George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Margaret Savage, 28 June 1768

To Margaret Savage

June 28th 1768


If the most solemn asseverations of a man are sufficient to give credit to his report—If the honor and veracity of a Gentleman are things sacred enough to extort the truth, we have all the reason imaginable to conclude that Doctr Savage is entirely ignorant of the part you act in respect to the bond given in Trust to Mr Fairfax & myself for your use;1 because these several assurances he has given, of your willingness (if he can form any opinion from your words) to release him from the condition of it, and that it is not only with your approbation he makes the demand, but in consequence of your repeated requests that he does it. Consider then, I beseech you, the tendency of such conduct, and in what light (under these circumstances) our refusal must appear; what difficulties you throw upon Mr Fairfax & myself to account for the motives of our conduct, if the true motive, & which in fact may prove the only justifiable one, lyes longer concealed. True it is we did refuse (at our last Court) to execute a Deed of releasment which was presented to us with your privy Examination annexed; and assigned, at that time, two reasons for doing so; the one, an apprehension that the trust cou’d not be legally dissolved—the other, a persuasion that however things might be in appearance, yet we could not conceive that the relinquishing such a provision could be agreeable to you—in short that we had some reasons to believe it was not:2 In answer to the latter, the Doctor appealed to the evidence of your public examination, and to the reiterated private acknowledgements which you had made him, for his belief, at least, of your willingness to give up the Bond: and to satisfy us in respect to the other point, he said Mr Mercer had already given his opinion, & offered to procure that of any other we might choose, to evince the propriety of the measure; but it was unnecessary, indeed it wou’d have been very disengenuous, to run him to this expence, when we were well convinced, there was another, and more effectual bar to his desires, and therefore evaded the offer ’till we could inform you of our hope & expectation, that you wou’d become a little more frank in your declaration to the Doctr, as it is requisite, as well for our justification, as to avoid any litigeous consequences which may follow, to let the Doctor know from whence our denial proceeds—Indeed it becomes more immediately necessary to do so at this time, because the first payment of the Bond being due & demandable, I have with the advice of Mr Fairfax wrote for it accordingly for the purposes therein expressed, which of course must bring things to a full explanation.3

Upon the whole, we (I say we, because I have reasons to believe that Mr Fairfax & myself are in the same sentiments) recommend to your consideration, that there are but two Plea’s that can justify our holding fast this Bond—if one of them be removed, and it is a natural presumption, that the Doctor (if he has already been advised by so able a judge as Mr Mercer, that it can) will spare no pains to accomplish it; the whole stress will then fall upon the other, i.e. upon your assent. how we are to act in that case, and how a conduct suspected of double dealing, or chargeable with disingenuity can stand the test of examination, your own breast is to determine, for my Share I am desireous of acting an open and consistent part throughout the whole, desirous whilst I am resisting the solicitations on one hand, to have good reasons to account for my conduct on the other.4 I am, Madam Your mo: Obedt Servt

G: Washington

LB, DLC:GW. This is the second letter in GW’s “business” letter book that is not in his own hand, the first being that of 25 April 1767 to William Savage. Both the letter of 25 April 1767 and the first part of this letter of 28 June 1768 are on page 129 of the letter book. The letter immediately preceding this, a letter to Daniel Jenifer Adams dated 8 Mar. 1775 and in GW’s hand, is on page 126, followed by two blank sheets.

1Shortly before marrying Dr. William Savage in 1767, Margaret Savage, a widow in her late sixties, signed over to Dr. Savage the property left her by her late husband, the Rev. Charles Green, valued at about £5,000. In return, Savage gave a trust bond for £5,000 to GW and Bryan Fairfax, signed by him and Thomson Mason, by which Savage obligated himself to pay his new wife an annuity of £100. As this letter reveals, Dr. Savage had been attempting to have the deed of trust revoked on the grounds that this was what Mrs. Savage wished, whereas Mrs. Savage was privately telling GW and Fairfax that this was not the case. For GW’s long-term involvement with the Savage affair, see Henry Lee and Daniel Payne to GW, 24 April 1767, n.1.

