George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Burgess Ball, 19 December 1790

To Burgess Ball

Philadelphia Decr 19th 1790

Dear Sir

Your letter of the 7th instt came duly to hand,1 but the multiplicity of matters that pressed upon me at the time, prevented an earlier acknowledgment.

I write to you now respecting an exchange of Lands because you wished to hear from me soon, on that subject—not because I think there is the least probability of such an exchange taking effect; I judge so from the ideas I have formed (from the tenor of your letter) indicative of your expectations; first, because the land I alluded to, lying on Bullskin in the County of Berkeley, most congenial I suppose to your wishes, is, all of it, under leases, and secondly (supposing that to be the tract you had in contemplation, & was knowing to the quantity contained in it—viz.—between 1500 & 2000 Acres) because you have, in my estimation, greatly underrated the value of my land, or over-rated that of your own, by supposing money is to be given to make up the difference. Lands of the quality of those I hold in Berkeley sell currently at from £3.10 to £5 pr Acre, which is full as high, I conceive, as yours do. How far the leases might impede the Sale, if I was disposed to sell, I know not; but after what you have said, it is incumbent on me to inform you, that I have no land between the Blue ridge and the Western Waters which are not leased.2

In the County of Fayette, 40 miles this side Pittsburgh on one of the Roads leading thereto from Winchester, & in a thick settled & secure Country, I have a tract of about 1700 Acres equal to any whatever, with good plantations thereon (one of which is large) & other appendages. In the County adjoining—viz.—Washington, and about 16 miles from Fort Pitt, I have another tract of estimable land, rather over 3,000 Acres; with 15 or 16 farms on it, well watered and Meadowed. This tract is also in a thick settled, & perfectly secure Country. Both lye in the State of Pensylvania, and my Agent near the premises had been authorized to let the tenements for 5 or 7 years (I do not recollect which) but whether he has done it, or not, I am unable to say. For the first of these tracts I could once have recd 40/ Pensa Curry pr Acre, and for the other 30/ like money; but like all other landed property they have fallen in value; tho’ I never yet have offered them for less.

Beyond these, on the Great Kanhawa, halfway between Pittsburgh or Fort Pitt & Kentucky; and on the Ohio above the Kanhawa; I hold the most valuable River bottoms in all that Country & of considerable extent, on both those Waters; nearly opposite to which, on the No. Wt side of the Ohio, respectable Settlements are formed, and forming.

I mention these circumstances with no other view than, should your thoughts extend to the Country beyond the Alligany, you may have the greater variety of prospects & offers to chuse from. Mrs Washington unites in best wishes for yourself & Mrs Ball and I am Dr Sir Yr Affecte &. Obedt Servt3

Go: Washington


1Ball, who had apparently visited Mount Vernon during the fall, had written to GW from his home, Traveller’s Rest, in King George County, on 7 Dec. 1790: “If I am not mistaken, when I was at Mount Vernon, you mentioned, that you had a Mind to offer me an Exchange for my Place, but that your lands were leasd out. Mr Jno. Lewis & myself are off our Bargain by mutual Consent, upon my giving up the Work of 9 or 10 Hands for 7 or 8 Weeks, which I had had at his Mills—I consider’d that the Property I was to have of Mr Lewis woud by no meens answer my present Situation, and, as to future Prospects, they might be far distant and precarious in the End. I have already a tollarable large family and a growing one, which makes me anxious to make an Exchange with some Person for a larger quantity of Lands, that might be more advantageous to my Posterity; and my present Situation is such (much involv’d in debt) that, unless I get some Money in difference, I shoud be obliged to sell some of the Land I might get for mine. If you think Sir, that you can give me a good Exchange, and I’m satisfyed you woud offer none unless a good one, I shall be happy to treat with you. I am well satisfyed that a new Country to Persons in my Situation, is the most advisable, and long ago wou’d I have moved to Kentuckey or Georgia, and I have prevail’d on my Wife to do so; It is still my greatest wish, but I’ve no hope of ever getting her to agree to it. I have yet Negroes enough (between 60 & 70) to do well on fresh Lands. I hope you will pardon my thus intruding on your time, so much engaged as you must be, and that as soon as you have leisure, you will be so good as write to me” (DLC:GW).

2GW’s land in Berkeley County was close to the property of Ball’s father-in-law, GW’s brother Charles Washington.

3Ball replied to GW from Traveller’s Rest on 10 Jan. 1791: “I recd yours of the 19th Ult: and from its Contents, am apprehensive there is not much Chance for an Exchange between us, as you intimate yourself as much. I did not know whither you might be in earnest (or jesting) when you mention’d, that ‘you had a mind to make me an offer’, but, as Mr Lewis and myself were off, I thought I woud take the liberty of troubling you on the Subject. I did not meen any particular Lands of yours anywhere, as I knew not the quantity in any one Tract, but I well knew that you had Lands in a variety of Places, and thought that perhaps you wou’d (if you wanted mine) make me some offer that might be advantagious to my Family, it being for their benefit I am anxious to part with this Place. If your Lands on this side the Allagany are least for a length of time they wou’d not answer our present situation; if only for a short time, the Inconvenience might not be great, but Leases at all times lessen the value of the Fee Simple considerably. Your Lands beyond the Allagany, I am satisfyed are valuable, but, it will be as easy to prevail on Fanny to go to Kentucky as to go there; if however those Lands near Fort Pitt ⟨w⟩d sell at present (to answer my present demands) and I cou’d get a sufficiency of Land in Berkly or Frederick for us to live on, in such Case, we might come upon terms⟨,⟩ if you think proper. I hold here 1031 Acres for which, just after the Close of the War I cou’d have had £10,000, but as you observe such property has greatly fallen and I now scarcely know what to value ⟨mine⟩ at. I am in Treaty with Mr George Fitzhugh for some Lands in Prince William & King George, but would prefer letting you have my Place, if you have an Inclination for an Exchange. We shall be very happy to see you here on your Tour to the Southward if you will be so good as to take the trouble of Calling” (DLC:GW).

The idea of an exchange of property between GW and Ball was apparently abandoned at this point, but GW continued to interest himself in Ball’s efforts to acquire a suitable home for himself and a patrimony for his several children. In 1794 Ball established himself on land in Loudoun County, where he proposed to establish a forge and tilting hammer. Shortly thereafter GW suggested that the federal government might be interested in acquiring this property for an arsenal (see Ball to GW, 24 June 1794, and GW to Ball, 27 July 1794, DLC:GW).

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