George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Tobias Lear, 3 April 1793

From Tobias Lear

Philadelphia April 3d 1793


I have been honored with your letter of the 30th ultimo, from Baltimore—and was happy to learn that you had proceeded that far on your journey without any material accident.

I have seen Mr De Barth, who informs me that he is not able to discharge his bond—and that it is impossible for him to say, with any precision, when he shall be able to do it. The reasons which he offers for his want of punctuality—and expectation of inability to comply with his engagement, at least for some time to come, are—the numerous disappointments he has met with in his private affairs—and the unsettled state of public matters in France, from whence he expected to draw the means of fulfiling his bonds. He appears to be much mortified at the circumstance—and says he is ready, at any moment, to give up the contract on his part, if you should wish it, or should have an opportunity of disposing of the lands to any other person; he says likewise, that he has made no engagement whatso[e]ver respecting the land since his bargain with you, so that his giving it up, if desired, would not involve any third person in an inconvenience.1 I am informed that Mr Cazeneau is at present in New York on some business respecting lands. If he should return to this city before your arrival here, and a proper occasion shd occur, I will mention your lands on the Kanawa, in order to see if he has any inclination to purchase, should you be disposed to sell them to him.2

Colo. Canon called here yesterday, and left with me the enclosed statement of the rents recd from your lands under his care.3 This Statement, you will observe, comes no lower than the end of the year 1789. On the first of April 1790, he says all the lands were leased anew for five years—Since which time the rent which he has actually received is so trifling that it was hardly worth mentioning; but he says he has settled with all the tenants up to the first day of April last (two years from the commencement of their leases) and has taken their bonds with good security for the rent to that time, which he observes, he was obliged to do or drive the tenants off the land; for to have distressed them for the rent would have had that effect, as they were all poor—and most of them had been at considerable expense in making improvements during the first year of their leases—he shall however, as soon as he gets home, set about collecting the bonds—as well as the rents due to the first of this month. The reason which he assigns for not having paid more than £50—of the £266 12s. 9d. which he acknowledges has come to his hands, is, that it was received in Produce, which he could not dispose of in the part of the Country where he lives—and he had therefore sent it, with other produce, to New Orleans, and that he had not yet received the returns therefor, but expected to find them when he got home. He has stated the price of wheat @ 3/6, which he says will be found to be the average price of the three years in which the rents were received. I argued the justice of your receiving a share of the profits of sending the wheat to New Orleans—or at least that you should receive Interest on the amount of it, from the close of each year to the present time of settling those accounts; but he observed, that if the first was attempted great difficulties would arise in the settlement of the Accts with respect to the expenses of carrying it to market—risque—& average loss. And that as he had received no benefit himself from having kept the rents in his hands, he could not see the justice of allowing interest; for altho’ he has Stated the price of wheat @ 3/6—yet that sum could not have been obtained for it in cash at any time—it was the nominal price of the Country in the way of barter or upon long credit; he therefore thought he had acted most for your interest by managing it as he had done.

Finding there was no probability of making things better by disputing—and beleiving that you were desireous of having the business settled in the best way that circumstances would allow—I thought it would be placing the matter upon the best ground, to take his bond for the Balance of £266 12s. 9d. which I accordingly did, payable in six months from the date (apl 2d) for £266 12s. 9d. which I shall deliver into your hands on your arrival here. This settles the business up to the first of April 1790—when the new leases commenced. He says he shall certainly pay the bond before the expiration of the six months4—and he hopes a good part of what has become due upon the new leases. I observed that there was no acct of any rent received from the lands in Fayette County for the year 1787. This Colo. Cannon says was occasioned by their having been leased by Majr Freeman on such terms as released the tenants from rents for that year—for they were put on merely to take care of the tenements. Colo. Shreve appears to be three years in arrears as well as the others; the reason of which Colo. Canon says is that he has expended so much money in improvements on the land & in putting the mill in order that he has been unable to make his payment of Rent; but that he has his obligation among the others—and is very certain he shall receive full payment as soon as he returns to that part of the Country.5

