George Washington Papers

From George Washington to William Crawford, 17 September 1767

To William Crawford

[17] September 1767

Dear Sir

From a sudden hint of your Brother Val[entin]e I wrote to you a few days ago in a hurry, since which having had more time for reflection, I am now set down in order to Write more deliberately, & with greater precission, to you on the Subject of my last Letter; desiring that if any thing in this shoud be found contradictory to that Letter you will wholely be governd by what I am now going to add.1

I then desird the favour of you (as I understood Rights might now b⟨e⟩ had for the Lands which have fallen within the Pensylvania Line) to look ⟨me⟩ out a Tract of about 1500, 2000, or more acres somewhere in your Neighbou⟨r⟩hood meaning only by this that it might be as contiguous to your own Settlem⟨t⟩ as such a body of good Land coud be found and about Jacobs Cabbins or so⟨me⟩where on those Waters I am told this might be done. It will be easy for you to conceive that Ordinary, or even middling Land woud never answer my purpose or expectation so far from Navigation & under such a load of Expence ⟨as⟩ those Lands are incumbred with; No: A Tract to please me must be rich (of which no Person can be a better judge than yourself) & if possible to be go⟨od and⟩ level; Coud such a piece of Land as this be found you woud do me a singular favour in falling upon some method to secure it immediatel⟨y⟩ from the attempts of any other as nothing is more certain than that the Lands cannot remain long ungranted when once it is known that Righ⟨ts⟩ are to be had for them.2 What mode of proceeding is necessary in or⟨der⟩ to accomplish this design I am utterly at a loss to point out to you but as your own Lands are under the same Circumstances self Interest will n⟨a⟩turally lead you to an enquiry—I am told the Land, or Surveyors Offic⟨e⟩ is kept at Carlyle, if so I am of Opinion that Colo. Armstrong (an Acquaintance of mine) has something to do in the management of it. & I am perswaded woud readily serve me to him therefore at all events I will write by the first oppertunity on that Subject that the way may be prepard for your application if you shoud find it necessary to make one to him.3 Whatever trouble or expence you may be engagd in on my behalf you may depend upon being thankfully repaid. It is possible (but I do not know that it really is the case) that Pensylvania Customs will not admit so large a quantity of Land as I require, to be enterd together if so this may possibly be evaded by making several Entrys to the same amount if the expence of doing which is not too he⟨a⟩vy but this I only drop as a hint leaving the whole to your descretion & good management. If the Land can only be securd from others it i⟨s⟩ all I want at present the Surveying I woud choose to postpone, at least till the Spring. when if you can give me any Satisfactory Account of this matter and of what I am next going to propose I expect to pay yo⟨u⟩ a visit about the last of April.4

The other matter just now hinted at and which I proposd in my last is to join you in attempting to secure some of the most valuable Lands in the Kings part which I think may be accomplished after a while notwithst⟨an⟩ding the Proclamation that restrains it at present & prohibits the Settling of them at all for I can never look upon that Proclamation in any other light (but this I say between ourselves) than as a temporary expedien⟨t⟩ to quiet the Minds of the Indians & must fall of course in a few years esp⟨e⟩cially when those Indians are consenting to our Occupying the Lands. any Person therefore who neglects the present oppertunity of hunting ou⟨t⟩ good Lands & in some measure Marking & distinguishing them for their own (in order to keep others from settling them) will never regain it. If therefore you will be at the trouble of seeking out the Lands I will take upon me the part of securing them so soon as there is a possibility of doing it & will moreover be at all the Cost & charges of Surveying Patenting &ca after which you shall have such a reasonable proportion of the whole as we may fix upon at our first meeting as I shall find it absolutely necessar⟨y⟩ & convenient for the better furthering of the design to let some few of my friends be concernd in the Scheme & who must also partake of the advantages. By this time it may be easy for you to discover, that my Plan is to secure a good deal of Land, You will consequently come in for a very handsome quantity and as you will obtain it without any Costs, or expenc⟨es⟩ I am in hopes you will be encourag’d to begin this search in time. I woud choose if it were practicable, to get pretty large Tracts together, and it might be desirable to have them as near your Settlement, or Fort Pitt as we coud get them good; but not to neglect others at a greater distance if fine & bodies of it lye in a place.5 It may be a Matter worthy your enquiry to find out how the Maryland back line will run, and what is said about the laying of Neales (I think it is & Companys) Grant.6 I will enquire particularly concerning the Ohio Companys that one may know what to apprehend from them.7 For my own part I shoud have no objection to a Grant of Land upon the Ohio a good way below Pittsburg but woud willingly secure some good Tracts nearer hand first.

