George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Archibald McClean, 2 July 1798

From Archibald McClean

Alexandria July 2nd 1798


Having formed an intention of removing from this town to the Westward, I had fixed on a tract of land in the vicinity of Pittsburg for which I have been endeavouring to negotiate; but was lately informed that you hold a tract in Ohio county in this state about fifteen or twenty miles below Wheeling. I would prefer that situation to the former, & wish to know if you are inclined to dispose of the tract (called, I think, Round-Bottom) beforementioned. If you are, please inform me your terms, & whether you would be willing to take in exchange for it improved property in the town of Alexandria.1 Please forward an early answer, I am sir most respectfully yours &c.

Arch. McClean


1An exchange of three letters, dated 4, 9, and 15 July, ensued, but it was not until early August that the bargain was sealed. GW replied to this letter of 2 July on 4 July: “Sir, In answer to your letter of the 2d, which I received yesterday; I inform you that I am not indisposed to part with my small tract (587 acres) fifteen miles below Wheeling on the Ohio: nor to receiving improved property in the Town of Alexandria in exchange for it; provided you will allow the value I set upon my land, and will take what indifferent & disinterested men shall say is the worth of yours.

“I have refused eight dollars an Acre for the tract abovementioned and have held it at ten dollars. If you have ever been on it, a description thereof is unnecessary. If you have not I believe I may venture to pronounce it the most valuable tract, for its size, on that part of the River; being in the shape of a horse shoe, & all bottom of the richest quality, excepting high ground for buildings—&ca. I am Yr Obedt Servt Go: Washington” (ALS, CtY; letterpress copy, DLC:GW; LB DLC:GW).

McClean responded from Alexandria on 9 July: “Your answer to my former letter on the subject of your land was handed to me a few days ago. The value which you set on the land appears to me higher than the best land ought to be rated in that country. However as I contemplate exchanging property here for it, our agreement will depend on the price you allow me. Your proposition to take my property at a valuation of disinterested men seems equitable in one view, but when we consider that you have fixed your own price on your property it appears reasonable that I should do the same with mine. At any rate I would prefer being my own appraiser. If you should have leisure any time shortly when in Alexandria I would be happy to see you, & you can then view the property I offer you. I shall be prevented from coming to an affirmative decision on the business for a few days by a desire to consult another person whom I wish to interest with me, & who lives at a considerable distance from this place. In the mean time I would be glad to confer with you on the subject, & if we are likely to agree we may bring the business into forwardness. I have had some conversation with Dr Craik respecting your land. He says he has been on it and speaks very favourably of it, but informs that to the best of his recollection it is on the Western bank of Ohio. I would have preferred it on this side the river; it is not however a very material circumstance. The tract which I mentioned in my former letter situated about eight miles above Pittsburg is recommended as good land & can be had at 20/ an acre Pennsyla currency. The disparity between the price of yours and it is great; whether there is an equal difference in soil I can not tell. I have no doubt however but your land is of a superiour quality. I have written to the gentleman whom I wish to be a partner with me, & hope to receive an answer in the course of ten days or a fortnight at most” (DLC:GW).

GW’s response of 15 July to McClean’s letter reads: “Sir I have received your letter of the 9th in reply to the answer I gave you, relative to the proposed exchange of property in Alexandria, for my small tract of Land on the Ohio—generally known & distinguished by the round bottom.

“You, undoubtedly, have a right to fix your own price, upon your own property. but to prevent trouble, I beg leave to inform you, in decisive terms, that I will allow no more than what disinterested men (each of us chusing one, & a third, in case of disagreement, by those two) shall say it is worth.

“Doctr Craik has forgot the situation of my land. It is on the hither side of the Ohio, about 15 Miles from Wheeling and if I mistake not, in the same County—It is, without question (and allowed to be) the most valuable tract for its size in that Country & it is a matter of perfect indifference to me, whether I dispose of it for ten dollars an acre, or not. Two, or more years ago I refused eight dollars an acre and at this moment I have letters (unanswered on my Table) from four persons who are in pursuit of the tract—some to buy, and others to Lease it.

“That land within eight miles of Pittsburgh is to be bought, for 20/ an Acre, I have no doubt; and if you had said for half that sum, it would have met with my entire belief; and yet the bargain might have been a hard one. I sold land 40 Miles from it to Colo. Shreve for about 50/ an acre—and what followed? why he kept as much as he wanted and sold the residue for upwards of four pounds an Acre, almost in the same breath. The value of land is estimated for the quality & local advantages; not by the cost. I am Sir Yr Very Hble Servt Go: Washington.

“P.S. Mr Anderson, my Manager, will look at your property in Alexa. and report any thing you are disposed to say to—G.W.” (letterpress copy, DLC:GW; LB DLC:GW).

The grant of Round Bottom secured in 1784 to GW was made on a survey dated July 1773 of the 587 acres that GW claimed under several military warrants which he had purchased. See GW to Thomas Lewis, 1 Feb. 1784, n.3. For the agreement reached between GW and McClean regarding the Round Bottom tract, see GW to McClean, 6 Aug., n.1.

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