Colo. Canon desired me to repeat to you the particular reasons which he assigned to me for not having come to any settlement before—as well as his deep regret at having, as he has understood, incurred your displeasure in the management of the business, or rather in having so long neglected to come to a settlement. I assured him I would do it; but I must defer doing it until I am able to do it personally; for it would be too teadious to detail in a letter. He observes, upon the whole, that Shreve has made very great improvements on the land which he has taken—by planting fruit trees—building stables & barns—and repairing the mill, which is now in as complet order as when she was first set agoing and is considered as one of the first mills in that part of the Country. He is confident the property is more valuable by £500 than it was before Shreve took it—owing to his improvements. The property in Washington County, he says is likewise much enhaunced in its value by the improvements made by the tenants—and that the whole property at the end of the five years for which it is leased, will be worth at least one thousand pounds more (owing entirely to the manner in which it has been managed) than it was when it came into his hands (exclusive of what may be the rise in the value of the land in common with others lands). He says he is extremely desireous that you should send some person out there to see the situation of the land & examine minutely into his conduct with respect to it.6

General Lincoln arrived in this place on Monday—and is closely engaged in examining the documents relative to the proposed mission.7

I met Governor St Clair yesterday, who told me he should set out for the Western Country in the course of a week from that time.8

The public anxiety is great to hear from Europe and it cannot be long before it is gratified, as a large number of Vessels are expected every hour from thence.9

Mrs Washington, Mrs Lear & the family are in good health—and earnestly wish you may enjoy the same with every other blessing. With the truest & most respectful attachment I have the honor to be Sir Your obliged, faithful & affectionate Servant

Tobias Lear.


1For the failure of French émigré John J. de Barth to discharge his bond for the purchase of GW’s lands on the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers, see Lear to GW, 1 April, and note 4.

2For GW’s response to Lear’s suggestion of Théophile Cazenove as a potential buyer for GW’s lands, see GW to Lear, 8 April, and note 2.

3The list of rents submitted by Canon reads:

“Received from the Tenants on Milliars Run in Washington County for the year 1787
Received from James Scott in Wheat 60
Received from Richard Willson on [Duncan] Mcgehans [McGeehan] Place 60
Received from Brice Mcgahen [McGeehan] 30
Received from Robert Walker 25
Received from John White for William Stewards [Stewart] 20
Received from James Chambers for James Mcbrides 40
Robert Thompson on Hillaices [Hillis] Place made Some Improvement Paid no Rent for this year
Received of Henry Cowan [Cowen] 30
Received of William Carr for Samuel Mcbrides 50
Robert Fulton on [Thomas] Lapsleys Made Some Improvement Paid no Rent for this year
Received of David Mcnery [McNary] for David Reeds Place 35
The Houses and fences being Bu[r]ned on John Reeds place it Could Not be Rented
313 Bushels of Wheat at 3/6 [=] £54 7s. 9d.
A list of Rents Received For the Precident of the United States for his Lands in Washington and Fyat Counties Rents Received for 1788
Received from Patrick Mcnight for James Scotts place 60
Received of Brice Mcgahen 20
Received of Richard Willson for Duncan Mcgahens 30
Robert Thompson on Hillaces Made Some Improvement but Paid no Rent there was Some Balance Coming from him he Went Down the River without My Knoledge
Received of Henry Cowan 25
Received of William Carr for Samuel Mcbrides place 35
James Chambers had James Mcbrides this year for Improvement
Received from James Leaper [Leeper] on Robert Walkers Place 20
James Brislen on William Stewards this year for Improvement
Received of David Mcnery for David Reeds Place 20
James Harin [Herring] on John Reeds Place this year for Improvement
Robert Fulton on Lapsleys for Ten Bushels of Wheat made some Improvement Paid no Rent
195 Bushels of Wheat at 3/6 [=] £34 2s. 6d.
William Carr Paid in Bushels this year in Repairs 27
Paid Taxes for John Reeds Place—Wheat 13
Rents Received for 1789
Received of Patrick Mcnight on James Scotts Place 60
Received of Brice Mcgahen 20
Received of Michal Graham for Duncan Mcgahens place 25
Hilaces Place that Thompson Left to Robert Mcmilan for Improvement this year
Received of Andrew oliver for James Mcbrides place 25
James Brislen Continues on Stewards for Improvement
Received of John Condan [Conden] for David Reeds place 30
Received of John Cowan 30
Robert Fulton on Lapsleys Continues has Made Some farther Impro[v]ement but has Paid no Rent
John Reeds Place Continues for Improvement
Samuel Mcbrides place Let to John Millar [Miller] for 30
Received of James Leaper 0
on Walkers Improvement 30
250 Bushels of Wheat at 3/6 [ = ] £ 37. 2.6
First Page 54. 7.9
Second Page 34. 2.6
Total for Three years £125.12.9
William Carr paid in this year by Improvement 15 Bu.
Rents Received for the Precident of the United States
from the Tenants on Washingtons Botton in Fyat County
Received for the year 1788 to the Amount of Sixtey Six Pounds in Produce £ 66. 0.0
Received for the year 1789 the Amount of Sevnty five Pounds in Produce £ 75. 0.0
Total £141. 0.0
Rents in Washington County Received 125.12.9

