George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Robert Cary & Company, 10 November 1773

To Robert Cary & Company

Williamsburg Novr 10th 1773


I am upon Terms for two Estates for & in behalf of my Ward Mr John Parke Custis. if I conclude the bargain for them (and I must be on or off in a few days) I shall have occasion to draw upon you for the whole money he has in your hands; Indeed I do not know as yet, but I shall be obliged to exceed it,1 as it is with the ready Cash I am to make the purchase, if I do it at all. As I thought it might be satisfactory to you, to have as much previous notice of this Transaction2 as I could give, for it is not more than four days since I began the Treaty I take this first oppertunity of doing it.3 One of these Estates is the Seat on which our late Treasurer Mr Robinson lived, and will afford Mr Custis a beautiful Situation on Pamunky River in King & Queen County with elegant buildings thereon almost New; which will save him much trouble & great expence in placing as good on any part of his own Lands all of which are very contiguous to this Seat.4 The other is a larger Tract of Land on Mattapony Rivr In King William County opposite to the last mentioned Tract5 (on which Colo. B. Moore who has been, I believe, a corrispondant of yours formerly lived) which from the quality of the Land, and its connecting two other Tracts together in one body, becomes extreamly valuable to him;6 I therefore hope & expect, if my drafts upon this occasion should exceed his Cash in your hands a few hundred pounds, they will nevertheless meet with ready payment.7

In a former Letter I informed you of the death of Miss Custis. By that Event her Estate consisting in money on Bond to the amount of upwards of Sixteen thousand pounds devolves in equal Moities to Mr Custis & myself; and as I would choose to discharge my Debt to you I would apply her money in the Bank to that purpose, provided I can sell out without loss; Be so good therefore as to let me know as soon as you can what steps are necessary to be pursued in order to do this, & upon what terms it is to be done. In the mean while please to place the Balle due to this deceased young Lady to my credit, and carry the Interest arising from the Dividend of Stock to my Acct Currt regularly till I either transfer, or dispose of it in some other manner.8

I shall add no more at present than that I am Gentn Yr Most Hble Servt

Go: Washington

ALS, owned (1990) by Mr. Joseph Rubinfine, West Palm Beach, Fla.; ALB, DLC:GW. GW’s letter is docketed: “Virginia 1773 Geo. Washington 10 Novr ⟨Received⟩ 24 Jany pr Glasgow.” There are several differences in the two copies of the letter; significant ones have been noted.

1The letter-book copy reads “to draw for rather more.”

2The letter-book copy reads “Draft.”

3GW arrived at Burwell Bassett’s Eltham in New Kent County with Mrs. Washington and John Parke Custis on 23 Oct. and went into Williamsburg three days later. For the next month or so he was in and out of town, conducting business and indulging in the pleasures of social life in the little capital. On 3 Nov. he made the final settlement of his accounts with his two wards, Martha Parke Custis who had recently died and John Parke Custis whose marriage was only a few weeks away, before the court-appointed trustees of his guardians’ estates (see Guardian Accounts, 3 Nov.). The next day, the Virginia council took up GW’s lengthy memorials regarding the soldiers’ land in the Ohio country (see GW to Lord Dunmore, 2 Nov., and GW to Lord Dunmore and Council, c.3 Nov., and notes). Then on 6 Nov. GW began negotiations with the merchant William Black to buy for John Parke Custis two plantations, one in King and Queen County on the Mattaponi which had belonged, until his death in 1766, to the late Speaker of the House of Burgesses and Treasurer of the Colony, John Robinson, and the other, belonging to Bernard Moore, on the Pamunkey River in King William County. In this letter GW has mistakenly reversed the two rivers upon which the two tracts lie. The two places were not far apart, and Moore’s property, called Romancoke (Woromankoke), was adjacent to GW’s dower plantation, Claiborne’s. GW went over from Eltham on 8 Nov. to inspect Romancoke and Robinson’s Pleasant Hill (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 3:213). William Black, who had owned the two estates for little more than two years, sent by his son on 16 Nov. an offer to sell to GW both places for a total of £6,000 Virginia currency. Two days later GW again inspected Romancoke, this time with John Parke Custis for whom the purchase was intended (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 3:215). On that day he wrote from Eltham to offer Black £5,000 for Pleasant Hill and Romancoke. On 25 Nov. GW drafted a memorandum of agreement for the purchase of the two plantations for £5,500. On 30 Nov. he gave his bond to pay Black that amount, £500 upon the execution of the deeds and the remaining £5,000 no later than 25 April 1774. A memorandum added at the bottom of the document provided that if GW had not indicated his satisfaction with the title to the property by 25 Dec., the agreement would be void. On Dec. 4 before leaving Williamsburg, GW paid Black £500 and the remaining £5,000, before getting final confirmation that Black had a clear title to the property and without securing the signature of Black and of Black’s wife to the deed conveying the property to him (see GW to Cary, 5 Dec., to Black, 6 Dec. 1773, 17 Jan. 1774, and to George Wythe, 17 Jan. 1774).

