George Washington Papers

From George Washington to James Nourse, 22 January 1784

To James Nourse

Mount Vernon 22d Jany 1784


Yesterday gave me the honor of your favor of the 11th from Annapolis. I thank you for the trouble you have taken to bring me acquainted with the affairs of my deceased Brother of Berkly.1

It would give me great pleasure to render any service to his children; & as far as I can do it by paying attention to those two who are in my Neighbourhood with Mr Griffith, I will; but to concern myself in the smallest degree with the management of their Estates, I cannot.2 It would be undertaking a trust which I could not discharge properly—consequently it would be wrong to engage in it. I have not only the derangement of nine years in my own private concerns to emerge from, but (what gives me infinitely more concern) those of others, for whom I have acted as Executor, by Powers of Attorney &ca to extricate also, if it be practicable—Here then it is evident I have sufficient employment (more indeed than comports with that ease & freedom from trouble & care which I wish to enjoy) without undertaking any new matter.

It gave me concern to hear that my Brothers Estate is so much involved, I had no conception of it. nor do I know upon what terms he obtained the Land I sold a Mr Pendleton. Not a farthing of the purchase money has ever yet been paid to me, nor have Deeds passed from me to any one 3—I wish this may be all—it is to be feared many of my rents will be found in his hands when I come to a final settlement with my Tenants—they having been told, his receipts would exonerate them, while he has been requested to receive any rents which might be offered to him on my behalf.4 If his Books are in your hands I shall be obliged to you for a transcript of the account between us, as it stands thereon.

I shall receive nothing which may fall to me as Heir at Law to his youngest son. But if the Lawyers are clear that the right is in me, it may not be amiss to consider, whether such property had best be given to any one, or to all his children in equal proportions—or whether still better pretensions may not be in some other.5

I thank you for your kind congratulations upon my return to domestic life, & am Sir, Yr most obedt servt

G: Washington


James Nourse (1731–1784), a Londoner, settled in 1770 at Piedmont near Harewood, the house in Berkeley County, Va., where GW’s brother Samuel Washington (1734–1781) lived until his death. Nourse and GW were executors of Samuel Washington’s estate.

1Nourse’s letter has not been found. Samuel Washington was deeply in debt at the time of his death.

2The two sons of Samuel Washington and his fourth wife Anne Steptoe Washington were George Steptoe Washington (c.1773–1809) and Lawrence Augustine Washington (1775–1824). The boys at this time were under the care of David Griffith (1742–1789), rector of Fairfax Parish and priest at Christ Church, Alexandria, Virginia. See Griffith to GW, 12 July, and GW to Griffith, 29 Aug. 1784. GW in fact did assume major responsibility for the education of his two nephews. See, for instance, GW to David Griffith, 29 Aug. 1784, and Charles Washington to GW, 7 Jan. 1789.

3On 7 Dec. 1771 Philip Pendleton (1752–1802) signed a contract at Mount Vernon to purchase 180 acres of GW’s Bullskin plantation in Berkeley County, Virginia. He agreed to pay GW £400 plus interest in two years and to pay one year’s rent (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 3:37, 74). About a year later Pendleton decided to sell the land to GW’s brother Samuel Washington, and in January 1773 GW transferred in his ledger the debt of £420, the purchase price of 180 acres plus one year’s interest, from the account of Philip Pendleton to that of Samuel Washington (Ledger B description begins General Ledger B, 1772–1793. Library of Congress, George Washington Papers, Series 5, Financial Papers. description ends , 22, 36). On 5 Oct. 1776 GW wrote to Samuel Washington from New York that he intended to “send a power of Attorney to Lund Washington to make a legal conveyance of the Land” that Pendleton “had of me, & sold you, upon the purchase Money being paid; not one farthing of which has yet been done.” During the war Samuel Washington turned over the Bullskin tract to his son Thornton who at this time was living on it (see Thornton Washington to GW, 1 Aug. 1784). GW confessed to David Stuart on 21 Sept. 1794 that he had “never intended, under the view I had of his affairs, to ask payment”; and in his will GW specifically relieved “the Estate of my deceased brother Samuel Washington, from the payment of the money which is due me for the Land I sold to Philip Pendleton.”

4GW’s accounts with his tenants in Berkeley County in the Shenandoah Valley as recorded in his Ledger B description begins General Ledger B, 1772–1793. Library of Congress, George Washington Papers, Series 5, Financial Papers. description ends reveal that they often made their payments to Samuel Washington. See also Battaile Muse to GW, 15 Nov. 1785, and GW to Muse, 4 Dec. 1785.

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