George Washington Papers

Memorandum for Henry Lee, 18 February 1793

Memorandum for Henry Lee

Philadelphia February 18th 1793

Memorandum for Govr Lee.

G. Washington is one of a Company who took up, in or about the year 1762, all the ungranted land lying in the Great dismal Swamp; in the vicinity of Norfolk, Portsmouth & Suffolk; and holds two twenty one parts of the Interest therein.1

Forty thousand Acres of the interior and richest part of this Swamp has been (as the Subscriber is informed) patented in the names of the Members of said Company; and probably, is all they will ever obtain, altho’ it is far short of what they expected.2

This swamp, in fertility of Soil, cannot be exceeded. It is covered with the finest Cyprus & Juniper, & other lofty Wood. Its undergrowth is luxurient Canes.

In the opinion of the Subscriber it may be easily drained; & when drained is equal to the richest Rice land of So. Carolina, which, in its unreclaimed State, sells from ten to fifteen pounds Sterling pr Acre; and from thirty to fifty when Reduced, and in order for cultivation.

Its vicinity to the places abovementioned, & its contiguity to the fine Rivers of Nansemond & Elizabeth on which these places are, gives this tract advantages over almost any other of equal quantity in the United States; & the Canal which is now opening from Elizabeth River to Pasquetanck, a River of Albemarle Land, passing through the same, adds infinitely to its worth3—To describe all its advantages, would require more time than my hurry, & the few minutes you allow me, will enable me to do.

The Company have a Plantation, marked on the plat herewith, Dismal Plantation;4 which is seperate and distinct from the 40,000 Acres. On this there are, or were a number of Negros, as may be seen by the Agents (Mr Jameisons) letter to me5—besides some money in hand, or in the loan Office. the quantum I know not.

For the whole of this Interest, be it little or much, and it cannot be less than 2/21, parts of 40,000 Acres, I will take Five thousand pounds Virginia Currency; estimating dollars at Six Shillings, and other Silver & gold in that proportion, provided the bargain is now struck; but shall not think myself bound by this offer if it is not.

Go: Washington


1For GW’s initial survey in October 1763 of this densely wooded swamp, which covered over 2,000 square miles in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina between Chesapeake Bay and Albemarle Sound, see Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 1:319–26. GW had played a critical role in founding the Dismal Swamp Land Company, and in November 1763 the ten founders chose GW, along with Fielding Lewis and Thomas Walker, to manage the company. The company planned to drain the swamp, market the timber, and sell the land. For GW’s involvement with this company, see Dismal Swamp Land Company Articles of Agreement, 3 Nov. 1763, and notes, and Dismal Swamp Land Company Minutes of Meeting, 3 Nov. 1763.

2Of this 40,000 acres, GW owned 4,000. He attempted to use Henry Lee as a medium for the sale of his land to Théophile Cazenove, who eventually declined to purchase it (GW to Robert Morris, 26 May 1794, ALS, NhHi, ALS [letterpress copy], ICHi, and LB, DLC:GW, and the enclosed Memorandum on Land, 25 May 1794, ADS, DLC:GW, and ADfS, ViMtvL). GW sold his acreage to Lee in 1795 (see GW to Thomas Newton, Jr., 23 Sept. 1795, copy, in Bartholomew Dandridge, Jr.’s writing, LB, DLC:GW, Lee to GW, 7 Nov. 1795, DLC:GW, and GW to Dismal Swamp Land Company Members, 16 Nov. 1795, LB, DLC:GW).

3In 1787 the Virginia legislature passed a law authorizing a canal through the Dismal Swamp connecting the Elizabeth River, which flows into the James River at its entrance into the Chesapeake Bay, and the Pasquotank River, which empties into Albemarle Sound (Hening description begins William Waller Hening, ed. The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619. 13 vols. 1819–23. Reprint. Charlottesville, Va., 1969. description ends , 12:478). The North Carolina legislature passed a similar act in 1790 (Clark, State Records of North Carolina, description begins Walter Clark, ed. The State Records of North Carolina. 16 vols., numbered 11-26. Winston and Goldsboro, N.C., 1895–1907. description ends 25:83–93). Joseph Hornsby, David Jameson, and David Meade headed up the newly formed Dismal Swamp Canal Company, which began digging the canal in 1793. The Dismal Swamp Canal did not open until 1828.

4GW originally wrote “Town” on the manuscript page; he then struck the word and wrote “Plantation.”

5The map of the Dismal Swamp has not been identified. John Jameson (1751-1810), a Revolutionary War veteran from Culpeper County, Va., often acted as agent for GW in company matters. His letter to GW has not been found (see David Jameson, Jr., to GW, 23 May 1793, n.3). The Dismal Swamp plantation was located outside the company’s territory, but company members, including GW, owned shares of its land and slaves. David Jameson, Jr., in the spring of 1793 was busy requesting funding from shareholders in order to start the digging of the canal (see note 3 above, and Jameson to GW, 23 May 1793).

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