To William B. Harrison
Mount Vernon Novr 4th 1798.
It has often been in my mind to ask, (if your tenements near my Mill are not under leases already) whether you would be inclined to let them to me, for a term of years? for what term? and at what Rent?
I can assure you, most sincerely and candidly, that it is not because I want these tenements, that I make this enquiry; but to be relieved from Neighbours who are really a nuisance; and who could not live on the Land but by the practice of unjustifiable shifts. No care or attention within the compass of my power to use, can preserve my fields and Meadows from injuries, sustained by their Hogs, & other Stock. Rails are drawn from the Posts, in order to let in the latter, and slips made to admit the former, in many places through my ditches, to the destruction of my grain, & grass.
To guard against damages of this sort, is, I do aver, my sole inducement to this enquiry. But it is not to be infered from hence, that I am disposed to pay a Rent disproportioned to the real value of the Tenements.
I need not observe to you, Sir, that the land was originally poor; that it is exhausted beyond measure; that there is no timber on it; very little firing; and scarcely any Fencing. In short, that without aid from the adjacent Lands, which the tenants cannot obtain from the present Proprietors by fair means, the tenements cannot be supported much longer. This is a fair statement, & ought to be taken into consideration in fixing the Rent.
Under these circumstances, it is scarcely necessary to add, that I am not inclined to take the Tenements upon a short lease; for the reasons before mentioned; & because I should be obliged to have recourse to my own land to supply the deficiencies of yours; and that in a very short time too, to render the fields of any use. Unless the term therefore, for which it is granted, is commensurate with the expence to which I, or mine would be run, It would not answer my purposes to rent it.1
It is not my expectation, or desire to disturb the present tenants, or such as you may have engaged, the ensuing year—My views extend to the year after, only, presuming your arrangements are made for 1799—Your answer will be agreeable to—Sir—Your Very Hble Servt
ALS, MH; ALS (letterpress copy), DLC:GW; LB, DLC:GW.
1. When he did not receive a reply from Harrison, who lived in Loudoun County, GW on 23 Jan. 1799 wrote his rental agent and nephew, Robert Lewis, sending him a letterpress copy of this letter for delivery to Harrison. The property which GW wished to gain control of adjoined his own at Mount Vernon near his gristmill. Harrison in his reply dated 24 Jan. 1799 assured GW that he would “purge the Lands of those improper Caractors, aluded to in your Letter provided they Can be pointed out to me.” GW on 6 Feb. conceded that he had no proof of misdeeds of any particular one of Harrison’s tenants but insisted that his “meadows & grain” were being destroyed by one or another of them and that his stock “(of Hogs & Sheep in particular) are constantly deminishing.” He again asked Harrison to set the rent for the tract. When Harrison gave GW his terms in a missing letter of 21 Feb. 1799, GW replied at length on 5 Mar., arguing that the rent Harrison was asking was exorbitant. Harrison responded at equal length on 28 Mar. defending his proposed charges as reasonable. GW renewed his arguments on 10 April 1799 and invited Harrison to Mount Vernon to join with him in surveying the tract and discussing terms further, which on 24 April Harrison agreed to do. On 15 May GW, Harrison, and Thomson Mason (1759–1820), whose land also adjoined Harrison’s tract, made the survey. The surviving correspondence between GW and Harrison ends with GW’s letter of 16 May 1799 in which GW offers to pay Harrison annually thirty dollars per hundred acres with a lease of fifteen years and an option to buy at eight dollars an acre. In early 1793 Robert Lewis had tried without success to buy for GW Harrison’s tract near the mill at Mount Vernon (see GW to Lewis, 23 Dec. 1792, 7 Mar., 29 April, 26 July 1793, and Lewis to GW, 4, 9 Jan., 26 Mar., 17 July, 12 Aug. 1793).