George Washington Papers

Tobias Lear to John Rutherfurd, 18 April 1792

Tobias Lear to John Rutherfurd

Philadelphia April 18th 1792.


I had the honor to lay before the President the letter which you left with me yesterday for that purpose,1 and to communicate to him the ideas which you expressed respecting the deed for a certain tract of land formerly purchased by Edward Snickers—and have now the pleasure to convey to you the President’s observations on the subject.

When Colo. George Mercer (not James, as mentioned in the letter left with me) was in England he took up money there from two persons, for which he mortgaged his estate in Virginia. His brother James Mercer, having been left by George in charge of his estate, with a full power of Attorney as James supposed respecting the management of it, found it necessary, to answer some purposes relative thereto, to give a Mortgage also on the estate, not knowing what his brother had done in England.

The Mortgagees in England pressing him for their money—George Mercer sent a power of Attorney to George Mason, George Washington and John Tayloe2 to sell his estate; but when it was found that there were three mortgages upon the estate, and a dispute arose whether the last that was made in England, or that made by James should have the preference, it was at length determined by consent of parties, and was so decreed by the High Court of Chancery, that Washington & Tayloe (Mason having refused to act) should sell the Estate, and the money arising therefrom be made liable to the further order of the Court to be paid to those claims which might in the issue be found to have the preference, or to discharge all of them if the estate should produce enough for that purpose. The President (then Colo. Washington) and Colo. Tayloe, the Attornies of George Mercer, were authorized by the Court, as they before had been by George Mercer and his Mortgagees to sell the estate on twelve months credit. The land in Frederick County (relative to which you wish information) was divided into lots and advertised for sale in November 1774, on the Credit aforesaid, to the highest bidders, giving bond and good security. James Mercer, alledging that he was a Creditor of his brother’s, became a purchaser of some of the lots by way of securing himself, and Edward Snickers (the President beleives) was likewise a purchaser. But Snickers, if he did purchase any, did not purchase from the Attornies the whole of the land mentioned in the letter left with me. James Mercer afterwards sold to Snickers some of the lots which he had purchased, which, with Snickers’ purchase (if he made any in his own name) at the public sale, made up the whole quantity held by Snickers.

According to the conditions of the sale the money was to be paid in November 1775—and in cases where bond and approved security were not given at the sale deeds were withheld.

In may 1775 the President went to Philadelphia as a Delegate to Congress from Virginia—from whence he went to Cambridge and took the command of the Army which it is well known so occupied his time as to leave no room for private business. He therefore wrote to Colo. Tayloe, and requested that he would take the sole management of Colo. Mercer’s affairs upon himself, for situated as he was it was impossible for him to pay any further attention to them, nor would he be any longer responsible.3 Having thus put the management of the business altogether out of his hands, he declined, before every application that was made to him, having any agency in it. Colo. Tayloe dying, and the President not being able or willing to renew his agency in this business, a decree of the High Court of Chancery was obtained to put all the papers & matters relating to Colo. George Mercer’s Estate into the hands of his brother John Mercer, (at present a Representative in Congress from Maryland) he giving Bonds to do & perform all those things which had been required by the former decree to be done by the Attornies aforementioned. Colo. John Mercer will, therefore be able to give any information that may be wanting relative to the business, as he has all the papers in his hands.

The President’s memory will not permit him to say with certainty, what quantity of the land Snickers bought from the attornies, if any; or what from James Mercer. But the President recollects his having applied to him, he thinks in the year 1778 at Camp, in order to obtain deeds; but as he had long before given up the whole business to Colo. Tayloe, he declined doing any thing in it.4

The President further adds, that, so far as his memory serves him, he does not think that Snickers ever had deeds for any part of that land. And under the present circumstances of the case, and considering the length of time since he has had any agency in the business, the President declines doing anything in this matter, unless it shall appear absolutely necessary for him to ⟨illegible⟩, and, in the opinion of the best judges, that he shall not be liable to any inconvenience therefrom hereafter. Should these two points be established, the President will chearfully and with pleasure comply with your wishes.

