St. Louis had a population of 310,864 residents in 1870, an increase of 93% over the 1860 census! It was now the fourth largest city in the United States, behind Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York. The next decade would show a continuation of impressive development in St. Louis. The City's limits reached 17.98 square miles, with a record high 58 subdivisions platted in 1870. Improvements in machinery caused industries to boom in North America, and St. Louis was no exception. This brought another influx of immigrants to the area, predominantly Germans and Irish. By 1870, Lemp Brewery was the largest brewery in St. Louis and controlled the lion's share of the market, and St. Louis became the first American city to legalize prostitution.
With the death of his business partner early in 1871, these things were probably of little concern to John Murdoch as he fought to save his business. Because Murdoch & Dickson was established as a partnership, the company dissolved on the day that Dickson died. On March 31, 1871, Murdoch qualified as surviving partner to administer the partnership estate in the probate court of the City of St. Louis. He posted a bond in the amount of $125,000, with James B. Eads and Barton Bates as sureties. (These same two men were handling the estate of Charles Dickson.) Shortly thereafter he filed an inventory of the assets of the business with the probate court.
Unfortunately, at this point in time the liabilities outweighed the assets of the company. Dickson himself was owed over $84,000 at the time of his death, and the firm was also indebted to James Eads in the amount of $34,000 and $5,000 to Barton Bates. The total indebtedness of the company was around $280,000. It is uncertain how the firm came to be in such dismal financial straights, but Murdoch was committed to trying to pay off the debt. This came at a cost to his personal financial situation.
On May 1, 1871 John and Julia Murdoch signed a Deed of Trust with Franklin A. Dick and Benjamin Farrar as parties of the second part, and Isaiah V. Williamson of the City of Philadelphia as party of the third part. Benjamin Farrar was an attorney and also Assistant Treasurer of the United States in St. Louis, and Franklin Dick practiced law in St. Louis as well. Isaiah Williamson owned a dry goods store in Philadelphia, and died a multi-millionaire in 1889. The purpose of the deed was to guarantee a $30,000 loan that was taken out on Murdoch Farm. The loan was for a period of three years at an interest rate of 8%. Three parcels of land are outlined in the deed, consisting of 226.077 acres. One of the three parcels included the house where the Murdochs made their home and the farm's outbuilding. In the event that Murdoch failed to make a payment of the principal or interest, or to properly insure the property, the land was to be sold at public auction to the highest bidder.
John Murdoch was losing his business. Would he be able to hold onto his land?
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