George Washington Papers

To George Washington from George Mercer, 16 September 1759

From George Mercer

Winchester Septr 16th 1759

Dear Sir

I know you will excuse Me for addressing you on so coarse so common Paper, when I assure you tis the best our Town affords.

Had your Favor reached my Hands a few Minutes later, I shoud have lost this Opportunity of acknowledging the Receipt of it; for my Express was already mounted.1

You are not the first Person that has been deceived by the Gentlemen in Black; but whoever gave you such Information must have done it with a premeditated Design to lye, or something as bad; for I really have not been at Prince William Court these three Years, nor have I even crossed the Blue Ridge since last June;2 but Sir I allow it a sufficient Apology for your not writing,3 as I coud say many Things to you that I can not put upon Paper, & in particular concerning the Land.

Your Proposal concerning an Entry on the Ohio I am fully of Opinion will answer: indeed it is what I had before determined upon, and am much rejoiced that you propose to be a Partner in the Scheme. I had obtained Leave to be at Williamsburg on the Meeting of the Assembly in November, with no other View, than that of securing to myself so much Land, as I was entitled to by the Governor’s Proclamation; which allowed Us such Terms that We cant possibly lose by it—and as I determine to go to England this Year, I thought it proper to settle that Point before I embarked it must be of Service in Time to come—Lands on the Ohio will be valuable.4 You may bid Me do any Thing you think necessary till We meet at Williamsburg, no Doubt you will be there on the Assembly, then We may surely secure it to ourselves.5 Gist I believe knows the Country well, therefore woud be a good Partner. I have the Copy of all our Entries We made with Gist now by Me—he told Me, he had entered Them for Us: but I know not whether it woud be of any Advantage to Us, if he has done it.6 As We shall meet at Williamsburg, we will leave no Stone unturned to secure to ourselves this Land. I cant think of any previous Step that will be necessary, but shoud any occur to You, that I can execute pray inform Me of Them. As to News—

All is well and quiet on the Ohio—Single Persons come from Pittsburg down. The Savages come in to the General in great Numbers begging Remission of their Sins, and Forgiveness for past Offences. The General told Me, there were sometimes 1000 there at once—The French, you certainly must have heard, have evacuated and burnt their Forts at Venango—Presque Isle, and Le Bœufe, and retired to Detroit.7

We are going to build a very respectable Fort at Pittsburg, of Brick, to contain 4000 Men on an Emergency, and capable of holding out against Shells as ’tis to be covered.

Bullitt is immediately to appear before 12 & a President—as tis generally supposed poor Tom was intimidated (to use his own Word) when his Party was attacked—God knows whether he was or not but he made his Escape—with a Guard for his sacred Person, in a most precipitate Manner, consisting of about 60 of his Men—The Remainder were almost cut to Pieces—there were only 60 of the Enemy, and Bullitts Command consisted of 100 Rank & File—but he took Care of 60 of Them—21 or 22 of the remaining 40 were killed, & tho. they were so hotly engaged, Bullitt never returned to the Charge—notwithstanding the most earnest Entreaties of his Men—Thus the Story is told by the two Officers whom Bullitt left in the Scrape—I hope it will turn out better, but I always supposed Bullitt more capable of being commanded, than commanding—I have thought him brave—but this Tale tells badly.8

I am much obliged to Mr & Mrs C—for their good Wishes,9 tho. I must confess I am not sorry they were disappointed in their Expectations—I can, as Affairs have turned out, and I am safely recovered, offer no other Apology to Them for not being so complaisant as they expected—than as one of the Family had once deceived Me, I thought it was my Turn then to take the Advantage—tho. I really cant charge myself with ever promising either of Them that I woud die—therefore they have nothing to object to Me upon the Occasion.

