George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Robert Douglas, 15 April 1791

From Robert Douglas

Scotland, Port Glasgow 15th April 1791

Honbl. Sir,

On the 26th Septr last I had a letter from Mr Robt Peter, Mercht in Georgetown, Potomack River Maryland who Acquaints me that a small Plantation that belonged to me on the Eastern Branch said River was confiscated by order of the State of Maryland, it consists of Fifty Acres of Land & upon it, there is a dwelling & some outhouses built[.]1 by a letter from Mr Peter to me of the 26th Novr 1788 he says it remaind unsold & that he was afraid to move in it and did not know how the State of Maryland might Act in regard to my property, I have another letter from him dated 9th Novr 1789 wherein he does not mention the Land being confiscated I got it by my Wife Mary Riley, now deceased and Daughter to Mr Eliphaz Riley & by a Deed from him dated the 9th Novr 1760 it was convey’d to me, it rented at £18—Maryd Curry pr Annum & all that I have received from Mr Peter, is £29.19.9 Sterling, remitted me by a Bill in June 1769—by my Marriage I have five Children Alive born me in this Country, by my Will lying by me I had left the Plantation to my Oldest Son, Eliphaz, who was in Maryd—the time of the War & who took the Oath of Citizinship to the State, little did I think my Plantation was to be confiscated, I was no way concernd in the War between Britain and America, when I Married I Commanded a Ship, and left off going to Sea about 26 years ago & since that period I have resided in my Native Country, my thus presumeing to write you the Honble President of the United States of America I know is Novel and taking too much upon me, at same time from your Amiable Character & well knowen humanity I am emboldined to lay my Complaint before you and I flatter myself that you will cause enquirey to be made if Justice has been done me, a Gentleman in your Exalted Station must have little time to Attend about such triffles as now mentioned, at same time it would give me vast pleasure if you Vouchsafe to order this letter to be answer’d—from your love of Justice I presume you will agree with me, that it is very hard my Children should be deprieved of their Mothers Inheritance, had the Land been confiscated soon after the War ended, I would have been paid value by the British Government, it is now too late & no Claims are Admitted, by the VI Article of the treaty between Britain & America, sign’d at Paris the 3d day of Sepr 1783, it is Stipulated that there shall be no more confiscations made in future from that date, I left the rights of my Plantation with Mr Peter & by a letter he writes me in Decr last, he sends me a Certificate of the confiscation a Copy of which I beg herewith to send you for your perusal, also a paragraph from his letter of 26th Sepr 17892—James White Junr who bought the Plantn was 2d Cousine to my Wife & Grandson to James White, Senr who is greatly in Arrears to Mr Peter, James White Junr is Heir to the Old Man & I suppose my Plantn will go to pay part of the Debt owing to Mr Peter—who is my 1st Cousine I am suspicious of his Conduct, tho I have not told him so, to conclude, my sincere wish is for good health to you & Happiness to preside over a free & independent People & I am very Respectfully Honourable Sir your Most Humble & Obedt Servt

Robt Douglas

ALS, DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Received; copy, DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Sent.

Robert Douglas emigrated from Scotland to America in his youth and worked as a clerk in a store kept by Robert Shadden on the plantation of Anthony Strother on the Rappahannock River opposite Fredericksburg, Virginia. Strother’s plantation bordered Augustine Washington’s Ferry Farm, where GW spent much of his youth. Douglas was acquainted with the Washingtons and was working for Shadden in December 1740 when a fire consumed the Washingtons’ first house on the site. See Douglas to GW, 25 May 1795. He married Mary Riley, the daughter of Eliphaz Riley of Maryland, who bore him a son, Eliphaz. Douglas returned permanently to Scotland about 1765. He remarried after the death of his first wife and began a second family.

1The property was part of the Hop Yard tract patented in 1686–87 by Walter Houp. It extended along the Eastern Branch from present Fourth Street, S.E., to Kentucky Avenue, S.E., and extended inland to present H Street, N.E., forming a narrow quadrilateral bordered on the west by the property of Daniel Carroll of Duddington. Eliphaz Riley conveyed his fifty-acre portion to his son-in-law Robert Douglas in May 1760. Maryland confiscated the land following the Revolution on the grounds that Douglas was a Loyalist, and James White, Jr., purchased it from the state and conveyed it to Overton Carr in January 1791. Five months later Carr conveyed it to Georgetown merchant George Walker (Clark, “Origin of the Federal City,” description begins Allen C. Clark. “Origin of the Federal City.” Records of the Columbia Historical Society 35-36 (1935): 1–97. description ends 94–95). Article VI of the Treaty of Paris provided “that there shall be no future Confiscations made, . . . by reason of the Part which he or they may have taken in the present War, and that no person shall on that account suffer any future Loss or Damage either in his Person, Liberty or Property” (Miller, Treaties, description begins Hunter Miller, ed. Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America. Vol. 2, 1776-1818. Washington, D.C., 1931. description ends 99).

2Douglas enclosed a certificate attesting to the confiscation, an appraisal, dated 6 Dec. 1790, stating the property was worth £90 sterling, and an extract of a letter from Peter to Douglas, dated 26 Sept. 1789: “Your land is now sold by the State of Maryland to James White” who had indicated that he would sell the land to Douglas at his own cost and expenses, if Douglas was interested in recovering it; “this was the very design of his Application to the State for it . . . for to be plain I set him upon it, that it should not be a total [loss] to the Family, as one of your Family I might have reserved it for my self on paying the State, but as it came by your Wife I would not Meddle” (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Received). Douglas again wrote to GW on 5, 12 Aug. 1791 (letters not found), and 25 May 1795.

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