George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Dixon, 5 March 1789

From John Dixon

Whitehaven [England] March 5th 1789

Dear Sir

As I am perswaded you do not forget your old—I may say sincere Friends—I am (in your exhalted & honorable station) tempted to take the liberty of addressing you—with a view of Introducing to you my Son Joseph Dixon, who will have the honor of handing you this—and who I beg leave to recomend to your kind Protection—as Youth often want such prudent advisers in matters of Business—which calls him over—tho’ I flatter myself it will be soon and easily accomplished—when he will return—and if on that return you should want any thing this place affords—he will esteem it an honor to receive your Commands—which you may rely shall be executed with care & prudence—Some Years ago you instituted a Suit against Mr Savages Securities for his Wifes Settlement—and as by her Will I am a Legatee—should be glad to know If you have recovered the same1—If you have may I solicit your paying my £50 to my Son whois receipt shall be a full & ample discharge against him who is with the most profound respect and Esteem. Dear Sir Your faithful obliged and Most Obedt Servt

John Dixon


Before the Revolution John Dixon and his partner Isaac Littledale of Whitehaven, England, had extensive interests in the Chesapeake tobacco trade, making frequent purchases through their agent Harry Piper (d. 1780) of Alexandria.

1The complicated business affairs of Mrs. Margaret Savage, wife of Dr. William Savage of Dumfries, consumed a disproportionate amount of GW’s time in the late 1760s and early 1770s. After the death of Mrs. Savage’s first husband the Rev. Charles Green in 1765, GW and George William Fairfax were named executors and undertook to pay Mrs. Green an annuity of £100 from the estate. Dr. Savage took his wife to Dublin in the latter part of 1768, leaving Thomas Montgomerie to act as his agent in Virginia. Even before she left America Mrs. Savage deluged the executors with complaints about her husband. Writing from Dublin in 1770 George Mercer informed GW that “the poor Woman has but a bad Time of it, as she is amongst other Things, at the tender Age of three score & ten, denied the Use of Pen Ink Paper & Romances, and a frequent Use of the Strap is substituted in the Place of those Amusements, this she tells me herself, and an old lady who visits me with her assures me—it is—but—too-true” (18 Dec. 1770). In June 1771 Dixon’s agent Harry Piper succeeded Montgomerie as Dr. Savage’s American representative. GW, George William Fairfax, and the Rev. Bryan Fairfax continued to be involved in the litigation concerning the estate and the payment of Mrs. Savage’s annuity for many years. Mrs. Savage’s death in the late 1770s did not solve the executors’ difficulties. By her will Mrs. Savage apparently left a number of bequests besides Dixon’s, and the anxious heirs did not hesitate to approach GW with regard to their claims. In a reply in 1797 to the inquiries of the Rev. Newburgh Burroughs of Belfast, Ireland, whose wife had been left £200 by Mrs. Savage, GW described his lengthy agency in the affair: “True it is I was one of that unfortunate lady’s trustees, and as true, that while I was in a situation to render her any services I performed them (jointly with the other trustee) as far, and as fast as the tedious delays of our Courts would suffer justice to be administered.

“But from the year 1774 until the beginning of the year 1784, it was not in my power to attend to hers, or any private concerns of my own, being absent from this state (Virginia) eight years of the time; during the whole of which, and for sometime after, I believe there was a suspension of all law and all justice, except such as proceeded from a sense of honour, the last of which was no trait in the character of Doctr Savage, husband of the Lady, for of all ingrates he was the most ingrateful.

“While alive, and the Courts were open, he had recourse to all the chicanery of Law, and all the subterfuge of Lawyers to avoid paying her annuity; and since his death, his Estate, if any, for there are various opinions concerning it, and much contention arising therefrom, would render it uncandid were I not to add, es⟨pe⟩cially as the heirs of his Security (also dead) have pleaded the want of Assetts that it is my opinion, strengthned by the Report of the Revd Mr Fairfax, the other Trustee (who I believe has done all that circumstances would permit) that little is to be expected from the prosecution of this business.

“The Suit is still going on, but without sufficient means to support it from hence, and the circumstances already mentioned, it has too much the appearance of throwing away good money after bad, to proceed. So far as I have an individual interest in the matt⟨er,⟩ the hope of a return of the money which I advanced Mrs Savage in her distress, when it was not in the power of her Trustees to force payment of the Annuity, and other expenditures in common with Mr Fairfax, has vanished long since.

“Having but lately returned home from a second eight years absence, which with many interruptions for public purposes between while, has prevented my taking any active share in this business for upwards of twenty years, I have given it as my opinion to Mr Fairfax, that it would be best to offer a percentage, or a good fee to the Lawyers prosecuting the Suit for the Claimants under Mrs Savage’s Will, for all they can recover on this account; and to receive nothing unless they do, by way of Stimula to their exertions” (GW to Burroughs, 20 Aug. 1797, NN). By 1798 Dixon still had not secured his inheritance (George Deneale to GW, 18 April 1798, GW to Deneale, 22 April 1798, DLC:GW). See also Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 2:181–82, 2:228, 3:81; GW and George William Fairfax to William Savage, 25 April 1767, GW to Margaret Savage, 28 June 1768, to William Ellzey, 3 Oct. 1769, and to Bryan Fairfax, 6 April 1789, note 3.

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