George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Posey, 11 June 1769

To John Posey

Mount Vernon June 11th 1769


Hearing by your son Price, and perceiving by the Maryland Gazette that you are again entered into the Estate of Matrimony I wish you joy.1

Your Affairs in this County having now come to a Crisis, I am under a necessity of reminding you of matters as they stand between Us; and hope you will consider them with that attention & care, which the Subject deserves.

You will no doubt be informd by your Sons, that every thing which is not under Security to me hath been Attached—Many of them sold—and the rest on the point of selling; It remains however for me to add, that, some of the Effects which were Included in your Bill of Sale to me, have undergone the same fate, and many of the others continually wasting by various and unforseen Accidents.2 That Colo. Mason hath several times spoke to me on Acct of your Bond (to which I am Security) since he wrote to you himself;3 and I shoud presume, must now have greater Calls for the money than he himself apprehended, inasmuch as he has been disappointed of receiving £350 of the Publick for his executed Negroes; but as I have not seen him since my return from Williamsburg, this is the result of my own Conjectures only4—That Mr Ross and others have brought a Bill in Chancery against you and me, to compel a Sale of yr Estate (under Engagements to me) and which, in a Court or two, I expect will be finally decreed.5 And lastly, that whilst others are adopting the most short and easy method of obtaining their Money, I, by forbearance am not only lying out of mine (which I really stand in need of) but am Subjected in honr to pay Colo. Mason’s demand whensoever he shall say he can wait no longer; And moreover, by the Deminution of the Goods, which by one means or another are greatly lessen’d, I may, if some speedy steps are not taken to raise money to discharge my demand, be a considerable looser by that forbear[anc]e and Indulgence, which was meant as a favour to you, without you or yours, gaining any thing by it; as I coud easily demonstrate were I to set myself about it.

It is not at all probable; however, lest you shoud entertain any thoughts of redeeming your Estate in Virginia by a Sale of what you have lately acquired in Maryland, you will permit me to observe, that if it was for your Interest to do so, there is an effectual bar put to every attempt of the kind (for sometime to come) by the Bill in Chancery brought by James Cheston (which appears by the Gazette) against your pres[en]t Wife, her Sister &ca in behalf of Messrs Sedgley & Hilhouse for Subjecting the Real Estate of Robt Idair (for want of sufft Personal Estate) to the payment of his Debts.6 But admitting that you coud raise wherewithal to do it, a moments consideration must convince you, that your Land in this Neck is of no value to you as a Seat to live on, since it is seperated from that which you held in right of your late Wife; and, as you will most assuredly loose the Six Acres with the Improvements thereon which you bought of Mr Marshall (it being the concurrant opinion of the Lawyers, and every body else that I have heard speak of it, that Mr West has an undoubted right to it)7 I say then, as distinct from other Land and as having neither Timber, Fencing, nor Firing upon it, It is of no other value than what it will sell for; this reason therefore in my opinion if no other existed, is sufficient to turn your thoughts another way: And having given you this short, & I flatter myself just state of the thing, and of your affairs in general on this side of the Water, I am Inclind to make you a proposal, In which, if I am not explicit enough to be clearly understood, I must refer you to Mr Lund Washington (who is acquainted with my Sentiments on the matter) for further explanation.

As I have endeavourd to shew you that the 200 Acres of Land which you bought of my Brothr Charles considered distinctly from those of Mr Wests, and the Slipe on which your dwelling House stands will never answer for a Seat; I have now desired Lund Washington to ask what you woud take for it, delivering me possession immediately;8 He knowing the extent of my price, and being desired also to talk more fully to you on this, and some other matters, than I have time or recollection to mention in this Letter—One principal reason however for my wanting to know for a certainty, if I can purchase the Land, and get it at this time I shall candidly own to you and this is it—I have it now in my power to Rent out some Lands which I hold near Williamsburg but durst not do it, nor give the Overseers on it notice to go of, unless I coud be upon a certainty of a place (in this Neighbourhood, where I want to draw all my force to) to put some of the Hands upon; there being too many to distribute among my other Quarters—and again, I shoud like to be making some preparations, and alterations on the place (agreeable to my own fancy) between this and the Fall for the hands, & Crop.9