When Black and GW first began their negotiations in November, it was Black’s intention to return to Scotland to live after he received the money from GW. His wife quickly proved to be unwilling to move to Scotland, however, and Black entered an agreement with the trustees of financially beleaguered William Byrd to buy from them Byrd’s Falls plantation at the falls of the James River for £10,000 (Opinion in Black v. Black, in Mays, Pendleton Papers description begins David John Mays, ed. The Letters and Papers of Edmund Pendleton, 1734–1803. 2 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1967. description ends , 2:430–33). When on 5 Dec. GW drew bills of exchange on John Parke Custis’s account with Robert Cary & Co. for nearly £5,000, he directed £3,679.5 of the bills to Byrd’s trustees, Peyton Randolph, John Page, and Charles Carter of Cleve, which was to go towards Black’s purchase of Falls plantation. At this point GW held Black’s bond for £11,000 to fulfill the terms of their agreement and a bond from the Byrd trustees which Peyton Randolph interpreted to mean that there would be no final transfer of ownership of Falls plantation to Black until Black had completed the transfer of his property in King and Queen and King William counties to GW (see GW to George Wythe, 17 Jan. 1774, GW to Bartholomew Dandridge, c.12 Feb. 1774, and Bartholomew Dandridge to GW, 16 Feb. 1774). GW had little trouble in clearing the title to Pleasant Hill plantation, which William Black had bought in 1771 from the trustees of John Robinson’s estate, Edmund Pendleton and Peter Lyons (see note 1, Richard Tunstall to GW, 29 Nov., Edmund Pendleton to GW, 4 Dec., and note 1 of the enclosure in Bartholomew Dandridge to GW, 30 Dec.). Establishing title to Bernard Moore’s Romancoke property was a little more complicated. When the lottery of the property of Bernard Moore was held in 1769, Moore himself won two parcels of his Romancoke plantation, totaling more than 1,100 acres and including the house in which he had been living. William Black bought Moore’s two parcels from John Robinson’s trustees or administrators, who had taken over most of Moore’s property for his debt to Robinson. Black bought a third parcel of Romancoke as well, a tract of about five hundred acres that had been won in the Moore lottery by one Jeffery Grisley. Finally, Black had also acquired from William Seton a mill on one acre and a 100–acre tract on the eastern border of Romancoke, all of which had belonged to Bernard Moore’s brother Thomas. Because at the time of purchase Seton failed to secure title from Thomas Moore to the mill and land with the result that Black had no deed from Seton, steps had to be taken to confirm GW’s title to them (see note 7 of the enclosure in Bartholomew Dandridge to GW, 30 Dec.). For other references to the title to various portions of Romancoke, see also note 3, Joseph Davenport to GW, 30 Nov., Edmund Pendleton to GW, 4 Dec., GW to Dandridge, 6 Dec., and notes, and Dandridge to GW, 30 December. Some additional miscellaneous papers, evidently used in later years by John Parke Custis’s son to try to clear the titles of the lands bought from Black, can be found in the Lee Family Papers in ViHi. But it was not any uncertainty about the title to the plantations that held up the final transfer of the property until the end of March 1774. It was Mrs. Black’s refusal to sign the deeds and thereby surrender her rights to dower in the property that caused the delay. Most of GW’s correspondence with George Wythe, Bartholomew Dandridge, and Black himself during the winter and early spring of 1774 is concerned with Mrs. Black’s recalcitrance (see GW to Black, 17 Jan., GW to Wythe, 17 Jan., GW to Burwell Bassett, 12 Feb., GW to Bartholomew Dandridge, 12 Feb., Dandridge to GW, 16 Feb., 2 April, and Black to GW, 25 April 1774). Reluctant to move from Pleasant Hill and fearful of not securing her right of dower in the Falls plantation, Mrs. Black agreed to sign the deed only after her husband had posted a bond for £2,000 to guarantee her right of dower in the new property (Opinion in Black v. Black, in Mays, Pendleton Papers description begins David John Mays, ed. The Letters and Papers of Edmund Pendleton, 1734–1803. 2 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1967. description ends , 2:430–33).

