George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Joseph Fay, 30 March 1797

From Joseph Fay

New York 30th March 1797


Your letter of the 19th Ulto enclosing proposals for selling your Virginia Lands, came duly to hand, I have deferrd any reply until I gained an opportunity to consult several of my friends who proposed being concerned with me in the purchase; we have considered your proposals, and we find several obstacles in the way of closing with them.1 we should find much difficulty in making the first advances. The Interest required to be paid, we doubt would consume the growth of the property before we could bring it into productive cultivation, and we are not sufficiently acquainted with the Situation and quality, to decide how far we should be Warranted to pay the price you propose, taking the whole together, under all these circumstances we have concluded to relinquish the Idea of purchasing, and more especially as we agree with you respecting the disgrace of Land Jobbing in Europe.

We shall however send persons to that Country the present Season, to View Lands which we already own, when we shall probably look at yours also, and if on being more particularly acquainted, we should judge your offers advantageous, and your Lands should remain unsold, we shall wait on you for the purpose of concluding a Contract, in the meantime do not require you to refuse any other opportunity which may offer for Selling.2 I am Most respectfully, and affectionately your friend & Servant

Joseph Fay.


Joseph Fay was an associate of the New York merchants Samuel Broome and Jeremiah Platt.

On 1 Feb. 1796 GW advertised for sale four tracts of land on the Ohio River, totaling 9,744 acres, four tracts on either bank of the Great Kanawha River just above its confluence with the Ohio, totaling 23,266 acres, and three tracts on the Little Miami, totaling 3,051 acres. These were all bounty lands allotted in the 1770s under the terms either of Robert Dinwiddie’s Proclamation of 1754 or of the royal Proclamation of 1763, for service in America in Britain’s war with France between 1754 and 1763. GW secured these more than thirty-six thousand acres either in his own right for service in the Virginia forces or by the purchase of the rights of others. For the process by which GW acquired title to these lands, see in particular GW to Lord Dunmore and Virginia Council, c.3 Nov. 1773, n.4, GW to Samuel Lewis, 1 Feb. 1784, and notes, and GW to Thomas Lewis, 1 Feb. 1784, and notes. GW’s extensive correspondence regarding these lands after the war in the 1780s and early 1790s is mainly concerned with GW’s futile effort to have farmers settle on the land with long-term leases. At the same time that he committed himself to the sale of his lands in the Ohio country, he decided that he should also try to lease his farms at Mount Vernon and lease or sell the five thousand acres that he held in Kentucky (Advertisement, 1 Feb. 1796, DLC:GW).

1GW’s letter of 19 Feb. was written in response to Fay’s inquiry of 7 Feb.: “I am informed that you own several Tracts of Land on the Margin of the Ohio & Great Kanhawa rivers in Virginia, which you have offered for Sale, if these Lands remain unsold, & are still held for market, I should be glad to be informed of their particular Situation, quality, and on what conditions you would be willing to part with them, if they answer the general discription which I have had of them, certified from your own knowledge, I am persuaded I could effect a Sale of them in Europe, provided the Terms are such as comport with the General price of Lands equal in quality & situation in the United States. I hope Sir you will pardon the Liberty I take in making this enquiry, altho I have had occasion several times to wait on you on public concerns, it is not probable you will recollect me. I had the honor of delivering some dispatches with a letter from Governor [John] Jay to your Excellency Near Baltimore in October 1795 when you was on your way to Philadelphia, by refering to Mr Jays letter you will be better able to form an opinion how far you would be justified in Treating on the Subject of the Sale of your Lands. Mr [Isaac] Tichenor one of the Senators from Vermont who is my intimate acquaintance, and Mr [John] Laurence from this City with whom I am also acquainted, & Mr [Timothy] Pickering with whom I have a slight acquaintance will be able to give you such information respecting my Character as you may require” (DLC:GW).

GW’s response from Philadelphia of 19 Feb. reads: “Sir, Your favor of the 7th instant came duly to hand, but a pressure of business, has retarded the acknowledgment of it. My lands on the Ohio & great Kanhawa Rivers are not yet disposed of nor do I incline to offer them for sale in Europe; where land jobbing is in much disgrace. For some part of them (possessed of no peculiar advantages) I have refused eight dollars an acre, but have offered the whole of what I own on those two rivers at that price; a large proportion of which is of superior quality, and inferior in no other respect to those for which the offer was made. The publication enclosed with this letter, gives a correct general description of the several tracts—where—and how situated. The quality, & value of them are so well known, that a more particular account might be had from any person who has ever been on the Ohio; and I had rather it should be derived from others, or from an occular view, than from any details of mine.

“The price, as beforementioned, being eight dollars, the printed notification designates the mode of payment and security thereof. I am Sir Your most Obedt Servant Go: Washington” (letterpress copy, DLC.GW; LB, DLC.GW).

2This apparently ended the correspondence between Fay and GW.

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