2Dr. William Savage took a number of legal actions in the Prince William County courthouse between February and May 1768 relating to the property that came under his control at his marriage in 1767. The ones that GW is referring to here, the “Deed of releasement” and Mrs. Savage’s “privy examination,” are (1) the deed that William Savage filed with the Prince William court on 27 April 1768 providing for the cancellation of the £5,000 bond that placed him under legal obligation to pay GW and Bryan Fairfax £100 a year in trust for Mrs. Savage, and (2) the report of court-appointed examiners filed on 27 April certifying that Mrs. Savage’s consent to the deed was given freely and without her husband’s coercion (Prince William County Deed Book T [1774–79], 102–7, ViManPWCh).

The deed, designed to revoke Savage’s bond with the three-sided approval of (1) Dr. and Mrs. Savage, (2) Thomson Mason as cosigner of the bond for Dr. Savage, and (3) GW and Bryan Fairfax as trustees for Mrs. Savage, provides valuable clues to Dr. Savage’s modus operandi as a man of property, which GW first found so puzzling and ultimately so reprehensible in Savage’s dealings with his wife. The text of the deed represents Savage’s not entirely successful (as GW’s letter shows) effort to explain, and to lay to rest any doubts about, his wife’s desire to renounce the £100 annuity that he was under bond to pay her. The deed begins with this account of Savage’s having given the bond to pay his wife the annuity: “William Savage . . . previous to his intermarriage with . . . Margaret . . . (who was the Widow and relict of Charles Green . . .) in Consideration of the fortune of . . . Margaret accruing to . . . William by the said intermarriage & for making a handsome provision for . . . Margaret in case she should happen to outlive . . . William did on the 19th or 20th day of January . . . 1767 together with . . . Tompson Mason (as Security for the said William) enter into . . . one Bond . . . for the payment of one hundred pounds during the life of . . . Margaret to be paid annually to . . . Bryan Fairfax & George Washington . . . in trust . . . for . . . Margaret.”

The deed goes on to explain why Margaret Savage now wished to have the bond revoked: “Whereas the said Margaret is now and for some time past hath been very desirous . . . to remove to the Kingdom of Ireland where her own relations as well as those of her former & present husband live,” and whereas “William Savage hath at length upon her request consented thereto & does at present intend to return to Ireland but as in such an Event it is necessary for their better support and improvement of their Circumstances there to sell and dispose of all the Estate of the said William Savage within this Colony,” Margaret Savage does “openly publickly and voluntarily of her own full and free will . . . declare that she now is & hath been extremely . . . desirous to prevail on . . . William Savage to . . . remove to the Kingdom of Ireland which it might not be in his power to do in such a manner as she expects & is satisfied they may be enabled to do if . . . William Savage sells his Estate in this Colony.”

The only barrier to Dr. Savage’s selling his estate (most if not all of which he received from Mrs. Savage in 1767 when he gave his bond to pay her £100 a year), the deed explains, was the bond itself, cosigned by Thomson Mason and held by “her friends [Fairfax and GW] who were so kind to undertake that trust in her behalf.” To relieve these men of their securityship and trusteeship with the obligations implied would be “not only reasonable but just.” Furthermore, “Margaret conceives & is advised,” the deed states, “that it is unreasonable to suppose that it is not in her power to give up & renounce a Trust created purely for her own benefit in which no other person has the least Concern or Interest she doth hereby declare that having the utmost confidence and assurance in the affection of the said William Savage her husband & having no room to doubt of his providing a comfortable maintenance in case she should survive him she doth . . . acquit . . . [Savage, Mason, Fairfax, and GW] . . . from the said bond.” As a result of Margaret Savage’s direction, the deed then provides for GW and Fairfax to “release exonerate acquit & discharge” William Savage and Thomson Mason “from the said bond” which in any case had been made payable to them solely for the benefit of Margaret Savage. Now “being requested by her to resign that trust which they are well satisfied can only affect herself,” they are, the deed asserts, bound to comply.

