George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Lewis, 7 December 1788

From John Lewis

7 Decr 1788

Dear Sir,

I have to acknowledge the receipt of your favor of the 16th September with Mr Cowpers letters inclosd. I shoud have answered your letter e’er this had I not waited to hear from Mr Cowper in answer to a letter I wrote him the 14th November respecting the No. Carolina land.1 I have not had any answer to my letter which I am a little surprised at. Inclosed is a letter reed the begining of November Mr Cowper is very desirous of the Land & I beleive is the only person that wants it who is able to pay for it. The Situation of my Fathers Estate is such that, money must be raised by some means to pay the debts due from it the lands ordered for sale to discharge the debts is the only means at present of raising money as the remaining fund for that purpose is cheifly in Certificates which it woud be ruinous to part with at their present estimated value. As I set out for Kentuckey the next week it will not be in my power to make any bargain for the land if you can come on any agreement with Mr Cowper I shoud be very glad as there will be an absolute necessity for money in the Course of the next year for the Estates use. I find a Bill for £50 Sterling drawn by the Executors of William Armistead Esqr. Dec’d whether ’tis the one you alude to or not I cannot determine it is the only one I have found2 I am Dr Sir Your Most Obdt Servt

John Lewis.

ALS, ViMtvL.

John Lewis (1747–1825) of Fredericksburg, Va., was the eldest son of Fielding Lewis and his first wife Catherine Washington Lewis and the stepson of GW’s sister Betty Washington Lewis. During the Revolution Lewis worked in partnership with his father in the manufacture of gunpower and arms for the army. After the war he served on the common council of Fredericksburg. Fielding Lewis died in 1781, and John Lewis, as one of his executors, was responsible for helping to settle his father’s complicated landholdings. By the terms of his father’s will he was to receive, after the death of Betty Lewis, all of Fielding Lewis’s land in Spotsylvania County and in Fredericksburg (Spotsylvania Will Book, Book E, Part 1, 434–36, Vi Microfilm). Lewis sold much of the land after his stepmother’s death in 1797 and in 1811 moved to Kentucky.

1In May 1788 John Cowper wrote GW concerning the possible purchase of a parcel of land in North Carolina acquired in the 1760s by GW and Fielding Lewis. See General Ledger A description begins General Ledger A, 1750–1772. Library of Congress, George Washington Papers, Series 5, Financial Papers. description ends , folio 238, 262. The land was located near the Virginia border, and GW described it as lying “upon the great road leading from Suffolk to Edenton—abt 16 M⟨i⟩les from the former; which is, or was a place of very extensive trade—there ought to be (if my memory serves me) upwards of a thousand acres in the tract for which, I think, we gave £1200 & sunk a great deal more by keeping it two or three years in our own hands. The Land is level, & I believe well timbered—capable of great improvement, there being upwds of 400 Acres of exceeding rich & open meadow ground belonging to the Tract a great part of which is, or was ditched, & in grass & other kinds of cultivation” (GW to John Lewis, 17 April 1782). GW agreed that if Cowper’s offer for the land was adequate, “I would in order to accomodate the Exerters of Colo. Lewis who are desirous of selling his moiety, part with mine also; and will as soon as Mr John Lewis can be consulted communicate the terms to you” (GW to Cowper, 25 May 1788). On 16 Sept. 1788 GW wrote to Lewis, enclosing his correspondence with Cowper and requesting a decision on the sale of the land. Lewis sold the land to Cowper in May 1791, and GW had received at least part of his share of the proceeds—£475—by October 1792 (Ledger B description begins General Ledger B, 1772–1793. Library of Congress, George Washington Papers, Series 5, Financial Papers. description ends , 354).

2In his letter to Lewis of 16 Sept. GW requested him to “look among your fathers papers for a protested Bill of Exchange drawn by the Execurs of Willm Armisted Esqr. I am almost certain it was among other matters committed to his care to transact for me at the General Court of May 1775 when I was called of to the northward.” GW was planning to press his claim against Armistead’s estate. See GW to John Marshall, 17 Mar. 1789.

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