. S. I gave the Attorney General a deduction of the title, with the opinion of some counsellors of London, which he has been so good as to promise to have returned to me. Having no copy of them, I would be glad to receive them.

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Source: <em>Statement and Exposition of the Title of John Jacob Astor</em>
Collection: N/A
Series: Series 3 (17 February 1815-2 December 1821)