From Joseph Valentine
august 24th 1771
The last time I Rote to you I acquainted you with the misfortain of our Crops Being drounded & overdone with the wet and now it is ass Bad the other way we have had no Rain Sence to do any Service to the Corn or tobaco & it Burns up for being over done with the wet be fore it Cannot stand the drouth now the Corn Cannot Shoot out nor fill the tobaco the Roots of it was so mutch Sobd and over done with the Rain be fore that the drouth Burns it up at the Bottom & fires at sutch a Rate that I Can Scarsly tel what to do with it and more particular on the Leaval Stiff Land wheare the foundation would not let the water sink from it for sum time it is not Quite so bad on the light or hilley Land. if providence pleases to Send us a good Rain in a little time I hope it will make a great alteration in our Crops for the Better. Sir the young negro fellow will Shag who formerly lived at old Quarter and ass he was allways Runaway I movd him down heir to settle theis places and thought he might do better but he Runaway Sum time in June went to yorke and past for a free man By the name of will Jones but at last was taken up and put in prison and sent a Letter up to me & I was up at the Quarters in new Kent at the same time & the over Seer went down for him and Brout him up to the plantation and then will Beat him and got away & he Cant be got Sence I have heard he has Ben seen on his way Coming up to you and ass their is a good many of his acQuaintence their he may Be harbard and no white person no of it he is advertizd and out Lawd he went away for no provication in the world but So lazey he will not worke and a greater Roge is not to be foun.1 no more to add but Remain Sir your most hble sert
ALS, DLC:GW. The letter is addressed: “By post to Alexandra.”
1. Will Shag, 30 years old, is listed in the roll of slaves belonging to George Washington and John Parke Custis, December 1771, as belonging at the Great House plantation in York County. Valentine ran this advertisement in the 18 July 1771 Virginia Gazette (Rind; Williamsburg): “Ran away, about the middle of June last, from Mr. John Parke Custis’s plantation, near the Capitol landing, a likely young Virginia born Negro fellow named Will, about 6 feet high, very full faced, and full eyed. The said Negro broke York gaol some time ago, and was taken again, but in bringing him home to the said plantation he made his escape from the overseer. As he passed at York some time for a free man, I have reason to believe that he will try to get on board some vessel. Whoever will bring the said Negro to me, near Williamsburg, shall receive Twenty shillings reward, besides what the law allows. He is out-lawed. . . . All masters of vessels are cautioned against taking him on board at their peril.”
The process of outlawing a slave was set forth in “An Act directing the trial of Slaves committing capital crimes . . . and for the better government of negroes, mulattoes, and Indians, bond or free,” passed in the October 1748 session of the general assembly. The act provided that in cases where runaway slaves “lie out hid, and lurking . . . killing hogs, and committing other injuries, to the inhabitants . . . That in all such cases, upon intelligence given of any slave’s lying out, . . . any two justices of the peace . . . of the county wherein such slave is supposed to lurk, or do mischief . . . are impowered and required, to issue proclamation against all such slaves . . . requiring them . . . to surrender themselves; and also impowering the sheriff of the said county, to . . . go in search of them: Which proclamation shall be published on two sabbath days, at the door of every church in the said county . . . and in case any slave . . . [continues to] stay out, and do not immediately return home, it shall be lawful for any person, or persons whatsoever, to kill and destroy such slaves, by any ways or means, without accusation, or impeachment of any crime for the same” (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). In an effort to clarify the process for outlawing runaway slaves and to prevent abuses, the February session of the legislature in 1772 passed “An act for amending the acts concerning the trials and outlawries of slaves” (8 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 522–23).
Will was again captured and returned in early October, but he ran away again in May 1772. See Valentine to GW, 4 Oct. 1771 and James Hill to GW, 14 May, 24 July 1772. GW’s Guardian Accounts for 3 Nov. 1773 reflect a £1 payment on 23 July 1772 to Leonard Milsford for “taking up Will a Runaway Negroe,” for the escape in May 1772. GW finally resolved the problem of this particular runaway by selling him in the West Indies. On 16 Dec. 1772 he paid £13.11.6 to “Mr Jno. Gutridge [Goodrich] for freight & Charges of Transporting a Negro Will to Port-au prince in bringg Molasses in return.”