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Depreciation Lands, Western Pennsylvania

Depreciation Lands. Located in the southwestern portion of the Purchase of 1784, the area designated for the Depreciation Lands was within the V formed by the Allegheny and Ohio rivers, immediately north of the town of Pittsburgh. Tracts in this area, chosen for its excellent location, were to be sold to raise money to underwrite depreciation certificates. These certificates were given to Pennsylvania's Revolutionary War troops who had received depreciated currency for pay. Men who had served in the Continental forces as part of the Pennsylvania Line or Pennsylvania Navy or, who had been prisoners of war qualified for the certificates.

Depreciation Lands

James Cunningham was one of the surveyors who mapped out the Depreciation Lands area within the confines of the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers triangle of land. The surveys were made in 1784 and 1785, according to one book. They were actually spying out the land for the Commonwealth, which needed to raise money as well as satisfy the soldiers certificates issued after the Revolution. The scheme was apparently to sell the land at public auction before the veterans knew the value of the land or the certificates. Certain people in the East asked the surveyors to pick out the most choice properties, intending to virtually steal them at minimum value. Cunningham, as the other surveyors, also picked some rather good land for himself.

The average price per acre was around 28 cents at auction. Edward Bartholomew was one buyer who purchsed properties for Cunningham. Cunningham, in turn, was working as an agent for Robert Morris, who snatched up millions of acres in the wilderness. What few of the easterens realized, was that the Indian hostilities and the very act of crooked land acquisitions discouraged buyers. The western territories did not resell well, and fortunes were lost. By 1798, Morris was in prison, his empire collapsed.

When James Cunningham was working for Morris, he enlisted Lancaster County citizens to take out warrants for the Western lands. He acquired about 90,000 acres for Morris in Butler County through these men and his own brothers, John and Samuel, especially around the area where the Butler County seat was to be established. Other speculators engaged in similar activities.

It is not known what happened to Cunningham during the 1790s financial collapses.
[Information supplied by Diane Nichols.]

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