George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John West, Jr., 4 July 1773

To John West, Jr.

Moun⟨t⟩ Vernon ⟨July the⟩ 4th ⟨1773⟩

Dear Sir,

The Bond pass’d from Montgomerie and others to Us has been due since the first of last Month, but my not returning till the 8th from New York, & the unhappy Event, which has happend in this Family since, put it out of my head till now—should we not immediately call upon these People for Payment? & what do you think of requiring them to meet us in Alexandria at our coming Court to adjust these matters finally? if you approve of the measure please to forward a Letter by this days Post to Montgomerie with this request, & contrive one to Stewart in George Town to the same purpose1—Is not this about the time Moody was to pay for the Land by his last Solemn Engagement?2 Have you heard anything lately of the Suit against Sidney Geo⟨rge⟩?3 I am very anxious to get the Affairs of this Estate brought to a conclusion. I am Dr Sir Yr Most Obedt

Go: Washington


1GW and West were executors of the estate of Thomas Colvill. For the involvement of Thomas Montgomerie and Adam Stewart in the Colvill estate, see note 5 of the Cash Accounts, March 1772. See also Ledger B description begins Manuscript Ledger Book 2, 1772-93, in George Washington Papers, Library of Congress. description ends , 21, and GW to John West, Jr., December 1767, and notes to that document.

2Benjamin Moody (d. 1784) of Fairfax County was a nephew of Thomas Colvill’s deceased widow Frances (Francina). In his will Colvill devised 200 acres of a large tract of land on Accotink Creek in Fairfax County to Moody and left a small portion of the same tract to his widow, Frances Colvill. The remainder of the tract, which seems to have been calculated at from about 1,300 to about 1,600 acres, was to be sold to pay his debts. The land to be sold, estimated in the advertisement at 600 acres, was located near the old Fairfax courthouse. It was advertised by GW, West, and Frances Colvill to be sold at the courthouse on 18 Jan. 1768 (Virginia Gazette [Rind, Williamsburg], 24 Dec. 1767). Moody was the purchaser of this residue of the Accotink tract but never made payment or received title to the land, ostensibly because of a protest over the executors’ survey of the land. He finally went to court during the Revolution to force GW, the only surviving executor, to accept a settlement in inflated currency. A settlement was finally reached in November 1781 when Moody signed a bond for £329 in payment of the debt. The first payment of £95.13 Virginia currency was made on 18 May 1786 by Moody’s son Thomas (receipt from Thomas Moody, 18 May 1786, DLC:GW [photocopy]). During the next few years four more payments were made, the last in 1789, for a total of £431.6.1 including interest (Ledger B description begins Manuscript Ledger Book 2, 1772-93, in George Washington Papers, Library of Congress. description ends , 135). There is a seventeen-page document (NjMoHP) in the hand of Robert Hanson Harrison and signed by GW, entitled: “The Answer of George Washington, Esquire, Surviving Executor of the last Will and Testament of Thomas Colvill, Gentn, deceased, to the Bill of Complaint exhibited against him by Benjamin Moody, Complainant.” The answer is undated but is certified on 22 Aug. 1780 before John Haring, justice of Orange County, New York. The document gives a good deal of the background of the dispute and includes Harrison’s copies of four letters between GW and Benjamin Moody in 1779 and 1780 relative to the dispute.

The first letter, dated 1 Sept. 1779, from Moody reads: “A desire of visiting the Western waters, in order to make provision for my family, has induced me to dispose of the Lands devised me by Colo. Thomas Colvill, and those which I purchased of his Executors, and have bound myself in a very heavy penalty to make a title to both, on or before the 1st day of January next. This makes it necessary for me to procure a Deed for the part I bought of the Executors, of which You are the only Survivor; You will therefore pardon me for begging a moment of your attention from the very important duties of your Station, to execute a Deed to me for the last mentioned lands, before witnesses sufficient to prove it in the proper place.

“There is a balance due for the land, which I have long-since been ready to pay, but could never get Mr West to a Settlement, & as it is impossible for you to settle with me at this time, am willing to deposit with Mr John Park Custis, or any Other Gentleman in the County, that You shall appoint any sum in Loan office Certificates, that You shall think sufficient, untill there can be a Settlement, which said, Persons so appointed are to deliver the Deed on Receipt of said Certificates. According to Mr George West’s survey there is 1611 acres in the Tract, Four Hundred and Fifty of which, were devised to my Sister Bernard, and Two Hundred to myself, so that there remains Nine Hundred & Sixty One Acres at Forty Eight pounds per hundred, the quantity mentioned in the Deed I send you My Eldest Son is a Lieutenant in the 2d Virginia State Regiment, whom I should be glad to have an Evidence, with your permission to bring the same, as soon as he can be spared.

“I sold the Land for £15000.0.0 and am bound in Double the sum to make a title by the time before mentioned, and as You are well acquainted with the consequences of a noncompliance, shall only add that I am Your Exellency’s Most Obedt Hbe servant Benjamin Moody. P.S. Not knowing where the corps my son Jas. belongs to are stationed, take the liberty, herewith to enclose a Letter to him requesting your care in forwarding it. B.M.”

GW replied on 18 Sept.: “Your Letter of the 1st Instant came to my hands by the last post.