I woud recommend it to you to keep this whole matter a profound Secret, or Trust it only with those in whom you can confide & who can assist you in bringing it to bear by their discoveries of Land and this advice proceeds from several very good Reasons, and in the first place because I might be censurd for the opinion I have given in respect to the Kings Proclamation & then if the Scheme I am now proposing to you was known it might give the alarm to others & by putting them upon a Plan of the same nature (before we coud lay a proper foundation for success ourselves) set the different Interests a clashing and very probably in the end overturn the whole all which may be avoided by a Silent management & the [Scheme] snugly carried on by you under the pretence of hunting other Game which you may I presume effectually do at the same time you are in pursuit of Land which when fully discovered advise me of it & if there appears but a bear possibility of succeeding any time hence I will have the Lands immediately Surveyed to keep others off & leave the rest to time & my own Assiduity to Accomplish.

If this Letter shoud reach your hands before you set out I shoud be glad to have your thoughts fully expressd on the Plan I have proposd, or as soon afterwards as conveniently may be as I am desirous of knowing in time how you approve of the Scheme. I am Dr Sir Yr Very Hble Servt

Go. Washington


C. W. Butterfield in Washington-Crawford Letters description begins C. W. Butterfield, ed. The Washington-Crawford Letters. Being the Correspondence between George Washington and William Crawford, from 1767 to 1781, Concerning Western Lands. Cincinnati, 1877. description ends dates this letter 21 Sept. 1767, because “it was eight days of ordinary travel from Mt. Vernon to the home of Crawford.” This also was the date given later by Fitzpatrick in 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 and by the editors elsewhere in this edition of the Papers, Presidential Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series. 19 vols. to date. Charlottesville, Va., 1987–. description ends ; but Crawford refers in his letter of 29 Sept. 1767 to having received a letter from GW dated “the 17th instant,” which is clearly this one.

The letter from GW to William Crawford (1732–1782) opened a correspondence between the two men regarding western lands which lasted into the Revolution. Crawford, a former officer in GW’s Virginia Regiment and a member of a family in Frederick County with whom GW had lifelong dealings, moved with his wife and children in 1765 from Frederick County up to Stewart’s Crossing on the Youghiogheny River. The crossing was west of the Allegheny Mountains about forty miles south and east of Fort Pitt at the forks of the Ohio River. Although the British government in 1763 banned further white settlement in the transmontane west, men like Crawford continued to move across the mountains and settle on land to which they could not get clear title. In 1765, in way of compensation for injuries done to Pennsylvania traders during the recent war, the Iroquois Confederation offered to renounce all claims to lands west of the Alleghenies, including that south of the Ohio as far west as the Tennessee. William Johnson, superintendent of Indian affairs for the northern department, had not accepted the Iroquois cession pending approval from London, but undoubtedly knowledge of the Indians’ offer encouraged GW to assume, mistakenly, that Pennsylvania would now grant “Rights” to land within its borders lying beyond the 1763 proclamation line. The year after this, in the fall of 1768, the Ohio country to the south of the river was effectively opened to the claims of land-hungry whites by the agreements reached by John Stuart with the Cherokee at Hard Labor and by William Johnson with the Iroquois at Fort Stanwix.

The western boundary of Pennsylvania remained undetermined until after the Revolution (see note 6), giving rise to conflicting claims between Virginia and Pennsylvania in the Ohio country. GW and Crawford were confident that Crawford’s own land and the nearby land that he chose for GW (see note 2) were within the limits of Pennsylvania, but when Crawford began to seek land for GW farther west, in what GW calls here the “Kings part,” he ran into trouble because of the uncertainty whether the land chosen lay in Pennsylvania or Virginia (see Crawford to GW, 29 Sept. 1767, n.7). Crawford acted as GW’s land agent in the west until the Revolution. In 1771 and 1773 GW also employed him to survey the 200,000 acres of land in the Ohio country that GW and his fellow soldiers were receiving under the terms of Robert Dinwiddie’s Proclamation of 1754.

1GW’s letter of “a few days ago” was dated 13 Sept. 1767; it has not been found. For the dating both of the missing letter and of this letter of 17 Sept. 1767, see Crawford to GW, 29 Sept. 1767. William Crawford’s brother Valentine probably used his wagon in early September to convey baggage for GW and George William Fairfax down from Warm Springs in Frederick County to Mount Vernon and Belvoir. See the reference to paying Valentine Crawford’s wages in Cash Accounts, September 1767, n.8.