4Speaker John Robinson called his home plantation of 1,300 acres in King and Queen County Pleasant Hill. After Robinson’s unexpected death on 11 May 1766, this plantation on the Mattaponi River became part of the estate over which the colonial assembly assumed control in the settlement of the claims of the colony against its deceased treasurer. In 1770 Edmund Pendleton and Peter Lyons, the two men handling the Robinson estate on behalf of the colony, advertised the sale of “that beautiful seat and plantation on Mattapony river, in King & Queen county, whereon John Robinson, Esq; late Treasurer, lived, containing 1300 acres of high land, and about 600 acres of marsh” (Rind’s Virginia Gazette [Williamsburg], 19 April 1770). William Black, a Scottish merchant, bought Pleasant Hill from the trustees and took possession of it on 6 June 1771 (Harris, Old New Kent County description begins Malcolm Hart Harris. Old New Kent County. 2 vols. West Point, Va., 1977. description ends , 1:358). He and his wife were living there in October 1773 when he advertised it and Romancoke plantation, across the river in King William County, for sale. He began his description in exactly the same terms as the trustees used in 1770, except Black specifies 1,381 instead of 1,300 acres of “high land” and 650, instead of 600, acres of marsh. Black then goes on to say that the place also had “a very good geared water grist mill, in proper repair, the toll of which maintains near sixty in family besides several horses, stands within a hundred yards of the river, and at a small expence might be constructed into a very convenient merchant mill. The improvements on this seat, as I am credibly informed, cost better than 5000£ and is exceeded, in point of conveniencies, taste, or situation, by very few in the colony, and so well known that a particular description is unnecessary” (Virginia Gazette [Rind; Williamsburg], 21 Oct. 1773). The advertisement in 1770 by the Robinson trustees gave this “more particular” description of Robinson’s house which seemingly GW intended for the use of John Parke Custis and his bride: “a large genteel two story brick house, with four rooms and a large passage on a floor, and all convenient out-houses in good order, and a large falling garden inclosed with a good brick wall” (Virginia Gazette [Rind; Williamsburg], 19 April 1770).

5The letter-book copy has “opposite to the other.”

