George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Botetourt, 8 December 1769

To Botetourt

Decr 8th 1769.

My Lord,

When I had the honr of seeing your Lordship in May last,1 I took the liberty of mentioning, in a cursory manner, the claim of sundry Officers of the first Troops raisd in this Colony, in behalf of themselves, & the Soldiery of that day, to certain Lands westward of the Aligany Mountains which they humbly conceivd themselves entitled to under, by virtue of a Proclamation of Governor Dinwiddies; but the number of Grants which appear upon the Council Books—the number of Petitions depending before, & exhibited to, the honble Board for more Lands—a copy of which by your Excellency’s orders the House have seen renders it necessary in my humble opinion to give your Lordship the trouble of receiving a more full and perfect State of the nature of our claim to this quantity of Land containd in that Pro[clamatio]n and the inevitable consequences which must follow a delay.2

In order to do this, my Lord two things may be necessary for me to premise, and those are the number of Men which were raisd under, and by means of that Proclamation, and the terms upon which they engaged.

In respect to the first, the Council journals, and other records of 1754 will proove that 300 was the number of Men which were voted for the purpose of Erecting a Fort at the Forks of Monongahele; and the Proclamation in the Month of Feby the same year affords ample testimony of the latter. I shall therefore beg leave to refer your Lordship to it.3

Small as the number may seem, it is a Fact nevertheless well known, that the difficulty of enlisting them at that time, in an Infant Country unaccustomd to War, was not more clearly foreseen, than evidently experienced; and evincd to the World the Policy of the then adopted measure to procure Men for a Service which at one view appeard new, difficult, & hazardous, from the length of the March, uninhabited Country, and almost inaccessable Mountains, which were to be passed.

But let the motives which gave rise to this Proclamation have been founded in good, or ill policy, most certain it is the terms were offered—the conditions were embracd—and to all Intents & purposes considered, as a mutual contract between the Govermt and Adventurers; the latter of whom, always conceiving that the Lands were as firmly engagd to them as their pay, have omitted no oppertunity since of avowing their Pretensions to it.

It is humbly hopd therefore, that your Lordship and Council will be pleasd to take the matter into consideration, for the reasons which have been offered, but more especially for the two which follow.

One half of the Land promised by the Proclamation is to be laid of contiguous to the Forks of Monongahela, consequently cannot interfere in any manner whatsoever with the boundary Lines, admitting, that the most contracted one is finally established4—And next, because the Country in general, but more especially that part of it where the first quantity is located, is settling very fast, & of course, every good, and fertile spot will be engrossd & occupied by others, whilst none but barren Hills, & rugged Mountains, will be left to those, who have toild, and bled for the Country, & whose right to a part of it is fixed by the strongest Assurances which Governmt coud give them so long ago as 1754. Unavailing is it to say, that the settlements of individuals illegal in their nature, are not to be respected—to remove them, woud proove a work of great difficulty; perhaps of equal cruelty, as most of these People are poor—swarming with large Families—have sought out these retreats on which perhaps their future prospects in life may wholely depend.

Thus my Lord I have endeavourd to give your Lordship a genl view of the nature of our claim, and of the peculiar hardships which must follow the restriction of our Surveying of it—I shall now beg leave to mention one thing more which occurs on this subject & that is this.

It has been distantly askd, for I must own I never heard the matter regularly questiond, whether the Troops employd in the subsequent campaigns were not entitled to a share also of this 200,000 Acres of Land?5 to this it may be answerd, that a moments recurrance to the state of affairs in 1754 & the occn of raising Troops at that early period will demonstrate at once the Impropriety of such expectns, if any such there be; For 300 Men were adjudgd suff⟨ic’t⟩ to the Service then under contemplation, & 200,000 Acres of Land was offered as a bounty to obtain them; and though the number proovd insufft to accomplish the purpose for wch they were rais’d (as thousands afterwards likewise did) yet it is a Fact very well known that this body of Troops did actually advance into the Country claimd by the Enemy, & built a Fort there which they were obligd to surrender to supr Numbrs.

Besides, they woud beg leave to make this one observation more, in proof of their exclusive right to this Grant; and that is, that the next Campaign was made by His Majesty’s Troops under the Comd of Genl Braddock; and that all the Troops enlisted in this Colony after that time, did it upon a quite differt, & much better establishment, the Officers recg higher pay, & the Men greater bountys.

It must plainly appear therefore, in my humble opinion at least, that the grant of this Land was merely local, confind to that particular Enterprize then in view, and coud by no means be construed to extend to the multitude which afterwards engagd in the course of a Ten years War. We rest in full hope therefore my Lord that in this opinion yr Excellency & the Council will be, & that we shall be orderd the Lands upon the terms it was granted to us by Proclamn & as soon as the Affairs of Governt can possibly admit of it. I beg your Lordships excuse for the prolixty of this Letter—I was desirous that the whole matter shoud be clearly stated for your Lordships determination & with all Imaginable respect I have the honr to be Yr Lordships most Obedt & most Hble Servt

G. W——n

P.S. Since writg the above I have been informd by Doctr Walker that the Lands near the Fort are reservd in the Indian Sale for the Traders6—If so, as this woud have been the most valuable moiety of our grant we shall humbly hope to be endulg’d (this being an event wch coud not be foreseen) in laying the like qty in some other good spot of Earth rather than wait a determination of that matter in England.7

ADfS, DLC:GW. GW docketed the draft: “To Lord Bottetourt 1st Letter 8th Decembr 1769”; in his letter to Botetourt of 5 Oct. 1770 GW refers to it as “the first Letter” that he ever wrote to Botetourt.

