The Asylum Co. was formed in April 1794 by U.S. Sen. Robert Morris and John Nicholson, Pennsylvania's comptroller general, to develop and sell lands in northeastern Pennsylvania. They recognized an opportunity to benefit from the emigration of the French fleeing the threat of the guillotine during the revolution there.
About 1,600 acres on the north branch of the Susquehanna River, near present Towanda in Bradford County, were acquired for Azilum or Asylum. This area, known to the Indians as Missicum, the "Meadows," became a haven for the French émigrés. Refugees also arrived from the colony of Santo Domingo (Haiti) to escape the bloodshed following late 18th-century slave and mulatto uprisings. Among the supporters of the project were prominent French sympathizers such as Stephen Girard and Peter Duponceau, who organized the French Benevolent Society of Philadelphia in 1793. It was rumored that Marie Antoinette was supposed to be housed at Azilum, but unbeknownst to the refugees at the time, she had been executed in late 1793.
The success of the Asylum Co. was short-lived; in 1795 Nicholson succeeded to Morris' interest, and three years later Morris ended up in debtors' prison. Nicholson and Morris' debt reached $10 million. In 1802, Napoleon invited home all French emigrants, and only a few Azilum families stayed behind.
The Asylum Co. dissolved in the early 1800s and its holdings were sold.
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