George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James Mercer, 15 October 1789

From James Mercer

Virginia—Fredericksbg Oct: 15th 1789


I hope the necessity of the Case, will be a sufficient appollogy for my intruding myself on your Excellency, who must be too much engaged in the business belonging to yr important & very high office, to attend to business of a private Nature—I have however purposely delayed this application untill the recess of Congress, hoping that your Excellency may by that event, have the leisure to favour my request.

The Records accompanying this, will shew your Excellency, that this request is justifyable as far as the Consent of the parties interested requires—and I doubt not, if Leisure permits I shall be favoured with your Excellency’s answer previous to the 2d Day of December.

It is however necessary for your Excellency’s understanding the points to which your answer is thought to be material to inform you, that I am sued as an attorney of my late Brother Colo. George Mercer by Wm Dawson—for three years Stewardship & the Shares of Crops made on my Brothers plantations in Frederick County for three years—previous to the Sale thereof in the year 1774 and for turning him off without Notice at the Sale, greatly to his Loss.

The truth is, this Man was the most Stupid & ignorant Man ever entrusted with even the Care of Six Negroes1—I never saw him from the time of first employing him but for an hour or so—never had or cou’d get any account from him the whole time—& was allways paying orders to Sherifs—blk Smiths Carpenters Wagoners &ca and the little that was made except the Wheat delivered at your Mill, he applyed to his own use, he sold the Stock at his pleasure, and went so far as to pillage the Lands of pine Timber, tho a very precious Article to the Estate—In one word his Conduct compelled my Brother to sell his Estate, which is now totally gone and now he demands of me out of my own Estate a Debt which if just cou’d have paid out of my Brother’s Estate, had he given Notice thereof while there was any Estate left—But on the contrary tho’ he promised me in your Excellency’s presence at the Sale to come & settle with me so soon as the sale shou’d be over, I never saw, nor heard of or from him, from the conclusion of the Sale untill the day I was arrested at his Suit about two years ago, after an interval of thirteen years; by which all persons privy to his bad Conduct, are now either dead, or removed to Kentucky—I trust however that your Excellency may at this day recollect enough to do me justice before Gentlemen—this Suit being now referred to such & got out of the Hands of Overseers, the common Jurors in Virginia.

I have, also to shorten your Excellency’s trouble as much as I cou’d drafted a form of what I expect your recollection will enable you to say on this Subject which may be the easier varyed shou’d my expectations exceed your recollection2—tho’ I think it probable that you may remember the wretched situation of the plantations under his care at the time of the Sale—his stupidity, & allmost idiotism at the Sale, so that he did not even know the Negroes or any thing else & was of no more use than a perfect Stranger[.] It is yet more likely that you may recollect the Trick he meant to put upon us, by directing us a round about Route to Mr Booths where we went to dine on a Sunday3—purposely to avoid our seeing the Pine Timber cut on the Right Road which he sold to one Brady who had a saw mill—this I well remember accusing him off before you to convince you that I knew nothing of his flagitiousness, and I hope you recollect this & in particular, that he begged me not to say any thing to him then—and that he promised to come down & settle with me so soon as I shou’d be returned from the Sale.

I have now only to add, that Dawson declines writing your Excellency as was agreed upon, he having nothing to communicate; I am therefore compelled to make my application singly4—And beseeching your excuse for this trouble I beg leave to assure your Excellency that I am with the highest Respect & with constant prayers for your Happiness—Yr Excellency’s most respectfull—most obedient & very humble Servant

Js Mercer


For background to this letter, see William Dawson to GW, 5 Oct. 1789.

2The statement Mercer prepared for GW reads: “Mr James Mercer of Fredericksbg—having by Letter requested my answer to certain interogatories respecting what I know, in Relation to a Mr William Dawson who was a Steward for Colo. George Mercer on his Estate in Fredk County in the yr 1774—and it appearing by a certified Copy thereof attested by J. Chew Clerk of the District Court holden at Fredericksbg that Mr Dawson hath consented that my Relation of Facts by way of a Letter shall be admitted as Evidence before the Arbitrators whom Mr Mercer & Mr Dawson have chosen to arbitrate the diffrences subsisting between them—respecting Mr Dawson’s Stewardship—and ever willing to give any information I may have & which may be thought by those interested to contribute to Justice—I answer as well as my memory will inable me to do as follows—

“I (with Colo. Tayloes & Mason) was appointed an Attorney in fact for Colo. George Mercer then of London & also for a Mr Gravett and a Miss Wroughton his Mortgagees—a part of my authority was to sell the Lands & Slaves, Stocks &ca of Colo. Mercer then being in Fredk County on Shennondoah River—I accordingly advertized a Sale thereof & attended the same with Mr James Mercer some time in the Month of November 1774 and continued on that Estate about four days—lodging & continuing in the House then occupyed by Mr Dawson a Steward or Overseer of Colo. Mercer on that Estate—This was the first time I ever saw Mr Dawson—nor have I seen him since—of course I can not be acquainted with him—but I then observed to Mr Mercer that Mr Dawson was incapable of the charge committed to him—I really never saw plantations in such bad order in my Life and Mr Dawson appeared so easy or simple that he was of no service in bringing the Slaves or Stocks to Sale—and that business was much forwarded & eased by the assistance of Mr James Mercer—I do not know what were the amount of the Crops made on the Estate that year—but I recollect the Crops of Corn which were sold were very triffling & not enough to maintain the Plantations had they been continued.

“I also remember to have seen on my way to Mr Booths where Mr Mercer & myself were invited to dine during the Sale—several pine Treefresh cut that Fall so close to the Ground & in such a manner as to attract the Notice of both of us & on in⟨spection⟩ we found that the Trees grew on Colo. Mercer’s Lands, then to be sold—and Mr D. had cut them or given leave to the owner of some saw Mill to whom Mr Dawson had sold them so to do—that upon Mr James Mercers complaining of that transaction as well as other things Mr Dawson requested Mr Mercer not to say any thing to him then, & Mr Dawson then promised Mr Mercer that he wou’d come down to him as soon as he Mr Mercer shou’d be returned home & render an Account of all his transactions on that Es⟨tate.⟩

“I also remember that Mr Dawson then purchased of me as atty of Colo. Mercer & his mortgagees—a Lot of Land & I believe some Slaves, Stocks, & plantation Utensils being on the Lot where he resided—for which he like the other purchasers gave Bond with Security payable to me as attorney without asking any discount for any Debt as due him from Colo. Mercer, nor did he to my knowledge say that any thing was due to him for the managing of that Estate either as Steward or Overseer—but I recollect that all the Corn was sold without any Claim of his share thereof. This is all I can now recollect relating to this business” (D, in writing of James Mercer, DLC:GW).

3GW and Mercer dined with William Booth on Sunday, 28 Nov. 1774. Booth, an old friend of GW’s from Westmoreland County, had recently moved to Buck Marsh Run in the area of the Mercer land. See Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 3:293.

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