George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Bryan Fairfax, 8 December 1777

From Bryan Fairfax

Towlston [Grange, Va.] Decemr 8th 17771

Dear Sir

Now that the Winter Season will put a Stop to the Operations of War, and Yr Excellency will probably have a little more Leisure than usual, I sit down to write to You, and tho’ I have Nothing to communicate worthy your Notice, yet if it be only to renew my Thanks for your late Kindness,2 and to keep up Your Remembrance of me it may not be improper but yet I ought not to do it so as to give You the Trouble of writing again, and therefore I do not, and ought not expect it. For it is almost impossible for a Person of any Feeling not to wish to avoid giving You any additional Trouble, so that I hope You will just receive this as a small Tribute of Gratitude. There are Times when Favours conferred make a greater Impression than at others, for tho’ I have received many, and hope I have not been unmindful of them, yet that, at a Time your Popularity was at the highest and mine at the lowest, & when it is so common for Men’s Resentments to run high agst those that differ from them in Opinion You should act with your wonted Kindness towards me, hath affected me more than any Favour I have received; and could not be believed by some in N: York it being above the Run of common Minds. It hath given me much Regret since, that when I had so good an Opportunity I did not act more the Part of a Friend than I did, notwithstanding what little I did say was a Prejudice to me. But I was confused—my words were sometimes misunderstood, and when I endeavoured to explain them was charged with denying what I had said. Had I shewed more Resentment it would have been better for me; but I am always slow in judging what is proper to be said. There was such an unreasonable Prejudice suddenly raised when I hesitated about taking some Oaths, not knowing whether it might not for ever deprive me of seeing my Wife & children again to do so just at this Juncture,3 and was so overborne by two or three interrupting me and apparently confusing me, that I concluded it was the Will of God I should not stay there, and therefore became resigned tho’ with Reluctance. It was a little odd that it should not come into my Mind to use such Proofs as would certainly have satified any reasonable Persons, all Circumstances taken together. I made a Scruple of shewing one of Your Last Letters to Major Campbell when I returned to Staten Island only on Accot of the place it was dated from, when he was not altogether satisfied with my telling him the Contents only. His Civility was a Contrast to the Behavior of others; and when he put me in a Way of returning from E. Town, I was afterwards treated more roughly than ever, and thrown into Terrors of Mind, as if Providence designed that I should not hesitate on what was proposed to me. And this also caused me not to think of going to Philadelphia, which they advised me to on quitting N. York. It was at my Tongues End once or twice in the Conference You favoured me with to mention Phila. As I had some small Knowledge of Lord Howe but was checked by thinking it a less reasonable Request because Tommy was with me, and also that N: York would be more quiet. There is an overruling Providence in points we sometimes little dream of. It is certainly one’s Duty to take Care of one’s Family, and amidst all the Impulses to go on—(among others I had some small Hope of contributing something towards a Peace, as I believed both Parties misunderstood each other) that Duty would arise as a Check, notwithstanding on Accot of these Troubles women & children suffer the least who are at any distance from the Seat of War. It is distressing to those who wou’d concur if they could find themselves at Liberty so to do. Romans xiv.4 I went twice to Your Assistance last War, and had much rather do it again if I could than suffer the Uneasiness I have done.5 It is a great Misfortune for a Man who had rather agree with any one than differ from him, to differ from his Friends and Acquaintance and to be lightly esteemed therefor, even supposing his Faith in God to be so strong as not to fear any personal Insults; but when his Faith is weak, as it will be sometimes, it is very distressg.

That You should befriend me at such a Time dejected as I was by a long Train of inward Trials was highly acceptable. I can only pray for You, and tho’ I had sometimes done so, yet I own not half so often as I have done since; and I think God will bless You for favouring them that serve him.

I hope You will not look upon any Thing I’ve written as Flattery, and believe You know me better than to suspect it, as I believe No Man is better acquainted with You than I am, and the Regard I have always had has followed necessarily in Consequence of that Knowledge. And I always thought it allowable from one Friend to another to give vent to their real Sentiments—for by whom can a Man be told of his Virtues with Propriety but by his Friends, when they are so established that no Injury can result from it. Perhaps I may be wrong, tho’ Mr Nicholas is the only Person that ever I gave a Loose to my Thoughts to in that manner besides.6

I have no Opportunity at present to inform You of any of Your particular Friends but suppose they are well. Mr Warner Washington & my Sister were at Mt Vernon in October, he very ill of the Gout.7 I remain Dr sir, Yr Excellency’s affect. & obliged humble Servt

Bryan Fairfax.


