George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Parke Custis, 3 August 1778

To John Parke Custis

White plains Augt 3d 1778.

Dear Custis,

Your Letter of the 15th Ulto from New Kent came to my hands by the last Post, and gave me the pleasure of hearing that you, Nelly, & the little ones were well.

You should not delay recording my Deed to you, because you cannot, I am told, make a proper conveyance to Henry till this happens the postponing of it therefore may not be a pleasing circumstance to him. As you seemed so desirous of living in Fairfax—as I know it will be an agreeble measure to your Mother—and a pleasing one to me, I am very glad to find that you have purchased Robt & Gerrd Alexanders Lands as they are pleasantly situated, and capable of great improvement—These two Gentn not only knew how to take advantage of the times but resolved to profit by them and here, early, & in time—as a friend & one who has your welfare at heart—let me entreat you to consider the consequences of paying compound Interest—Your having 24 Yrs to pay Mr Robt Alexander, without his having it in his power to call upon you for any part of the principal or Interest is in my judgment an unfortunate circumstance for you—a Dun, now and then might serve as a Monitor, to remind you of the evil tendency of paying compound Interest, and the fatal consequence which may result from letting a matter of this sort Sleep without it, you may be plunged into a most enormous debt without thinking of it, or giving that timely attention, which the importance of is requisite I presume you are not unacquainted with the fact of £12,000 at compound Interest amounting to upwards of £48,000 in twenty four years—Reason therefore must convince you that unless you avert the evil by a deposit of the like Sum in the loan Office—and there hold it sacred to the purpose of accumulating Interest in the proportion you pay, that you will have abundant cause to repent it—No Virginia Estate (except a very few under the best of management) can stand simple Interest how then can they bear compound Interest—You may be led away with Ideal profits—you may figure great matters to yourself to arise from this, that, or t’other Scheme, but depend upon it they will only exist in the imagination, and that year after year will produce nothing but disappointment and new hopes—these will waste time, whilst your Interest is accumg and the period approaches when you will be called upon unprepared perhaps to advance 4 times the original purchase money—Remember therefore, that as a friend, I call upon you with my advice to shun this rock by depositing the Sum you are to pay Alexander, in the loan Officer—let it be considered as alexanders money, & sacred to that use and that only. for if you shd be of opinion that pay day being a great way off will give you time enough to provide for it & consequently to apply your present Cash to other uses it does not require the gift of prophecy to predict the Sale of the purchased Estate or some other to pay for it.

After this dissertation upon a subject which perhaps you may think I have no business now to intermeddle in I shall approve your proposal for selling the Lands mentioned in your Letter to me provided you can get an adequate price but one circumstance should not be forgotten by you in these transactions and that is that your Lands will go but a little way in the purchase of others if you sell at three or four pounds an Acre and give twelve after this remark I shall only add that if Mrs Washington has no objections to you selling her thirds in your Lands about Williamsburg, or else where I have not—The loan Office Interest, of whatever Sum they fetch, I shall be content to receive whilst I have any concern in it and your Mother, if she should be the Survivor, consenting to do the same removes every impediment & difficulty to yr selling and places the matter in my opinion upon a fair, just, and equitable footing as you will have the principal if you choose it paying the Interest or may deposit it in the loan Office to raise the Interest there (if more desirable) during her life when the whole will revert to you as the Land would do.

As you seem so well disposed to live in Fairfax and have now fixed the matter by your late purchases of the Alexanders, I should, were I in your place, extend my Ideas & views further than you have done. that is over & above the Sale of the Eastern shore, Williamsburg & Hanover Lands with the Lotts in the City1 I would sell, or exchange, the whole below—for depend upon it, that whilst you live in Fairfax you will get very little benefit from an Estate in New Kent or King William, unless you have much better luck than most who have Plantations at a distance.

When I advise selling, I would no⟨t⟩ be understood to mean at all hazards—I would try in the first place, what I could get for my own Lands without bargaining for them unless it was conditionally. I would then see whether some large Tracts of Land (not leased out) could not be had in Fairfax, Loudoun, Fauquier, Berkeley, or Frederick—or, on the Maryland side of the Potomack and upon what terms they could be purchased you will then from a comparative view be a judge of the propriety of selling your own & buying others or holding fast what you have—among those who hold large Tracts in Fairfax are the Fitzhughs, Mr B. Fairfax, &ca—In Loudoun & Fauquier The Carters (who probably would be glad to exchange) the Lees, Turbervilles, Pag⟨es,⟩ Burwells, &ca—Most of these being low landers, I think it not improbable but that bargains may be had of them, either by purchase or exchange.

With candour I have given you my opinion upon the several matters contained in your Letter. If it is faulty, it proceeds from error in judgment, not from the want of Attachment—Affection to you—or honest sincerety—and is open to correction.

Go: W——n.

ADfS, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. GW made numerous revisions on the draft, but the original language, which is retrievable only in part, seems to have offered the same advice to Custis.

1The Custis house in Williamsburg on a four-acre tract on Francis Street or the back street had been assigned to Martha Washington’s dower, but Custis was renting it. After GW consented in October to Custis’s sale of dower lands, Custis advertised the house and lot for sale (GW to Custis, 12 Oct.; Dixon and Hunter’s Virginia Gazette [Williamsburg], 27 Nov.). The Custis estate also included three or more lots on the south side of Duke of Gloucester Street between Palace and Nassau Streets.

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