George Washington Papers

To George Washington from George William Fairfax, 5 August 1773

From George William Fairfax

York Town Augt 5th 1773

My Dear Sir

You may be surprized to receive a Letter of this date from me, as we might have reasonably Expected to have been half our Passage, over. The Ship fell down, a day or two after I wrote to you from Ceeleys compleatly Loaded, But the chief mate and most of the Sailors were Sick, the latter has recruted fast since being in the Salts, but the Mates life is dispared off, however the Captain says he shall certainly Sail the first fair Wind.1

Knowing that a House & Furniture, suffers much, by being uninhabited, I have directed Mr Willis if any offers should be made to Rent the whole, to take your Advise, or the House with what Land may be wanted seperate. If neither should offer, would it not be the best way to Advertise, the furniture? giving six or twelve month’s Credit. It would be a pitty to break the sett, of either the Dining, or Dressing Room Furniture, and unless it will fetch Currency for Sterling, I had rather it should be kept, for I can hardly suit those Room better, with any I could bring in.2 We have spent this long time, with our friends at Ceeleys, Hampton, and here, fearing to go to stay in Williamsburg on Accot of the disorder there.3

Never was there a more dismal prospect of Crops, than when I came down, all nature seem’d to be at a standstile within these two or three days past, some most delighfule Rains but the Planters say its to late to Recover the Corn, the Tasile being quite dead at many Plantations. I trust in God, it has not been quite so bad above, and that We shall make something.

Mrs Fairfax joins with Me in most respectfull Compliments to you, good Mrs Washington, and Mr Custis, wishing that you may enjoy a series of good Health, and every Felicity this wor’d can give, and am Dear sir Your Most Obedt and ever Obliged humble Servt

Go: Wm Fairfax

In looking over some of my Papers, I found the enclosed Papers, which ought to be left, and particularly the Receipt from his Lordship the Proprieter for Arrears of Quit Rents, which I think had better be Paisted on the inside of the cover of my Ledger for fear of accident.4


1Fairfax and his wife left Belvoir on or shortly after 9 July to begin their journey to England. Fairfax’s letter from Ceelys, the house of Sarah Cary Fairfax’s parents, Wilson (1703–1772) and Sarah Cary, in Elizabeth City County, has not been found. The Fairfaxes finally sailed for England about 10 August. See GW to Samuel Athawes, 25 September. “In the Salts” means where salt water enters the river from the sea.

2Fairfax was returning to England to press a suit relating to an inheritance (see Fairfax to GW, 3 Aug. 1778, DLC:GW). On 10 Jan. 1774 Fairfax confessed to GW that “the Chancery business, I came here to Prosecute, will probably detain me some Years, and to You my Friend, I will speak still more plain, and say at present I have no thoughts of returning to Virginia at any distance of time.” Neither Fairfax nor Mrs. Fairfax ever returned to America. Although GW gave up the general management of Fairfax’s affairs when he took command of the American army in 1775, the two men wrote to one another occasionally during the war and resumed their correspondence in the 1780s. In his letter of 10 Jan. 1774, Fairfax gave further directions about the sale of the furniture at Belvoir and the renting of the house and land. GW responded on 10 June 1774. The sale of the furniture was held at Belvoir on 15 Aug. 1774, and both GW and John Parke Custis made purchases at the sale. See Sales of Furniture at Belvoir, 15 Aug. 1774, owned [1991] by Mr. Joseph Rubinfine, and Inventory of House Furniture bought by Colo. George Washington, at Colo. Fairfax’s Sale at Belvoir, 15 Aug. 1774, CSmH. Both documents were endorsed by GW. See also a document dated 7 April 1776, headed: “A List of Bonds due The Hon’ble George William Fairfax Esqr. the 15th day Augt 1775” (ViMtvL). For details of GW’s handling of Fairfax’s affairs, see GW to Fairfax, 30 June 1786.

3The Virginia Gazette (Purdie and Dixon; Williamsburg), 29 July 1773, contains the following notice: “It being current through the Country, as we are credibly informed, that the Flux, or some pestilential Disorder, rages so in this City as to carry off five and six in a Day, it is certainly necessary that the Publick should be undeceived in this Particular, and we do affirm, with much Truth, that the said Report is entirely groundless.” The paper goes on to say that a number of children had died in the city, as elsewhere in the colony, from a measles epidemic.

4Fairfax wrote GW in 1784 that the administrators of Thomas, Lord Fairfax’s estate were demanding payment of back quitrents. He asked GW to search the papers that he had left with him in 1773 “for the Lord Proprietors discharge for all arrears of Quitrents which He gave me” (Fairfax to GW, 23 Aug. 1784). On 30 June 1785 GW wrote Fairfax that after “a diligent search for the paper requested . . . it occurred to me that your accot with Lord Fairfax might afford some clue . . . & in looking in your ledger for an index, I found the receipts pasted on the cover of the Book.”

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