George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James Wood, 8 July 1790

From James Wood

Richmond [Va.] 8th July 1790.


I have been Honor’d with your Letter of the 22d Ultimo.1 I find in the Registers Office the Original Plat of 400 acres Surveyed for Thomas Mullins in the year 1752. This Plat was filed in the Proprietors Office, in a Bundle Marked “Forfeited, the Rules of the Office not Complied with;” but from a Strict Examination of the late Proprietors Office it does not appear that a Caveat was Entered. I have had recourse to the different Land Laws, and have Consulted the Register. It seems to me, that a warrant may be Obtained in your Own, or any Other name, for this Land upon Paying the State Price which is £25 perC: in Certificates, by which a Title may be Acquired, which wou’d be good against all Persons except Mullins or his representatives, who it is Supposed has an Equitable Title, until the time Expires, which has been Allowed by a late Act of Assembly, to the person first entering, to Comply with the Law, by Paying the Composition and Office fees. The time will expire the 1st of December Next. I am told that Mullins has not been heard of since he went Off, but still there wou’d be a risque, as his Heirs at a future day, might set up a Claim if the land shou’d be Re entered before the Experation of the time limited by Law. The Register has given me the enclosed,2 as a State of the whole Expence Attending the Purchase, and Other Charges which will Accrue in obtaining a Patent. If I can Serve you in the Business, I beg you will Command me.

I have lately understood that some of the Gentlemen appointed to the Battalion to be raised, mean to Decline their Appointments.3 I hope you will not think it presuming in me, to mention Mr John Heth4 to you—he served in the Army from 1777 ’till the end of the war with reputation—after the Discharge of the Army he was appointed by the Executive, a Lieutenant of One of the Armed Boats belonging to the State, where he Continued to Act much to the Satisfaction of the Board, until the Adoption of the Present Government, when he was again Disbanded.

Colonel Willet Arrived here a few Days ago5 Accompanied by McGillivray and a Number of the Chiefs of the Creek Nation on their way to New York. They were Entertained yesterday by a Public Dinner, by order of the Executive at the Expence of the State6—they Conducted themselves with great Propriety—every Attention has been paid to Colo. Willet by the Governor and Officers of Government—⟨with⟩ sentiments of the most perfect respect I have the Honor to be Sir Yr Mo. Obt Servant

James Wood


Under the authority of the proprietor of the Northern Neck, Lord Fairfax, GW surveyed on 2 April 1752 a 400–acre tract of wasteland on Timber Ridge at the head of Smiths Run, a branch of the Cacapon River in then Frederick County, Va. (now Hampshire County, W.Va.), for Thomas Mullin. GW caveated the land, after Mullin absconded without paying for the service, intending to obtain the patent in his own name if no better claimant appeared. He apparently forgot about the claim until Wood reminded him of it in a 20 Oct. 1787 letter that has not been found. In reply GW wrote to Wood on 29 Oct. 1787 that if “it shall be thought that my right to the land is preferable or equal to that of any other, I should be glad to Obtn it—if not I shall rest contented—your advice and assistance (if proper) would be esteemed a further mark of your Friendship” (LB, DLC:GW; see also Papers, Colonial Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series. 10 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1983–95. description ends , 1:16, 31, 35).

The next surviving letter from Wood concerning the claim was written on 7 June 1790, in which he informed GW about Hampshire County inhabitant John Capper’s intention to enter a claim for the tract. Wood noted: “I did myself the Honor of writing you three or four years Ago, on the Subject of this Land, in Answer to a Letter of yours; informing you, On what Terms the Patent might be Obtained; but not being favor’d with your reply, I Concluded you did not Mean to pay the State Price for it” (DLC:GW).

1GW’s letter of 22 June 1790 to Wood reads: “I ought to make many apologies to you for not answering a letter which you did me the favor of writing to me some considerable time ago respecting my caveat, and to which reference is made in your letter of the 7th now before me—I find an excuse exceedingly necessary for me at present for (not having letters of that date by me to refer to) I am obliged to acknowledge that I do not recollect enough of the terms then communicated, to enable me to decide upon the matter now.

“Will you permit me then, my good Sir, to ask you once more whether by paying the State price for the land is all that remains for me to do to obtain it, or whether, and what the precise cost to the final completion by Patent (inclusive) amounts to—I will then, without further delay write to you definitively. The land to the best of my recollection is of no great value—The State price therefore is an object of some consideration but one which has yet more weight in my mind is, not to have my name brought forward in a dispute of this sort before any tribunal, rather than this I would submit to the loss” (LB, DLC:GW).

2The enclosed note from John Harvie, register of the Virginia Land Office, summarizes the costs as £25 in certificates for the 400 acres, 31/6 for surveying fees, 10/7½ for the grant fee, and 5/ for issuing the land office warrant, as well as unspecified wages for chain carriers (DLC:GW).

3After GW nominated the officers of the additional infantry battalion authorized by the 30 April 1790 “Act for regulating the Military Establishmanet of the United States” in early June 1790, Maj. Alexander Parker and Ens. Richard Archer declined their commissions (GW to U.S. Senate, 2 June 1790; GW to James Wood, 8 Aug. 1790; 1 Stat. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 119).

4John Heth (d. 1810) served with George Augustine Washington under James Wood during the Revolution and, along with his former commander in Richmond, was an original member of the Virginia Society of the Cincinnati. GW appointed Heth ensign of the additional battalion in place of Richard Archer on 17 Dec. 1790. Heth was promoted to lieutenant in 1791 and to captain in 1792 and was honorably discharged from the army in June 1802 (DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972—. description ends 2:99, 100, 550; Executive Journal, description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America: From the commencement of the First, to the termination of the Nineteenth Congress. Vol. 1. Washington, D.C., 1828. description ends 1:86, 114–16; Hume, Papers of Virginia Cincinnati, description begins Edgar Erskine Hume, ed. Papers of the Society of the Cincinnati in the State of Virginia, 1783–1824. Richmond, 1938. description ends 4, 34, 39, 286; see also GW to James Wood, 8 Aug. 1790).

5Marinus Willett noted in his journal: “At nine o’clock, on the morning of July the 6th, I arrived at Richmond, where I had a dinner provided for the Indians, who came in at three o’clock in the afternoon. At this place I remained the 7th, 8th, and 9th.” After leaving Richmond his party arrived at Fredericksburg, Va., on 9 July (Willett, Narrative of the Military Actions of Col. Marinus Willett, description begins William M. Willett, ed. A Narrative of the Military Actions of Colonel Marinus Willett, Taken Chiefly from His Own Manuscript. New York, 1831. description ends 111; see also Tobias Lear to Richard Varick, 19 July 1790, n.2, for McGillivray’s trip from Fredericksburg to New York).

6On 6 July Virginia’s lieutenant governor James Wood and the rest of the state’s executive council “advised that an entertainment be prepared for” McGillivray and the Creek chiefs “at the Theatre in this City and that the Judges of the Court of Appeals, the gentlemen of the bar and heads of the Executive Departments be invited to it.” Willett recorded, “During our stay at Richmond we were treated with the greatest attention. On the 8th, Colonel M’Gillivray and myself dined in the academy with the governor, council, judges, a number of the gentlemen of the bar, and other persons of distinction” (Journals of the Council of State of Virginia, description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds. Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia. 5 vols. Richmond, 1931–82. description ends 5:198–99; Willett, Narrative of the Military Actions of Col. Marinus Willett, description begins William M. Willett, ed. A Narrative of the Military Actions of Colonel Marinus Willett, Taken Chiefly from His Own Manuscript. New York, 1831. description ends 111).

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