George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Benjamin Waller, 2 April 1760

To Benjamin Waller

Apl 2d 1760


mutilated⟩th, the tedious Affair of Mr Clifton’s has come to some ⟨mutilated⟩ at least as depends upon the Commissioners; and ⟨mutilated⟩ of them as will discharge the Debts due thereon ⟨mutilated⟩itors are Advertisd for Sale at Fairfax May ⟨mutilated⟩ I understand Mr Mason right, he intends ⟨mutilated⟩ Sale, or in other Words (which If I ⟨mutilated⟩ to buy the Land let it be run up to neverso great a price and pay only £1200 Sterlg for it—a Sum Mr Clifton consented to take of him for the Land abt 24 hours (it coud scarcely be more) after he had sold it to me in the most Solemn manner for £1150. If Mr Mason confirmd his bargain by any sufficient Instrument of writing twas more than I did, because I was told by one of the Commissioners but not, till after I had settled almost every preliminary necessary to a Conclusn with Mr Clifton—that he (Mr Clifton) had not the least Shadow of pretence to dispose of the Land otherwise than the Decree of the Genl Court had expressly directed and that any such private bargain coud not be effectual I therefore contented myself with exacting Mr Clifton’s promise of conveying me the Land if it shoud be thought he consistantly coud do it for it is to be observd here that I never had at this time seen the Decretal Order for Selling the Land myself, consequently coud only Judge of it from report and from whom coud I better have it than a Gentleman who had been acting by it? However this promise Mr Clifton gave me in strongest manner without evasion, or reservation saving that his Family were to live upon the Land till Christmas in 1761 which was an Article of the agreement—I was bound on my part, by a promise given in the same manner, to lodge £1150 Ster. into the Commissioner’s hands, or in the hands of the Clerk of the Genl Court (wch was Mr Cliftons own request) to be paid so soon as the Gentlemen in Maryland shoud join in making a title to the Land and was providing in the most effectual manner perform[anc]e of it so firmly bound did I think myself and so little suspect any deception on the other side. I coud relate many particulars that were Settled by Mr Cli⟨fton⟩ ⟨mutilated⟩ to this purchase but it woud shew the ⟨mutilated⟩ ⟨Shifts⟩ he was reduced to for Excuses without answer ⟨mutilated⟩ firmly and Circumstantially we had bargaind ⟨mutilated⟩ avoid the mentn of them—What I have he⟨mutilated⟩ Impartial State of the Case and I ⟨mutilated⟩ to the Honble Court, that they may eith⟨er mutilated⟩ go according to th⟨e Advmutilated⟩ after being thus thoroughly informd of the matter.1

Mr Mason probably may say, he will advance as much money as will disengage the Land, and therefore tis nothing to the Creditor’s whether it be sold at Publick or private Sale. He is not singular in this, I will do the same. Perhaps he may then urge (for I don’t know what writings have passd) that Mr Clifton is under penal Engagements to him: as to this, I don’t think Mr Clifton was authorisd to enter into an⟨y⟩ Legal engagemts—and if equitable ones are regarded ⟨mine⟩ being prior puts me at least upon a par with him—However as it appears clear, that Mr Clifton sold his Land twice, and I believe as clear that he had no right to sell it at all—and as there are several persons that Incline to purchase the Question seems whether it wont be the most equitable footing it can be put upon to confirm the Opinion of the Commissioners for Selling it at Publick Auction—twill2 they will certainly be an advantage to Mr Clifton, no prejudice to the Creditors and giving all Bidder’s an equal chance of Purchasing. I am Sir Yr Most Obedt Hble Servt

Go: Washington

The Letter herewith Inclosd coming by Mr Clifton, Mr Digges desired for Reason’s I suppose best know to himself that I woud Inclose it to some Friend of Mine—be pleas’d therefore to send it so soon as it comes to hand—it relates to their Suit.3

ADfS, ViMtvL.

Benjamin Waller (1710–1786), a burgess from James City County, was clerk of the council and of the General Court.

1William Clifton (died c.1770) lived at Clifton’s Neck just across Little Hunting Creek from Mount Vernon. In financial difficulties, Clifton came to GW in February 1760 with a proposal to sell for £1,600 Virginia currency his 1806–acre tract of land in the Neck and a 555–acre tract in the forks of Little Hunting Creek which he had bought from his brother-in-law Henry Brent (1709–1769) but reserving the 500–acre farm where his own house was. Clifton promised to sell the lands to GW unless he should find he was bound by previous commitments. A week later GW offered Clifton £1,700 in Virginia currency for all his lands in the Neck including his home farm as well as the Brent tract. Clifton accepted the offer on condition that his wife Elizabeth Brent Clifton would consent to sell her dower rights in the land. On 26 Feb. Clifton and GW agreed that GW would pay Clifton £1,150 sterling for the 1,806 acres in the Neck which would include Clifton’s home farm but not the 555–acre Brent tract. Clifton was to have the use of his home farm for twelve months, and he was to procure a free and clear conveyance of all the lands from a group of Marylanders to whom the land was mortgaged.