On 19 Feb. 1754, by proclamation, Lt. Gov. Robert Dinwiddie of Virginia promised 200,000 acres in the West to the men being recruited to march into the wilds to check the advance of the French down the Ohio. The campaign ended the following July when GW surrendered his forces at Fort Necessity to the French. Any action regarding Dinwiddie’s proclamation was delayed after the war by the royal Proclamation of 1763 closing the transallegheny west to further settlement. With the negotiation of treaties in the fall of 1768 for the cession of land in the transmontane west by the Iroquois and Cherokee, the time had come for the Virginia officers and soldiers of 1754 to press their claims to the land promised them fifteen years before. From the outset GW took the lead in securing the grant of 200,000 acres in the Ohio Valley for himself and his former comrades-at-arms, and for the next three years he oversaw the selection, survey, and division of the land among those entitled to it. For an undated memorial to the king by George Mercer for land under a reworded Proclamation of 1754, see The Virginia Soldiers’ Claim to Western Lands Adjacent to Fort Pitt (New York, 1966).

1GW dined with Botetourt at the governor’s palace on 5 and 9 May.

2On 29 Nov. 1769 the House of Burgesses asked the governor, Lord Botetourt, for “a particular Account of all the Orders of Council for granting Lands (with the Names of the Grantees) lying between the Alleghany Mountains, and a Line that may be run from the Western Boundary of the Carolina Line, to the Confluence of the River Ohio, with the Mississippi,” and also for “an Account of all Petitions to the Governor and Council for Orders to take up and survey Lands” in the same area. On 6 Dec. the House of Burgesses received “a particular Account of the Orders of Council for granting Lands, and also an Account of all Petitions for Orders, to take up and survey Lands” within the specified area, which were to “lie upon the Table, to be perused by the Members of the House” (JHB description begins H. R. McIlwaine and John Pendleton Kennedy, eds. Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia. 13 vols. Richmond, 1905–15. description ends , 1766–1769, 302, 317). GW made for himself a copy of the accounts prepared by Nathaniel Walthoe, clerk of the council. GW’s copy, in DLC:GW, fills up most of twelve long pages. The accounts list 34 orders in council making 47 grants between 1745 and 1754 and lists as many as 45 petitions for land received between 1747 and 1769. Immediately after receiving Walthoe’s report, the burgesses had Dinwiddie’s Proclamation of 1754 read and placed on the table. It then referred Walthoe’s accounts and Dinwiddie’s proclamation to a committee of the whole house. On 7 Dec. the house voted to ask the governor “whether the Faith of Government is now engaged to confirm any Orders of Council for granting of Lands, lying between the Alleghany Mountains, and a Line that may be run from the Western Termination of the North Carolina Line to the Confluence of the Ohio with the Mississippi, the Terms of which Orders have not been complied with; and that he will be pleased in future to discourage all Monopolies of Lands within the Colony.” The next day Botetourt had Walthoe reassure the house on both counts (ibid., 318–19, 323).

3For Robert Dinwiddie’s Proclamation of 1754 and GW’s role in the subsequent expedition of Virginia forces ending with his surrender at Fort Necessity on 3 July 1754, see 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 , 1:63–173.

4Dinwiddie’s proclamation provided that of the 200,000 acres one half would be contiguous to the fort at the forks of the Ohio (now Fort Pitt) and the other one half on the Ohio River in Virginia. By the “Forks of Monongahela” GW means where the Monongahela and Allegheny meet (i.e., at Fort Pitt), and his reference to “the boundary Lines” is not to the western boundary of Pennsylvania, which had not yet been fixed, but to the eastern boundary of the Indian cession, which had not been approved in London and the boundaries of which also had not yet been fixed. A copy of the Proclamation of 1754 made by GW is printed in GW to Botetourt, 5 Oct. 1770, n.7.

5The following entry appears in the minutes of the Virginia council for 15 June 1770: “Upon reading and considering a Petition of Col. Peachey in behalf of himself and others, praying that they may be admitted to a distribution of the two hundred thousand Acres of land granted by a Proclamation of Governor Dinwiddie in the year 1754, as an encouragement for persons to enter into the service of the Colony against the French in the said year, it is the Opinion of the Board that the Petitioners are not intitled to any share of the said two hundred thousand Acres of land; but that the same is appropriated and limited to the first Adventures only” (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 , 6:352–53). For the military service of William Peachey (Peachy; 1729–1802), see 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 , 3:9. See also GW’s denial of John Carlyle’s petition to be included, 15 Aug. 1770.

6Dr. Thomas Walker served with Andrew Lewis as a commissioner for Virginia in the negotiation of a treaty with the northern Indians in 1768 by Sir William Johnson. Walker at this time was in attendance at the assembly as a burgess from Albemarle County. It was ostensibly to compensate the traders for their losses in the French and Indian War that William Johnson negotiated a treaty with the Iroquois on 5 Nov. 1768 at Fort Stanwix, by which the Iroquois gave up any claims to lands south of the Ohio River. See source note in GW to William Crawford, 17 Sept. 1767. Andrew Lewis’s memorandum has not been identified, but see Lewis to GW, 1 Mar. 1770.

7After his postscript, GW wrote what he called “Notes”: “If time cannot be obtained to look out the Land, and we are obligd to locate it immediately— in that case do it according to Colo. Lewis’s Memm with Mr Walthoe provided none of those spots fall within the reservn for the Traders.

“To be in one or more Surveys, as Land can be found.

“To be indulged in a Surveyor of our own, to avoid the great expence (which the Governmt seemd ⟨inclind⟩ to ease us of) as well as Inconvenience & delay of Employing the County Surveyor.”

Clearly these are notes which he used in drawing up the petition that the governor and council acted on at their meeting on 15 December.

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