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Vandalia 1763-82

In 1766, Benjamin Franklin" was laying plans for a second great land company, which was finally organized and called the Vandalia or Walpole Company. It was composed of thirty-two Americans and two Londoners. Benjamin Franklin was really the moving spirit in the enterprise, but he persuaded Thomas Walpole, a London banker of eminence, to serve as the figure-head.

Events of vast import for the future nation were taking place beyond the Alleghanies. There, in the valleys of the Kentucky and the Tennessee, American institutions were being planted, the foundations of new states were being laid. In the face of perils and hardships not less appalling than those endured by their ancestors at Jamestown and Plymouth, bold pioneers were forming "associations" for self-government, not less significant than the Mayflower compact.

Long before the French and Indian War cheap arable lands were becoming scarce east of the mountains; and the westward march of settlement had already passed beyond the Blue Ridge to the rich valley of the Shenandoah. As early as 1738 the Virginia assembly had created Augusta County, bounded on the east by the Blue Ridge, and west and northwest by “the utmost limits of Virginia.”

Gradually interest was awakened in the opening of the West to colonization. Between the Monongahela and the Kanawha were located the lands granted to the Ohio Company in 1749; and from this time onward numerous schemes for western settlement were formed.

Benjamin Franklin prepared a project for planting two colonies under charters from the crown. These were to have “liberal privileges and powers of government”; for “extraordinary privileges and liberties, with lands on easy terms, are strong inducements to people to hazard their persons and fortunes in settling new countries." These colonies were to be seated, one on the Scioto, and the other in what is now northwestern Pennsylvania and northeastern Ohio.

In 1755 Thomas Pownall was appointed Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey. In 1756 Pownall communicated Franklin’s scheme to the duke of Cumberland, together with a plan of his own for two barrier colonies, to protect Virginia and New England respectively. He informed the duke that the “English settlements, as they are at present circumstanced, are absolutely at a stand; they are settled up to the mountains, and in the mountains there is nowhere together, land sufficient for a settlement large enough to subsist by itself and to defend itself, and preserve a communication with the present settlements. If the English would advance one step further, or cover themselves where they are, it must be at once, by one large step over the mountains, with a numerous and military colony.”

On 04 November 1768, at the treaty of Fort Stanwix, the Six Nations ceded to the crown all of their claims to land south of the Ohio as far as the Tennessee. The treaty of Fort Stanwix, which by the terms of the order in council was to settle the boundary line between the several provinces, as well as the Indian tribes, extended the limit westward to the Tennessee River, but bounded it northward by the south bank of the Ohio River. This had been followed by an act of Parliament, supreme in English law, by which the region thus doubly reserved to the crown and divided from Virginia was annexed to the Province of Quebec, and at the time of this manifesto was under its government and control. This treaty was in strict harmony with the policy inaugurated by the proclamation of 1763, and the way was now open for settlement under the royal sanction. Accordingly, the next project for a western colony was well received.

The treaty signed at Fort Stanwix provided for a large cession by the Indians of land south of the Ohio River to compensate the “suffering traders” for earlier losses. The treaty was not valid until approved by the crown, and to secure approval William Trent and Samuel Wharton came to England early in 1769. Their consultations with Franklin and others soon convinced them that the best hope for the traders was to expand their group by including a number of Englishmen influential in politics, among them John Sargent and the Hon. Thomas Walpole, the nephew of Sir Robert, was a prominent London banker and military contractor, and M.P. for King’s Lynn.

In June, 1769, the first step was taken in what is known as the Vandalia scheme. The group, known as the “suffering traders,” that claimed Indian lands west of the Alleghenies was transformed into an Anglo-American company with political influence and grandiose ambitions. A petition was presented to the board of trade by Thomas Walpole, Benjamin Franklin, and others for the purchase of 2,400,000 acres of land. At the instance of Lord Hillsborough, then at the head of the board, the project was enlarged so as to include a much greater territory with provision for a colonial government. For about £10,000 the lords of the treasury agreed to convey to the company a vast domain covering nearly all of West Virginia and the eastern part of Kentucky as far as a line drawn from the mouth of the Scioto to Cumberland Gap; while the colony or jurisdiction of Vandalia was to include this tract and the region beyond to the Kentucky River.