April th[e] 1 1790 Leased the Whole to Isral Srevs [Shreve] For the Sum of Sixty Pounds per year for Five years he is to Keep the whole in good Repair and Deliver it So at the End of the Tarm His Repairing of the mills which is Now in good order and a grate Advantage to the Place as well as that Neighbourhood has provented him from Paying any Rent of Accoumpt in the year—1792 on the first of Aprile the Foresaid Teniments Was all Leased at About Eighty pounds and Agre’d that the Tenants Should Compleat the whole of the fences and leave them in Tenantable Repair at the End of the Tarm of Five years for which the[y] Are to be Alowed for at the Rate of one Bushel of Wheat for Evry Hundred of New Rails the[y] Make and put up in a Farming like maner and to Clear ten Acres of New land on Evry Tract Which the[y] are to have the benifit of During the tarm and not to tend mutch of the old Land which was far run owing to this Stat of Improvement Verry little Rent has Been Paid Since the Leaces was granted—but Most of them are going on very well with Improvements.”

The list of rents also included John Canon’s signed statement, which Tobias Lear wrote at Philadelphia on 2 April and which reads: “I hereby acknowledge to have received from the Tenants settled on General Washington’s lands in the Counties of Fayette & Washington, in the State of Pennsylvania, in Cash and produce, the Amount of two hundred & sixty six pounds twelve Shillings & nine pence Pennsya. Currency—as stated per contra—of which sum I have paid fifty pounds to General Washington—and the Balance of two hundred & sixteen pounds 12/9 I have engaged to pay within six months by my bond of this date. And it is to be understood that the above mentioned Sum is for rent due previous to the 1st day of April 1790, at which time the lands were leased anew for five years” (DLC:GW). For GW’s often difficult relationship with the tenants on his land in western Pennsylvania, see Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 4:23–38; Thomas Smith to GW, 9 Feb. 1785, editorial note.

4A manuscript fragment, which may be the cover from Canon’s bond of 2 April 1793, was sold in Profiles in History, item 15, catalog 7 (January 1989). The catalog abstract inaccurately describes the item as an account for medical bills owed by GW. The fragment is torn along a fold line on the right side, and that portion in Lear’s writing reads:

“D[ebito]r John Canon
2 April 1793. To his Bond
in 6. month[s]
25. august 1794. To Interes[t]
Paid on the”

GW’s docket appears on the left side of the manuscript and reads: “Account Colo. Jno. Cannon with Geo: Washington 27th Decr 1794.”

The value of £266.12.9 that Lear assigned to the bond was an error because he forgot to credit Canon for the £50 already paid. The 2 April 1793 entry for GW’s account with Canon in Ledger C description begins General Ledger C, 1790–1799. Morristown National Historical Park, Morristown, N.J. description ends correctly shows that Canon’s bond of that date was for £216.12.9 Pennsylvania currency. Interest of £12.19.4 brought the total to £229.12.1 Pennsylvania currency or £183.13.8 Virginia currency. Canon remittted £80.2 Virginia currency on 25 Aug. 1794 and £103.11.8 on 24 Oct. 1794, thus paying in full his bond and the interest on it.

5Maj. Thomas Freeman served as the rental agent for GW’s western lands 1784–87 (see GW to Freeman, 23 Sept. 1784, and source note). Israel Shreve leased a 600–acre tract with a gristmill at Washington’s Bottom in Fayette County (see Shreve to GW, 22 June 1785, and source note; Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 4:20–21).

6After receiving this report from Lear, GW began a search for a replacement for Canon (GW to Lear, 8 April 1793).

7Benjamin Lincoln, whom GW had appointed as one of three commissioners to attend a treaty with the Indians at Lower Sandusky in the Northwest Territory, arrived on Monday, 1 April (GW to U.S. Senate, 1 Mar. 1793 [second letter]).

8Arthur St. Clair was returning to the Northwest Territory to resume his responsibilities as governor of that territory.

9For the arrival of British ships, which carried news of France’s recent declaration of war on Great Britain and the Netherlands, see Lear to GW, 8, 10 April, and note 4.

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