Pray Sir dont think for what I have said concerning them, that my Acknowledgements to you on this Head are less sincere for I really am obliged to you here, as well as for your Compliments on my late Appointment10—You wish Me much, when you desire I may derive as much Honor & Profit, as Fatigue and Anxiety from my Office. I shall do my utmost that the General may not be deceived in the Confidence he has reposed in Me—but no Profit I can make, can equal the Trouble I am obliged to go thro.—tis true I coud not be deceived in the Affair, as I well knew the Duty—and I say ’twas against my Inclination that I entered upon ⟨it⟩ but I found a Refusal woud disoblige the General &c. s⟨o⟩ I acquiesed, but never did my Mind war more against ⟨mutilated⟩ Hands, than when I received the Commission—As I have got it tho., I must do the best—I’ll take Care not to err thro. Neglect. Indeed I found if I woud not concern myself that no Part of the Trade woud come to this Colony, and I believe it was in Consequence of some Letters I had take⟨n⟩ upon Me to write the General concerning the Roads Tra⟨mutilated⟩ that I was ordered up to have a Conference with him.11

If you have Wheat Rye Corn or Oats, Cattle, Sheep or Hogs to dispose of there is a Ready & great Market for Them here, and will continue for two or three Weeks—till we lay in our Winter’s Stock.

While I was on the So. Branch a Man brought in your grey Horse, and upon my Return here Yesterday, waited on Me & offered to swear he was mine, nay even reminded of the Place & Time I bought him, and that I had paid so many Pieces of Money which I took out of my left Pocket with my right Hand for him; indeed I coud scarce persuade him I had Transferred my Right & Title of him to you—I wanted him to take him down, but he woud not, so I tipped the Fellow a Crown, & shall send him down to your Quarter to Day by a soldier.12

Capt. Waggener is here in his Way to Williamsburg, from whence he expects to return a Field Officer.13

If I shoud write you often, & such long Letters, I believe you woud soon desire a Stop to Them, but I have wrote on many Points the next shall be shorter. Even here tho. I must add one Line ⟨mutilated⟩ beg youl present your Lady with my ⟨mutilated⟩ and assure you as I have often before that I am Dear Colonel Your Friend & very hble Servant

G. Mercer


1GW’s letter has not been found.

2When the 2d Virginia Regiment was disbanded in December 1758, its lieutenant colonel, George Mercer, continued with the Virginia forces at Winchester as a volunteer until Maj. Gen. John Stanwix made him assistant deputy quarter master general for Virginia and Maryland. Stanwix succeeded Forbes after Forbes’s death in March 1759 as commander of the British forces in Pennsylvania and the southern colonies.

3No evidence of any communication until now between GW and Mercer after GW’s departure from Winchester in December 1758 has been found, except that GW records on 10 Feb. 1759 receiving from Mercer £21.10 for a horse (General Ledger A description begins General Ledger A, 1750–1772. Library of Congress, George Washington Papers, Series 5, Financial Papers. description ends , folio 52).

4The departure of the French from the Forks of the Ohio in late 1758 opened the way for the veterans of Virginia’s campaign in 1754 to begin to stake out claims to land on the Ohio to which they were entitled under the terms of Lt. Gov. Robert Dinwiddie’s proclamation setting aside 200,000 acres of land on the Ohio to “be divided amongst them immediately after the Performance of the said Service [against the French and their Indian allies in 1754], in a Proportion due to their respective Merit, as shall be represented to me by their Officers” (Pennsylvania Gazette [Philadelphia], 12 Mar. 1754). Because the British government closed the Ohio country to settlement in 1763 at the end of the war, it was not until December 1769 that GW petitioned the colonial governor and council for the land to which the officers and men of the Virginia Regiment of 1754 were entitled, and it was not until November 1772 that GW and his old comrades received their first allotments of land under Dinwiddie’s proclamation (see Exec. Journals of Virginia Council description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds. Executive Journals of the Council of Colonial Virginia. 6 vols. Richmond, 1925–66. description ends , 6:337–38).

5That GW and Mercer did confer in Williamsburg while GW was attending the assembly, which met 1–21 Nov. 1759, seems likely. See Mercer to GW, 17 Feb. 1760.

6Apparently GW, Mercer, and Robert Stewart had entered an agreement with Capt. Christopher Gist to have Gist lay claim for them to land along the Ohio to which they were entitled under Dinwiddie’s proclamation of 1754. On 28 Sept. 1759 Robert Stewart wrote GW from Pittsburgh: “. . . the more I see of this Charming Country, the more I’m enamour’d with it, which leads me to enquire after what Steps have been taken, in secureing to us, those Lands which poor Capn Gist was to have enter’d for us, I hope the needful is done, they surely will soon be very valueable.” As all three men were aware, Christopher Gist had died of smallpox in July (on 25 July 1759) while returning to Winchester from Williamsburg. It would appear, therefore, that when Mercer speaks of Gist as a likely partner he is speaking of the son, Lt. Nathaniel Gist, who acted as a guide for GW’s brigade when it marched toward Fort Duquesne in November 1758. On the other hand, it would appear that he is referring to the elder Gist when he speaks of the claims or “Entries” that Gist made for them.

