THE ILLINOIS AND WABASH LAND COMPANIES
IT is difficult to follow the tracks of land speculators, so eager were many of them to pass on to posterity or to unsuspecting investors the property which they had acquired without leaving too much evidence as to the means by which they acquired it. In this manner they paid a delicate and undeserved compliment to the economic conscience of the American people. But "for ways that were dark and for tricks that were vain," the Illinois and Wabash Companies were peculiar. The little that is known of them leaves much to be desired, but even that little makes a stranger story than has yet been told in regard to their operations.
In 1757 Charles Pratt, then the English attorney-general and later to become the Earl of Camden, in conjunction with Charles Yorke, solicitor-general and son of Lord Chancellor Hardwicke, issued a legal opinion to the Crown in which they stated that "In respect to such places, as have been or shall be acquired by treaty or grant from the Grand Mogul or any of the Indian princes or governments, your Majesties letters patents are not necessary, the property of the soil vesting in the grantees by the Indian grants."1 On April 1, 1772, William Trent made a copy of this opinion, leaving out the words "the Grand Mogul," thereby making it appear that the opinion might be applied to "Indian princes" in America. Trent was not the man to have dug up this opinion for himself, and by 1772 Yorke was dead. Camden, however, was now a leading member of the Vandalia Company and in that connection had had considerable business with Trent. It must have been Camden who suggested to Trent the copying of the opinion which he and his colleague had handed down in 1757 in regard to India.2
With the opinion there went a letter to George Croghan signed by____________________