Biography of Theophilus Cazenove (1740 to 1811)
From Dictionary of American Biography
 
Daniel H. Weiskotten
8/10/1999
 
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Theophile Cazenove (October 13, 1740 to March 6, 1811)
from Dictionary of American Biography 1958, pages 580-581

Written by Paul D. Evans

CAZENOVE, THÉOPHILE (Oct.13, 1740-Mar. 6, 1811), financier and agent of the Holland Land Company, was born in Amsterdam, Holland, the fourth of nine children.  His father, Théophile, belonged to a French Protestant family long resident in Switzerland; his mother, Marie, was the daughter of Paul de Raspin-Thoyras, a French Protestant historian and soldier.  The younger Théophile by his marriage in 1763 to Margaretha Helena van Jever became connected with a prominent trading family of Amsterdam.  For the next twenty-five years he carried on a brokerage and commercial business in Amsterdam.  At the end of the period, in 1788, he was coöperating with Clavière, a Swiss banker of Paris, and Pieter Stadnitski, a wealthy financier of Amsterdam, in an unsuccessful attempt to convert the American debt to France into obligations which could be sold to private holders.  By the end of 1788 he was bankrupt.  Nevertheless he was now selected by Stadnitski <:581> and three other Amsterdam firms, who were speculating in American state and federal securities, to go to the United States as their purchasing agent. Arriving in America early in 1790, he established himself in Philadelphia, the eat of the federal government upon whose action largely depended the fate of the state bonds.  At first he bought such securities exclusively. Then he invested for his principals in various canal and manufacturing companies, more fruitful in the development of the new country than in profits for the investors.  He then persuaded his employers, who had made large profits from their bond operations, to invest in wild lands, a field in which American speculative fever was running high.  Having enlarged their combination and laid the foundation for what became in 1796 the Holland Land Company, the Dutch bankers between 1792 and 1794 bought directly or through Cazenove over five million acres of land in western New York and in northern and western Pennsylvania.  Cazenove's advice had determined the lands selected, but his judgment left much to be desired.  The investment in New York lands, realized only forty years later, proved moderately successful; that in Pennsylvania led to heavy losses.  From 1794 to 1799 Cazenove was engaged in perfecting his employers' title to the lands, in providing for their survey, and in opening some of them for sale through sub-agents.  Accustomed to good living, he was something of a grand seigneur in Philadelphia where he kept a coach and four, a coachman, postillion, and valet.  In spite of the gout, which kept him to a regime of water and vegetables, he was entertained much in the political circles of the federal capital.  Hospitable and generous, he shared his own well-filled table not alone with the natives whose official positions might supply information valuable to the foreign investor but with many unfortunate French emigre's.  One of them, Talleyrand, describes him as an "homme d'un esprit assez éclairé, mais lent et timide, d'un caractère fort insouciant" [translates roughly as: "a man of pronunced spirit, but slow, timid, and of a strongly careless character"] (Mémoires, 1891-92, vol.1).  Timid he certainly was not in his American business dealings, but there is no doubt of his extreme carelessness.  He kept almost no accounts and he carried his insouciance to the point of confusing his employers' money with his own. Early in 1799 he returned to Europe.  Three years later he left the employ of the Dutch bankers and spent most of his remaining years in Paris, where renewed relations with Talleyrand, now in charge of French foreign affairs, helped him to eke out a precarious existence.  He died in Paris in 1811.  He had become an American citizen in 1794, and his name is perpetuated in the village of Cazenovia in central New York.  His portrait by St. Memin hangs in the Corcoran Gallery in Washington.

Sources:
[R.W. Kelsey, ed., "Cazenove Journal 1794" (pub. in Haverford Coll. Studies, No. 13, 1922) is a diary kept by Cazenove on a trip through Pa.  Two books by his descendants give some biographical data: Raoul de Cazenove, Rapin-Thoyras, sa famille, sa vie et ses œuvres (1866), and Q. M. A. de Cazenove, Quatre Siècles (1908).  See also E. and E. Haag, La France protestante (2nd ed., Paris, 1877-88), vol. III.  For Cazenove's business life and especially his relations with the bankers of the Holland Land Company see P.J. Van Winter, Het aandeel van den Amsterdamschen handel aan den opbouw van Ilet Amerikaansche Gemeenebest (1927) and Paul D. Evans, "The Holland Land Company" in Buffalo Hist. Soc. Pubs., vol. XXVIII (1924).]
P.D.E. [Paul D. Evans]