George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Francis Mercer, 12 August 1786

To John Francis Mercer

Mount Vernon 12th Augt 1786.

Dr Sir,

The Clerks notes in the Suits ordered by you on the Bonds taken at Colo. Geo: Mercer’s sale, are (many of them) brought against me; some of wch without adverting thereto, I have paid, supposing them to have arisen on distresses made by Mr Muse for my rents.1 A few days ago a Bill from the Clerk, I believe, of Berkley, was handed to me amounting to near six hundred pounds of Tobacco, which not being convenient for me to pay, was returned. I shall be obliged to you in future when writs are ordered, to direct these notes into some other channel. I am threatened also (as you may see by the enclosed) in another manner on the same Accot.2

I am led from these circumstances to hope that the suits have been, or soon will be productive; for, tho’ painful to reiterate, the fact is that I am really in want of money.3 The almost total loss of my Corn last year, the scantiness of my Crop of wheat this (in which I am only a common sufferer) & the probable destruction of my Corn by the Chinch-bug, in which I stand almost alone, deprives me of all hope of aid from these sources; which is the more distressing to me as I am at this time involved in more than common expence to finish my house & to make the repairs which were found wanting when it come to be examined. I am Dr Sir Your Obt Hble Servt

Go: Washington


1For a description of the sale of George Mercer’s Virginia property conducted by GW in November 1774, see GW to John Tayloe, 30 Nov. 1774, n.2. See also Statement concerning George Mercer’s Estate, 1 Feb. 1789.

2This letter to GW is dated from Alexandria 27 July: “Sir May it please your Excellency, inclosed is a Clerks Note from Berkeley office for 595 lb. Tobacco due the Estate of Mr William Pres⟨el⟩ deed being sent by Me with many others of the kind to collect by his Exors the amount of which @ 12/6 per Ct may it please your Excellency to send per Bearer, and am with all Respect your Excellencys most obt and humble Servt James Meyler” (DLC:GW). Meyler wrote at the bottom: “Amot ¶3.14.4½.”

3For the debt of the Mercer estate, see GW to John Francis Mercer, 8 July 1784, n.1. For Mercer’s proposal regarding payment on the estate debt, see GW to Mercer, 9 Sept. 1786. GW’s legal and financial involvement with the Mercers, which began with his marriage to Martha Custis and extended into the 1790s, derived, first, from the loan of £2,100 to John Mercer in 1758 by Martha Custis and, second, from GW’s management of the sale of George Mercer’s Virginia property in 1774. John Mercer died in 1768, and his son George Mercer died in 1784 after living abroad since the early 1760s. After the Revolution John Francis Mercer took over the management of the affairs of his father’s estate from his elder half brother James Mercer. GW’s letters to John Francis Mercer during the next three years rang changes on GW’s need for money and on the failure of Mercer, who had married the Maryland heiress Sophia Sprigg, to make good his repeated promises to make substantial payments on the estate debt which still stood at more than £900 in May 1791 (Ledger B description begins Manuscript Ledger Book 2, 1772-93, in George Washington Papers, Library of Congress. description ends , 221). None of John Francis Mercer’s letters in these exchanges has been found.

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