I have thought it necessary to enter thus fully into the matter that you might have all the information relative to it that the President possesses. You will therefore pardon the length of this letter. I have the honor to be, with great respect & esteem, Sir, Your most Obedt Servt

Tobias Lear.

P.S. The letter which you left with me is enclosed herewith.

ALS, privately owned by an anonymous donor.

For the background to GW’s involvement with George Mercer’s estate, see Statement concerning George Mercer’s Estate, 1 Feb. 1789, source note.

On 19 April, Edmund Randolph wrote GW “to inform him, that his inquietude about the securityship is groundless. The inclosed letter contains a copy of Mr [John Francis] Mercer’s bond; and is therefore sent, that the President may deposit it, if he thinks proper, among his private papers. Mr R. will in future consider the President, as no further connected with Mr John Mercer or Colo. Geo. Mercer’s estate, than as to Whiting’s bond, of which he will obtain an explanation. He will press Mercer in behalf of Fearon, to adjust the business; and will inform both him and Mr [Edward] Montague, that the President’s responsibility ended with the execution of the bond” (DLC:GW). GW did retain the enclosed letters in his private papers.

The letter from Robert Fearon (or Hearon) to Randolph, dated Petersburg, Va., 9 April 1792, merely covered a copy of a bond of 14 Nov. 1782 in the chancery suit of Richard Gravatt et al. v. John Francis Mercer that reads: “Know all men by these presents that we John Francis Mercer William Fitzhugh and Charles Carter of the County of Stafford are held and firmly bound unto Edmund Pendleton George Wythe and John Blair Esquire Judges of the High Court of Chancery in the Sum of ten thousand Pounds to be paid to the said Edmund Pendleton George Wythe and John Blair Esquires and their Successors to the which payment will and truly to be made we bind ourselves and each of us our and each and every of our heirs Executors and Administrators jointly and severally firmly by these presents Sealed with our Seals and dated this Sixteenth Day of November one thousand seven hundred and Eighty two.

“The Condition of the above obligation is such that whereas the above bound John Francis Mercer is appointed by the High Court of Chancery receiver of the Effects under the Sale of the Estate of George Mercer agreeable to an Interlocutory Decree of the former General Court between Richard Gravatt and others Plaintiffs against the said John Francis Mercer and others Defendants in the Person of his Excellency General Washington the former Receiver If therefore the said John Francis Mercer shall faithfully account for and pay all such Monies and Effects as may come to his Hands in Virtue of his Appointment by the said High Court of Chancery according to the future Decree of the Court as well in the Suit of the said Gravatt and others against the said John Francis Mercer as of the said John Francis Mercer against the said Gravatt and others then this Obligation to be void otherwise to remain in full Force and Virtue.” The original document, of which the enclosure was a copy made by chancery court clerk Peter Tinsley, was signed and sealed by Mercer, Fitzhugh, and Carter in the presence of John Beckley and Charles Hay. Pendleton and Wythe signed their approval of Fitzhugh and Carter being securities for the plaintiff in the bond (DLC:GW).

1The letter, which Lear returned to Rutherfurd (see postscript), has not been found.

2John Tayloe (1721–1779), who after 1758 lived at Mount Airy on the Rappahannock River in Richmond County, Va., was a member of the Ohio Company and served on the Virginia council during the 1750s.

4On 29 May 1779 GW wrote Lund Washington: “Mr Snickers is here with some Deeds for Colo. [George] Mercers land for me to execute—I have refused to resume a business which I formally relinquished (as you know by Letter which passed through your hands) three years ago—indeed, without a single paper to refer to, I could not with propriety & common prudence go into a business of this kind even if I had time & inclination to do it, but there has been such miserable inattention & mismanagement on the part of Colo. Tayloe to whom I transferred the business that I should choose to look a little about me before I do any thing relative to that Estate” (ALS, ViMtvL).

Index Entries