2No correspondence between GW and Crawford from September 1767 to January 1769 has been found, but Crawford was at Mount Vernon from 31 Mar. to 6 April 1768 during which time GW gave him £20 for which “an acct [is] to be rendered of it.” When Crawford was again at Mount Vernon on 27 and 28 July 1768, GW gave him £8 for “a Piece of Land which he is to procure for me in the Forks of Monongahela and Yaughyaughgany.” Finally, on 13 Nov. 1769, GW sent Crawford £20 Pennsylvania currency (£15.17.6 Virginia currency). See General Ledger A description begins General Ledger A, 1750–1772. Library of Congress, George Washington Papers, Series 5, Financial Papers. description ends , folio 273, and Cash Accounts, April and July 1768. On 7 Jan. 1769 Crawford wrote GW that he had recently had a surveyor “Run out” the land on the Youghiogheny that Crawford was securing for GW. Three months later, in April 1769, warrants for the survey of five contiguous tracts of approximately three hundred and thirty acres each within the bounds of GW’s claim were issued, one to GW and one each to four other men who assigned their rights to GW. A survey was supposed to be limited to 300 acres (see John Armstrong to GW, 3 Nov.—20 Dec. 1767). The formal patent for the entire tract was not issued to GW until 28 Feb. 1782. This tract of 1,644 acres, later to be known as Washington’s Bottom, was on the west banks of the Youghiogheny a few miles nearer Pittsburgh than Crawford’s place at Stewart’s Crossing. It was GW’s first land acquisition to the west of the Alleghenies. In 1772 he went into partnership with Gilbert Simpson, Jr., to establish a mill and plantation on the tract. For an account of the development of the mill and plantation at Washington’s Bottom, see Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 4:1–2.

Jacob’s Cabin was about twelve miles from Stewart’s Crossing. It probably took its name from the famous Delaware chief Captain Jacob.

3In response to GW’s inquiry of 21 Sept. 1767 about procedures for obtaining land in western Pennsylvania, John Armstrong wrote GW on 3 Nov.—20 Dec. giving a detailed explanation of how one went about laying claim to Pennsylvania land lying beyond the proclamation line.

4See note 2.

5From the general description of the area in which he wishes Crawford to search out tracts of good land for himself and “some few of my friends,” it seems likely that GW’s “Scheme” does not pertain directly either to the unsuccessful efforts of the Mississippi Land Company to obtain a large grant, in which GW had been involved since 1763, or to the movement to acquire land for himself and others under the terms of Robert Dinwiddie’s Proclamation of 1754, which GW publicly initiated in late 1769 and carried to a successful conclusion in the next few years. See particularly Mississippi Land Company: Articles of Agreement, 3 June 1763, and notes, and GW to Lord Botetourt, 8 Dec. 1769. GW may be referring here to a land venture which was proposed in a 17 June 1769 petition to the governor and council of Virginia: “The Petition of Joseph Harper, Francis Jerdone Ju[nio]r, John Jerdo⟨ne⟩, George Pottie, William Douglass, John McCoy, Walter Goldsmith, James Taylor, John Richardson, William Jerdone, George Washington, Thomas Bishop, John Alton, Joseph [Soal], Henry Taylor, Edward Williams, Samuel Jackson, William Skilling, Thomas Davis, Michael Tracy, Archibald Cary, Thos Mann Randolph, Robert Goode, ⟨mutilated⟩h Ward, James Copland, Matthew Branch, Thos Randolph, ⟨mutilated⟩s Fleming, Henry Bell, Seth Ward Ju[nio]r, George Wyth, Warner ⟨mutilated⟩is Ju[nio]r, William Nelson Ju[nio]r, Lewis Burwell Ju[nio]r, Edmond Ber⟨mutilated⟩, John Bolling, Thos Fleming, William Ellis, Benjn Watkins [commas added] ⟨mutilated⟩ William Fleming humbly sheweth that his Majesty’s Title to the Lands situate on the east side the river Ohio having been lately recognized by the six Nations of Indians. Your Petitioner’s humbly pray that they may have leave to take up & survey forty thousand Acres of Land to begin at a Cycamore Tree marked TW between the Road leading thro’ Cave Gap extending up & down Powel’s River & the Branch ⟨mutilated⟩ hereof in one or more surveys to compleat the said Quantity & your ⟨pe⟩titioners will pray” (Vi: Colonial Papers).

6The young English astronomer-surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, who were in their fourth and final year of marking the boundary between the two proprietary colonies, Maryland and Pennsylvania, had already advanced past the “back line” of Maryland, establishing it to the east of Stewart’s Crossing. See source note, and GW to John Armstrong, 21 Sept. 1767. “Neales . . . & Companys” may be the land company composed of Lewis and John Neal and eighteen other men who received a grant from the Virginia council in 1747 of 60,000 acres, part of which was “on the Branches of Youghyoughgane and Morangaly” (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 , 5:231).

7On 26 June 1767 the Board of Trade took up the Ohio Company’s petition of 1763 and the memorial prepared in 1765 by the company’s agent in London, George Mercer, asking that the western lands promised to the company in 1749 by the Virginia council be granted to it. On the board’s recommendation, the earl of Shelburne wrote Gov. Francis Fauquier on 8 Oct. 1767 to obtain an exact account of the lands that the Ohio Company was asking for. Aware that the land in the Virginia council’s grant of 1749 would almost certainly fall within the province of Pennsylvania, the Ohio Company at a meeting in February 1768 voted to ask for lands below the Ohio to the south and west of Pennsylvania.

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