George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 18 December 1770]

18. Rid to my Mill and to the Ditchers in the Fore and Afternoon.

GW today completed a land transaction with Valinda Wade, paying her £175 for her share of the Wade family property on Dogue Run, which she and her two sisters, Sarah and Eleanor, had inherited. During the past few years Sarah had died unmarried, and Eleanor, who had married John Barry of Fairfax County, had recently died also, leaving a son William as her only heir. Because the 193–acre tract had never been divided among the sisters, it became, following the deaths of Sarah and Eleanor, the joint property of Valinda and her underage nephew, whose business affairs were handled by his father. With this day’s purchase, GW obtained Valinda’s right to divide the land with young Barry on an equal basis (deeds of Valinda Wade to GW, 17 Dec. 1770, NjMoHP, and 18 Dec. 1770, CSmH). The property was important to GW not only because it lay near the rest of his land, but because it was involved in a question of riparian rights on Dogue Run. The millrace that GW was currently having dug would, when finished, deliver much water with increased force to the new mill as planned, but it would do so at the cost of diverting water from Dogue Run between the dam and the mill, the stretch on which the Wade-Barry property lay. According to common law, a property owner who suffered damages from having his water diverted without his permission could sue the responsible person every year the water was diverted. Thomas Hanson Marshall, who also owned land on the run in the affected area, apparently would not be able to claim such damages, because his land was uninhabited and mostly woodland, but the owners of the Wade-Barry tract, which was inhabited and farmed, would have grounds to sue GW (Robert H. Harrison to GW, 5 April 1770, DLC:GW).

GW’s purchase today from Valinda Wade solved only part of this problem. He still had to come to terms with William Barry’s father either by purchasing the other half of the land or making some agreement about the riparian rights. However, John Barry was determined to drive a hard bargain and had refused thus far to cooperate with GW in settling the matter (George W. Fairfax to GW, 12 Mar. 1770, DLC:GW). The dispute would continue for several months.

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