George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John West, Jr., 26 April 1769

From John West, Jr.

Cameron April 26. 1769.

Dear Sir.

Inclosed you have your Papers which I borrowed.1

In Answer to the Sale of the Land—I will take Two Pistoles pr Acre for it, which I Think a reasonable Price; Or I will give that Sum per acre for Posey’s, if sold, or more.2

If you incline to purchase, I shall not call on you for the Money very soon, Six Months at least you may have, perhaps a Year or Two; for as I told you, The Money arising from the Sale of this Land I purpose to lay out in other Lands; And have no particular purchase in view at present. I wish you a pleasant Journey, & safe return home.3 I am Dear Sir, your most Obedt Hble Servt

John West junr

ALS, NjMoHP. GW wrote beneath this letter from West a letter to the attorney Edmund Pendleton. The letter to Pendleton is undated and unsigned, but GW wrote and sent it probably in May 1770, under which date it is printed in this volume. Pendleton wrote his response of 6 June 1770 on the back of the sheet on which West and GW wrote their letters. GW docketed this letter from West: “Respecting the Bargn with Mr John West, previous to the first Conveyance.”

1While attending the Fairfax County court in Alexandria as a justice, GW spent the night of 17 April at the house of John West, Jr., at nearby Cameron, at which time West may have borrowed the unidentified “Papers.”

2GW went into Alexandria on 29 April before leaving for Williamsburg on 30 April and had John West, Jr., sign and Lund Washington witness a memorandum of agreement for West to sell and GW to buy a tract of about two hundred acres of land on the Potomac adjoining GW’s Mount Vernon tract. By the document, written in GW’s hand, John West, Jr., agreed “to sell unto George Washington all that Tract of Land which Captn Posey lives upon (which he held in right of his Wife under the Will of George Harrison decd during her life; which said Land was given to the Subscriber John West by the said Harrison in fee simple after her death) at the rate of two Pistoles per Acre: But as the exact number of Acres is not yet ascertaind, and the said John West hath not yet recoverd possession of the Lands with the dwelling House Kitchen &ca the Deeds cannot be executed to the said George Washington till that matter happens. Now as Posey claims about Six Acres of this Land under a Deed from Mr Marshall, if the said John West shou’d not recover the same by Law, it will be reasonable that a Deduction shoud be made for the conveniency of the Houses which we the Parties to this writing agree to settle between ourselves, if possible, otherwise that this agreement is to be void.” The agreement also provided that West would “give the said Washington Six Months notice before he calls on him for the money,” and that in any case West “is to demand nothing till the said Geo. Washington is in possession of the principal part of the Land at least” (PWacD: Sol Feinstone Collection, on deposit PPAmP).

GW had referred as early as September 1767 to West’s claims to the “Six Acres of Land” where Posey had his house and ferry on the Potomac (see GW to Posey, 24 Sept. 1767). West based his claims to the strip of land on the argument that it was part of the larger tract that became his on the death of Mrs. Posey in 1768. Martha Price Posey’s first husband, George Harrison, left to her for life his plantation of some two hundred acres neighboring Mount Vernon. In 1757 Posey bought from Thomas Marshall, the father of Thomas Hanson Marshall, a six-acre strip of land along the Potomac adjacent to the Harrison tract that he held through his wife. When Mrs. Posey died in 1768, John West, Jr., who was the nephew of George Harrison and his heir at law, inherited the plantation that had been in Mrs. Posey’s possession. West was now pushing his claims to Posey’s six acres as well, insisting that the strip of land was a part of the Harrison tract and that it had not been Marshall’s land to sell or Posey’s to buy.

West brought a suit of ejectment against Posey, and on 10 July 1769, “In consequence of an Order of Survey,” he and John Posey’s attorney, Philip Alexander, surveyed the six acres and then filed the plat with a report to “be admitted to Record, for the Tryal of this Cause.” The filed report stated: “The Plaintiff claims under the Will of his Uncle George Harrison 523 Acres of Land, which the said Harrison purchased of William Spencer in the Year 1739. And as no dispute arose relative to the Plaintifs claim to the back part of the Land, it is not altogether laid down in this Plat. The Elm at A and the Ash stump at B are admitted by the parties to be the Corners of the Land sold by Spencer to Harrison on Potowmack River.

“The Plaintif Claims in consequence of Spencers Deed all the Land to Potowmack River according to the Meanders thereof; and avers that it was in possession of the said Harrison which he will prove at the Tryal.

“The Defendant Claims all the Land between the black dotted Lines from B to A and from A according to the Meanders of the River up to B containing Six Acres more or less in consequence of a Deed from Thomas Marshal to the said Deft passed in the Year 1750” (ViMtvL).

GW wrote Posey on 11 June 1769 that it was the general expectation that West would win his case, but the court decided in favor of Posey. GW rented from Posey on 23 April 1770 Posey’s six acres, but shortly thereafter, in May 1770, GW wrote Edmund Pendleton that John West, Jr., was contemplating a second ejectment suit against Posey and had announced to GW that he was raising the price that he was asking for the land in the Harrison tract to forty shillings an acre. On 18 Sept. 1770, however, West sold GW the 200–acre Harrison tract and stipulated that if he ever succeeded in making good his claim to Posey’s six-acre tract, “now Rented by him to the said Geo: Washington,” he would sell it to GW (copy of an agreement between GW and John West, Jr., written and signed by GW, PHi: Gratz Collection and CD-ROM:GW). Finally, on 8 June 1772 GW was able to purchase the six-acre slip of land that he had been renting from Posey (deed of release from Posey to GW, PPRF). This, along with the 200–acre tract GW had got from Posey in October 1769 (see GW to Posey, 11 June 1769, n.8), gave GW possession of all the land that Posey had held on Dogue Creek and the Potomac.

3For GW’s experiences in Williamsburg in May 1769, see source note in GW to George Mason, 5 April 1769.

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