6The second piece of property that GW was to buy from William Black originally was part of the Claiborne holdings in neighboring King William County. The fourth William Claiborne of Virginia died while visiting London in 1746 and left his plantation Romancoke on the Pamunkey River to his eldest son William and an adjoining tract of 2,880 acres to another son, Philip Whitehead Claiborne. When Philip Claiborne offered his portion for sale in 1752, Daniel Parke Custis acquired it (see Harris, Old New Kent description begins Malcolm Hart Harris. Old New Kent County. 2 vols. West Point, Va., 1977. description ends , 2:587–88, n.68). At the settlement of Daniel Parke Custis’s estate in 1759–61, Claiborne’s, as the Philip Whitehead Claiborne property was called, became a part of Martha Washington’s dower holdings and so came under GW’s control. Probably about the time that Custis bought Claiborne’s, Bernard Moore acquired through Speaker John Robinson from the estate of the fifth William Claiborne, deceased, the adjoining property on the Pamunkey called Romancoke. As one of the planters most heavily indebted to Treasurer Robinson at Robinson’s death, Moore had to dispose of most of his property, including Romancoke. On 29 Dec. 1766 Moore wrote GW of his intention to sell all of his land in King William, suggesting that perhaps GW would be interested in purchasing the lands for himself or his ward John Parke Custis: “The Lands I propose to sell is where I live, the Tract contains about 3500 Acres, its of a long Square from River to River [Mattaponi to Pamunkey] about 3 miles long & about 2 miles in width.” The next year, 10 Aug. 1767, the trustees of John Robinson’s estate assumed control of Moore’s extensive property and offered for sale his lands, including the Romancoke tract fixed at 1,683 acres. When no purchasers appeared, the trustees arranged a lottery in 1768, which was finally held in December 1769 (see Rind’s Virginia Gazette [Williamsburg], 19 Oct. 1769, and Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette [Williamsburg], 5 April 1770). In the drawing Moore himself won two of three parcels of the Romancoke tract, one containing 550 acres, “on it a good dwelling house 70 feet long and 20 feet wide, with three rooms below and three above, in which Col. Moore formerly lived,” and the other containing 586 acres lying “on the river below” (Rind’s Virginia Gazette [Williamsburg], 13 Sept. 1770; see also the supplement of 5 April 1770). The third Romancoke parcel called Gooches contained 550 acres and was won in the lottery by Jeffery Grisley (see Deed from Edmund Pendleton and Peter Lyons to William Black, 27 May 1772, in Mays, Pendleton Papers description begins David John Mays, ed. The Letters and Papers of Edmund Pendleton, 1734–1803. 2 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1967. description ends , 1:69–71). The three Romancoke parcels that William Black purchased through the Robinson trustees are the three “connecting tracts” that GW is referring to here. Black also included the mill and 100–acre tract that he had acquired on the eastern boundary of Bernard Moore’s Romancoke in the description of the Romancoke plantation which he put up for sale in 1773 (see note 7 in the enclosure to Bartholomew Dandridge to GW, 30 Dec.). In his advertisement in October 1773 of Pleasant Hill and Romancoke, Black describes Romancoke as: “Another very valuable tract of land, lying in the county of King William, formerly the property of Colonel Bernard Moore, and known by the name of Woromoncoke, containing 1780 acres, and running near three miles on Pamunkey river . . . . There is on this tract a dwelling-house 70 feet by 20, in which Col. Moore formerly lived, with many good and convenient out houses, and very fine peach orchards. Also, belonging to and adjoining this land, there is a good water mill, very lately rebuilt, on a fine and constant stream, sufficient to carry two pair of stones in the driest times; she stands centrical between both branches of York river, and not above a mile from either, with navigation from Mattapony up to the mill, and is capable of being made a very valuable merchant mill” (Rind’s Virginia Gazette [Williamsburg], 21 Oct. 1773).

7GW wrote Cary on 5 Dec. drawing bills of exchange on John Parke Custis’s account to purchase the two properties.

8Martha Parke Custis inherited from her father stock in the Bank of England with a face value of £1,650 sterling. At her death in 1773, the stock was divided between her brother and her mother. See Papers, Colonial Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series. 10 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1983–95. description ends , 6:276, 451–52, 7:82, 8:205, 463. GW transferred the bank stock to his account with Cary in June 1774 (Ledger B description begins Manuscript Ledger Book 2, 1772-93, in George Washington Papers, Library of Congress. description ends , 26), but the stock had not been sold when the Revolution began.

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