Revolutionary War

Revolutionary War William Trent of Trenton, New Jersey Speculation in Western Lands

Pennsylvania and New Jersey Merchants Speculate in Western Lands


WILLIAM TRENT, Autograph Letter Signed, to Joseph Simons, April 7, 1783, Philadelphia. 2 pp., 8.25" x 5.675." Expected folds; some browning; text clear and dark. From the Library of Charles I. Forbes, new to the market since 1955.


Complete Transcript

                                                                        Philada April 7th 1783.

Dear Sir

About ten Days past I came to this City in expectation of meeting you here, I brought all the Papers relating to the Lands I sold you. I was much disappointed at not meeting you as I was in Hopes We should have formed some Plan to pursue our Application; if we loose our Grant let those whose Penury have left no Person to attend the Business blame themselves. Mr Wharton & Myself have paid some attention to the Business, but it cannot be expected we should give our Time & pay our own Expenses. I request you will meet the Indiana Company by your Attorney, unless you can make it convenient to attend yourself as Matters of a very interesting Nature will then be brought before them. I hope Mr Levy, to whom please to give my Compliments, will also attend in Person if He can make it Convenient, otherwise by his attorney. I hope you will prevail on the Executors of Capt Callendar to attend as I am determined to give no more attention to the Business unless I have my Expenses paid, it is too hard to work for Nothing & find myself. We have every Reason to suppose that a spirited prosecution of the Business will now bring it to a happy Conclusion, a contrary Conduct will loose it forever. The Company are to meet on Thursday the             of this month, with my Compliments to Mrs Simons I am

                                                                        D Sir / your most humble St

                                                                        William Trent

[Address: To / Mr Joseph Simons Mercht / Lancaster

[Docketing: 7 April 1783


Historical Background

In 1763, twenty-five partners organized a trading company in Philadelphia called the Indiana Company to monopolize the Native American trade of the Ohio valley. In the fall of 1763, some Shawnee and other Native Americans that were part of the Iroquois Confederacy attacked a party of traders sent by the Indiana Company and plundered their goods. The Indiana Company protested to the chiefs of the Six Nations of the Iroquois and demanded payment for their loss. The chiefs admitted the justice of the claim but did not have the money to pay the debt. Five years later, when making a boundary treaty with the British, the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, the Iroquois set aside a tract of nearly 5,000 square miles south of the Ohio River and east of the Kanawha River (present-day West Virginia) for the Indiana Company.


From 1769 to 1775, William Trent was in London trying to obtain royal confirmation of a large western land grant, first for the Indiana Company and later for the Grand Ohio or Vandalia Company. Failing to obtain the confirmation, he returned to Philadelphia in 1775.  In 1776, he and twenty-four others reorganized the Indiana Company. Of nearly 81,000 shares, Trent held 7,147 shares (9 percent); Robert Callendar had 8,651 (11 percent); Joseph Simon, 4,822 (6 percent); Levy Andrew Levy, 3,097 (4 percent); Delaware speculator Samuel Wharton, 16,628 (21 percent); and Benjamin Franklin’s son William Franklin, 5,399 (7 percent). Trent unsuccessfully petitioned the Virginia General Assembly to make good the company’s claim in 1779. The government of Virginia insisted that the Treaty of Lancaster (1744) prohibited the purchase of Native American land by anyone other than the British government and that it had replaced the British government for the land in question. Between 1779 and 1783, he appealed several times to the Continental Congress, again without success.


Trent called a meeting of the proprietors of the Indiana Company to meet on May 1, 1783, at the Indian Queen Tavern in Philadelphia at 7 p.m. On April 28, Matthias Slough wrote to Michael Gratz (1740-1811) in Lancaster, urging him to attend the meeting to act on behalf of Joseph Simon, Levy Andrew Levy, and the executors of Robert Callendar (1726-1776). Gratz, Simon’s son-in-law, attended the meeting, at which Trent made a report of expenses for the Indiana Company.


After Trent’s death, the Indiana Company continued to pursue its claims and again petitioned the Virginia legislature in 1790. When the Virginia delegates held a vote, the result was a tie, and the Speaker cast the deciding vote against the company. In 1792, the Indiana Company sued the Commonwealth of Virginia in the U.S. Supreme Court for the recovery of their property. In a statement of states’ rights, Virginia refused to appear before the Supreme Court and concentrated on a constitutional amendment. The resulting Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution declared that the “judicial power of the United States” did not extend to any suit by U.S. or foreign citizens against any state of the United States, ratified in 1798. Both the Indiana Company’s case and the company itself subsequently disappeared.



William Trent (1715-1787) was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the son of a Philadelphia shipping merchant who founded Trenton, New Jersey. The younger Trent became a trader with the Native Americans and a land speculator in colonial Pennsylvania. In 1744, Trenton purchased large tracts of land from Native Americans in the Ohio Country along the Ohio River. He served as captain in a Virginia regiment early in the French and Indian War and led advance groups who built forts and improved roads. There he met Lt. Colonel George Washington. In 1760, he formed a partnership with Joseph Simons, Levy Andrew Levy, and David Franks, prominent Philadelphia merchants, to trade with Native Americans. The partnership developed the largest trade in the Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh) area and traded as far as Sandusky and Detroit. He spent much of the 1770s and 1780s attempting to get confirmation of his land grants from London, then Virginia, then the Continental Congress.


Joseph Simon(s) (1712-1804) was a Jewish merchant who lived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and was a business partner of William Trent. He was probably born in one of the German states and migrated from England and settled in Lancaster about 1735. Simon soon became one of the most prominent Indian traders and merchants, and one of the largest land-holders in Pennsylvania. He was also a leader of the local Jewish community in Lancaster, and a private synagogue was maintained in his house. He married Rosa Bunn (1727-1796), and they had at least ten children. He was involved in at least fourteen different partnerships and became a recognized economic force west of Philadelphia. Simon, in partnership with William Henry, supplied the Continental Army with rifles, ammunition, drums, blankets, provisions, and supplies. He also had a contract to care for British prisoners held in Lancaster.



This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.



Item: 64328

Price: $1,000.00
 Revolutionary War Revolutionary War Revolutionary War Revolutionary War
 Revolutionary War Revolutionary War
Revolutionary War
Click above for larger image.