George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James Mercer, 11 August 1773

From James Mercer

St James’s 11th Augt 1773.

Dear Sir

Your favour of the 9th Instant was received late last Night,1 I am concerned you shou’d give yourself the trouble of explaining your motives for applying to me about the Mortgage I gave you—if my answer imputed to you the most distant suspicion of ungenerous Sentiments, believe me my good Sir, my Pen & Heart differed much[.]2 It is true I put the supposition you mention but I deemed it next to impossible, founding on that improbability a strong & convincing proof of yr mortgage being yet as good as ever—It is true that, at this Instant an Exn cou’d be levied on the Negroes contained in it but my good Sir that is the only event independent of my own free will and that event is impossible because there is no Suit or Execution agt the Estate, had there been any danger from such a contingency I wou’d myself have sent for yr mortgage & have recorded it in Stafford Court, it wou’d have been good from the recording agt all the world let the date be what it may—the only difference between such and a strictly formal proceeding on a mortgage is this, that one Recorded within 8 months has a Retrospective effect, from the date—the other being voidable as to Creditors & purchasers for want of Notice, is revived by the act of Recording, from the time of such Recording because from thence all persons are to take Notice—I have been thus prolix in justification of my former Opinion but I shall notwithstanding the other mortgage is good—this day make another & deliver it to my Clerck Mr Sims for your Use, I wou’d the rather do this, because I can now include some very valuable Negroes which I wish to be preserved to the last & therefore shall not want to sell but for your Use3—however I hope to be able to give you a Security on Land—my Brother in conjunction with his Mortgagees have sent in a power of atty to Colo. Tayloe Colo. Mason & yourself to sell his Shannandoah & Bull Run Lands this will require a division of the Bull Run Tract, in which my young Brother has abt 9000 acres—I propose keeping three thousand of the best of it for his Use, when distinguised I will grant you a Mortgage on that to assist the others.4

I have received a Letr from my Brother of the 8th of May. It was concluded so suddenly that he is very imperfect as to the new Government & other Business of more consequence than any mentioned—from what I can understand with certainty, it seems the Charter was not then compleated, but he considers it as next to done, I dare say, for this Reason, that Mr Ballendines Information is premature—I believe his Appointment is as sure as the Grant, & shou’d he succeed I have not the least doubt but your recommendation of the Gentlemen you mention for his Deputies, will obtain their wish, I shall mention them as from you as early as possible & as from myself next to four whom I have promised to assist.5

As it is now time to look out for a wheat Market I shou’d be glad to know are you a purchaser, if you are, I wish to deal with you, the annual Interest coming in will I hope make it mutual between Us to deal every year. I can from this Crop furnish abt 2500 bushells from Fredk & Marlborough. Mr Brents Rent at Christmas & the waggonage at convenient times is all the Cash I shall want ’till May when your Interest money is first to be paid, if I can leave the balla. towards the principal (which after two Crops I am sure I can) I will gladly do so—let me hear from you soon that I may order down the Frederick wheat to your Mill6—shou’d I hear anything of my Brother, I will immediately communicate it to you—Through Colo. Mason you will know all I am lately informed of. I am with real esteem Dear Sir Your much obliged & very huble Servt

Js Mercer

ALS (photocopy), DLC:GW.

1Letter not found.

2Mercer’s “answer” to GW’s letter of 19 July has not been found.

3For the indebtedness of the John Mercer estate to GW, see GW to James Mercer, 19 July 1773, n.1. James Mercer held sales to dispose of some of the Mercer slaves on 29 Dec. 1772 and 3 Feb. 1773 (see Fielding Lewis to GW, c.29 Dec. 1772–February 1773, source note). Charles Simms (1775–1819) of Prince William County studied law with James Mercer. After serving in the Continental army where he reached the rank of lieutenant colonel, he practiced law in Alexandria.

4See GW to John Tayloe, 20 August. Mercer’s “young Brother” was his half brother, John Francis Mercer (1759–1821), who after the Revolution was to have a successful political career in Maryland. GW did not hold the sale of George Mercer’s Virginia lands until November 1774. See Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 3:292–93, and GW to John Tayloe, 30 Nov. 1774.