Perhaps you may say, how is possession to be given when I have a Crop now growing on the Premises? This objection is easily removd: and as I conceive may turn out much to your advantage, I mean by a Sale of the Crop as it stands upon the Ground, the value of which may be ascertaind in one or t’other of these three ways, either by an agreement between ourselves—by the valuation of three Sensible, and honest Men—Or, by setting it up to the highest bidder as it is growing—And that I may not appear to advance any thing without assigning reasons for it, I will explain what I meant by saying, that a Sale of the Crop in this manner (and in short of every thing that is containd in the Bill of Sales, at an early day) might turn to your advantage. In the first place then; if you coud, with the greatest ease and convenience imaginable, Cut your Grain—& pull your Corn—I have but too much reason to believe, that both will be attached so soon as it happens; and by this means, and the neglect and waste, that consequently follows, the proceeds of either, woud turn to very little Acct. In the next place, Hanson10 informs me that in a very few days your People will be without bread, at present the Horses have nothing to eat; and how a Crop is to be made under these Circumstances, is beyond my management to discover—Again, if you can dispose of your Crop, as it now stands, to any tolerable advantage, the expences, & Inconveniences which are here pointed out, are avoided, your Negroes and other things will be then sold at once, & but a very little while perhaps before the Court may decree it; and at a time (it being about Market) when money is easiest obtaind; which will be better in my opinion, than to make two Sales; for one must be made to raise money for Colo. Mason, if he will wait no longer, unless you intend to let me suffer in this matter, which I hope, & am convincd, you do not; the Articles therefore from which this money of Colo. Masons is to be rais’d are such, (if sold) as to put an end to any further progress in the Crop; Horses, Carts, &ca constituting a principal part of the Money.

These therefore are the Reasons which I offer in support of my opinion—but as it is the Land which I have principally in view at this time, and for the Reasons mentioned, I shoud be glad to know yr ultimate determination in respect to it, even if you shoud not Incline to deliver possession till the Fall; because, a certain knowledge of what I have to depend upon, is to fix my conduct in respect to the removal of my People from below; any agreement therefore which you and Lund Washington may come to on this head, will be binding on me. But it may not be amiss to observe, that no private agreement which even you and I can make, will be valid, unless Mr Ross accedes thereto;11 but as I am willing to give a greater price at this time for the Land (in order to put myself upon a certainty) than I am sure Mr Ross expects it will sell at, there is no doubt of his readily agreeing to it, however, it would be a good way to say nothing of it as yet to him, or any body else, till matters coud be properly prepared—It may not be amiss to observe also, that nothing more than a conditional agreement coud be made for the Crop; for if Mr West recovers possession before it is gatherd, it goes with the Land—for by this you may perceive, I mean to Include your whole Crops; as well that wch grows on Mr Wests Land, as your own, that your Negroes may be entirely disengag’d; But as the Crop is a matter I am by no means anxious abt, I only proposed it for yr consideration; and to shew that by this method, whch had a good deal of eligibility in it to me, you might remove every obstruction to a Sale, and dispose of the whole at once. I am Sir Yr Very Hble Servt

Go: Washington


1On 1 June 1769 John Posey took out two remarkable advertisements in the Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), one announcing his marriage and the other the birth of triplets to a servant: “Captain John Posey, Esq; Virginia, Fairfax County, was married, by Rev. Robert Reade, on the 25th Day of May, 1769, to Miss Elizabeth Adair, of Chester-Town, Kent County, Eastern Shore: She is a Person of good Family, considerable Education, and large Fortune. Captain Posey’s Oeconomy, Honour, and Spirit, must have been great. It is said that the Lady, the Morning before she married, made her Estate, real and personal, over to Captain Posey, tho’ she has a Sister, and courted by many.”

“One of Captain John Posey’s House Wenches, at his Seat Rover’s-Delight, Virginia, Fairfax County, had Three Sons at a Birth, February, 1766: August, 1767, Two Girls: March, 1769, one Son and a Daughter; there was but Two Hours between the Two, the Boy is black with Wool, the Girl is white with white Hair like a white Child. All the Children is living.”

The marriage was brief (his new wife died before the year was out) and stormy (see GW to Hector Ross, 9 Oct. 1769, and Posey to GW, 25 May 1771). When GW rode over to Rover’s Delight on 9 June to see Posey’s sons, Posey had not yet returned from Maryland, but he was back by 10 July (see GW to Posey, 26 July).

