George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Francis Mercer, 9 September 1786

To John Francis Mercer

Mount Vernon 9th Sep. 1786.

Dear Sir,

Your favor of the 20th ulto did not reach me till about the first inst. It found me in a fever, from which I am now but sufficiently recovered to attend to business. I mention this to shew that I had it not in my power to give an answer to your propositions sooner.1

With respect to the first, I never mean (unless some particular circumstances should compel me to it) to possess another slave by purchase; it being among my first wishes to see some plan adopted, by the legislature by which slavery in this Country may be abolished by slow, sure, & imperceptable degrees.2 With respect to the 2d, I never did, nor never intend to purchase a military certificate; I see no difference it makes with you (if it is one of the funds allotted for the discharge of my claim) who the purchaser is. If the depreciation is 3 for 1 only, you will have it in your power whilst you are at the receipt of Custom—Richmond—where it is said the great regulator of this business (Greaves) resides, to convert them into specie at that rate. If the difference is more, there would be no propriety, if I inclined to deal in them at all, in my taking them at that exchange.3

I shall rely upon your promise of two hundred pounds in five weeks from the date of your letter. It will enable me to pay the workmen which have been employed abt this house all the Spring & Summer, (some of whom are here still).4 But there are two debts, which press hard upon me. One of which, if there is no other resource, I must sell Land or Negroes to discharge. It is owing to Govr Clinton of New York, who was so obliging as to borrow, & became my Security for £2500 to answer some calls of mine. This sum was to be returned in twelve months from the conclusion of Peace. For the remains of it, about eight hundred pounds York C[urrenc]y I am now paying an interest of seven Pr Ct; but the high interest (tho’ more than any estate can bear) I should not regard, if my credit was not at stake to comply with the conditions of the loan.5 The other debt, tho’ I know the person to whom it is due wants it, and I am equally anxious to pay it, might be put off a while longer. This sum is larger than the other.6 I am Dr Sir Yr Most Obedt Hble Servt

Go: Washington


1Letter not found.

2In the end, after extensive correspondence, GW and Mercer reached a mutual agreement that GW would take no slaves in payment of the debt owed him by the estate of John Mercer. See GW to John Francis Mercer, 1 Feb. 1787. For the estate debt, see GW to John Francis Mercer, 8 July 1784, n.1.

3GW ultimately agreed to accept military certificates in payment of the Mercer estate debt, but it is not apparent from GW’s accounts, or from this correspondence, what if any certificates he received from Mercer. See GW to Mercer 6, 24 Nov., 5, 19 Dec. 1786, 1 Feb. 1787, and Ledger B description begins Manuscript Ledger Book 2, 1772-93, in George Washington Papers, Library of Congress. description ends , 221.

4Mercer paid £200 on 16 Oct. (Ledger B description begins Manuscript Ledger Book 2, 1772-93, in George Washington Papers, Library of Congress. description ends , 221).

5GW paid George Clinton in June 1787 (GW to Clinton, 9 June 1787). For the Clinton loan, see Clinton to GW, 27 Feb. 1784, source note.

6GW was probably referring to what he owed George Clinton for their joint purchase of land in upstate New York. See GW to Clinton, 5 Nov. 1786, and the references in note 2 of that document.

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