George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Henry Lee, 30 November 1788

To Henry Lee

Mount Vernon Novbr 30th 1788

Dear Sir,

We are informed that this is the day appointed for the departure of Mrs Fendall for Norfolk—if rightly so it is not probable I shall have the pleasure of seeing you before your embarkation; and in that case, our proposed exchange of Magnolio for 5000 Acres of Kentucke Land stands upon uncertainty.1

It is true I am not fond of buying a Pig in a Poke (as the Phraze is) especially too of a sort which may be expensive to me, but under the circumstances attending the choice of the Land you offer me for Magnolio, there can be no doubt of the quality of it I am willing to confirm the bargain because it is my intention to breed Mules2 only and for that reason wish to avoid expence of keeping Magnolio he is in high health, spirits, and flesh, can be delivered in good order.

If we should not have the pleasure of seeing any of your family before their departure, Mrs Washington, and all under this Roof, unite in the most affectionate Compliments to Mrs Fendall and Mrs Lee accompanied with fervant wishes for the perfect recovery of their healths.3 I am ever yours &c.

Go: Washington


1In November and early December of 1788 GW and Henry Lee met several times at Mount Vernon to work out an arrangement by which Lee would give GW two tracts of land in Kentucky in exchange for GW’s horse Magnolio. GW noted in his diary for 9 Dec. that he “concluded my exchange after dinner to day with Colo. Hy. Lee of Magnolio for 5000 acres of Kentucke Land agreeably to the memo. which he gave to me—which in case it should have been disposed of by Doctr. Skinner (now deceased) is to be supplied by other Lands of equal value.” The agreement, apparently oral, was made in the presence of Tobias Lear, Ludwell Lee, David Humphreys, William Aylett Lee, and George Augustine Washington (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 5:432). GW had purchased Magnolio, an Arabian horse, “chesnut colour, near sixteen hands high, finely formed, and thought by all who have seen him to be perfect,” for £500 from the estate of John Parke Custis (Virginia Journal, and Alexandria Advertiser, 24 Mar. 1785; Ledger B description begins General Ledger B, 1772–1793. Library of Congress, George Washington Papers, Series 5, Financial Papers. description ends , 224). Although GW frequently offered Magnolio’s services at stud in advertisements in various newspapers, the horse was apparently an unprofitable investment. The two tracts of land offered by Lee, one of 3,000 acres, the other of 2,000, were located on the south side of Rough Creek, a tributary of Green River, in what is now Grayson County, Kentucky. In the schedule of property attached to his will GW noted that “besides the General good quality of the Land, there is a valuable Bank of Iron Ore thereon: which, when the settlement becomes more populous . . . will be found very valuable; as the rough Creek . . . affords ample water for Furnaces & forges” (ViFfCh). Title to the tract was based on Land Office warrants issued to George and John May in 1781 and soon after reassigned by them to Alexander Skinner (1743–1788). Skinner, who served as surgeon to Lee’s Legion during the Revolution, received patents to the land in 1785. After the war Skinner settled in Richmond, and when he died in late 1788 he left Lee virtually all of his property including his Kentucky lands. GW delivered Magnolio to Lee in December 1788, but Lee encountered considerable difficulty in conveying to GW a clear title to the two tracts. When GW offered the tracts for sale to Robert Morris in mid–1794, he noted that he had at Mount Vernon both surveys and patents and set the land’s sale value at £937.10 (Land Memoranda, 25 May 1794, ViMtvL; GW to Robert Morris, 26 May 1794). GW did not have the deed registered in Kentucky until 1799 (GW to Alexander Spotswood, 31 July 1799; Peyton Short to Bushrod Washington, 26 June 1800, DLC: Short-Harrison-Symmes Families Papers, Peyton Short Letter Book; GW to Lee, 12, 23 Dec. 1788, and 20 Jan. 1789). Although GW made repeated attempts to sell the lands during the 1790s, they were still in his possession at the time of his death.

2In MS this word reads “Males.”

3See GW to Philip Richard Fendall, 22 Oct. 1788, source note. Matilda Lee was seriously ill in the summer of 1788, and her health declined steadily until her death, apparently in childbirth, in August 1789.

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