George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 26 February 1760]

Tuesday Feby. 26th. Began Plowing the Field by the Stable and Quarter for Oats and Clover. Set two plows to Work under the care of Mulatto, & Cook Jacks.

Layd the Worm round my Peach Orchard & had the Fence put up.

Made an absolute agreement with Mr. Clifton for his Land (so far as depended upon him) on the following terms—to wit, I am to give him £1150 Sterling for his Neck Lands, containg. 1806 Acres, and to allow him the use of this Plantn. he lives on till fall twelve months.

He on his part is to procure the Gentlemen of Maryland to whom his Lands are under Mortgage to join in a Conveyance and is to put me into possession of the Land so soon as this can be done. He is not to cut down any Timber, nor clear any Ground nor to use more Wood than what shall be absolutely necessary for Fences and firing. Neither is he to assent to any alterations of Tenants transferring of Leases &ca. but on the contrary is to discourage every practice that has a tendancy to lessen the value of the Land.

N.B. He is also to bring Mr. Mercers opinion concerning the validity of a private sale made by himself.

Went down to Occoquan, by appointment to look at Colo. Cockes Cattle, but Mr. Peakes being from home I made no agreemt. for them not caring to give the price he askd for them.

Calld & dind at Captn. McCarty’s in my way home & left the order of Court appointing him and others to appraisers of Nation’s Estate (which I had sent my Boy down for) and at the same time got a promise of him to Prize & Inspect his Tobo. at the Warehouse.

Bottled 35 dozn. of Cyder, the weather very warm, & Cloudy with some Rain last Night.

The “Gentlemen of Maryland” who held mortgages were Charles Carroll (1702–1782) of Annapolis, Benjamin Tasker (1690–1768) of Anne Arundel County, and William Digges, Ignatius Digges, and John Addison, all of Prince George’s County. The Carroll and Digges families of Maryland had married into the Brent family of Maryland and Virginia, and all of these parties were now in the fifteenth year of a struggle over Clifton’s Neck, producing a maze of lawsuits involving leases, inheritances, mortgages, injunctions, and ejectments. Clifton’s suit for a final settlement in Virginia’s General Court (sitting in chancery) was now awaiting the report of court-appointed commissioners, one of whom was GW.

Since the court case was still pending, the validity of such a “private sale” was a moot point, and GW wisely advised Clifton to seek a legal opinion. Mr. Mercer is John Mercer (1704–1768), who emigrated from Ireland to Virginia in 1720 and made his home near the Potomac River at Marlborough, Stafford County. As a lawyer Mercer became so aggressive in the courtroom that in 1734 he was barred from practice. He then turned to legal scholarship, spending the next few years preparing An Exact Abridgement of All the Public Acts of Assembly, of Virginia, in Force and Use, issued by the Virginia Gazette printer William Parks (Williamsburg, 1737; 2d ed., Glasgow, Scot., 1759). This work was the first such edition of Virginia’s laws, and all county justices of the peace, including those who had complained about Mercer, were advised to possess a copy. Mercer himself was later appointed a justice of Stafford County. In the process of his scholarly pursuits, Mercer collected one of the finest libraries in the colony, about a third of which related to law.

GW had known John Mercer for years. Mercer’s home of Marlborough, on the neck between Aquia and Potomac creeks, was only a few miles up the Potomac from the Chotank neighborhood, so well known to GW from youth and later so thickly populated with his cousins. As early as 1754 GW had asked for Mercer’s legal advice regarding the disposition of Mount Vernon after Lawrence Washington’s death. Mercer had also served the Custis family for 16 years during a major legal battle in which GW took an interest following his marriage to Martha Custis in 1759.

Speculating in large tracts of land in Fauquier and Loudoun counties, Mercer was also interested in western lands in the Ohio River valley. To pursue this interest the Mercers and the Lees were instrumental in forming the Ohio Company, although the two families later had a falling-out in the debate over the 1764 Stamp Act. While Mercer was the company’s secretary, GW’s brother Lawrence was its second president.

Two of John Mercer’s sons served with GW in the Virginia Regiment, one of whom, John Fenton Mercer (1735–1756), was killed in battle. The other son George Mercer (1733–1784), appears in the diaries along with other members of the family (see: HARRISON [1] description begins Fairfax Harrison. Landmarks of Old Prince William: A Study of Origins in Northern Virginia. Berryville, Va., 1964. description ends , 369; FREEMAN description begins Douglas Southall Freeman. George Washington: A Biography. 7 vols. New York, 1948–57. description ends , 2:2, 290; COUNCIL description begins “Journals of the Council of Virginia in Executive Sessions, 1737–1763.” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 14 (1906–7): 225–45. description ends , 232–35).

The Peake family of the Northern Neck descended in two branches through the two grandsons of John Peake the immigrant. The elder of the two grandsons was John Peake (d. 1758), of Prince William County, whose wife Lucy bore him eight sons. The younger grandson, William Peake (d. 1761), of Fairfax County, lived at Willow Spring in the fork of Little Hunting Creek and was hence GW’s closest neighbor. William was a Truro Parish vestryman for many years, and upon his death GW was chosen by the vestry to take his place. William had two daughters, Sarah and Mary, and three sons, Humphrey, John, and William Jr., the last of whom served in the French and Indian War and died in 1756. Although it is the Willow Spring Peakes who usually appear in the diaries, the Mr. Peake mentioned here may have been a Peake of Prince William County (MCDONALD description begins Cornelia McDonald. A Diary with Reminiscences of the War and Refugee Life in the Shenandoah Valley, 1860–1865. Nashville, 1935. description ends , 437–53).

From Daniel McCarty (d. 1724), planter of Pope’s Creek, Westmoreland County, and Speaker of the House of Burgesses, 1715–18, were descended three branches of the Pope’s Creek McCartys, many of whom appear in the diaries. Speaker Daniel’s oldest son, Denis McCarty (d. 1742), founder of the Cedar Grove McCartys, married Sarah Ball in 1724 and settled at Cedar Grove, which was in Truro Parish when that parish was created in 1732. His oldest son, Daniel McCarty (d. 1792), whom GW refers to before the Revolution as “Captain” and afterwards as “Colonel,” was in his lifetime one of the wealthiest men in Virginia (MAIN description begins Jackson Turner Main. “The One Hundred.” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 11 (1954): 354–84. description ends , 378–79). Captain McCarty, his wife Sinah Ball McCarty (d. 1798), and their six children, five of whom appear in the diaries, lived at Mount Air about three miles up Accotink Creek from Cedar Grove. Both McCarty homesteads were located a few miles down the Potomac River from Mount Vernon. Captain McCarty served in the Truro vestry 1748–84, and the Washingtons and McCartys often appear to have dined together after services at Pohick Church. Through his mother GW was related to both Captain McCarty and his wife.

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