The idea had obvious advantages for both sides: the politicians acquired land claims that might mean riches; the Americans acquired the political support that they needed in order to get the Fort Stanwix agreement confirmed. The next step was to block out the structure of the new organization, which was officially known as the Grand Ohio Company, but also went by the name of the Walpole Company and, somewhat later, the Vandalia Company.

A rival scheme, under the name of the Mississippi Company, seems to have been organized by gentlemen of Virginia, among whom Francis Lightfoot Lee, Richard Henry Lee, Arthur Lee, and George Washington were conspicuous, but their petition, in 1769, for two and a half million acres of back land was never heard from after it had been referred to the Board of Trade.”

Walpole's petition, however, after a delay of three years, was, through the influence of Lord Hillsborough, unfavorably reported. Franklin immediately prepared an answer, which is said to be “one of the ablest tracts he ever penned,” and in which he so utterly refuted the arguments of Lord Hillsborough that Walpole's petition was finally granted by the Crown.

After long consideration, in May, 1773, a report of the board of trade, prepared at the king’s command, favored the project because of “the necessity there was of introducing some regular form of government in a country incapable of participating the advantages arising from the civil institutions of Virginia"; and declared that the “ form and constitution of the new colony which they named Vandalia” had received attention.

To what extent, if any, did Franklin’s connection with the Company affect his conduct as a diplomat? He seems here to be severing the connection, but in fact he retained it; and it later brought him under suspicion, as he must have known it would. When Congress decided to create an expanded commission to negotiate peace, it refused at first to put Franklin on it because, as a member of the Company, he was interested “in territorial claims which had less chance of being made good in any other way, than by a repossession of the vacant country by the British Crown.”

If the west were returned to Britain, in other words, and if the Walpole grant were then revived in London, Franklin would stand to gain. No one can say for sure that he ignored these “if’s.” But the record of his relationship with the Company, meager as it is, suggests that he did. When he was asked for and submitted his resignation in 1774, the period of his major involvement was over. He had concluded the year before that part of the grant the Company was seeking, the cession to the “suffering traders” on which the Indiana Company based its claim, needed no confirmation by the crown.

In 1775–76 he supported moves to market land in America without recourse to London. It is unclear whether the moves were confined from the start to the cession from the Indians, or embraced the whole Walpole grant, which included that tract and what the crown had purchased; but by early 1776 the focus of attention was the tract.

When News arrived of the Battle of Lexington, it put a stop to all Proceedings respecting Vandalia. When revolutionary troubles broke out, it is evident from a report in the Journals of Congress on the claims of this company, generally known as the Vandalia, that the King and council had really agreed to erect the region back of Virginia into a separate colony, and that the agreement was completed all but affixing the seals and passing certain forms of office.

In the years that followed, to judge by such meager evidence as there is, the promoters seem to have kept open both options: they maintained that their title to the Indiana grant was valid in itself, and they attempted to purchase from some American authority the rest of the Walpole grant or, failing that, to obtain compensation for their claim. The rumors of the demise of the Vandalia colony was unfounded. Although the grant for the Walpole Company was gaining more unpopularity in England, it was pursued until the outbreak of the Revolution.

A Virginia statute, passed in the summer of 1779, opening a land office for the entry of lands west of the Alleghany Mountains. Although it prohibited land entries beyond the Ohio, it operated as the signal for new inroads by the squatters and land jobbers. This brought remonstrances to Congress from persons styling themselves the Vandalia, the Indiana, and the Illinois and Wabash companies, setting up rights under the Walpole grant and the concessions at Fort Stanwix, which the king had rejected.

The petitions of the land companies, were referred by Congress to a committee. The report of this committee, November 3, 1781, just after the surrender of Cornwallis, was somewhat startling. They rejected the the claims of the Vandalia (Walpole) and the Illinois and Wabash companies. While it was held that the allowance to a single company of such immense land claims was incompatible with the interests and policy of the United States, it was recommended that the American members of the Vandalia be reimbursed by Congress in distinct and separate land grants, for their share in the purchase of the above tract.'

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Page last modified: 19-10-2017 15:23:43 ZULU