The truly huge estates to be seen were being donated by governments to the companies in the northern colonies, especially in New Netherlands and in New England. The prospect of immense estates, with feudal rights and privileges, was held out by the Dutch West India Company as the alluring incentive for colonization of New Netherlands. The title was vested in the patroon forever. (Background: The Old Dutch Patroons, Ersjdamoo’s Blog, November 5, 2014.)
With the very settlement of the country, the European system of land and trade frauds had been transplanted – that system of land seizure by which the feudal barons had aggrandized themselves, and that system of fraud in trade by which European merchants had grown rich. Throughout the colonies, enormous estates were acquired. Some were obtained by fraud upon the Indians, or by bribing royal officials, or both; still others by the officials clandestinely using their authority to secure vast estates for themselves.
In Massachusetts, then comprising also what is now the State of Maine and a portion of the present State of New York, the corruption of officials became so general that an act was passed in the year 1645 imposing a penalty of £40 or whipping for corrupting any public official to deface the records. For forging land deeds, the offending person was to pay the aggrieved party double damages; if he could not or did not he was to be publicly whipped and a “Romaine F” was to be burned in his face.
In Rhode Island the principal officials and elders were either seizing land, or by their official acts were awarding allotments to one another.
In Connecticut, many of the officials were engaged in land frauds. The foremost men of the colony leisurely appropriated the common or undivided lands of the ancient towns and apportioned them among themselves.
The proprietorship of what is now the State of New Hampshire was claimed by Colonel Samuel Allen, who had bought for £250 the claims of Captain John Mason, a director of the Plymouth Company. In surrendering their charter in 1635, the directors of that company had divided their territory among themselves individually; by lot, the ownership of New Hampshire went to Mason, who, some years previously, had obtained a patent to the same area from the company, the patent having been confirmed by King Charles I. Securing his appointment as Governor of New Hampshire in 1692, Colonel Allen declared all of New Hampshire to be his personal property. When Richard Coote, 1st Earl of Bellomont, was appointed governor of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York in 1697, one of the first things he did was investigate Colonel Allen’s presumed title to all of New Hampshire. At this time, claimed Lord Bellomont, Allen offered Bellomont a bribe of £10,000, and repeated the bribe offer several times. However, for once at least, the colonists had an honest governor: Communicating to the Lords of Trade on June 22, 1700, Lord Bellomont denounced Allen’s title as unsound.
The entire territory of what is now the State of Maine was claimed as his private property by Sir Fernando Gorges, who, for betraying the Earl of Essex to Queen Elizabeth, had received rich rewards. The claim descended to Gorges’ grandson, Fernando Gorges, who, on March 13, 1677, sold it to John Usher, a Boston merchant, for £1,250.
On July 11, 1681, William Penn signed “certain conditions or concessions” with some speculators for their “mutual advantage.” One of the conditions provided that “in every 100,000 acres, the governor and proprietary, [Penn] by lot, reserveth ten to himself, which shall lie but in one place.” By this condition an enormous private estate became vested in Penn and his descendants. Later, Penn’s heirs set up a claim to the whole of the soil contained within the bounds of the original charter. Years afterward, on November 27, 1779, the Pennsylvania legislature denounced the manner in which the Penn family had perverted and abused the terms of the original charter.
By means of “Orders in Council”, members of the Virginia Council gave to themselves and others nearly all of the extensive Virginia estates. The manorial estate of Robert Carter, for instance, was thus secured, embracing 60,000 acres of land in Westmoreland County, and in other counties. Carter’s possessions were so large and valuable that he was called “King” Carter. His domain descended by entail to his grandson, Robert Carter, who also “owned” six hundred negro slaves.
From these conditions, the owners of the landed estates rose to great wealth and potency.
(Source: History of the Supreme Court of the United States, by Gustavus Myers. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Co., 1912)