George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Van Swearingen, 15 May 1761

To Van Swearingen

Mr. Stogdon’s,1 May 15, 1761.

Dr. Sir:

At the Cock fight on Saturday last I promis’d to be at a Wedding at Mendenhall’s Mill Yesterday, which together with an Affair that I had to settle on Bullskin (that detain’d me a day longer there than I expected) prevented my taking Shepherds Town and your House on my Way,2 I intend this day to pass along the North Mountain, and to morrow attend a Meeting at McGills on the Cumberland Road, and from thence to Winchester in order to wait my doom on Monday.3

I have made a just and proper use of the Inclos’d, and as I shall pretty near finish my Tour to day, I send to you, that you may, if you think it expedient, communicate the contents to your Neighbours and Friends, Col. Stephens proceedings is a matter of the greatest amazement to me. I have come across sundry of his Letters directed to the Freeholders wherein he informs them that he acquitted himself of what was charged to him on the Streets of Winchester while you were present, and goes on to draw Comparisons to prove his Innocence, which are by no means applicable unless he had continued them, However His conduct throughout the whole is very obvious to all who will be convinced, but I find there are some that do not choose to have their Eyes opened.4

I hope my Interest in your Neighbourhood still stands good, and as I have the greatest reason to believe you can be no Friend to a Person of Colo. Stephens Principles; I hope, and indeed make no doubt that you will contribute your aid towards shutting him out of the Public trust he is seeking, could Mercer’s Friends and mine be hurried in at the first of the Poll it might be an advantage, but as Sheriff I know you cannot appear in this, nor would I by any mean have you do any thing that can give so designing a Man as Colo. Stevens the least trouble.5 I am, etc.

Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed. The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745–1799. 39 vols. Washington, D.C., 1931–44. description ends , 2:358–59. The ALS was sold by the American Art Association, no. 342, 3 May 1923, and is partially printed in the catalog.

Van Swearingen (1719–1788) lived at Shepherdstown, or Mecklenburg, at Swearingen’s ferry on the Potomac in northeastern Frederick County. See the map, “The Virginia Frontier, 1754–1758: Frederick and Hampshire Counties,” 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 , 3:216–17. Swearingen at this time was county sheriff. In 1777 he became county lieutenant of Berkeley County (created from Frederick in 1772) in the place of GW’s brother Samuel. He was a brother of the Thomas Swearingen (d. 1760) who was one of the two sitting members of the House of Burgesses from Frederick County at the time of the burgess election in December 1755 when GW ran a distant third in the county’s poll and, again, at the election in July 1758 when Thomas Swearingen ran a distant third and GW led the poll by a wide margin.

1This was probably Robert Stogdon (Stogden, Stockden) who lived between Shepherdstown and what in 1772 became Berkeley Court House (later Martinsburg) to the west. He became a justice of the peace and assessor of the “Northwest” section of Berkeley County when it was created in 1772 (Evans, History of Berkeley County description begins Willis F. Evans. History of Berkeley County West Virginia. Martinsburg, W.Va., 1928. description ends , 62–63).

2Mendenhal’s house “under the North-Mountain” was used as a fort in 1756 and 1757 (GW’s Memorandum respecting the Militia, 12 May 1756; GW to William Fairfax, 25 June 1757). “Mendenhall” probably was the Quaker John Mendenhal and the mill probably was located near the house (see the map cited in the source note). GW in the early 1750s acquired several tracts of land on the run or creek called Bullskin which flows into the Shenandoah River to the south of Shepherdstown, near present-day Charles Town in Jefferson County, West Virginia.

3James Magill (McGill) in 1768 owned land on Hogue Creek which both the Old Wagon Road and the Braddock Road to Fort Cumberland crossed a few miles to the west of Winchester.

4The rivalry, or animosity, between GW and Adam Stephen was of fairly recent origin. Stephen was GW’s second in command as long as GW was colonel of the Virginia Regiment, and since GW’s resignation in December 1758 he had been Col. William Byrd’s. Shortly after leaving the regiment, GW began to give some attention to securing land in the west under the terms of Lt. Gov. Robert Dinwiddie’s Proclamation of 1754 promising 200,000 acres to the Virginia troops serving in the expedition of that year. GW seems to have formed a partnership in the fall of 1759 with George Mercer, Robert Stewart, and Christopher Gist’s son Nathaniel to secure land under the proclamation (see George Mercer to GW, 16 Sept. 1759, and nn.4 and 6). On 17 Feb. 1760 Mercer wrote GW that Thomas Bullitt, another veteran of the 1754 campaign, backed by Stephen, was making a move to grab “all the best Land on the Ohio” for the two of them. In the fall of 1759 Mercer held the rank of lieutenant colonel as the deputy quartermaster general for the Virginia and Maryland forces, and Bullitt continued as captain of one of the companies in the Virginia Regiment. Mercer obtained his license to survey land in the west on 10 Dec. 1759; Bullitt got his license early in 1760 (see Mercer’s letter of 17 Feb. 1760, n.2). Nothing was to come of either venture for another decade because the British government closed the transmontane west to further settlement in 1762–63, but there can be little doubt that here in 1761 Stephen’s bid for a seat in the House of Burgesses in opposition to GW and George Mercer was closely related to the rivalry of the two groups over western lands. On 11 Feb. 1761 Governor Fauquier formally proclaimed in the Virginia council the accession of George III, which meant that new elections for the House of Burgesses would have to be held, and four days later, on 15 Feb., Robert Stewart reported to GW from Winchester that Stephen was “incessantly employd in traversing this County” trying to persuade the freeholders to choose him whenever the election should be held for one of the seats in the House held by GW and Lord Fairfax’s nephew Thomas Bryan Martin. According to Stewart, Stephen was having some success in using “his speculative Wealth and an immensity of Flummery” to attract “the attention of the Plebeians, whose unstable Minds are agitated by every Breath of Novelty whims and nonsense.” GW visited Frederick County in early March and talked to at least some of his friends about the election, which still had not been set (Stewart to GW, 12 Mar. [first letter]). What it was that was discreditable to Stephen that GW had been circulating and was now offering to Van Swearingen has not been identified. Nor is it known what Stephen did, or was done to him, on the streets of Winchester. For evidence of GW’s earlier estrangement from Stephen, see George Mercer to GW, 17 Feb. 1760, Robert Stewart to GW, 14 April 1760, and Cash Accounts, May 1759, n.9.

5Prominent friends of GW and George Mercer did indeed succeed in hurrying “in at the first of the Poll.” Of the first fifteen men who stepped up to the polling table at Winchester on 18 May 1761 and announced their choices for burgesses, all but one voted for GW and all but three for Mercer. The first two to vote were GW’s brothers John and Samuel, and the first fifteen included as well GW’s brother-in-law Fielding Lewis, George Mercer’s brother James, the early settler of the county Isaac Hite, and the founder of Winchester James Wood, who in 1758 had been sheriff and GW’s chief supporter in the burgess election of that year. Among other early voters for GW and Mercer were Van Swearingen, GW’s close friend Dr. James Craik, and GW’s brother Charles Washington. See “A Copy of the Poll taken at the Election of Burgesses in Frederick County the 18th day of May 1761” in DLC:GW. See also the Frederick County Poll Sheet, 24 July 1758, enclosed in Charles Smith to Gw, 26 July 1758. For further references to the 1761 election in Frederick County, see Robert Stewart to GW, 10 June 1761, n.1.

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