George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Gill, 19 October 1799

To John Gill

Mount Vernon 19th Oct. 1799


Sending every other day only to the Post Office (unless something special makes it expedient to send oftener) your letter of the 16th did not reach my hands until the 17th at night.

Herewith, the Plat lent you by Mr Swift, is returned. But as my land is not laid down in connection therewith, I have derived but little information from the examination thereof; and as you remark “it does not quite join your tract” I see little or no advantage it would be to me to possess it. Especially as the whole contains but one hundred & ten acres, and that part west of Difficult run, you propose to reserve; without ⟨specification of the⟩ contents of the part which lyes ⟨on the East⟩ side. A purchase of this sort would be something like “buying a Pig in a poke.”1

If the part you have, or ⟨illegible⟩, amounting in the whole to one hundred and ten acres, was adjoining to, and mak⟨ing the⟩ shape of mine tolerably convenient in the enlargement, I should not (as I told you, when I had the pleasure of seeing you at this place) have had any objection to receiving the Land in discharge of the Back Rents, and to the annulling our former Bargain.

Whether this can be accomplished or not, rests with you to determine, and I shall wait until I hear from you on this subject, before I shall go, or send, to examine the quality & situation of the land you would give in payment; for on these also the measure, in some degree, would rest.2 I am Sir Your very Hble Servant

Go: Washington

ALS (letterpress copy), NN: Washington Papers.

John Gill, who was living in Alexandria until as late as 1796, had by this time moved, probably to Baltimore.

1GW went up to Difficult Run on 5 Nov. to take a look at the tracts of land belonging to Gill and himself. While resurveying his own tract GW discovered what he believed to be an adjacent strip of unclaimed land. For the next three weeks he vigorously pursued the possibility of laying claim to it, only to learn in the end that no such vacant land existed (see GW to William Price, 7 Nov., n.1). At the same time, he worked out an agreement with John Gill whereby Gill would be released from his commitment to buy GW’s Difficult Run lands and would pay GW the two years’ rent that he owed on the tract with goods and a parcel of land (see note 2). Jonathan Swift was a merchant in Alexandria.

2As GW here and hereafter makes clear, Gill proposed in his missing letters of 16 and 19 Oct. that he give GW land on Difficult Run in payment of the rent he owed on GW’s 275–acre tract on Difficult Run which Gill had rented since 1795. GW acquired this piece of land from Bryan Fairfax in 1763 for £82.10, in payment of a debt (see Memorandum, List of Quitrents, 1764, n.3, 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 , 7:350–51; see also GW to Gill, 22 Oct. 1799). The tract was on the Loudoun County side of Difficult Run at the bridge on the main road to Leesburg, about twenty miles from Alexandria (Mitchell, Fairfax County Patents and Grants, description begins Beth Mitchell. Beginning at a White Oak . . . Patents and Northern Neck Grants of Fairfax County Virginia. Fairfax, Va., 1977. description ends 149). When he had farms on his Bullskin quarters before the Revolution, GW used the Difficult Run tract as a wagon station between Mount Vernon and Berkeley County.

In 1783 Bryan Fairfax warned GW that “the Man who lives at the Bridge” over Difficult Run, probably the tavernkeeper William Shepherd, was threatening to preempt a mill site on GW’s land, but GW seems to have done nothing about his Difficult Run tract for another decade or more. In 1793 Robert Townsend Hooe wrote GW that he “was informed the other day that an attempt would be made by Shepherd, who keeps Tavern at Difficult Bridge, to Condemn part of your Land for a Mill that he is abt to erect.” This was followed shortly by a letter from GW’s rental agent, Robert Lewis, saying that he had “had several applications from different persons who wish to know whether you would sell your land on Difficult Run” (Bryan Fairfax to GW, 19 July and 4 Aug. 1783; Robert Townsend Hooe to GW, 23 May 1793; Robert Lewis to GW, 12 Aug. 1793). GW wrote Lewis on 26 Aug. 1793 that “Nothing short of a very high price would induce” him to sell the Difficult Run tract, “on Account of the Mill seat; quantity of Meadow land—contiguity to the Great Falls (where a town is erecting)—Georgetown, the Federal City, and Alexandria.” Shortly after authorizing Lewis to rent the land, however, GW entered negotiations with John Gill in May 1794 for the sale of the tract to Gill. A year later, on 8 May 1795, Gill agreed to pay GW $433.33⅓ a year for ten years for the use of the property; for his part, GW agreed that Gill could buy the property at any time before the expiration of the ten years, and GW would convey the property to him “in fee simple” (GW to Charles Lee, 17 May 1795; see also GW to William Pearce, 1, 29 Mar. 1795, GW to George Gilpin, 29 Mar. 1795, GW to Philip R. Fendall, 29 Mar. 1795, GW to John Gill, 1, 26 April, 4, 17 May, 13 July 1795, and Gill to GW, 26 Mar., 27 April, 21 May, 17 July 1795, 18 May 1796).

When Gill first wrote GW on 16 Oct. 1799 about terminating their agreement, he had paid the rent on GW’s Difficult Run land for only two of the four years he had held it. On 22 Oct. GW wrote Gill that he had received Gill’s (missing) letter of 19 Oct. clarifying his proposal and that if upon examination Gill’s land appeared satisfactory, he would agree to Gill’s proposal that he accept the land in payment of the debt.

GW went up to Difficult Run on 5 Nov. and spent three days looking over Gill’s land on either side of Difficult Run and also surveying his own tract on the run (see Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 6:374–75). After his return to Mount Vernon on 10 Nov., GW wrote Gill telling him what he had seen at Difficult Run and specifying what land he would accept from Gill to settle their account and cancel the bargain. Gill then met with GW at Mount Vernon, and GW agreed to take a slip of land upon the upper or western side of Difficult Run along with certain specified goods in settlement of Gill’s debt of $866.67 (Ledger C description begins Manuscript Ledger in Morristown National Historical Park, Morristown, N.J. description ends , 60) and release him from any further payment. See GW to Gill, 12, 26 Nov., and the notes to the latter document.

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