“How the ballance between You and the estate of the deceased Colo. Thomas Colvill really stands, it is not in my power to say—but well do I recollect that Mr John West before I left Virginia, often told me, that it was not in his power to bring you to a settlement—in other words to obtain payment from You for the land which you purchased of Colonel Colvill’s Estate, and if my memory has not greatly failed me, I have myself, in very pointed terms, called upon You for payment under threats of a Suit.

“Under these circumstances, do You suppose that I can, as a Trustee for another, receive the nominal for the real su⟨m⟩ you were to pay for the Land, after such forbearance? If this is your belief, I must undeceive You by an assurance, that nothing but a Bill in Chancery shall compel me to it, thereby to do what I conceive to be injurious in the extreme to the trust reposed in me. I acknowledge that I am totally unacquainted with the laws of the State respecting matters of this kind; but presuming that all law is founded in reason & equity, I can never, in behalf of another (whatever I have done or may do on my own account) consent to receive Eight pence in the pound for a Debt which ought to have been paid years ago—and You must excuse me for adding—which I think no man who is actuated by that first & great law which should govern every one—of doing as he would be done by—should attempt to dispense with. If there is law to enforce the acceptance of payments under the circumstances of your case, I must acquiesce—but that Law as a justification of my conduct must operate before I shall do it as an Executor. Your Letter acknowledges that You have sold the very Land for 15,000£ for which you want to pay the nominal sum of £458.13.8 intrinsically about Twenty pounds, making due allowance for the present depreciation of the money and proportionate prices of Country produce, which enables the Farmer with his wheat, corn, and other articles, to pay 20/ with the same ease now, that he did 1/ before such depreciation took place.

“All that I can think of doing in the matter at present, is, to have the account between you and Colo. Colvills Estate properly liquidated and the ballance previous to the depreciation, ascertained by impartial Men of good accomptants. This being done and a just and reasonable allowance made for the depreciation of the Money in the discharge of such Ballance at the time of payment, and interest thereon—I shall be ready to execute Deeds of Conveyance⟨.⟩ without these I shall, as I have observed above, require a suit in Chancery for my own justification in the matter before I can do it.

“The Deed and Will are herewith returned, and I am sorry to give any delay in a business which you seem to have at heart and to which you are bound you say, to a performance of—but I cannot be guilty of what in my Judgement would be an unpardonnable violation of Justice, and the trust reposed in me, by the deceased Gentleman to whose will I am an Executor, by a contrary conduct.”

On 17 Nov. Moody wrote again: “Your favour of the 18th of September came to hand, in answer to which permit me to observe that my sale for £15000 includes the Lands devised me by Colo. Thomas Colvil, making up a considerable part of the value of the whole. It is needless for me at this time to attempt to exculpate myself and fix the fault on the late Captn West for not having this matter settled before the present revolution; ⟨this⟩ will best appear when the matter is finally settled⟨.⟩ I have proceeded such Lengths in my sale & preparati⟨on⟩ for removing, that I cannot look back, therefore some mode must be adopted to have these matters finally settled, and the only one that I am advised will answer, is to institute a suit in Chancery for a settlement of my Accounts with the late Colo. Colvil & Captn Wests Estates, by which it will appear what ballance remains due for the Land I purchased, and when that is done, the Court will determine in what manner I shall pay up the ballance on receiving a Deed, and You will be free from censure. But in your present situation, this may be attended with great delay unless you authorise some attorney practising in Fairfax Court to appear for You; as it is my desire to carry on the Suit in an amiccable and friendly manner, I hope You will on your part endeavour to bring about a speedy and fair determination, which can only be effected by your concurrence. I therefore hope when You reflect on the perplexed situation to which I have reduced myself, my wife, and a number of Children, that You will contribute all in your power to expedite the final settlement of this affair, by employing an attorney to appear to that ⟨suit⟩ Chancery I shall institute, by that means, I am told it may be determined early the next Spring. The Lawyers practising in this Court are Captn [Andrew] Moor, Captn [David] Arrell & Captn [William] Ellzey: The Latter I have engaged to bring the Bill, which I acquaint You with to prevent disappointment or delay, for believe me Sir, dispatch in this matter is of the utmost consequence to Your Excellency’s Most Obedt Hble servant Benjn Moody. P.S. My first Letter was copied by a Friend, I being much indisposed at the time.”

Moody’s letter was delayed in reaching GW, and GW did not acknowledge it until 12 Jan. 1780: “Your Letter of the 17th of November never came to my hands till between the middle and last of December, the frost ever since having, in a manner, stopped all intercourse, it has not been in my power to write to you sooner.

“As I have no other wish than to do impartial justice to You and the Will to which I am Executor, I have signified as much to Mr [David] Arrel, whom I have requested to appear in my behalf; and as far as I am concerned in the business to make it an amicable suit.”

For a complete copy of the 22 Aug. 1780 answer to the bill of complaint, see the CD-ROM:GW. For other documents dealing with Moody’s purchase of the land, see GW to Josiah Watson, 15 Dec. 1786, and will of Thomas Colvill, Fairfax County Will Book B—1 (1752–67), 424–32.

3Sidney George (d. 1774) of Cecil County, Md., practiced law in Baltimore and Cecil counties. Thomas Colvill lived in Cecil County before moving to Virginia.

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