Attached to the deed presented to the Prince William County court was a court order for Margaret Savage to be examined “privately & apart from the said William Savage, her husband, whether she doth” acknowledge the deed “freely & voluntarily without his perswasions or threats & whether she be willing that the same should be recorded in our said County Court” was issued by the clerk of the court, John Graham. On 27 April Henry Lee and Foushee Tebbs certified to the court that they had examined Mrs. Savage privately and that she affirmed that she had given “her free consent to execute the within mentioned Deed . . . freely & of her own accord without the threats or Compulsion of the said William Savage.”

As GW indicates here, he and Bryan Fairfax refused to sign the deed revoking Savage’s bond. The deed was not proved in the Prince William County court until 1775. GW’s role in what became a legal battle between Dr. Savage and Mrs. Savage’s two trustees may be followed in GW’s correspondence with Bryan Fairfax and the Savages for the next five years.

3GW wrote Dr. Savage on this day demanding payment of the annuity. John Mercer, who had been the attorney for the Custises until Daniel Parke Custis’s estate was settled, was one of the leading lawyers of the colony.

4GW was involved at this time in other legal actions being taken by Dr. and Mrs. Savage in a separate but clearly related matter concerning property belonging to the couple, to which there is no reference in GW’s surviving correspondence. On 11 Feb. 1768 Dr. Savage signed a deed of trust assigning extensive property to GW “for the seperate Use of Margaret Savage,” who was given the right to “Sell or otherwise dispose of the said Slaves Goods Lands and Chatels as she shall think proper.” The property that Savage placed in trust for his wife included seventeen (or perhaps eleven) slaves and six children, a tract of land of “two Thousand acres in Loudoun County on Goose Creek which I [Savage] had by my Wife Margaret and also one small Tract in Fairfax County on Acatink Run [and] one other tract lying in Fauquier & Prince William which I lately purchased from James Markhame[,] one Lott with the white house thereon lately purchased from Bertram Ewell[,] two other Lotts purchased from John Graham & the Lease of the house belonging to the estate of Col. [John] Baylis all said Lotts & houses being in Dumfries also all the house furniture Plantation Utensils Chariott & horses of every kind and sort belonging to me” (Prince William County Deed Book Q [176368], 562–63, ViManPWCh).

Dr. Savage’s deed of trust transferring property to his wife was proved on 5 April; three weeks later, on 26 April, Mrs. Savage placed this property that she held in trust from her husband in trust for him, in these terms: “Now . . . in consideration of the great love & affection which the said Margaret Savage . . . beareth unto . . . William Savage . . . and in pursuance of the power and Authority given to the said Margaret Savage in & by the said Deed of the said William Savage . . . doth direct . . . George Washington [that all of the property named in Savage’s deed of trust] . . . shall stand seized . . . in trust for the said William Savage . . . having hereby freely and absolutely & fully conveyed . . . her right & Interest in the said trust estate to . . . William Savage.” This deed of 26 April, which was proved on 6 July, is signed by William and Margaret Savage and witnessed by Thomas Montgomerie, Arthur Maxwell, Henry Lee, Foushee Tebbs, and William Brazier.

The next day, on 27 April 1768, the same day that he filed the deed for revoking his £5,000 bond held in trust for Mrs. Savage by GW and Bryan Fairfax (see note 2), Dr. Savage, with the consent of Mrs. Savage and of GW who held the property in trust, sold all of that property that Savage had conveyed in trust to Mrs. Savage and which Mrs. Savage had in turn conveyed in trust to him for £2,000 in cash to Arthur Maxwell of Leedstown, then in King George County (Prince William County Deed Book Q, 624–27, ViManPWCh). A month later, on 26 and 27 May, Savage bought back from Maxwell for £2,000 the land, lots, and houses but not the slaves and other personal property (Prince William County Deed Book Q, 627–31, ViManPWCh). Within a few months, probably before the end of September, Dr. and Mrs. Savage had sailed for Ireland, Mrs. Savage never to return. The next year, in 1769, Arthur Maxwell left Virginia for Britain (Virginia Gazette [Rind; Williamsburg], 30 Mar. 1769).

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