1Fairfax’s estate, Towlston Grange, where he and his family settled in the 1760s, was on Difficult Run in Fairfax County, Va., about twenty miles northwest of Mount Vernon.

2Fairfax is referring to GW’s assistance in Fairfax’s efforts in late September to go to New York in order to take passage for England (see Fairfax to GW, 21, 25 Sept., and 1 Oct., and source note, and GW to Fairfax, 24, 25 Sept.). Two letters from this period illustrate GW’s indulgence in facilitating correspondence between Fairfax and his family in Virginia. The first, which Fairfax wrote to his wife Elizabeth on 27 Sept. while he was still at Lancaster, reads: “I have been detained here three or four Days but expect to set out this Afternoon for General Washington’s camp, and from thence you shall hear further from me. In all this long Journey Nothing hath scarcely affected me more than the thought of leaving you so long. My mind is now depressed with anxiety about you. Pray write to me and get some Friend to inclose yr. letter to Genl. Washington but the contents must be such that it may come open, perhaps. I hope God will continue his kindness & raise yr. Spirits according to my earnest prayers in yr. Behalf; and that He will protect and preserve You as well as our little ones. My love to Sally—tell her not to forget the days that are past—not to grow cold. The Lord bless & restore you” (Kilmer and Sweig, Fairfax Family description begins Kenton Kilmer and Donald Sweig. The Fairfax Family in Fairfax County: A Brief History. Fairfax, Va., 1975. description ends , 99). The second is an undated letter to Fairfax from his daughter Sally: “We last night had the pleasure of your last letter, which we earnestly waited for & which mama being not very well able to write has desired me to answer, which I wish you may ever receive for there seems to be a great many things to interfere and prevent its journey. mama seems very unwilling to a separation of I or two years, at any rate, and desires you will shorten the time as much as you can which at any rate will sit exceeding heavy on her, she is at present better than she has been, I carried her to Alexandria and she employ’d a doctor there who prescribed something Beneficial—I wish I could write free and unreserve’d for I have many things I wou’d say to my Dear & ever beloved father that I don’t like the curious shou’d see: I will endeavour to act in the department I am in as well as circumstances will permit, tho exceeding troublesom in some respects. however as to your 2d son, I think the Best way will be to have him inoculated & send him to school for it does not suit otherwise, and a friend of yours is very ready to Board him, if you stay long enough at new York, pray write your pleasure in this regard, the family here are all well as can be & I am glad to hear no more odd adventures befell you in your way I suppose you met no difficultys where you are, nothing coud reconcile me to your voyage but the trust in the Almighty that you will safely return I expect you will leave my Brother in the other land pray do not omit writeing and makeing him do it, ’tis oweing to the general’s [GW’s] interposition that you will receive this, I am exceeding glad of his protection. mama will not be able to go to Alexandria again this winter, there is always a regiment of soldiers inocculated there a’ most, & the infection is never out of town. She will be exceeding lonesom this year, however this is circulocutious I hope to often hear and yet I dont know how. . . . give my love to my Brother, I hope he will acquire the polite assurance and affable chearfulness of a gentleman, yet not forget the incidents of fairfax County” (ibid., 99–100).

3Fairfax married Elizabeth Cary, a sister of Sarah (Sally) Cary Fairfax and a daughter of Wilson Cary (1703–1772), in 1759. The Fairfaxes had seven children, Sally Cary (b. 1760), Thomas Cary (1762–1846), William (b. 1763), Ferdinando (1769–1820), Elizabeth (b. 1770), Robert Moseley (b. 1772), and Wilson Cary (b. 1774).

4In Romans, chapter 14, the apostle Paul writes about those who are “weak in the faith” and the “things which make for peace.”

5Fairfax apparently is referring to his service under GW as a lieutenant in the Virginia Regiment from July to December 1756 and as commander of a detached militia company in June 1757 (see William Fairfax to GW, 9, 13–14, 20 May 1756, GW’s Orders, 12, 23 July 1756, William Fairfax to GW, 19 June 1757, and GW to William Fairfax, 25 June 1757).

6Robert Carter Nicholas and Fairfax married sisters and hence were brothers-in-law.

7Fairfax’s sister Hannah Fairfax (1742–1804) had married Warner Washington in May 1764.

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