George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Lyles, 3 April 1789

From William Lyles

Shuters Hill1 3d April 1789


I will in the following terms Settle and discharge the debt due from Mr Robert Alexander to your Excellency, on which their is now a Suit depending, and in which, I am his special Bail. On Mr Wm Hunters2 return from New York, who is hourly expected, I will pay Three hundred pounds Specie, and the balance I will pay in Four equal anual payments, with Interest on each payment, from the date of the Bond, And in Case of failure in the payment and full discharge, of any one of the Bonds, within Thirty days, after they become due, it shall be in your option to demand, and require from me, full payment, for all that may be due, on the Several Bonds, and no further indulgence expected by me—I have the honor to be with great respect, Your Excellency’s most Obt Servt

Wm Lyles


Shortly before the end of the Revolution William Lyles moved from Charles County, Md., to Alexandria where he established a distillery and merchant firm operating under the name of William Lyles & Company. GW frequently did business with the firm, and Lyles was an occasional visitor to Mount Vernon.

Lyles’s letter concerns GW’s protracted dispute with his neighbor and foxhunting companion Robert Alexander (d. 1793). As early as 1760 GW had approached another of his neighbors, Thomas Hanson Marshall of Marshall Hall, about the purchase of 480½ acres of land owned by Marshall adjoining the Mount Vernon tract. The land lay on both sides of the road running from Gum Spring to Dogue Creek, and GW had long coveted the tract. Marshall replied at that time that he had “not the Least thought, (nor Ever had) of making Sale of any Part of my Land in Virga” unless he could use the money proceeding from the sale to purchase land adjacent to his holdings in Maryland. Near the end of the decade GW concocted what he deemed an ideal solution. Alexander, whose wife owned a tract of three to four hundred acres next to Marshall’s Maryland plantation in Charles County, Md., was to sell GW the tract for £500 Maryland currency (Marshall to GW, 21 June 1760; General Ledger A description begins General Ledger A, 1750–1772. Library of Congress, George Washington Papers, Series 5, Financial Papers. description ends , folio 96, 352), and GW would then exchange Alexander’s land for Marshall’s strip adjacent to Mount Vernon. GW secured Marshall’s agreement to make the exchange and in 1769 paid Alexander for his tract. Alexander would not deliver the deed for the Charles County land to Marshall, however, claiming at first that his wife was underage and later that she refused to agree to the conveyance. The matter was still unresolved when GW went off to Congress in 1774. After repeated reproaches to Alexander to the effect that “any Gentleman, possessed of but a very moderate degree of influence with his Wife, might, in the course of five or six Years . . . have prevailed upon her to do an Act of justice, in fulfilling his Bargains and complying with his wishes, if he had been really in earnest in requesting the matter of her,” GW finally directed Lund Washington, who was managing Mount Vernon for him in his absence during the war, to purchase Marshall’s tract directly from him for £5,304 in Virginia’s inflated wartime currency (GW to Alexander, 20 Mar. 1777; deed, 25 Feb. 1785, Fairfax County Deed Book P–1, 415–17, Vi Microfilm). The sum that GW paid Alexander for the Maryland land was debited to Alexander’s account in GW’s ledgers (Ledger B description begins General Ledger B, 1772–1793. Library of Congress, George Washington Papers, Series 5, Financial Papers. description ends , 41), and in October 1788 GW engaged Charles Simms, an Alexandria attorney, to bring suit against Alexander to collect the debt (Ledger B description begins General Ledger B, 1772–1793. Library of Congress, George Washington Papers, Series 5, Financial Papers. description ends , 275).

1Shuter’s (Shooter’s) Hill was Ludwell Lee’s house near Alexandria.

2William Hunter, Jr. (1731–1792), an Alexandria merchant, was mayor of the city from 1788 to 1790.

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