George Washington Papers

From George Washington to George Ball, 6 March 1797

To George Ball

Philadelphia 6th Mar: 1797


Enclosed is the copy of a letter I wrote to you in answer to yours from Lancaster, & to that place directed it supposing your residence to be in that County. This letter will be directed to the care of the Postmaster in Fredericksburgh, but as you are not particular in designating the place at which you are to be found, it may not, any more than the former, find its way to you.1

The receipt of your letter of the 16th ulto should have had an earlier acknowledgment, had not the business of the Session pressed heavily upon me towards the close of it. I am—Sir Your most Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

ALS (letterpress copy), DLC:GW; LB, DLC:GW.

1George Ball, a lawyer of Spotsylvania County, wrote to GW on 16 Jan. from Lancaster County seeking to buy a tract of land in Gloucester County owned by GW. GW responded on 1 Feb. setting forth the terms on which he would sell it. For a description of the 400–acre tract in Gloucester County which GW acquired in 1789 from John Dandridge in partial payment of a debt, see the source note in John Dandridge to GW, 27 Oct. 1788. George Ball’s initial letter to GW of 16 Jan. 1797 reads: “I am informed by Mr Geo: Fitzhugh of your wish to Sell the tract of Land which you hold in Gloucester County (this State) and that he had been on a Contract with you for sd land, but had since declined it. Your letter to him dated the 28 of Jan: 1796 (which I now have before me) fully acquaints me with your terms—I will purchase of you—but if it should answer your purpose as well, should be glad if the second payment could be extended to a farther date, that is, a fourth at the conveyan[c]e, the other fourth in two years and so on in one or two years untill the payment be compleated. the Land I had reather be its own security. of your inclination still to sell, your Agent if any (in this State) by whome you sell and your terms if alter’d, be so good to let me know immediately by post” (DLC:GW).

GW’s response of 1 Feb. from Philadelphia reads: “Sir, Your letter of the 16th Ulto has been reed. If Mr George Fitzhugh has given up the idea of purchasing my land in Gloucester county, I am willing that you should have it on the terms it has been offered to him. which are, for the nett sum it cost me, with interest thereon, from the date of my purchase to the date of my conveyance: one fourth of which to be paid at the signing of the Deed, the other three fourths in three annual payments, with interest.

“Although the latter payments would be most agreeable to me, I should have no material objection to wait two years for the second fourth, and annually for the other two fourths; but in either case interest (in order to make myself whole) will be expected.

“If, Sir, you are desirous of closing the matter in a purchase, it must not be delayed as others are expressing their wishes to deal for it. If nothing unforeseen prevents it, I shall certainly be at my Seat in Virga by the 20th of March—I expect to be there sooner—but would not calculate upon it. I am—Sir Your most Obedt Hble Servt Go: Washington.

“P.S. After the first payment, I have no objection to the Land as Security for the payment of the remaining three fourths. G.W.” (letterpress copy, DLC:GW; LB, DLC:GW).

Before receiving GW’s letter of 1 Feb., Ball left Lancaster County and returned home to Spotsylvania County, from where he wrote GW on 16 Feb.: “About the 14 of last month I wrote you a letter, from Lancaster County (this State) and from my not receiving an answer & some other circumstance I have some doubt whither you have receiv’d it or not—the purpose of which was, that I was informed by your letter to Mr Geo: Fitzhugh of King George County (with whome you had been on a contract, and who has since declined it) of your intent to sell your land which you hold in Glousester County—from my circumstances and my knowledge of the land I wish to purchase upon the terms you mention in that letter—of your intent still to sell your Agent in this state if any and other particulars you will much oblige me to let me know immediately by post as it will be a matter of importance for me to know soon. . . .

“When I wrote the letter mentioned above I was in Lancaster—from home, and expected to have continued there untill your answer should have arived; but I am now in Spotsylvania and shall continue” (DLC:GW).

And after receiving GW’s letter of 1 Feb., Ball wrote from Fredericksburg in Spotsylvania County on 1 Mar.: “I receiv’d your favour this day in answer to mine wrote in January last—from its not having arrived sooner (owing to mine being ⟨dated⟩ from Lancaster) I wrote you one other some time in February, which I suppose before this you have received—the terms which you mention I think would suit me, and I shall make it my endeavour to be at your Seat (Mount Vernon) by the twentieth of March—or at any rate by the last of that month untill which time I hope you will consider (as I shall consider and be influenced by it in my affairs) the contract as Obligatory” (DLC:GW).

Finding that he would be unable to get to Mount Vernon by 20 Mar., Ball wrote GW on 15 Mar.: “my peculiar circumstance (not known at the time I wrote you) obliges me to pospone the time of my coming untill the first day of April; if I can possibly come sooner I will but untill that Time You will greatly oblige me not to enter on any new contract with another—as I calculate upon it, and under the apprehension of becoming a purchaser shall so order my matters” (DLO.GW).

On 10 April GW acknowledged receipt of £197 Virginia currency from Ball in partial payment of £800 that he had agreed to pay for the Gloucester tract. It was agreed that Ball was to pay an additional £303 on or before 10 April 1798 and the final £300 in 1799 (receipt from GW to Ball, 10 April 1797, ADS, ViMtvL; see also Ledger C description begins Manuscript Ledger in Morristown National Historical Park, Morristown, N.J. description ends , 27 and Cash Memoranda, 1794-97 description begins Cash + Entries & Memorandums, 29 Sept. 1794–31 Aug. 1797. Manuscript in John Carter Brown Library, Providence. description ends ). For Ball’s subsequent challenge of the terms of the sale and GW’s biting rejoinder, see Ball to GW, 24 April 1797, and GW to Ball, 7 May 1797. The conditions of the sale are also spelled out in Ledger C description begins Manuscript Ledger in Morristown National Historical Park, Morristown, N.J. description ends , 59. Ball did not make the promised payments in 1798–99; see GW to Ball, 17 Mar., 25 Sept. 1799.

Before selling the land to Ball, GW had received a number of inquiries about it. See the letters to GW from Warner Lewis, 26 Oct. 1789, James Innes, 17 Aug. 1790, Thomas Parker, 31 Mar. 1793, Joshua Gayle, 8 Dec. 1793, Samuel Anderson, 24 Aug. 1795, Andrew Van Bibber, 28 Sept. 1795, George Fitzhugh, 14 Jan., 28 Mar., 20 May, 16 Aug. 1796, and Elkanah Talley, 16 Jan. 1797. See also GW’s letter to Innes, 28 Sept. 1790, to Thomas Parker, 7 Feb. 1793, to Anderson, 23 Sept. 1795, to Van Bibber, 4 Oct. 1795, and to Fitzhugh, 28 Jan. 1796.

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