George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James McGowan, 28 February 1794

From James McGowan

Doun [Scotland]1 28 February 1794


I beg your pardon for using the freedom of writing you about the following business. My Brother The Revd Mr Walter McGowan late Rector in the Parish of St James’s in the County of Ann Aroundal in the Province of Maryland N. America died on the 4th May 1786—He was married to a sister in Law of Colonel John Winyess at or near the place where my Brother lived. I understand his wife is also dead, and I suppose her friends will be entitled to the one half of the subjects left by my Brother, But as to this you know better than I do.2

In the month of October 1786 I sent over a Power of Attorney to William Stewart Esquire Merchant in the City of Annapolis in the Provence of Maryland empowering him to be my true and lawfull Attorney for me and in my name to ask demand sue for levy, recover and receive all such sums & sums of money, Chattles, Goods, retale & Effects real and personal, and all other demands whatever which are or shall become due owing pay[ab]le or belonging to my Brother within the Province of Maryland or else where in North America.3

This Power I granted him on the faith of doing Justice to me, and I never had the least doubt but he would prove a faithfull Attorney to me seeing he was so very Kind as [to] write to this Country to his Brother the deceased George Hoome late Esqr. of Argaty saying that my Brother had left considerable sums of money, and that it would be my Interest to send over a Power of Attorney to some Person or come over myself. This Letter had no sooner arrived when the late Revd Mr James Smith Minister of the Parish of Killmadock (in which Parish I reside) got a Letter inclosing another for me from my Sister in Law Mrs McGowan offering me £500 Sterl. for my share if I choosed to take it, altho’ she had every reason to believe my proportion might be more, She having understood that Mr Smith & my Brother having had a Correspondence which subsisted betwixt them for several years thought he would get me advised to take the offer, But having got a Letter from Mr Stewart saying that he recd my Power of Attorney I wrote my Sister in Law I would not accept of her offer—Which Letter of Mr Stewarts was dated 7 May 1787 saying that he had drawn for me Negroes & furniture wearing Apparel Watches &ca (the wearing apparel Watches and a small sum of money I have received) £580 Currency, which he had ardvirtized for sale, except the wearing Apparel—He having not got the Inventary compleated could not precisely inform what would be my proportion but from the idea that he had been able to form of it he thought I would have to receive between £1000 & £1200 Str.—From Letter of 25th April 1788 (which was the last Letter I recd from him) he mentions amount of Inventary returned to Commissarys Offie—

Curry £1955. 8.10
Amount of Debts upon Bond  1170.11. 6½
In all £3126.—. 4½

besides the apparel & Cash—From what I could learn from his Brother Mr David Stewart who came to Britain for some time and sometime after returned back to America I had reason to believe my proportion would amt nearly to £2000 Currency; however in this I may be misinformed, but as I have had no Letters from him for several years past, and altho I have wrote him repeatedly will not answer me a Letter, I have therefore every reason to believe he is using my property himself, and does not intend to let me know any thing about it unless he is brought to Account, which his Letters if produced will clearly show he is accountable to me for my Negroes & Cash—The Interest of the money will very near amount to the Stock, for he at any rate has either disposed of the Negroes, or has them himself—His connections and acquaintances in this Country is surprised at his conduct, and every person who knows of the business is of the opinion that he is using my property for his own purposes—As I am but a very poor man he thinks he may use me as he pleases—I therefore was advised by the Gentlemen in this place to Address you at present, as you have it in your power to do something for me, and as my Brother was Teacher in your ffamily for several years you will on his account give me some assistance as I am but a poor man weak in circumstance, & having become old I am not able to support myself & ffamily—If this you do it will be a great service done me, If you speak to any other Gentleman in case it be not convenient for yourself I will grant a new Power to him, or if Mr Stewart will account for his Intremissions, or let me know what he had done I will allow him a suitable gratifcation for his trouble out of the first end of the subject, But this I leave for you to Judge—I will be very much obliged to you to acknowledge the Receipt of this Letter, and if you’l do for me, and when you write direct to me James McGowan Residenter in Doun by Stirling N. Britain.4 I am with the greatest respect Honourable sir Your most obedt & very humle Servt

James McGowan


1The town of Doune is in the central region of Scotland on the Teith River.

2Walter Magowan served as a tutor to GW’s stepchildren, Martha Parke Custis and John Parke Custis, from 1761 until early 1768, when he went to England for ordination in the Anglican church. In June 1769 he received an appointment to St. James Parish, Herring Creek, in Anne Arundel County, Md., where he served until his death in 1786. On 28 Oct. 1780, he married Elizabeth Dorsey Harrison, who was the sister of Mary Dorsey, the wife of Col. John Weems (1727–1794) of St. James Parish. Weems is an anglicized spelling of the Scottish name Wemyss.

3McGowan’s choice of William Steuart (1754–1838) of Annapolis to act on his behalf may have reflected the close connection that the Steuart family had with Scotland. His father, George Steuart (1700–c.1784) emigrated to America from Perthshire, Scotland, circa 1721, and resided in Annapolis until returning to Scotland in 1775. William accompanied his father to Scotland in 1775, but by 1780 he had returned to Annapolis. His brother George Hume Steuart returned permanently to Scotland, settling at the family home in Argaty, Perthshire, and changing his name to George Steuart Hume. Another brother, David (1750–1814), fought for the British during the Revolutionary War, but later returned to Maryland. He is buried, along with William, at the family estate, “Dodon,” located in present-day Davidsonville, Maryland. The various correspondence mentioned by James McGowan in this letter has not been identified.

4The town of Stirling, located in central Scotland on the Forth River, is the site of Stirling Castle, a residence of Scottish kings and queens of the house of Stuart (Stewart). GW referred McGowan’s inquiry to Maryland congressman William Vans Murray, who reported to GW on 1 March 1795 that he had been unsuccessful in obtaining information (DLC:GW). No reply from GW to McGowan has been identified.

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