George Washington Papers

From George Washington to James Mercer, 8 January 1774

To James Mercer

Mount Vernon Jany 8th 1774

Dear Sir,

Your Letter of the 1st Instt, came to my hands yesterday, only1—I am very glad to find that you settled the business with Lord Fairfax so much to your satisfaction; I cannot in this Letter, fix upon a time to attend the division of the Bullrun Land2 being in hourly expectation of seeing Captn Crawford, with whom I have some business to transact, and a time ⟨mutilated⟩ upon my Ohio Lands, which must, in a great measure, regulate my other appointments—In short, as I could wish to make the time as agreeable as possible, to you & Mr Rose, I cannot but consider myself as a little unfavourably situated, being obliged to attend the wedding of my Ward some time about the first of next Month. expect Colo. Bassett & his Family here about the first of the Month after—and, early in April (under my present Intention) think of setting for the Ohio. As soon however as I can with any sort of precision write to you on this head, you may expect to hear from me.

I should be exceeding well satisfied with a Copy of the rough Deed you gave me, myself, but I submit it to you whether I can, with propriety send any Paper to Mr Montague that does not come regularly attested from the Office, for I will suppose for a moment that the Original never can be produced, and the Court, or the Clerk, should object to the rough Copy, would not Mr Montague think very strangely of me, to send Papers for Copies, which are not acknowledged to be in existance? I therefore think, unless Mr Mason can produce the original, it would be best to get the other receivd into the Office, before any Copy is sent, or report the matter as it stands, to Mr Montague, which will not, I think, say much for our Secretary may ⟨mutilated per⟩haps, in case of a difficiency, open a door to a fresh dispute, respecting the legality of this Record.3

I am greatly surprizd at the Issuing of another attachment & Proclamation; how to acct for it, I am sure I do not know; but shall begin to think my business very poorly, &, considering the Importance of it, very unfortunately attended to, if it goes on at this rate being told by Mr Everard, that if I did not take care, judgment would be given before I was aware of it, if the matter was delayed in the manner it had been—This last process, though not yet Servd, really astonishes me, for both my wife & self swore to the answer at Colo. Bassetts, and, when I offer’d to see it deliverd into the Secretary’s Office, in order that I might be sure of its getting safe to hand, Colo. Pendleton said no, that he had many other Papers to go to the Office, & would send them altogether; how then am I to acct for this Proclamation? & what more can I do?4

Your Steward has led you, and you me, into a mistake about the qty of wheat at Marlborough; by telling me, as I came up, that you were sure there was a thousand Bushels ready, & finding the weather like to set in bad I immediately sent up to Alex⟨andria (⟩upon my return home) after ⟨mutilated⟩ and finding only one there (carrying 1200 Bushels) I could engage it upon no other terms than Insuring the freight of 1000 certain; whereas the quantity is under Eight hundred, & I have the difference, dead freight, to pay.5

With this Letter, you will receive your Brothers Patent for the first quantity of Land allowed him, in the distribution of the 200,000 acres; the Patent for the Second quantity, in wch he is (as we all are) joind with others, I have not yet got6—The reason of my ⟨sending you⟩ the Patent now, is, that you may compare the Tenor of the Patent, with the Words of our Act of Assembly, respecting the Saving of Land & let me know, in case the New Colony should take place, whether (as I am satisfied we have no favour to expect from the Proprietors thereof, & the matter must be determind in there Government) we shall not be rigidly confind to the Words of the Grant, or whether any of the modes prescribd by the Act of Assembly will answer. If you are in any doubt about this matter, as I own I am, I should be glad, as it is a matter of some Importance, if you wd take the best advice you can upon it, and let me know the result; for as this Colony is yet, in the opinion of some to take place, it behooves the Patentees under the Proclamn aforesaid, to proceed safely in their operatio⟨ns⟩.

I heartily ⟨mutilated⟩ you ⟨mutilated⟩ the Compliments of the Season, and the return of many happy New Years, being very sincerely Dr Sir Yr Most Obedt Hbe Ser.

Go: Washington

P.S. The bearer is a Servant of Mr Browns of King Wm on his return home, which I mention that, in case you should think it necessary to write to ⟨illegible⟩ you may embrace the oppy of doing so by him.7

ALS, PWacD: Sol Feinstone Collection, on deposit PPAmP.

At the bottom of the last page of this letter is a letter written from “Camp Seminary Virgina” on 7 Sept. 1861 by Capt. John H. Deighan of a New Jersey company of Federal troops camped at the Episcopal seminary near Alexandria. Deighan wrote to his “Frend John” that “this letter Cam out of the head Quarters of the Capton of the Black Ho[r]se Cavl⟨ry⟩ and I thought that it would Sute the old Passaic Hotel.” The letter goes on to describe people and events in the camp.

James Mercer’s son Charles Fenton Mercer made his home during his last years with a niece who was married to the Rev. John Page McGuire, principal of the Episcopal High School near the seminary. Mercer died in 1858, leaving one or two trunks of papers inherited from his father, James Mercer. When Federal troops occupied Alexandria in 1861, McGuire and his family left their home, and Federal troops were stationed at the high school and nearby seminary. The McGuire home became a hospital. The trunk, or trunks, of papers were broken open and the contents thrown on camp fires. A few papers were salvaged by Union soldiers, and some eventually found their way to a dealer in the Mohawk Valley. Included in the papers were letters to James, George, and John Mercer and documents concerning the Ohio Company (Rowland, Ohio Company description begins Kate Mason Rowland, “The Ohio Company.” William and Mary Quarterly, 1st ser., 1 (1892–93): 197–203. description ends , 198–200). In Mulkearn, George Mercer Papers description begins Lois Mulkearn, ed. George Mercer Papers Relating to the Ohio Company of Virginia. Pittsburgh, 1954. description ends , there is a further discussion of the fate of the Mercer papers (xvii-xx).

1Letter not found.

2For the division of the Bull Run Mountains tract in Loudoun County belonging jointly to James, George, and John Francis Mercer, see GW to James Mercer, 28 Mar., 11 April 1774. The division was being made in preparation for the sale of George Mercer’s Virginia property in November 1774.

3On 25 Nov. 1759 John Mercer signed over all of his extensive property to his sons James and George who on the same day transferred the entirety to two trustees, John Tayloe and Presley Thornton (George and James Mercer’s Land Release to John Tayloe and Presley Thornton, 25 Nov. 1759, in Mulkearn, George Mercer Papers description begins Lois Mulkearn, ed. George Mercer Papers Relating to the Ohio Company of Virginia. Pittsburgh, 1954. description ends , 40–45). GW here seems to be referring to John Mercer’s Bull Run property which in the deed of release to the trustees is described in this way: “One equal moiety or half part of several Tracts or Land situate at the Bull run mountains in the said County of Loudoun and Prince William purchased of George Byrne[,] Charles Green[,] Willoughby Newton[,] Thomas Owsley and the Sons and Heir of Edward Feagin and granted to the said John Mercer by the proprietor of the Northern Neck of Virginia aforesaid containing by Estimation Sixteen thousand three hundred and thirty eight Acres be the same more or less” (ibid., 41).

4The matter at hand has not been identified.

7Mr. “Brown” was probably William Burnet Browne (1738–1784), a native of Massachusetts who married Judith Walker Carter, daughter of Charles Carter of Cleve. Browne owned Elsing Green in King William County.

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