In writing this work my aim has been to give the exact facts as far as the available material allows. Necessarily it is impossible, from the very nature of the case, to obtain all the facts. It is obvious that in both past and present times the chief beneficiaries of our social and industrial system have found it to their interest to represent their accumulations as the rewards of industry and ability, and have likewise had the strongest motives for concealing the circumstances of all those complex
The noted private fortunes of settlement and colonial times were derived from the ownership of land and the gains of trading. Usually both had a combined influence and were frequently attended by agriculture. Throughout the colonies were scattered lords of the soil who held vast territorial domains over which they exercised an arbitrary and, in some portions of the colonies, a feudal sway.
Nearly all the colonies were settled by chartered companies, organized for purely commercial purposes and
While this seizure of land was going on in New Netherlands, vast areas in New England were passing suddenly into the hands of a few men. These areas sometimes comprised what are now entire States, and were often palpably obtained by fraud, collusion, trickery or favoritism. The Puritan influx into Massachusetts was an admixture of different occupations. Some were traders or merchants; others were mechanics. By far the largest portion were cultivators of the soil whom economic pressure not less
The creation of the great landed estates was accompanied by the slow development of the small trader and merchant. Necessarily, they first established themselves in the sea ports where business was concentrated.
Many obstacles long held them down to a narrow sphere. The great chartered companies monopolized the profitable resources. The land magnates exacted tribute for the slightest privilege granted. Drastic laws forbade competition with the companies, and the power of law and the severities
Thus it was that at the time of the Revolution many of the consequential fortunes were those of shipowners and were principally concentrated in New England. Some of these dealt in merchandise only, while others made large sums of money by exporting fish, tobacco, corn, rice and timber and lading their ships on the return with negro slaves, for which they found a responsive market in the South. Many of the members of the Continental Congress were ship merchants, or inherited their fortunes from
Unfortunately only the most general and eulogistic accounts of the careers of most of the rich shippers have appeared in such biographies as have been published.
Scarcely any details are preserved of the underlying methods and circumstances by which these fortunes were amassed. Sixty years ago, when it was the unqualified fashion to extol the men of wealth as great public benefactors and truckle to them, and when sociological inquiry was in an undeveloped stage, there might have been some excuse
Girard was born at Bordeaux, France, on May 21, 1750, and was the eldest of five children of Captain Pierre Girard, a mariner. When eight years old he became blind in one eye, a loss and deformity which subjected his sensibilities to severe trials and which had the effect of rendering him morose and sour. It was his lament in later life that while his brothers had been sent to college, he was the ugly duckling of the family and came in for his father’s neglect and a shrewish step-mother’s
In point of succession and importance the next great fortunes came from ownership of land in the cities. They far preceded fortunes from established industries or from the control of modern methods of transportation. Long before Vanderbilt and other of his contemporaries had plucked immense fortunes from steamboat, railroad and street railway enterprises, the Astor, Goelet, and Longworth fortunes were counted in the millions. In the seventy years from 1800 the landowners were the conspicuous fortune
The founder of the Astor fortune was John Jacob Astor, a butcher’s son. He was born in Waldorf, Germany, on July 17, 1763. At the age of eighteen, according to traditional accounts, he went to London, where a brother, George Peter, was in the business of selling musical instruments. Two years later with „one good suit of Sunday clothes, seven flutes and five pounds sterling of money” he emigrated to America. Landing at Baltimore he proceeded to New York City.
Here he became
While at the outposts, and in the depths, of the Western wilderness an armed host was working and cheating for Astor, and, in turn, being cheated by their employer; while, for Astor’s gain, they were violating all laws, debauching, demoralizing and beggaring entire tribes of Indians, slaying and often being themselves slain in retaliation, what was the beneficiary of this orgy of crime and bloodshed doing in New York?
For a long time he lived at No. 223 Broadway in a large double house, flanked
Astor flourished at that precise time when the traders and landowners, flushed with revenues, reached out for the creation and control of the highly important business of professionally dealing in money, and of dictating, personally and directly, what the supply of the people’s money should be.
This signalized the next step in the aggrandizement of individual fortunes. The few who could center in themselves, by grace of Government, the banking and manipulation of the people’s money
It was at this identical time, in the panic of 1837, that Astor was phenominally active in profiting from despair. „He added immensely to his riches,” wrote a contemporaneous narrator, „by purchases of State stocks, bonds and mortgages in the financial crisis of 1836-37. He was a willing purchaser of mortgages from needy holders at less than their face; and when they became due, he foreclosed on them, and purchased the mortgaged property at the ruinous prices which ranged at
At the time of his father’s death, William B. Astor, the chief heir of John Jacob Astor’s twenty million dollars, was fifty-six years old. A tall, ponderous man, his eyes were small, contracted, with a rather vacuous look, and his face was sluggish and unimpressionable. Extremely unsocial and taciturn, he never betrayed emotion and generally was destitute of feeling. He took delight in affecting a carelessly-dressed, slouchy appearance as though deliberately notifying all concerned
The impressive fortune that William B. Astor left was mainly bequeathed in about equal parts to his sons John Jacob II. and William. These scions, by inheritance from various family sources, intermarriage with other rich families, or both, were already rich. Furthermore, having the backing of their father’s immense riches, they had enjoyed singularly exceptional opportunities for amassing wealth on their own account.
In 1853 William Astor had married one of the Schermerhorn family. The Schermerhorns
The founding and aggrandizement of other great private fortunes from land were accompanied by methods closely resembling, or identical with, those that the Astors employed.
Next to the Astors’ estate the Goelet landed possessions are perhaps the largest urban estates in the United States in value. The landed property of the Goelet family on Manhattan Island alone is estimated at fully $200,000,000.
THE GOELET FORTUNE.
The founder of the Goelet fortune was Peter Goelet, an ironmonger during and
In close similarity to the start of the Astors and many other founders of great land fortunes, commerce was the original means by which Marshall Field obtained the money which he invested in land. Consecutively came a ramification of other revenue-producing properties. Once in motion, the process worked in the same admixed, interconnected way as it did in the amassing of contemporary large fortunes. It may be literally compared to hundreds of golden streams flowing from as many sources to one
But if only to give at the outset a translucent example of Field’s method’s in the management of industrial corporations, it is well to advert here to the operations of one of his many properties – the Pullman Company, otherwise called the „Palace Car Trust.” This is a necessary part of the exposition in order to bring out more of the methods by which Field was enabled to fling together his vast fortune.
The artificial creation of the law called the corporation was