George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Francis Willis, Jr., 25 October 1793

To Francis Willis, Jr.

Mount Vernon 25th Octr 1793


Your letter of the 4th of Augt had to go to Phila. & come back, before I received it.

The mistakes which have happened respecting the Negros of the late Mrs Saml Washington are somewhat singular; and it is not a little surprizing after the first mistake had happened, and so much pains had been taken to account for, & set it right, that now after a lapse of five or Six years the whole matter should assume quite a different face. it should be Discovered at this late hour that that lady herself had no right to the Negros. which, by the bye, I believe possession alone wd have given her.1

If I had ever intended to avail my self of the Law for my own benefit (which made me heir to those Negros) I would not have relinquished my claim without a thorough investigation of the subject of defective title. For presuming tha⟨t⟩ all Law is founded in equity and being under a conviction tha⟨t if⟩ Mrs Washington had survived her husb⟨and⟩ she would have released nothing to which she would have been entitled by law, I saw no injustice or impropriety upon the ground of reciprocity of receiving for my Brother’s Children that which in the other case would have been taken from them—But not having finally resolved in my own Mind (as you may readily infer from my long silence) whether to take from Mrs Washington’s family for the benefit of my Brothers only daughter (who from the involved State of his Affairs had left her by his Will a very small pittance; and the obtainment of that, even doubtful) the whole, or only part of what the law entitled me to, I let the matter rest til your second letter had revived the Subject.2

I now, in order to close the business finally, have come to the following conclusion. Pay me one hundd pounds which I shall give to my Niece for her immediate support, and I will quit claim to all the Negro’s which belonged to Mrs Saml Washington, & will releas⟨e⟩ them accordingly3—I am Sir &ca &c.

ADf, ViMtvL; LB, DLC:GW. The text in angle brackets is supplied from the letter-book copy. GW wrote the draft on the back of an apparently unrelated address leaf to “The President of the United States Mount Vernon Virginia.”

1Willis was executor of the estate of Susannah Perrin Holding Washington, the last wife of GW’s brother Samuel Washington. The “first mistake” was Willis’s sale of five slaves whom she had bequeathed to a son, but who should have been inherited by GW (see Willis to GW, 24 Sept. 1788). Willis’s letter to GW of 4 Aug. 1793 explained that those slaves really belonged to the estate of her brother, who had not conveyed them to her.

2For a copy of Samuel Washington’s will of 9 Sept. 1781, see Berkeley County, W.Va., Will Book 1, pp. 237–39. GW was one of Samuel Washington’s executors and had contributed much to the support of Samuel’s children, including the daughter, Harriot.

3Willis replied to GW on 9 Dec.: “About forty days after date I received your favour, I waited the present opportunity to answer it, I accept your offer to put an end to a business that has given me much trouble & uneasiness, & will most certainly soon send the money by some safe opportunity” (ALS, DLC:GW).

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