1836: Capt. Alden Gifford to Mark Healey & B. D. Whitney

What Capt. Alden Gifford might have looked like

This letter was written by Capt. Alden Gifford (1788-1863) who was an agent for the Boston & New York Chickasaw Land Company. This company was one of several representing investors/speculators from New York, Boston, and other New England villages who were involved with the auction of cheap Indian lands in northern Mississippi as a result of cessions of land by the Choctaw and Chickasaw.

Gifford wrote the letter to Mark Healey (1791-1876) and B. D. Whitney, who were successful Boston businessmen and the principal officers of the Boston & New York Chickasaw Land Company. Healey was in the shipping and importing business, and served as the first president of Merchants’ Bank, president of the Atlantic Mutual (insurance) Fund, and as a railroad director. Like most businessmen who speculated in land, both Healey and Whitney suffered a financial reversal during the Panic of 1837, leading to bankruptcy.

Capt. Alden Gifford was a Boston mariner who spent most of his career in the Boston harbor supervising the construction of vessels. By 1854, it was said that he had supervised the construction and equipment of 54 ships. Later in life, he applied his knowledge of sea-going vessels as an underwriter. His employment as an agent for the aforementioned land investment company may have come about through an association with Mark Healey. In this letter, Gifford urges Healey and Whitney to be patient in selling the company’s lands, believing they will fetch a higher price if they are held longer due to the internal improvements currently underway in Western Tennessee.

Gifford’s unfortunate demise was posted in the Boston Post on 21 December 1863:

Sudden death of a Boston Shipmaster

Capt. Alden Gifford, a well known shipmaster and agent of underwriters, died suddenly, Thursday evening, at the National Hotel in this city. He had been spending the evening in this city with some friends, and was on his way home to Chelsea in the horse cars, in company with his daughter and some personal friends, and was attacked while passing through Haymarket Square. On being taken from the car to the hotel near by he died in a short time. He was a highly esteemed citizen. 

Stampless Letter

Addressed to Mark Healey & B. D. Whitney, Esqrs., Boston, Massachusetts

Jackson, Tennessee
October 28th 1836

Mark Healey and B. D. Whitney, Esqrs.

I have nothing of interest to communicate. I have found much difficulty in obtaining efficient persons to complete the examination of our lands. However, I have so far secured an arrangement with a Major Killingsworth & a Mr. Gilchrest that they are to meet me at Trenton tomorrow & go with me to the Mississippi River & complete the examination of our lands there, previous to the rise of the water. No time shall be lost in having the examination of all our lands completed. Until then, it would be folly to offer them. It is, I think, to be regretted that they are offered at all at this time. Emigration is now passing over them to Mississippi. Notwithstanding, some of them may be sold.

The day is not distant when a three fold value will be attached to the lands in this District. In point of strength and durability of soil, they are not surpassed by but few lands in the country & much surpass most of the Chickasaw Lands in both & most of them lay well for cultivation. The crops of cotton this year will surpass any preceding one by one hundred percent. I do not wish to be understood as saying that this is a first rate cotton section — but for tobacco, wheat, and corn, & for stock farms, it is hard to beat. All their crops are selling for high prices and everything is in a flourishing state.

The towns have of late taken a start. This place is in a rapid state of improvement & would be much more so only for the want of mechanics to carry on the works. Materials for several large buildings have been collected for months — one of which is a large female academy. One of the most extensive publick houses in the state is being built here.

Twenty thousand dollars has been appropriated during the late session of the Legislature for surveying the route of a central railroad through the middle of the state, commencing at some point on the Mississippi River & running eastward — the survey & location to commence immediately. Now they cannot go amiss of our lands any way that they can fix it, but must regularly pass over many of the tracts & enhance the value of all.

The New Yorker’s have commenced operations in this district. 20,000 acres of lands was purchased a few days since by a Mr. Listo — agent for one of their companies at $2.50 per acre. I am told that they are much better pleased with the operation & I have little doubt but that it will turn out a good one. This purchase, I am told, will not compare with ours — the lands not so desirable & of a late location. I had some serious thoughts of making or siting some ___ to make a pass at them with our land at about $3.50 per acre. This I should not have thought of only that some of the stock holders [are] anxious to have sales made. Depend on it, gentlemen, you are going too fast in this business to make the most of it. Let the internal improvements that is commencing get underway. The emigration that is now passing will soon be checked by the high price of land below. The Kentuckians are beginning to find out that this section of country is more desirable for their stock farms than theirs. One of those stock raising farms a short time since made a purchase of a plantation to the N. & E. of this for which he paid $35 per acre.

I intend seeing all our river lands as soon as circumstances will admit. I spent a night with Calvin Dickins. He assured me that everything regarding the titles was [correct] & if not so, should be made perfectly straight or the money & interest refunded. I think that I shall be able to procure copies of the original grants with the surveys. I intend to have a map of each county with the different tracts marked off — at least ours.

I shall necessarily be absent from this place for two or three weeks at a time during which you may not hear from me. I should like to know how our stock is going that I have any to sell. The day is now gone by when any circumstance whatever can prevent (Earthquake & Con______ Exception) this operation from meeting the most sanguine expectations of all interests.

I am gentlemen, your most obedient servant, — Alden Gifford


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