George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Lund Washington, 24-26 February 1779

To Lund Washington

Middle Brook Feby 24th[-26] 1779

Dear Lund,

I wrote to you by the last post, but in so hasty a manner as not to be so full and clear as the importance of the subject might require.1 In truth, I find myself at a loss to do it to my own satisfaction in this hour of more leisure & thought, because it is a matter of much importance and requires a good deal of judgment & foresight to time things in such a way, as to answer the purposes I have in view.

The advantages resulting from the sale of my negroes, I have very little doubt of; because, as I observed in my last, if we should ultimately prove unsuccessful (of which I am under no apprehension unless it falls on us as a punishment for our want of public, & indeed private virtue)2 it would be a matter of very little consequence to me, whether my property is in Negroes, or loan office Certificates, as I shall neither ask for, nor expect any favor from his most gracious Majesty, nor any person acting under his authority; the only points therefore for me to consider, are—first, whether it would be most to my interest, in case of a fortunate determination of the present contest, to have negroes, and the Crops they will make; or the sum they will now fetch and the interest of the money. And, secondly, the critical moment to make this sale.

With respect to the first point (if a negro man will sell at, or near one thousand pounds, and women & children in proportion) I have not the smallest doubt on which side the balance, placed in the scale of interest, will preponderate: My scruples arise from a reluctance in offering these people at public vendue, and on account of the uncertainty of timeing the sale well—In the first case, if these poor wretches are to be held in a state of slavery, I do not see that a change of masters will render it more irksome, provided husband & wife, and Parents & children are not separated from each other, which is not my intention to do. And with respect to the second, the judgment, founded in a knowledge of circumstances, is the only criterion for determining when the tide of depreciation is at an end; for like the flux & reflux of the water, it will no sooner have got to its full ebb or flow, but an immediate turn takes place, and every thing runs in a contrary direction. To hit this critical moment then, is the point; and a point of so much nicety, that the longer I reflect upon the subject, the more embarrassed I am in my opinion; for if a sale takes place while the money is in a depreciating state—that is, before it has arrived at the lowest ebb of depreciation; I shall lose the difference—and if it is delayed, ’till some great & important event shall give a decisive turn in favor of our affairs, it may be too late. Notwithstanding, upon a full consideration of the whole matter; if you have done nothing in consequence of my last letter, I wou’d have you wait ’till you hear further from me on this subject. I will, in the meanwhile, revolve the matter in my mind more fully, and may possibly be better able to draw some more precise conclusions than at present; while you may be employed in endeavouring to ascertain the highest prices Negroes sell at, in different parts of the Country—where, and in what manner it would be best to sell them, when such a measure is adopted, (which I think will very likely happen in the course of a few months.)3

Inclosed is my Bond for conveyance of the Land purchased of the Ashfords &c.—It is as well drawn as I can do it, & I believe it to be effectual.4

26th Feby—1779.

Your Letter of the 17th inst: is just come to hand5—your apprehensions on account of my health are groundless—the irregularity of the Post, & stopage of your letters, or miscarriage of them, were the principal causes of my long silence. My last letter to you was full on the subject of Corn; I shall not touch upon it therefore in this. I then desired, & again repeat my wish, that you would sell every thing about the house & plantations, that is not essentially necessary. Mr Custis wrote to me for an anchor, to be sold or lent6—the former I prefer; as I wish to get quit of all those kind of things—the money arising from all which, the sale of Flour &c.—I would have put in the continental loan office. I am glad to hear your success in Lambs is so great. Mrs Washington joins in remembrance to yourself & Milly,7 with Dr Lund, Your affecte Servant

G: Washington


1This letter to Lund Washington has not been identified.

2GW is referring to the possibility of losing the war.

3On 18 Jan., Lund Washington had received on GW’s account £2,303.19 “Cash for the Following Negroes. Abram, Orford, Tom, Jack, Ede, Fattimore, Phillis, Bett & Jenny” (Ledger B description begins General Ledger B, 1772–1793. Library of Congress, George Washington Papers, Series 5, Financial Papers. description ends , 156, DLC:GW; see also Lund Washington’s Mount Vernon account book, f. 82, ViMtvL). The prices of those nine slaves appear to have been far below the general expectation that GW expresses in this letter. No subsequent large sale of GW’s slaves is known to have occurred. For Lund Washington’s previous observations on selling GW’s slaves, see his letters to GW of 11 March, 8 April, and 2 Sept. 1778.

4The enclosed bond has not been identified, but it apparently was involved in GW’s conveyance to Lund Washington a tract of about 450 acres of Mount Vernon land located on the east side of Dogue Run in compensation for £5,304 that Lund paid on GW’s behalf to Thomas Hanson Marshall for a tract of about 480 acres on the west side of the Mount Vernon neck, which was deeded to GW in March 1779 (see GW to Lund Washington, 18 Dec. 1778; and Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 1:240–41; 4:80–81). GW apparently leased the Dogue Run tract to Lund with a promise to deed it to him at a later time. GW did so on 25 Feb. 1785 (Fairfax County Deeds, Book P–1, 415–17, microfilm, Vi). The land that GW conveyed to Lund consisted of most of four contiguous tracts that GW had acquired between 1761 and 1771: 135 acres from John Ashford on 29–30 Jan. 1761, 135 acres from George Ashford on 13–14 Jan. 1762, 178 acres from Simon Pearson on 14 Feb. 1763, and a Northern Neck grant for 20 ½ acres on 4 March 1771. A small portion of those four tracts was deeded to William Triplett in May 1785 (see Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 1:240–41, 268, 293; 4:90).

6This letter from John Parke Custis has not been identified.

7Amelia Posey, daughter of GW’s former neighbor Capt. John Posey and a girlhood friend of GW’s deceased stepdaughter Martha Parke Custis, apparently lived at Mount Vernon throughout most of the war years.

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