In 1798 New York City suffered from a severe yellow fever epidemic, which was attributed to an inadequate and inferior water supply. Upon the assembling of the Legislature in 1799, an association of individuals, among whom Aaron Burr was the moving spirit, applied for a charter for the purpose of “supplying the City of New York with pure and wholesome water.” With a capital of $2,000,000, the project was an ambitious one for those days, and, as there was considerable uncertainty about the probable cost of the water system, a clause was inserted in the charter, permitting the Company to employ all surplus capital in the purchase of public or other stock or in any other monied transactions or operations, not inconsistent with the constitution and laws of New York or of the United States.
A great effort was made to defeat the charter on account of this clause granting the Company banking privileges. But the necessity for a proper water system, which could be procured only by the organization of a responsible company with large capital, carried it through the Legislature and it received the Governor’s signature.
[Illustration: Form of Early stock certificate]
The Bill was passed April 2d, 1799, and by April 22d books were opened for public subscription to the $2,000,000 Capital Stock of the Manhattan Company, the par value of which was $50. These original books are still in the possession of the Company, and contain the signatures of many of the prominent men of the time. By May 15th the entire amount had been subscribed by several thousand persons—the City of New York having taken 2,000 of the shares. The Charter provided that the Recorder of the city should be ex-officio a director of the Company, a provision which was in effect for 108 years, until the abolition of the office in 1907.
[Illustration: Subscriptions of directors Reproduced from original subscription book]
[Illustration: Oath of first President]
THE WATER SYSTEM
At the first meeting of the Directors, held at the house of Edward Barden, Innkeeper, on April 11th, 1799, the following Directors were present:
John B. Church,
Pascal N. Smith,
John B. Coles,
Aaron Burr, and
Recorder of the City of New York,
the only absentee being William Edgar.
Daniel Ludlow was chosen President, and the following minute was made:
The principal object
of this incorporation being to obtain a
supply of pure and wholesome water for the City of New York.