A few days later, however, Clifton accepted Thomson Mason’s offer of £1,200 sterling for the lands he had promised GW for £1,150 sterling. After berating Clifton for “his ungenerous treatment” of him, GW offered Clifton £1,250 sterling, not feeling, as he said, “restraind by any Rules of Honour, Conscience or &ca. from makeg. him this offer as his Lands were first engagd to me by the most Solemn assurances that any Man coud give” (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 1:255).

It is doubtful that Clifton had the right to sell the land at all. Thirteen years earlier, on 16–17 Nov. 1747, Clifton had mortgaged to Charles Carroll (1702–1782) of Annapolis and to William Digges (1713–1783) and John Addison (1713–1764) of Prince Georges County, Md., all his land on Clifton’s Neck and the 555–acre Brent tract (deeds of lease and release, Fairfax County Deed Book B [1746–50], 290–96, Vi). Over the years other Marylanders including Benjamin Tasker (1690–1768) of Anne Arundel County and Ignatius Digges (1707–1785) of Prince Georges County became embroiled in Clifton’s tangled affairs. His creditors brought a suit in the Fairfax County court which, acting in chancery, on 22 Jan. 1755 ordered the sale of Clifton’s lands to pay more than £1,000 in debts (Fairfax Court Order Books, 1754–56, pt. 1, 206, Vi). In November 1755 Clifton’s tract of 1,806 acres was sold to George Johnston and his 555–acre Brent tract to Thomas Colvill (Fairfax County Deed Book D–1, 165–69, 171–75, 178–84). Clifton subsequently brought a chancery suit in the General Court at Williamsburg which on 11 April 1759 set aside the land sales and appointed George William Fairfax, John West, Jr., Charles Green, and Thomas Colvill commissioners to arrange for the sale of Clifton’s lands at public auction within four months and to make an equitable settlement with his debtors. The commissioners still had not put the land up for sale when on 15 Oct. 1759 the court appointed GW a commissioner to replace Colvill (decrees of the General Court, 11 April and 15 Oct. 1759, ViMtvL). In early 1760 GW was in the awkward position of being both a commissioner for the court in the disposition of Clifton’s lands and a prospective purchaser of these lands.

The commissioners met at Mount Vernon on 28 Mar. 1760. Present were GW, Fairfax, and Green as commissioners, Thomson Mason as Clifton’s counsel, William Clifton, and creditors William Digges and John Addison. On 31 Mar. a report of the proceedings of the meeting, with the amount due to each of Clifton’s creditors set out, was sent to the General Court (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 1:258, 259). The court, on 12 April 1760, again ordered the sale of Clifton’s lands at public auction. GW’s offer of £1,210 sterling for the 1,806–acre tract was the high bid at the sale in Alexandria on 20 May (General Court decree, 12 April 1760, NjWdHi; deeds of lease and release from William Digges, Ignatius Digges, John Addison, and William Clifton to GW, 16–17 June 1760, Fairfax County Deed Book D–1, 759–68, Vi).

The settlement was not accepted by all parties. Thomson Mason threatened to appeal the decree ordering the sale. Clifton refused to vacate the land until 1762. Charles Carroll and his assignee Ignatius Digges refused to deliver their mortgages, and Carroll threatened to carry an appeal to the Privy Council in London (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 1:281). It was not until thirty years later that Carroll’s son, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, and Mary Carroll Digges, widow of Ignatius Digges, gave GW a clear title to the land (lease of Mary Digges to GW, 22 Aug. 1791, NjWdHi; GW to Carroll, 31 July, 28 Aug., 11 Sept. 1791, and Carroll to GW, 16 July 1791, and 11 Aug. 1791). For a summary of the Clifton affair, see Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 1:237ff. See also at ViMtvL the papers dated 20 May and 17 June 1760 dealing with the auction of the land and the account of the commissioners dated 20 Aug. 1760.

2The word “twill” should have been crossed out but was not.

3GW was probably referring here to William Digges rather than Ignatius Digges. In his diary entry for 1 April 1760 GW wrote: “Recd. a Letter from Mr. Digges, Inclosing a Packet for Messrs. [Robert Carter] Nichos. & [George] Withe wch. he desird I woud send under Cover to some Friend of mine in Williamsburg as it was to go by Clifton suspecting that Gentleman woud not deal fairly by it” (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 1:260). The letter and packet from Digges have not been found.

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