George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Benjamin Harrison, 14 June 1784

To Benjamin Harrison

Mount Vernon [1]4th June 1784

Dr Sir,

Long as the enclosed letter & petition appear to have been written, they never came to my hands until thursday last; the latter, altho’ called a copy, having the marks of an original paper; another copy accompanying it, inducing a belief that it is so, I delay not a moment to hand it forward.1

My being perfectly ignorant of the laws of the Commonwealth, & unacquainted, if such confiscations have taken place, with the principles upon which they are founded, must be my apology for taking the liberty of even bringing these papers before the Legislature, for it is not my wish to interfere in the politics of the State, nor desire, to see discriminations or departures from general principles, which are not warranted by Law or evident propriety; altho’ in the present case, it should seem to me hard, to divest an Infant, under the circumstances young Bristow is described to be, of his partrimony.

As the petition is directed to the Governr the Senate & House of Delegates of the State of Virginia—I conceived it best to transmit it, & the Letters relative thereto, to your Excellency.2 With great consideration & respect, I have the honor to be Your most Obedt humble Servant

G: Washington


1The enclosed letter from Mary Bristow, Spring Garden, London, is dated 27 Nov. 1783 (DLC:GW). It was sent to GW by George William Fairfax in a letter dated 9 Dec. 1783. There is another copy of Mrs. Bristow’s letter, also in her hand, in the British Museum: Add. MSS 9828. The enclosed “Memorial & Petition address’d to the Governor, the Senate, and House of Delegates of the State of Virginia,” as Mrs. Bristow described it, was signed by Mary Bristow “and the two Gentlemen who are joint Guardians with me” of Robert Bristow, Jr., her young son. At his death in 1776, Mary Bristow’s husband, Robert Bristow, left to their infant son “sundry tracts of land and a considerable number of slaves” in Virginia. The Virginia property of the infant Robert Bristow, Jr., was confiscated in 1779 under the provisions of “An act concerning escheats and forfeitures from British subjects” (10 Hening description begins William Waller Hening, ed. The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619. 13 vols. 1819–23. Reprint. Charlottesville, Va., 1969. description ends 66–71), passed in that year by the Virginia legislature. See Richard Marshall Scott to Gov. Henry Lee, 10 Mar. 1794, Calendar of Virginia State Papers, description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds. Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts. 11 vols. Richmond, 1875–93. description ends 7:63–64. Of the confiscated property, one tract of seven to eight thousand acres in Prince William County remained unsold in the possession of the state, which was collecting rents from tenants on the land. It was once a part of a larger tract of 30,000 acres bought in 1689 from Lord Culpeper by several men, among them Robert Bristow’s grandfather, another Robert Bristow. Bristow’s heirs continued to press their claims until their suit came to trial in 1806, but the Prince William tract remained the property of the state until the 1830s, at which time it was finally broken up and sold. See GW’s comments in his letter to George William Fairfax of 27 Feb. 1785. See also John Dandridge to GW, 6 Dec. 1788, n.1.

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