France and America in the Revolutionary Era: The Life of Jacques-Donatien Leray de Chaumont, 1725-1803

By Thomas J. Schaeper | Go to book overview
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10
FINANCIAL RUIN

The vast extent of Chaumont's commercial empire made its eventual disintegration all the more spectacular. His involvement in the grain trade and his commerce with India had led to some substantial losses from the late 1760s to the mid- 1770s. It was his business affairs with America, however, that caused his final and complete bankruptcy.


LAND SPECULATIONS

One source of loss was his land investments in the New World. At different times during Franklin's residence in Passy Chaumont expressed the hope that he and his family might move to America. Soon after Franklin settled in the Hôtel de Valentinois, his host even mentioned that the United States might give him land rather than money in return for housing the commissioners. Nothing ever came of these ideas, but Chaumont did invest in five different properties or stretches of land in America.

Two of these involved land companies. Most of America's leading politicians and businessmen in that era speculated in territories along the eastern seaboard and, even more, west of the original 13 colonies. There was nothing shady or unusual in this, provided that no fraud was involved. George Washington himself invested money in such ventures, some of which had conflicting claims to parts of the western territories. These land companies usually obtained their supposed rights through vague, grandiose treaties signed with various Indian tribes.

Added to the rivalry between these private groups was the fact that several of the state governments themselves disagreed with

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