To Mrs. E. Gravatt
Mount Vernon 29th July 1799
I have been honoured—but not so soon as might have been expected from the date—with your favour of the 4th of January last, and wish, sincerely, that it was in my power to give you a more satisfactory answer than follows.1
You will have been informed from the correspondence with Mrs Montagu, with which you seem to be acquainted, that the Mortgage of Lands, &ca given by Colo. George Mercer to Mr Gravatt & Miss Wroughton, or the Power of Attorney to sell the same was contested by the Mortgagees of the same property in this Country, under an authority vested by him, to his brother James Mercer; and that it was necessary to institute a suit in our High Court of Chancery before any ulterior measures could be pursued ⟨with res⟩pect to either of the Powers. The result of which was a Decretal order to sell the Estate subject to a final decree, with respect to the different claimants.
This was accordingly done (on twelve months credit, agreeably thereto) in November 1774, and Bonds, with security, taken for payment of the purchase money.2 Before these became due, on Novr 1775, the dispute between this Country & Great Britain became serious. In May, I was sent by the State of Virginia as one of its delegates to Congress; and by Congress to command the Armies of the United States the June following. Clearly forseeing that this dispute was not likely to terminate shortly, I wrote to Colo. Tayloe (the other acting Attorney) & before the Bonds became due, desiring him to collect, & deposit the money agreeably to the Decree of the Court, as I cd render no further assistance, and would not be responsible for any proceedings thereafter.
The view I had taken of the dispute was confirmed by the event; and excepting the short period of the Siege of York, I was upwards of eight years absent from this State suffering material wrongs in my own private concerns, because I could bestow no attention on them, which I mention, merely as an evidence of my incapacity to attend to those of others.
The deranged state into which the War had thrown matters in this Country, and the shutting up our Courts of Justice for a while, suspended all kinds of business the first years of it; and Colo. Tayloe’s death happening soon after I was much pressed by the Claimants on Colo. Mercer’s Estate in this Country, but always refused, to renew my Agency in that concern. In consequence of which, Colo. John Francis Mercer, another brother of Colo. George Mercer, having a large claim on his estate, applied for, and obtained a decree of the same Court of Chancery, to receive all the monies due on the Sales—subject, as in the former case, to the final decision of the Chancellor.3
This statement is given from Memory—all the papers relative to the business having passed from me in consequence of the above decree—but I believe it may be depended upon as substantially accurate. What the present Agent has done—or how the matter now stands, is unknown to me. He has removed from Virginia into Maryland, and resides near Annapolis; and is a Gentleman of property.
With respect to the advance of Six thousand pounds on Land belonging to Colo. George Mercer, situated on the River Ohio, I can say nothing; because the subject is now, unconnected entirely with the business on which I was formerly concerned. Colo. Mercer has or had, some very valuable Lands in that Region; but in whose possession they are now, or under what predicament they may be found, I know not.
I wish it had been in my power to have answered your letter more satisfactorily but my public duties compelled me to relinquish the trust, with which I was vested at the commencement of our revolution. It was placed in the hands of the Gentleman whose name I have given you, two or three years before the close of it and my own ⟨business have⟩ been so much deranged by an absence ⟨illegible⟩ short intervals) of twenty five years from home, as to require all my attention to recover ⟨illegible⟩ I have the honor to be, Madam Your Most Obedt Hble Servt
ALS (letterpress copy), NN: Washington Papers.
1. Mrs. Gravatt’s letter of 4 Jan. 1799 from London reads: “An apology for presuming to address you on a Case of Justice, would be an Insult to the Greatness of your Character, whose Life is an Example of Justness of Principle, and Beneficence of Action. Permit me Sir to inform you, I am the Widow of the late Mr Richard Gravatt, Banker, in Fleetstreet; who was honored by the Friendship of that ever to be revered Character, the late Mr Edward Montagu, one of the Masters in Chancery; who introduced to Mr Gravatt near thirty years since, Colonel George Mercer, as a Gentleman who had Claims on Government, although much inconvenienced for Money: The Colonel experienced brotherly Attention from Mr Gravatt for the Space of nine Years, during which Time, he often extricated him from the most lamentable scenes of Distress; he also advanced Six Thousand Pounds upon an Estate Col. Mercer was possessed of in Virginia, upon the Ohio; Mr Montagu likewise advanced a considerable Sum of his Sister’s Miss Wroughton’s. The Estate was sold, the Troubles in America made it a Matter of Debate in what Manner to vest the Money. Mr Montagu was advised by you Sir, and I think Colonel Taylo (who was concerned in the Business) to secure it by putting it in Congress Notes, which I believe was done. My Chain of Information was stopped, by the Death of a much lamented Husband, whose Executors trusted the Management of the Business wholly to Mr Montagu; his Decease prevents all Intelligence concerning it, which occasions Sir, my taking the Liberty of refering to you. The Americans have shewn a noble Wish, worthy themselves, to discharge all debts upon their Country! Surely, they cannot desire to deprive the Widow and Fatherless of their Right, especially those labouring under Penury and Imposition of the World. To you Sir, I prefer my Suit, trusting by this imperfect account, you will be able to collect Materials sufficient, for an Investigation of the Transaction, by which you will perform a benevolent Action, and confer a distinguished Obligation. I have Sir the Honour to be, with the highest Respect, your most faithful, obedient Servent, E. Gravatt P.S. My address is, at Mrs Mills’s, No. 15, Devonshire Street, Queen Square, London” (DLC:GW).
2. For GW’s role as an agent for George Mercer in the selling of Mercer’s Virginia estate in 1774, see particularly GW to John Tayloe, 20 Aug. 1773, n.1., in Papers, Colonial Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series. 10 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1983–95. description ends , 9:309–10.
3. For a summary of the problems connected with the settlement of George Mercer’s estate, see Statement concerning George Mercer’s Estate, 1 Feb. 1789, in Papers, Presidential Series, description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series. 17 vols. to date. Charlottesville, Va., 1987—. description ends 1:269–76.