Alexander Macomb (1748 – 1831)

Alexander MacombAlexander Macomb (1748-1831) was the father-in-law of James Dinsmore, a very successful merchant in Detroit and New York City, and a great land speculator. Macomb, of Irish decent, emigrated to New York in 1755 with his parents and siblings, first settling in Albany. In 1766, Macomb traveled to frontier Detroit and established a very successful trading post with his brother William. Government contracts during the American Revolution spurred the success and growth of their business, and soon Macomb looked to New York for additional business contracts. By 1783, Macomb had shifted the majority of his business to New York City (pop. 20,000), and it was there that he bought several lots on Broadway (current Wall Street District) for construction of what would be called one of the finest private buildings in the city. In 1787 Macomb and his family moved into their new home, staffed with 25 servants (12 of which were slaves) making him the third largest slaveholder in New York City. His stint into land speculation, and his need for available cash, prompted Macomb to lease his new house and in 1790 it was leased to General George Washington. It would serve as the presidential mansion from February 1790 to late August. Between 1786 and 1791 Macomb and his partners had purchased well over 4.5 million acres of land. The most infamous purchase, Macomb’s Purchase, was on June 22, 1791. Acting alone Macomb contracted, and purchased, 3.6 million acres of New York state, an equivalent of 12% of the state’s surface for approximately $.08 per acre. Just months later, however, mired in debt, unable to provide for such a large household, 17 children in all, Macomb succumbed to his debtors and was forced into bankruptcy. He would never recover his assets or his status in society. Regardless of his fate, Alexander Macomb was a pioneer of early American business and politics. He strived to succeed in luxurious fashion, he compelled his counterparts to do the same, and he paved the way for a new generation of business persons of the 19th century.

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