George Washington Papers

To George Washington from George Johnston, 8 January 1760

From George Johnston

8th Jany 60


It is said to be some Aleviation to a Man in Misfortune to have another under the same circu⟨m⟩stance with himself and this I believe is a Pleasure which some people feel though perhaps directly contrary to the Dictates of Sense, and I am sure extremely opposite to the Principals of Christianity, This Ballendine that you write about seems lately to have convinced you of his prodigeous Abilit⟨ys⟩ in the Art of being a Villain and let me tell you, it ⟨illegible⟩ favour that you came so lately in, for he hath long agoe given Demonstration in a thousand Instances to other people (& Amongst the rest to me) of his superior Talents in that Commendable Science Once I punished him severely, but it had no effect upon him, I shall again in your Case endeavour to make an Example of him, but to mend his Morals I altogether despair, for he that hath lost all sourse of honesty & Virtue (as Ballendine undoubtedly hath) neither Exhortations or punishments will produce any other Effects than to make him cheat with greater Art & Circumspection I doubt I cannot be able to get him arrested to the next Court and to Issue a writ & have a return non est would be expensive however I shall take all imaginable Care to have it done as soon as possible upon this Supposition that you have paid him for the two Tonn of Iron, if you did not I woud advise you to let him alone and content yourself with paying him for what you have. For tho’ you may have a secret Pleasure in punishing a Villain & Dragging him Out to publick Justice to shew the World the Lurking Scoundrel, yet in his Case you make no Discovery, for most people knew him before.1 I am Sir Your very Humbe Sert

G. Johnston

P.S. youl receive by your man the Deeds I long since drew from Darrill to you please to Look over them they are drawn in the manner I would advise you to and if you have not Already got any Executed send me your papers that I may send it ⟨illegible⟩ the Court2 excuse my clerks Copying my Letter I am not well but write you this with an Aching head and trembling hand.

Yrs Sincerely


LS, DLC:GW. The postscript and some corrections are in Johnston’s hand. On the cover sheet in GW’s hand are several calculations and the notation: “Mn 2 ⟨W.⟩ Ax 5/. ⟨illegible⟩ Qur 1 pot hooks 2/. gosh Grey mendg the Poll of his Ox 1/. 1 New ⟨W.⟩ Hoe 4½ lb. 5.

George Johnston of Belvale was one of the leading members of the bar in Alexandria and at this time was a burgess from Fairfax County.

1GW wrote in his diary on this day: “Directed an Indictment to be formd by Mr. Johnston against Jno. Ballendine for a fraud in some Iron he sold me” (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 1:217). GW records in Ledger A description begins Manuscript Ledger Book 1, 1750-72, in George Washington Papers, Library of Congress. description ends , 69, having paid Ballendine on 19 Dec. 1759 £44.12.3 for “2 Tonns of Iron,” which, as he had confirmed, were short of weight so that Ballendine owed him £8.5.7. For GW’s discovery of the shortage of weight, see John Carlyle to GW, this date, n.1. For references to GW’s earlier dealings with the entrepreneur John Ballendine, whose iron furnace was on Occoquan Creek, see Cash Accounts, December 1759, n.5. For Ballendine’s response to GW’s charges, see Ballendine to GW, 18 Nov. 1760, and the enclosed letter to GW dated 24 Jan. 1760.

2In December 1757 GW bought two parcels of land contiguous to Mount Vernon from Sampson Darrell; Darrell could not at that time convey the deeds to the land to GW because Darrell’s mother, Ann Smith, held the land for her lifetime by right of dower. GW subsequently negotiated a lease of the land from Mrs. Smith and her husband to run until Mrs. Smith’s death (Cash Accounts, September 1759, n.4), and so her son and the heir at law, Sampson Darrell, was now ready to convey the deeds to GW. On 19 Feb. 1760, GW wrote in his diary: “Went to Court . . . Got Mr. [Thomas] Smiths Lease to me recorded and Mr. Johnston not having Darrels Deeds ready I was obligd to get the acknowledging of them postpond” (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 1:239). Further delays ensued, and it was not until the May court that GW was able to have the deeds recorded (ibid., 255, 268; deeds of Darrell to GW, 19–20 May 1760, Fairfax County Deed Book D–1, 681–92, Vi). Darrell’s receipt for £200 current money from GW in final payment for the land GW bought in December 1757 is dated 20 May 1760 and is in DLC:GW.

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