George Washington Papers

To George Washington from the Officers of the Grand Bailiwick of Nassau, 10 March 1794

From the Officers of the Grand Bailiwick of Nassau

Idstein near Maynz1 March. 10th 1794.


Mr Frederick Christian Wernecke, a Native of this place, late a Colonel in the service of the United States departed this Life at Richmond in Virginia in the year 1783 and left a very considerable Estate in that country, the Administration whereof was that time granted by the competent public officer of that place.2

The sisters & brothers of the deceased being his legitimate heirs gave a power of attorney to Mr Leopold Nottnagel a Citizen and Merchant of Philadelphia authorizing him to settle matters in their behalf and generally to manage their Interests as to that Estate, but could not till now obtain the End desired, which could not but create Suspicion in Their Breasts.3

Now when in all cases, (which frequently occur) where Successions happen to escheat in this Principality to Citizens of the United States, such Estates have been delivered to them without the least difficulty; (as was lately done in the case of Mr Philip Henry Knapp: the heirs of Mr Wernecke first above mentioned did in their Petition, a copy whereof is annexed hereto,4 implore the Interference of This Court praying to arrest and put under Sequestration all Property of that Kind belonging to citizens of America to serve as Security for their indemnification, until their just Claims to the Estate of the late Colo. Wernecke be discharged by legal Procedure.

This Court however forbore to the present granting their Request for the present being fully persuaded, that the matter has never reached Your Excellency’s Knowledge; but, as we are bound in Duty of Office to befriend lawful Purposes of Supplicants by all means in our power, we most humbly pray Your Excellency please to cause the necessary Directions to be given conducive to promoting the final Settling of said Estate & the Delivery of the same to the legitimate heirs of the deceased residing at this place; as in the contrary case we shall see ourselves under the painful Necessity, not only to put under Sequestration all Property of that Kind escheating in this Country to American citizens but also to publish for the general Concern of the German Empire The Rule observed by the Courts of Your Continent in that Respect.

Relying, however, on Your Excellency’s well known and general Love of Justice We confidently expect The most effectual measures will be the Result of Our present most humble Application, offering Our best Services in the like occurrences, which to embrace we shall be the more ready, as we shall Thereby be enabled to show by our Exertions The unbounded Respect with which we beg Leave to remain Your Excy’s most humble & devoted Sevts

“The officers composing the Grand Bailiwick
of the Principality of Nassow Saarbruck”

L (translation), DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; copy, DLC:GW; copy (letterpress copy), DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters. The letterpress copy is from the manuscript at DLC:GW. The letter is addressed to “His Excellency George Washington President of the Congress of the United States of America.”

The Grand Bailiwick of Nassau at this time was part of the German principality of Nassau-Usingen-Sasarbrücken.

1The town of Idstein is located north of the German city of Mainz.

2Frederick Christian Wernecke (d. 1783) served during the Revolutionary War as an “Engineer for” Virginia, with the rank of colonel (Calendar of Virginia State Papers description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds. Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts. 11 vols. Richmond, 1875–93. description ends , 3:96).

3Leopold Nottnagel (d. 1813) was a partner in the Philadelphia mercantile firm of Nottnagel, Montmillon & Co., located at 64 North Front Street (Philadelphia Directory 1794 description begins James Hardie. The Philadelphia Directory and Register . . .. Philadelphia, 1794. description ends , 114).

4The translation of the petition, which was written at Idstein, 22 Feb. 1794, reads: “On the 20th of March of the year One Thousand seven hundred and Eighty four I made, according to Law the preliminary Distribution of the Estate left by Philipp Knapp, decd late Inhabitant of Beuerbach, to his children, when I found, that one of the Sons of the decd Philipp Henry Knapp a Taylor by Trade, had emigrated to America and is actually settled at Germantown near Philadelphia. To insure the preservation of that portion belonging to him I put it under Administration of Mr Philipp Lappach of Beuerbach he finding sufficient Security. Now said Philipp Henry Knapp by his Attorney Mr John Martin Gaul of Philadelphia demands the portion due him out of his late father’s Estate authorizing his sd Attorney to receive the Amount thereof in his place & stead.

“Considering however, that Mr John Martin Gaul, of Philadelphia has on the 13th of Dec. of the Year 1789 furnished me with an authenticated Copy of the Inventory made on the Estate of my Brother, the late Colo Fredk Wernecke, by which it appears, that he died on the 4th Day of July 1783, at Richmond in Virginia and left considerable Property in real Estates as well as money put out on Interest, said Mr Gaul adding the verbal Assurance that said Estate had been lawfully put under Administration to be delivered without difficulty to the next heirs of the deceased or their Lawful Attorney’s.

“Considering further, that notwithstanding all my efforts to obtain any answer to my numerous Letters and recommendatory Addresses directed to the Administracy at Richmond, since that period I never could succeed.

“Therefore I most humbly pray this Honble Supreme Court of the Principality may please to cause all claims and property arising from Estates escheated to American Citizens to be stopped and to have the same detained within the Limits of this Jurisdiction, until the Magistracy of Richmond make known, whether they will see said Estate of my deceased brother duly administered and delivered to the next and legitimate heirs thereof, calling the Administrators formerly appointed to account for the Revenues of the Real Estates and the Proceeds of the monies put out on Rent, all which the better to prove I do not fail here to subjoin an authenticated Copy & respective translation of the Inventory made at Richmond, That a full official communication and Application may be affected to His Excellency, the President of the Congress of the United States and Lord Pearce—at Philadelphia the Directors of the Supreme national Court of the States of Maryland and Virginia. Expecting a kind Deference to the above I remain with due Respect &c. (signed) Wernecke” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; copy, DLC:GW; letterpress copy, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

The attached translation of the inventory reads: “taken by Matth: Patte and valued by the underwritten in conformity of an order of the Court for the County of Henrico.

I. A real estate containing 5000 acres as p. deed dated June 14. 1783.
II. Two certificates of military services of May 22d 1782. each for 300 pounds, interests paid to May 20th 1783.
III. Amount of furniture valued at £7.14 s.”

The inventory was signed by Richmond merchants Jesse Roper, Robert Boyd, and David Lambert. The inventory was presented at a court “held for Henrico County” on 2 Aug. 1784 and “ordered to be recorded.” At another court hearing on 8 July 1783: “On representation of Ulrich Mark who took his oath according to law and found bail by Stephen Barkard [Tankard] and Wilm Tohlman [Coleman] who gave security on bond to the amount of £2000, as the law directs, the present has been granted, to qualify him for taking out in due form a letter of administration respecting the estate of Fredk Wernecke deceased.” The translation was certified “to be a true & faithful translation conformable with its original” by “Th: Kobbê. Secry of the Grand Bailiwick of the principality of Nassow, Usingen,” on 21 Feb. 1794 (copy, DLC:GW; letterpress copy, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

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