George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Tankerville, 20 January 1784

To Tankerville

Mount Vernon. 20th Jany 1784.

My Lord,

I do not know how it happen’d but the fact is, that your Lordships favor of the 15th of July did not reach my hands until the latter part of Decr whilst I was on my return to this Seat of retirement—The Letter however which I had the honor of writing to Lady Tankerville, duplicate of which, for fear of accidents, I now inclose; will have informed her Ladyship, & I persuade myself, you My Lord, of the impracticability of my taking an active & responsible part in the disposal of Mr Bennets Estate in this Country; but if my advice, & occasional assistance to the Gentlemen who accept the trust, can be of any avail, they shall be afforded with great pleasure.1 Could I say more, without feeling conscious of giving assurances I should be unable to comply with, such is my willingness to serve your Lordship, & your right Honorable mother, I would do it most chearfully.

Much as I expected to find my own private concerns deranged; & intricately involved as I knew those of some others (which had been committed to my care) must be, I shall realize more trouble and perplexity than I apprehended (before I began the investigation) in restoring them, if it be practicable, to order. An almost entire suspension of every thing which related to my own Estate, for near nine years, has accumulated an abundance of work for me.

The second person named, My Lord, in the Power of Attorney, is miscalled: it should be Hooe, instead of Howe. Not adverting to the probability of this circumstance, at the time I was writing to her Ladyship, must account for, & will be received I hope, as an apology for that paragraph of my Letter which professed ignorance of such a person—So soon as I discovered the mistake I arrested the Power in its progress to the Attorney General, Mr Randolph & have now placed it in the hands of Colo. Hooe, who is an exceeding good man, & very competent to the execution of the trust which he accepts 2—Mr Little, whose character I have enquired into since I came home, stands exceeding well in his reputation, & may from his peculiar knowledge of the Estate, be very serviceable in the disposal of it to the best advantage.3

I beg you to be assured My Lord, that no apology was necessary for the request you made to me—that I shall always feel pleasure in obliging your Lordship whenever it may be in my power: & that with great consideration & respect I have the honor to be Your Lordship, &a

G: Washington


Charles Bennett (1743–1822) was the fourth earl of Tankerville.

1Neither Lord Tankerville’s letter of 15 July 1783 nor a letter of 21 June 1783 from his mother, Alicia Astley Bennett, the countess of Tankerville, has been found. It was in response to Lady Tankerville’s missing letter that GW wrote her on 30 Oct. 1783: “It is painful to me to be under the necessity of declining the trust which the Earl of Tankerville & your other Son the Honble Mr Bennett have invested me with.” The “other Son” was Henry Astley Bennett (d. 1815). Lady Tankerville’s husband, Charles Bennett, third earl of Tankerville, became heir in 1755 in Virginia to thousands of acres of land, a share in a copper mine, slaves, and livestock, which were left to him by his mother’s first cousin John Colvill (Fairfax County Will Book B–1, 97–101). The final settlement of John Colvill’s estate, which was encumbered with debt, still had not been reached nearly thirty years after his death. The two executors of the will, Thomas Colvill, the decedent’s brother and heir at law, who died in 1766, and the third earl of Tankerville, who died in 1767, were at the same time both John Colvill’s chief heirs and his chief creditors. GW became involved in the affairs of the Colvill brothers in 1766 when he became an executor of Thomas Colvill’s will. Thomas Colvill’s affairs were deeply entangled with the unsettled estate of his brother John. For discussions of GW’s involvement with the settlement of Thomas Colvill’s estate and references to it throughout his correspondence, see the notes in GW to John West, Jr., December 1767, and in Thomas Montgomerie to GW, 24 Oct. 1788. Both this letter of 20 Jan. and Lady Tankerville’s letter of 13 Feb. 1784 suggest that the third earl left most if not all of his Colvill inheritance in Virginia to his younger son Henry Bennett.

2GW wrote the countess of Tankerville on 30 Oct. 1783: “Being altogether unacquainted with such a Gentlemen as Colo. Robert I. Howe of Alexandria (the second person named in the Power of Attorney) ... I have sent it to Edmd Randolph Esqr. the Attorney General.” Presumably GW was the first person “named in the Power of Attorney.” The second was supposed to be Robert Townsend Hooe of Charles County, Maryland. A partner of Richard Harrison in the Alexandria firm of Hooe & Harrison, Hooe became mayor of Alexandria in 1780 and thereafter a member of the Fairfax parish vestry and of the Fairfax County court. See GW to Edmund Randolph, 10 Feb. 1784, and Randolph to GW, 19 Feb. 1784.

3Mr. Little is undoubtedly Charles Little (d. 1813), a Scot who came to Virginia in 1768 and bought Cleesh, a plantation that John Colvill left to his brother for life, after which it was to go to Lord Tankerville (Fairfax County Will Book B–1, 97–101).

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