George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John West, Jr., December 1767

To John West, Jr.

[December 1767]

Dear Sir,

Having Perusd the Contents of Mr Bernards Letter Inclosd,1 I am of Opinion that, if the scope of it is to draw an answer from us (as Executors of Colo. Colvills Will) signifying (that as we are not in Cash, and probably shall be sometime without a sufficiency to discharge the several Legacies he has left) that we will, so soon as we can with propriety, pay Mrs Bernards Fortune to him or his order I shall have no objection to giving such an assurance; because it woud be the most consistent reply we coud make to such a demand if made, and the natural consequence of his Letter; but if any thing more than this is required, I shall, from the light I view it in at present, beg leave to enter my dissent; because I do not see what better, or indeed what other Security we can give than the Testator himself already has given2—Or how we who are only the Exrs of another Mans Will, can adopt any Measure that may anticipate its operation, and be safe in doing so. Whenever the money is raisd it of course becomes due and payable to whomsoever has a right in Mrs Bernard to demand it; and before this I do not see what more is to be expected of Us than to raise it as fast as we can. this is the light in which the matter appears to me upon a general re-view of it, but I am open to conviction, and shall always recede from error so soon as I am convincd that I am in one. I am Dr Sir Yr Most Obedt Servt

Go: Washington


John West, Jr., the son of Hugh West (1705–1754) and nephew of Col. John West (d. 1777), lived in Alexandria. John West, Jr., was married to Catherine, the natural daughter of John Colvill (d. 1756). He along with GW and Frances (Francina) Colvill (died c.1773), Thomas Colvill’s widow, was an executor of the estate of Thomas Colvill (d. 1766).

Shortly before Thomas Colvill died in 1766, as GW later recalled, he persuaded GW to act as an executor of his estate with the promise that GW’s role would be only a nominal one. See GW to Bushrod Washington, 10 Feb. 1796. Complications in the estate long delayed its settlement, however, and when GW returned to Mount Vernon after the Revolution, he found himself the sole surviving executor of the estate. Thomas Colvill’s will was to plague GW until almost the time of his death. For a brief description of the complexities facing the executors at this time, see the editor’s note and references in Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 2:11.

1Letter not found. Thomas Colvill provided in his will that his wife’s niece, Sarah Savin of Maryland, should receive £250 current money and a slave girl. During the past year Sarah had become the second wife of William Bernard (1730–1782), a lawyer in King George County.

2Thomas Colvill’s will was a very long one with numerous English heirs, some of whom could not be identified. See the Advertisement, 10 Mar. 1768, that the executors placed in English newspapers in an effort to identify legatees. Thomas Colvill’s estate was further complicated by the fact that he was chief executor of his brother John’s estate which still had not been settled when Thomas died. For a review of the continuing complications in the Colvill estate, see Thomas Montgomerie to GW, 24 Oct. 1788, and notes.

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