George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Clement Biddle, 23 July 1790

From Clement Biddle

Philadelphia July 23 1790


I was honourd with your Excellencys Letter of——1 inst. which I immediately burnt on reading and should have answer’d it by yesterdays post but had not Obtained so full Information on the subject as I wished.

Mr Abel James having met with misfortunes in Trade, assigned his Estate at Frankford2 to Mr Frederick Pigou of London, for whom Mr Drinker was agent for a Consideration of £8500 Currency—I speak of the mansion house and Tract of 276 Acres of Land, which alone was an Object of your notice—This Farm with others was Advertised for sale at different times & reference to Mr Drinker & to me as their Conveyancer—several Applications were made to purchase; but I could never get Mr Drinker to fix a price, but I have understood he would not take less than £7500 and allow some time for a large part of the purchase—An Exchange for any other Land was out of the question as the Object of Mr Pigou was to Convert it into money or a Mortgage which would be more immediately within his Command as to the Income or Interest.

On reading your Letter, I employed a Confidential friend to Enquire of mr Drinker whether they would sell or rent this place for a term of ten years and he called on two other Gentlemen who are joined with him in the Charge of Mr Pigous Affairs and after Consulting returned the answer which I have inclosed,3 but I am nevertheless of Opinion that they would be glad to sell it for £7500 Currency.

If I have omitted answering any part of your Letter, it is owing to my having destroyed it and retaining no Copy of this, the transaction is Obliterated.

I have reflected on the Seats round this City which have some Land that might be employed in farming.

Mr John Penn’s ⟨senior⟩ our former Governor’s seat,4 is on the Westbank of Schuylkill, at the distance of about five miles from the City and I think must have upwards of 100 Acres and perhaps 200 Acres, tho’ my knowledge of it is not correct—the Situation is agreable and healthy and as Mr Penn has been some time Absent in England and his return uncertain it is probable it may be rented but I have not ventured to ask the Question.

If you should honour me with your Command on this subject you m[a]y rely on my prudence Caution and Secrecy. I have the honour to be With great respect Your Excellency’s Most Obedient and very humble servant

Clement Biddle


1GW’s letter to Biddle, which he requested his Philadelphia friend to burn, was dated 20 July 1790.

2Abel James acquired possession of Chalkley Hall at Frankford through his wife Rebecca Chalkley, whom he married in 1747. Her father, Thomas Chalkley, built the original mansion in 1723, and James added to it extensively in 1776 (Harold D. Eberlein and Horace M. Lippincott, The Colonial Homes of Philadelphia and Its Neighbourhood [Philadelphia and London, 1912], 325–33).

3The enclosed letter of Henry Drinker to Rowland Evans, dated 10:00 p.m., 21 July 1790, reads: “As I wish to take the benefit of the morning Air, in my proposed Journey into Bucks, and having this Evening compared Sentiments with P. Bond Esqr.—it is by him Thos Stewardson and myself concluded, that it would not at this time be prudent so far to depart from our Friend F. P’s views, as to Lease the valuable Estate late Abel James’s, on the West of the Point Road, for a term of years—We are inclined to believe it will soon be thought cheap at £8500 Currency, at which rate we would sell it to an approved purchaser & make the payments easy, where punctuality and the annual Interest could be relied on—Be pleased to communicate this conclusion to the person or persons applying” (DLC:GW).

4Lansdowne was the country estate of John Penn (1729–1795), grandson of William Penn and lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania from 1763 until the Revolution. GW visited the Penns at Landsdowne on four separate occasions while he was in Philadelphia in 1787 for the Constitutional Convention (GW to Elizabeth Powel, 31 Aug. 1787; Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 5:157, 158, 160, 165, 177, 182).

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