7News of the burning of “Venango LeBeuff & Priscile” reached Pittsburgh by 12 Aug. (Hugh Mercer to Stanwix, 15 Aug. 1759, in Stevens, Bouquet Papers description begins Donald H. Kent et al., eds. The Papers of Henry Bouquet. 6 vols. Harrisburg, Pa., 1951-94. description ends , 3:568).

8Right after the event, Lt. Col. Thomas Lloyd wrote General Stanwix from Fort Ligonier (Loyalhanna) on 23 May: “Captain Bullet on his March from Bedford [Pa.] with a Convoy of Fifteen Waggons and Fifteen Thousand Weight of Pork, his Party consisting off one Hundred Virginians was this Day defeated within Four Miles of Ligonier by a Party off the Enemy. . . . Five of the Waggons (Four of them off Pork) were burn’t all the Horses kiled or taken. . . . this happen’d about three in the Afternoon at a Time when the most violent Tornado of Rain Thunder & Lightning that I ever experiencd” (ibid., 309–11). Bullitt estimated that there were 150 Indians in the attack, and Lloyd reported that Lt. Larkin Chew of the Virginians was badly wounded in the arm and that 36 soldiers were missing, 8 of whom were found dead on the field. On 25 May, Lloyd wrote from Ligonier giving further details to Stanwix: “Capt Bullet was attackd by the Enemy at about 3 Miles Distance from this Place. I orderd Capt [Henry] Woodward with a hundred Virginians to his Support, but before he had march’d out of Sight Capt Bullet was arrivd wth about 50 men, Lts [Joseph] Feint & [Larkin] Chew the latter wounded thro the Arm in a half an Hour afterwards arrivd Lt Mingies [Alexander Menzie] of the Virgin: who belong’d to Capt Bulletts Party. he had been posted in the Right at the Commencement of the Action was repuls’d by the Enemy to an Eminence which he Maintaind with great Bravery . . . 17 only surviving out of Thirty” (ibid., 315–17). Also on the twenty-fifth Lt. Col. Adam Stephen wrote to Stanwix from Bedford about Bullitt’s defeat, noting that Bullitt’s party consisted of 3 subalterns, 4 sergeants, 2 drummers, and 100 rank and file (ibid., 318–19). Robert Stewart alludes in his letter to GW of 28 Sept. to the talk in the army of Bullitt’s supposed cowardly performance in the May action, but on 30 Nov. 1759 Col. William Byrd published in Hunter’s Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg) a letter dated 26 Oct. 1759 and sent from Pittsburgh in which he stated that Gen. John Stanwix at Byrd’s request convened a court of inquiry to investigate Captain Bullitt’s conduct. The court decided unanimously “that Captain Bullet behaved like a good Officer, and did every Thing in his Power to repulse the Enemy, and save the Convoy.”

9Mercer may be referring to the Alexandria merchant John Carlyle and his wife Sarah Fairfax Carlyle.

10The warrant appointing Mercer assistant deputy quartermaster general of the army for Maryland and Virginia is dated 19 Aug. 1759 and printed in Stevens, Bouquet Papers description begins Donald H. Kent et al., eds. The Papers of Henry Bouquet. 6 vols. Harrisburg, Pa., 1951-94. description ends , 3:583–84.

11General Stanwix was in Philadelphia until 14 July when he left for Carlisle and Bedford, Pennsylvania.

12Mercer wrote Bouquet from Fort Pleasant on the South Branch of the Potomac in Virginia on 13 Sept., saying that he had “been to every little Fort, and Plantation for 10 or 15 Miles round” in the past three days and was now returning to Winchester (Stevens, Bouquet Papers description begins Donald H. Kent et al., eds. The Papers of Henry Bouquet. 6 vols. Harrisburg, Pa., 1951-94. description ends , 4:91–93). This may have been the “White Grey Phlea bitten [horse that GW] bought at Publick Vendue of Captn Geo: Mercer” (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 4:405).

13Capt. Thomas Waggener was with the contingent of Virginia troops that remained at Pittsburgh when the others returned to Virginia.

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