5George Mercer was living in London and for several years had been hoping to become the governor of the new colony for which the Walpole associates had been attempting to get approval since 1770 (see Jonathan Boucher to GW, 18 Aug. 1770, n.4). On 2 Dec. 1773 George Mercer wrote George William Fairfax, saying that he had heard that Fairfax, who had just spent several weeks in London before going on to York to live, was attempting to block the formation of the colony and Mercer’s appointment as governor. Mercer wrote: “My dear Sir: If this letter should break in upon your retirement I pray you Sir to allow the subject to plead an apology and I am sure it will, as my interest and the furtherance of some of my schemes are dependent upon it. Perhaps you thought, I am sure you wished, that all my Vandalia prospects, were ere this fully within my grasp, but my ill stars still prevail against me. I am not yet Governor, and a fresh objection, the last I hope they have to offer, has arisen against the policy of the grant, so far as it relates to Britain. It is urged that Colonel Fairfax a gentleman lately arrived from Virginia, has confirmed what Lord Hillsborough had suggested, ‘that the inhabitants of Vandalia were not only out of reach of the arms, but the commerce of Great Britain,’ and that Colonel Fairfax had said many thousand ‘families were settled within the bounds of the new Province, and that each of them had a loom and spinning wheel, and would always manufacture every article of cloath they wanted, of course would not want any British manufactures: and that the people on the Ohio might be easily and conveniently governed by Virginia, which not only made the establishment of a new and separate government totally unnecessary, but that the separation of the intended government from that of Virginia under which it was at present, and by whom they were governed, would occasion great murmurs and perhaps insurrections among the settlers.’

“I do not presume my dear Sir to oppose my own opinion to one so well informed as I am sure you are, and did I suspect you thought what was reported to have been your declaration, it would certainly have great weight in future with me, and indeed would, with as much decency as was practicable, retract what really has hitherto been my opinion. I must however pay that respect to the opinion I have hitherto maintained, to suppose this report has been spread as coming from one of your knowledge and authority in Virginia, in order to support Lord Hillsborough’s assertions, and I am the more persuaded to this, as I recollect you were so obliging as to mention some conversation you had with Mr Pownall, in which you desired you might not be called before any public Board, being in no way interested, and having no knowledge of the dispute between Pennsylvania, Maryland, and the Vandalians about the boundaries of the Provinces, and that you should have stepped forth, justified as you thought you were in your public character to have asserted the claims, and ask redress of the injuries, if any had been offered to Virginia. I beg your pardon, my dear Sir, for presuming to give you this trouble, and I know public justice as well as your friendship manifested to me on so many occasions, will plead my excuse for asking your answer to this letter.

“My best wishes attend Mrs Fairfax, and I am with the utmost sincerity my dear Sir Your much obliged friend and obedient servant [signed] Geo. F. Mercer” (Neill, The Fairfaxes of England and America description begins Edward D. Neill. The Fairfaxes of England and America in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, Including Letters from and to Hon. William Fairfax, President of Council of Virginia, and His Sons Col. George William Fairfax and Rev. Bryan, Eighth Lord Fairfax, the Neighbors and Friends of George Washington. Albany, 1868. description ends , 140–43).

John Ballendine had been in England since 1772 seeking to promote his schemes for improving the navigation of the Potomac River (see GW to Jonathan Boucher, 5 May 1772, n.1).

6In his account with James Mercer, GW records receiving on 8 Jan. 1774 “771½ Bushls of [wheat] from [Marlborough] @ 4/6—£173.11.9” and “1380¾ Bushl of Ditto from Colo. [George] Mercers Plantns in Fredk of the Crop 1773 @ Do—£310.13.4” (General Ledger B description begins General Ledger B, 1772–1793. Library of Congress, George Washington Papers, Series 5, Financial Papers. description ends , folio 84). See also his account with the John Mercer estate, in which the clerk has mistaken the year of the £173.11.9 payment (General Ledger B description begins General Ledger B, 1772–1793. Library of Congress, George Washington Papers, Series 5, Financial Papers. description ends , folio 221). See also GW to James Mercer, 8 Jan. 1774. GW paid William Brent on Mercer’s order, £125 on 2 Feb. 1773 and again on 21 Feb. 1774, and on 9 Sept. 1775 sent another £98.4.3 (General Ledger B description begins General Ledger B, 1772–1793. Library of Congress, George Washington Papers, Series 5, Financial Papers. description ends , folio 84). See also GW to Mercer, 12 Dec. 1774, and Lund Washington to GW, 5 Nov. 1775.

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