George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Sidney Lee, 23 May 1784

From Sidney Lee

Newgate Street Chester [England] May 23d 1784


The Very obliging Notice you did me the honor of taking of a former application of mine, added to the high opinion entertained by my most intimate friends and myself, of your generosity, encourages me again to beg your assistance & advice.1 Have heard but twice from Mr Alexander White of Woodville Frederick County, the only ⟨act⟩ing Executor, of my late Brother General Charles Lee, since my brother’s death.2 His first letter dated July 10th 1783. The second September 25th 1783. In that of July he gave a great domestic loss, and a difficulty he had that with the prevailing with the Witnesses to the Will, who lived out of the State to repair to Berkeley County to prove it; and also the necessity he had been under to set out for Richmond to attend his duty in the Assembly as reasons for not having Written earlier, and that I really thought very Sufficient. And indeed, as far as I could form a judgment from his manner of Writing, beleived him to be a Man of integrity & Sense. In his letter of September 25th he promises to go to Congress to Settle an Open account that had for some time subsisted between that honorable Assembly & my brother. And by which, he was of opinion I might be a considerable sufferer, owing to my brother’s carelessness of Vouchers on his part. but as he gave the strongest assurance of every proper exertion in my favor, and also hopeing from the knowledge several Members of the Congress must have had of Genl Lee’s character in all matters of business, they would act With some Indulgence to his Sister;3 gave myself no uneasiness upon the Subject before the entrance of the present Month; when I began to think it hard to be kept so very long in an utter state of ignorance, whether or not I might ever receive any part of the fortune I cannot have a doubt was intended for me. And now Sr strongly suspect Mr White is no longer in the World, or render’d incapable by illness of transacting business. And upon that account take this very great liberty of imploring I may be honor’d with your advice, that I shall be happy to follow implicitly. Am the more persuaded of the death or extreme illness of Mr White, by having enclosed to him, by the first paquet that sailed after receiving his last letter, a power of Attorney to enable him to sell the land I had been informed I had a right to claim as heir at law (from the States) to a Major General in their service [in] the late War.4 Of Which I have had no notice, no more than of the very great mistake that I pointed out to him, in both the Authenticated copies of the Will in my possession, that was proved April 15th 1783, yet sworn to having been executed in the presence of James Smith and another Witness (his name I cannot make out) September 10th 1783, though my brother departed this life September 1782.5 A mistake that from past transactions it is impossible not to apprehend, the Leviathans Muse & Atkinson will not (to gain time) avail themselves of; if it pleases the Almighty I shall live, untill my affairs have past through every difficulty that has, or may in future wish to impede them, on your great Continent. A Country that my most zealous Wishes Will attend, as long as I am capable of distinguishing Virtue from Vice. And hope & beleive I shall With no small pleasure to the end of my days declare myself (in my little circle) Sr With the truest respect your much obliged, & very obedient humble Servant

Sidney Lee


1For GW’s correspondence with Sidney Lee in 1783 concerning the will of her brother, Gen. Charles Lee, see GW to William Drew, 13 Feb. 1784, nn.1 and 2. GW had most recently written Miss Lee on 15 April 1784.

2Alexander White (1738–1804), who lived in Frederick County, Va., and had taken care of business and legal matters for Charles Lee before Lee’s death in 1782, was one of the beneficiaries of Lee’s will as well as one of the two executors of the will. White was a representative from Virginia in the First Congress in 1789 and a commissioner in 1795 for laying out the new capital city named Washington.

3White did present a petition to Congress, on 22 Dec. 1784, for the settlement of Charles Lee’s account with the United States (DNA:PCC, item 48), and Congress acted affirmatively on his position two days later (JCC, description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends 27:708–9). General Lee died heavily indebted to the government of the United States, and the specific bequests in his will to individuals in the United States included not only all of his land, slaves, and other personal property in Virginia but also cash bequests. Sidney Lee as the residuary heir of her brother inherited valuable property in England, but to make possible the settlement of his account with the United States (see JCC, description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends 27:708–9) and the carrying out of his bequests in America, Sidney Lee found it necessary to send White £4,500 from England. For White’s role in settling the estate, see Sidney Lee to GW, 5 April 1785, and notes.

4When White requested from the state of Virginia a land warrant based on Lee’s military service, Attorney General Edmund Randolph ruled that Lee’s dismissal from the Continental army forfeited his rights to such a grant of land.

5Lee signed the will in Baltimore on 10 Sept. 1782 while en route to Philadelphia. He died there later in the month. The witnesses were James Smith, Samuel Swearingen, and William Goddard. Lee concluded his will with these two oft-quoted provisos: “I desire most earnestly that I may not be buried in any Church or Churchyard, or within a mile of any Presbyterian or Ana-Baptist Meeting house, for since I have resided in this Country, I have kept so much bad company when living, that I do not choose to continue it when dead.

“I recommend my soul to the creator of all worlds and of all creatures, who must from his visible attributes be indifferent to their modes of worship or creeds, whether Christians, Mohomedans, or Jews; whether instilled by education or taken up by reflection; whether more or less absurd, as a weak mortal can no more be answerable for his persuasions, notions, or even skepticism in Religion, than for the color of his skin” (Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 11:108–10).

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