George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 12 October 1788]

Sunday the 12th. Thermometer at 55 in the Morning—70 at Noon and 66 at Night. Wind at West in the Morning—abt. No. Wt. at Noon and So. Wt. at Night. Clear warm and pleasant all day.

A Mr. Whiting of Berkeley, on his way from Gloucester (with a letter from Mr. Francis Willis Junr.) called here—& dined, after which he proceeded to Alexandria. This Gentleman was requested to inform Mr. Willis, in answer to his letter to me—dated 24th. of Septr. last—that if the sum for which he sold the Negroes (of which Mrs. Washington the Widow of my deceased Brother Saml. Washington died possessed, & by Will gave to her Son, by him, to whom I am heir) with Interest thereon from the time of her death and my interest therein commenced that I shall neither reclaim the Negros—nor give him any trouble for the illegality of the Act of disposing of them.

Francis Willis, Jr. (1744–1797), of Whitehall, Gloucester County, was the executor of the will of his sister-in-law, Susannah Perrin Holding (Holden) Washington, fifth wife of Samuel Washington. In her will Susannah bequeathed five slaves supposedly given to her by her brother to her only son, John Perrin Washington (1781–1784). When the son died a short time after his mother’s death, Willis sold the slaves for £240 not realizing that they were to pass to GW. Willis’s letter of 24 Sept. 1788 was the second one that he sent to GW apologizing for his error and asking for instructions on settling the matter (DLC:GW). GW requested the £240, not for his own use, but for the use of Samuel Washington’s daughter Harriot who had been left only a pittance by her father. However, it was later discovered that Susannah Washington had no legal title to the five slaves, her brother having failed to make a proper conveyance. Her estate actually included only one slave left to her by her mother. For that slave GW agreed to take £100 from Willis, a sum which was to be applied to the “immediate support” of Harriot (Willis to GW, 4 Aug. 1793, DLC:GW; GW to Willis, 25 Oct. 1793, ViMtvL).

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