Alexander Macomb (merchant)

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Alexander Macomb (1748–1831) was a prosperous American merchant and land speculator, who purchased nearly four million acres from New York after the American Revolutionary War. A Loyalist sympathizer, he operated from New York City after the war. Before the New York purchase, he had speculated on land in North Carolina, Kentucky and Georgia. He was unable to sell the New York land fast enough to meet his debts and never regained his fortune.

Early life and education[edit]

Alexander Macomb was born in Ballynure, a tiny rural village in County Antrim, Ireland, in 1748. His merchant father John Macomb had immigrated from Ireland to New York about 1742, and removed to Albany, New York, in 1745. Macomb and his mother joined his father there. Macomb and his brother William also became merchants and fur traders, operating around the Great Lakes as far west as Detroit.


In Detroit, Michigan during the American Revolution, Macomb and his brother William continued their fur trade with British and Native Americans. They traded supplies in exchange for furs.

After the war, Macomb moved to New York City, where he became a successful land speculator and shipping magnate. He purchased large tracts of land in Georgia, Kentucky, and North Carolina for resale. In 1788, he built a city house on Broadway. In 1790 the US government leased the New York City house to serve as the second presidential mansion, occupied by George Washington after the first presidential mansion on Cherry Street proved too small.

In 1791, Alexander Macomb purchased the largest tract yet, from the State of New York, 3,670,715 acres (14,855 km²), since known as "Macomb's Purchase." The tract included much of northern New York, along the St. Lawrence River and eastern Lake Ontario, including the Thousand Islands, at a cost of about twelve cents an acre. It was land which the state took control of after the British ceded their and Iroquois lands to the United States. Four of the six Iroquois tribes had been allied with the British.

The purchase was divided into ten large townships. From this purchase are derived the deeds for all the lands that are now included in Lewis, Jefferson, St. Lawrence, and Franklin counties, as well as portions of Herkimer and Oswego counties.

Macomb's enterprise was a failure; contrary to his expectations, sales of land did not keep pace with the due dates for payments. During the Panic of 1792, which further depressed land sales, Macomb was taken to debtor's prison with over $300,000 in debt. He never regained his fortune. Some land speculators later made money from their turnover of New York lands.

Marriage and family[edit]

Portrait of the subject's son and namesake, Major General Alexander Macomb (1782-1841).

On May 4, 1773, Macomb married Mary Catherine Navarre, daughter of Robert de Navarre, the subdélégé Detroit under the French.[1] They had a large family, including a son who had an illustrious military career: Major General Alexander Macomb (1782–1841).[2] Six of their sons served during the War of 1812.

Their daughter Jane Macomb married Hon. Robert Kennedy, a Scotsman who was brother of the Marquess of Ailsa.[3] The Kennedys' daughter Sophia-Eliza married John Levett of Wychnor Park, Staffordshire, England.[4]

Their son John Navarre Macomb (07 Mar 1774-09 Nov 1810) married Christina Livingston, granddaughter of Philip Livingston, signer of the United States Declaration of Independence.[5]

In 1791,[6] Alexander Macomb married Janet Marshall Rucker[7] and had seven more children, including Elizabeth Maria Macomb (born 7 Jan 1795), who married Thomas Hunt Flandrau, the law partner of Aaron Burr.[8] The Flandraus' eldest son was Charles Eugene Flandrau (1808-1903), Minnesota political and judicial figure and grandfather of Isabella Greenway (1886-1953), U.S Representative from Arizona.

Alexander Macomb died in the District of Columbia in 1831.

Further reading[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Collections - State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Lyman Copeland Draper, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1879
  2. ^ Although this son was named after his father, he was not called junior (Jr.), nor was Alexander Macomb the elder called senior (Sr.) They are both known as Alexander Macomb, and neither name is followed by a designation. Richards, p. 14.
  3. ^ The Peerage of the British Empire as at Present Existing, Edmund Lodge, Anne Innes, Saunders & Otley, London, 1851
  4. ^ Burke's Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry, John Burke, H. Colburn, London, 1847
  5. ^ Kanasas Society of the Sons of the American Revolution application No. 9622 wherein John de Navarre Macomb, Jr. applies for membership under Philip Livingston, Signer of the Declaration.
  6. ^ Saint-Mémin and the Neoclassical Profile Portrait in America, Ellen G. Miles, National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, 1994.
  7. ^ Five Generations: Life and Letters of an American Family, 1750-1900, Margaret Armstrong, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1930.
  8. ^ Brown, John Howard (1904). The twentieth century biographical dictionary of notable Americans. Boston, Biographical Society. Volume IV, F

External links[edit]