George Washington Papers

To George Washington from George Mason, 21 December 1773

From George Mason

Gunston-Hall Decemr 21st 1773

Dear Sir

The embarrass’d Situation of my Friend Mr Jas Mercer’s Affairs gives Me much more Concern than Surprize. I always feared that his Aversion to selling the Lands & Slaves, in Expectation of paying the Debts with the Crops & Profits of the Estate, whilst a heavy Interest was still accumulating, wou’d be attended with bad Consequences, independant of his Brother’s Difficultys in England; having never, in a Single Instance, seen these sort of Delays answer the Hopes of the Debtor.1 When Colo. Mercer was first married, & thought in affluent Circumstances by his Friends here, considerable Purchases of Slaves were made for Him, at high prices (& I believe mostly upon Credit) which must now be sold at much less than they cost: He was originally burthened wth a proportionable Part of his Father’s Debts; most of which, as well as the old Gentleman’s other Debts, are not only still unpaid, but must be greatly increased by Interest; so that even if Colo. Mercer had not incurr’d a large Debt in England, He wou’d have found his Affairs here in a disagreeable Situation.2 I have bye Me Mr Mercer’s Title-Papers for his Lands on Pohick run, & on Four-Mile run, in this County; which I have hitherto endeavour’d to sell for Him in Vain; for as He left the price entirely to Me, I cou’d not take less for them than if they had been my own; this Difficulty will not be lessened, but the Contrary, by your becomeing the Purchaser. Had I sold them to an indifferent Purchaser, I shou’d, in the common way of Business, have stretch’d my Demand as far as it wou’d bear, but between You & Mr Mercer I wou’d fain consider myself as a mutual Friend, & Arbiter; & from my Connections with Him, I know He wou’d wish Me to act in that Manner; which renders it an Affair of some Delicacy, & takes it out of the common Mode of Business3—I have had some applications from Maryland, to only one of which I paid much Regard; this was from a Gentleman whose Circumstances I was well acquainted with, & knew his payments cou’d be relyed on; I expected, in answer to what I said to Him, that He wou’d have appointed a Day to meet Me on the Lands & examine them; but have heard nothing from Him lately; which I ascribe merely to an Indolence of Temper, for which He is pretty remarkable4—The Tract upon four Mile run is contain’d in two Patents, one granted to Stephen Grey for 378 Acres, the other to Gabriel Adams for 790 Acres, they appear by the platt to overmeasure considerably, & contain, clear of Strutfield’s elder Patent, (with which they interfere) 1225 Acres. I have formerly been upon this Land; but it’s so many Years ago, that I now know very little of it, from my own Knowledge; but from the best Information I have had, that part of it upon Four-Mile Run (in Stephen Grey’s Patent) is tollerable good, & the other mean; but from it’s Vicinity to Alexandria; which now bids fair to be a very5 considerable Town, I think it must be worth £1000—Curry—Colo. Carlyle (whose Lands adjoin) told Mr Mercer that it was worth 20/ an Acre, & that if He had the Money, He wou’d give that Price for it; perhaps this might be only one of the Colonel’s——; Yet it has raised Mr Mercer’s Expectations. Upon the Whole Sir, if You will appoint any Day after Christmass, I will wait on You, & we will ride over the Land together; when we shall both be better able to judge of it’s Value. There was some little Difficulty in the Title from Stephen Grey; which Mr Mercer has been very candid in laying open to Me, & which Mr Pendleton (whose Opinion I have) has I think clear’d up in a very satisfactory Manner.6

I am much obliged to You for yr Information concerning the Lands upon the Western Waters. I long to have a little Chat with You upon the Subject; & if Doctr Connelly, who has promised to spend a Day or two with Me as He returns from Wmsburg, is as good as his word, I will do myself the Pleasure of taking a Ride with Him to Mount Vernon.7

I heartily wish Mrs Washington & You a merry Christmass, & many, very many, happy New-Years; and am, very sincerely, Dr Sir Yr affecte & obedt Sert

G. Mason

P.S. Mr Lund Washington was so kind to promise my Son, He wou’d have some Corn I bought of yr overseer Cleveland, waggoned to my Quarter on little Hunting-Creek; I beg the Favour of You to remind Him of it.8


1For references by James Mercer to his financial difficulties, see James Mercer to GW, 11 and 23 Aug. 1773.

2For a discussion of the indebtedness of the John Mercer estate, see GW to James Mercer, 19 July, n.1. In 1767 George Mercer married Mary Neville of Lincoln. A letter from John Mercer to his son George, 22 Dec. 1767–28 Feb. 1768, indicates that George Mercer’s wife brought considerable money to the marriage. John Mercer also commented on George Mercer’s recent order to James Mercer to purchase fifty slaves for him, presumably to work his Shenandoah land, and advised him strongly not to become “so deeply concernd in the planting way,” since “every man, who will not carefully attend his own business . . . will lose by it” (Mulkearn, George Mercer Papers description begins Lois Mulkearn, ed. George Mercer Papers Relating to the Ohio Company of Virginia. Pittsburgh, 1954. description ends , 186–220).

3James Mercer placed the following advertisement in the Maryland Gazette (Annapolis) on 8 July 1773: “THE subscriber has for sale the following tracts of land in Fairfax county: one on Pohick run about 5 miles from Colchester, and the same distance from Pohick warehouse, containing 957 acres, the other on Four Mile Run, about 4 mile from Alexandria, containing 1225 acres; the soil of both is stiff and well suited to wheat, the last tract is very level; both have a sufficiency of exceeding good meadow ground unimproved, and very valuable mill seats. It being very inconvenient for me to attend at such a distance, Col. George Mason of Gunston in Fairfax has the plats and title papers, and is so obliging as to accept a power of settling the terms with any person inclinable to purchase. JAMES MERCER.”

4The Maryland “Gentleman” has not been identified.

5Mason wrote “a very a.”

6The Four Mile Run tract was owned jointly by James and George Mercer. GW purchased both shares of the tract in 1774. See GW to Mercer, 12 Dec. 1774. For a discussion of the Four Mile Run lands that GW bought and their subsequent history, see Stetson, Four Mile Run description begins Charles W. Stetson. Four Mile Run Land Grants. Washington, D.C., 1935. description ends , 44–63.

7John Connolly wrote GW from Fredericksburg on 23 Dec. that he would not be able to stop at Mount Vernon as planned and presumably he bypassed Gunston Hall as well.

8Mason’s son was probably his eldest son, George (1753–1796). Mason owned about one hundred and fifty acres of land on Little Hunting Creek, adjoining GW’s River plantation (see Mason to GW, 27 Aug. 1760, n.1). Alexander Cleveland was overseer of the River plantation at this time.

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