2For the mortgage that GW held on Posey’s property, see Cash Accounts, October 1763, n.8. See also GW to Posey, 24 June, 24 Sept. 1767. Before the forced sale of his property in October 1769 served to settle his accounts with his creditors, Posey’s indebtedness to GW had grown to nearly one thousand pounds Virginia currency (see GW to Robert Hanson Harrison, 7 Oct. 1769, n.1).

3For other correspondence regarding GW’s signing a security bond for Posey’s debt to George Mason, see GW to Posey, 24 Sept. 1767, and 26 July 1769.

4George Mason’s slaves must have been among those involved in the murder of several persons in Fairfax County in 1767. No reference to the murders has been found in either the Virginia Gazette or the legislative journals, but the following account appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette, 31 Dec. 1767: “From Alexandria, in Virginia, we learn, that a Number of Negroes there had lately conspired to poison their Overseers, and that several Persons have lost their Lives in Consequence thereof; that some of the Negroes have been taken up, four of whom were executed about three Weeks ago, after which their Heads were cut off, and fixed on the Chimnies of the Court-House; and it was expected that four more would soon meet with the same Fate.” The same account was published in the Annual Register description begins The Annual Register, or a View of the History, Politics, and Literature, of the Year . . .. 80 vols. London, 1759–1838. description ends (1768), 69–70, as an “Extract of a letter from Philadelphia.”

A law passed during the October 1748 session of the Virginia assembly provided that when a slave was convicted of a capital crime, “the commissioners, sitting on the trial, shall put a valuation in money upon such slave, and certify the same to the next session of Assembly, that they may be enabled to make a suitable allowance to the master or owner” (6 Hening description begins William Waller Hening, ed. The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619. 13 vols. 1819–23. Reprint. Charlottesville, Va., 1969. description ends 104–12). Mason complained in his 17 Oct. letter to GW that he still had not received his money from the treasury.

6James Cheston (b. 1747) was a lawyer on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. GW wrote “Janes Cheston” by mistake. Robert Adair (d. 1768) was the father of the new Mrs. Posey. On the same page of the Maryland Gazette with Posey’s advertisements (see note 1 above), a notice signed by James Cheston, “Attorney in Fact for the Assignees,” reported that “Mr. Robert Adair being considerably indebted to Messieurs Sedgley and Hilhouse, and I having understood, from his Administrators, that his Personal Estate will not be sufficient to pay his Debts, I have filed a Bill in Chancery, in the Name of the Assignees of Messieurs Sedgley and Hilhouse, on Behalf of them, and Mr. Adair’s other Creditors, against his Administrators, and Mr. William Moore, and Cassandra, his Wife, and Captain John Posey, and Elizabeth, his Wife, the Sisters, and Heirs of Mr. Adair, to have his real Estate sold, under the Direction of the high Court of Chancery, for the Payment of his Debts, of which I have thought proper to give this public Notice, that no Person, ignorant of these Circumstances, become a Purchaser.”

7For the dispute between Posey and John West, Jr., over the strip of land where Posey had his house and ferry, see West to GW, 26 April 1769, n.2.

8Charles Washington sold to Posey on 20–21 Sept. 1759 two tracts of land lying between Mount Vernon and Dogue Creek. Posey sold the smaller of these, a tract of about 145 acres, on 16–17 June 1760 to Daniel French. GW secured the other tract, 200 acres on the Potomac to which he is referring here, in settlement of his account with Posey at the forced sale of Posey’s property in October 1769. See the editors’ note in Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 1:235–36, for GW’s entry of 10 Feb. 1760.

9On 16 May GW received permission from the General Court to rent his dower plantations near Williamsburg to his ward, John Parke Custis (see Petition to the General Court, c.4 May 1769, n.5). For GW’s removal of some slaves from his dower lands to his new Mount Vernon lands, see Joseph Valentine to GW, 21 Nov. 1770 and note 2.

10Hanson Posey was one of John Posey’s sons.

11The Colchester merchant Hector Ross was one of Posey’s major creditors. See GW to Ross, 9 Oct. 1769.

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