George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thornton Washington, 6 June 1786

From Thornton Washington

Mount Pleasant june 6th 1786

Dr Sir

I must again trouble you respecting the two hundred acres of land whereon I now live though I fear I shall find the presant claim not so easily settled or so much to my satisfaction1 it is among the surveys of the Hights lately recoverd by A soot in chancery which is certain as there is many now in being within the bounds of my neighbourhood that know it of A truth. John Smith whom I doubt not but you are acquainted at least with his charackter I mean Lawyer John as he is cald who married A daughter of A certain Lewis Thomas the first Purchaser of this land now claimed by the Hights John Smith says that Lewis Thomas he knows got A Bond of hite for the security of the land and gave his for the Payment of A certain sum of money which money he beleives never was Payd and he believes from this cause after Lord Fairfax became Proprietor and there was fresh warrants or grants for lands that People thinking the title of the Hights of non Effect they were careless of any papers or conveyances from Hight though he says he thinks that Hights bond is yet in being it may be in the hands of A certain George Johnstons Executors he being dead or otherways they might have been assigned by Johnston to your brother Lawrance as he was the Purchaser of Johnston if so I suppose it may be in your hands I understand that there is to be A meeting of the Commissioners within this month for all Persons to come and Prove their rights if you have any papers relitive to the land that will be of service Pray send them.

I am informd that the Hights are to pay for improvements I have 350 acres Ajoining those without any house free from any claim of theirs but there is A mortgage of my fathers on it which I knew not when I purchasted it of him nor indeed untill since his death though I suppose I could venture to build there his estate being able to discharge the det it not excedind 600 with about 10 or 11 years interest I have just begun adding to my house the frame hauled if I must move it to my own land and begin A fresh I have but little time to get shelterd from the weather as I am informed we are to be turnd out of possesion 1st day of January2 if this must be the case your kind offer of procuring me A workman will be if possible more acceptable.3 offer my Respects to Your Lady I remain Sir with Esteem Yours

Thornton Washington

ALS, ViMtvL.

1In 1773 GW’s brother Samuel secured from GW a tract of 180 acres of GW’s Bullskin land. During the war Samuel turned the tract over to his son Thornton Washington. See note 3 in GW to James Nourse, 22 Jan. 1784. Thornton Washington wrote GW on 1 Aug. 1784 seeking GW’s confirmation of his own title to this piece of land in Berkeley County where Thornton was living.

2The challenge to Thornton Washington’s (or GW’s) title to his Bullskin land grew out of an old dispute between the Hite family and the Fairfax proprietors. The dispute arose after Jost Hite in 1731 by purchase and royal grant secured some 140,000 acres of Virginia land, much of it within the Fairfax Proprietary. Thomas, Lord Fairfax, persisted for decades in his refusal to confirm the Hite grants and appealed decisions of the Virginia General Court in 1769 and 1771, favorable to the Hites, to the Privy Council in London. The Hites renewed their suit after the Revolution, and, in May 1786, they obtained from the Virginia court of appeals affirmation of the favorable decisions handed down by the General Court of the colony in 1769 and 1771. For a more detailed summary of the pre-Revolutionary Hite-Fairfax dispute, see William Grayson to GW, 23 Sept. 1770, note 3. See also Editorial Note, Hite v. Fairfax, 5 May 1786, in Johnson and Cullen, Marshall Papers, description begins Herbert A. Johnson et al., eds. The Papers of John Marshall. 12 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1974–2006. description ends 1:150–64.

When GW was acquiring a number of parcels of land in the early 1750s in the vicinity of Bullskin Run in Frederick County, he bought on 16–17 Mar. 1752, a 552–acre tract on Bullskin Run from George Johnston (d. 1766; Land Grant from Thomas, Lord Fairfax, source note, in Papers, Colonial Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series. 10 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1983–95. description ends , 1:47–48). The 180 acres that Thornton Washington received from his father were a part of this tract. Johnston had bought the 552–acre tract from Lewis Thomas who in turn, GW assumed, had purchased it from Jost Hite. In 1770, after the Virginia General Court’s decision in 1769 confirming the Hites’ title to the land, William Grayson acting as GW’s attorney got from Thomas Hite his acknowledgment that he had in hand Lewis Thomas’s bond and would “relinquish his claim to the land provided I would undertake to pay the amount of the bond,” which Grayson refused to do because he “conciev’d Thomas & his heirs were liable for it, & that the land was not subject to it in the hands of an assignee” (Grayson to GW, 23 Sept. 1770).

After receiving Thornton Washington’s letter, GW wrote George Johnston’s widow, Sarah McCarty Johnston Darrell, on 18 June, explaining the situation and asking her to search her papers for Jost Hite’s bond of conveyance of the 552–acre tract to Lewis Thomas which should have been assigned to her deceased first husband, George Johnston. GW suggested to her that without this bond he might lose the land, but when he wrote Thornton Washington four days later, on 22 June, it was, he said, “quite immaterial” whether or not the bond was found by Mrs. Darrell, who in any case was away and unlikely to return soon. In answer to a comment by Battaile Muse on 11 July 1786 about the Hites’ claims to some of GW’s Bullskin land, GW summarized how matters stood in these terms: “Nor do I think the determination in favor of the Hites can possibly affect the other Land on Bullskin, because it is in proof that this Land was sold by old Joist Hite to one Lewis Thomas who sold it to Captn George Johnson and is so recited in the Deed from the Proprietors Office—In the former Trial these matters were adduced as evidence; which evidence I suppose is of record” (GW to Muse, 1 Aug.). According to Muse, “the Commissioners would hold a Court on the 4th day of September next In Winchester in order To Settle the wrights of the Lands” (Muse to GW, 11 July). GW’s (and Thornton Washington’s) title to the land was not challenged, but the decree of the court of May 1786 ushered in a generation of litigation over titles to land held in the Northern Neck of Virginia.

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