<br /> Lee Letter: n212

Washington and Lee University

Sender: George Washington
Recipient: Francis Lightfoot Lee
Recipient: RalphWormeley, Junior

Gentlemen:

Your favor of the 12th. of March with its enclosures were long
getting to hand; and arrived on the eve of a journey I was about to
make to Philadelphia. My stay at that place, a round of Company since,
and unavoidable business, must apologize for my silence ’till this
time.

For the satisfaction of Mr. Montagu, I sincerely wish I could give a more
pleasing detail of the proceedings under the Power of Attorney
(transmitted Colonels Tayloe and Mason, and myself) and the decree of
the Chancery Court thereon, than what follows.

Colonel Mason declined acting, Colonel Tayloe accepted the trust, but the
whole weight of the business fell upon me until I left this Country,
and took command of the American Army. Every transaction antecedent to
that epocha Mr. Montagu and Colo Mercer were duly informed of, by me,
and had an Acct. of the Sales, and the circumstances attending them,
transmitted. To collect the amount was all, (or nearly all) that
remained to be done; and this ought to have taken place in November
following my departure in May, 1775.

In December of that year I wrote a letter to Colo. Tayloe of which the
following, so far as it related to that business, is a
copy.. . .1

Finding that Colo. Tayloe had adopted no measures for collecting the money,
and that the interest of all concernd would suffer very considerably by
a further neglect of it, I wrote him the following letter.

Dear Sir, “A Letter which I received from Mr. Lund Washington by the last
Post informs me, that no person (by your order) has yet applied
for Colo. Mercers Bonds in his hands. That frequent tenders of
money in discharge of them are made to him, and that he thinks,
if it was agreeable to you and me, he could collect the debts
which are due, without much difficulty, or neglect of my
business.”

“I have never had a wish that this business should be placed in his hands,
not so much because I was fearful of its interfering with my
business, as because I was unwilling to have it thought I had a
mind to favor a relation or friend with the
2 Commission, and therefore
recommended Colo. Peyton, but as the latter has not entered
upon the collection (from what cause I know not) I shall have
no objection to Mr. Lund Washington’s doing it, if you desire
it, and he will do it upon as easy terms as Colo. Peyton, or
any other proper person would undertake it for”.

From the purport of these letters, it must evidently appear that I was
anxious to have the business executed, though from my then engagements,
my absence from Virginia, and the little prospect I saw of rendering
any further Service to Col Mercer or his Mortgagees, I had determined
to withdraw myself from the trust. I called upon Colo. Tayloe in
decided terms to fulfil what remained to be accomplished under it;
which indeed was no more than to collect the Bonds, and make report to
the Court for a final decree respecting the priority of Mortgages; if
the sum arising from the Sales should have been found in sufficient to
discharge All of them.

Continuing invariably in this determination, I listened to no application
which could renew my Agency in the business, until Colo. Tayloes death
rendered it indispensibly necessary for me to report to the Court my
proceedings on, and previous to, the Sales; with the circumstances of
the different parts of the Estate, which I had sold. This I accordingly
did sometime in the Fall of the year 1779. And afterwards, upon finding
that the business had come to a total stand, and all parties were
suffering by means of the depreciation of the paper Bills of credit,
and that a final decision, or some direction of
the Court on the premises, was indispensably necessary, I wrote the
letter which follows to the Attorney General, Edmund Randolph Esqr.

Dear Sir, “I mean to address you on a subject in the line of your
profession, and to request that you will undertake the
business, and prosecute it to a final, and as speedy an issue
as circumstances will admit”.

“The business in which I would wish to employ you, is in a Suit in Chancery
brought in the Honble. the Genl Court by Richard Gravat and
Mary Wroughton of London, and George Mercer, in whose behalf I
act as an Attorney, against James and John Francis Mercer and
Messrs. Dick and Hunter. The enclosure No. 1 (the Copy of an
Interlocutory decree passed in the Suit in November 1773) will
shew you on what footing the matter was then placed. And No 2
(the copy of a report by me, dated the 15th. of Decr 1774) the
proceedings in consequence with respect to it, on my part.”

“The papers concerning the Cause, antecedent to the Interlocutory decree,
are lodged I presume in the Secretary’s Office, or will be
found among your Fathers, as he was employed in it (there being
none in my hands that I recollect) and to these I must refer
you for obtaining such further and previous information of the
nature of the dispute, and of the plaintiffs claims, as you may
think it necessary to have; for at this distance of time my
memory will not enable me to state them, with any degree of
precision. I would mention however, that I believe the validity
of the Mortgage, or deed from Colo. Mercer, either to Mr.
Gravat or Miss Wroughton, and of one executed by Mr. James
Mercer, under the idea of being his Attorney to Messrs. Dick
and Hunter, by way of counter- security for some engagements
they had entered into on acct. of John Mercer Esqr. his Father,
who had charged a settlement made on his sons with the payment
of a certain part of his debts and the preference of the
respective claims of the parties, make a part of the material
points in dispute, and the consideration of the above deed of
settlement made by Mr. John Mercer in 1779 to his Sons George
and James, their subsequent advances or engagements in
consequences, and the Accounts between them and his Estate, and
themselves, another material part. You will observe that such
accts. are mentioned in the Interlocutory decree, and an
adjustment of them directed by Auditors or Referees appointed
for the purpose, by the Court.”

“This remains still to be done, and as it seems to be essential in order to
a final decree (a matter for which I very sincerely wish) I
must sollicit your good Offices in expediting it as far as it
may be in your power. In a point so interesting and intricate
as this, and on which so much may depend, it may be necessary
probably, for Council to attend on the part of the pltts: if it
should, you will be pleased to act upon the occasion as
circumstances shall require and permit, either by attending the
referees yourself, or employing some Gentleman to do it in
whose abilities and knowledge you can confide. To promote the
Auditing of these Accts. is the primary object of writing to
you by the present conveyance as I should be happy, if
possible, to have the business brought to a conclusion at the
ensuing Court, and as this appears to be the first step to put
it in a proper train.”

“I shall take occasion in the course of a few Weeks to write you again and
will then (if I can obtain them) transmit you a particular
acct. of the Sales under the Interlocutory Decree constituting
the total of the Sum mentioned in the copy of the report; Also
a state of the transactions since, with respect to the
business, of the Debts collected, of the application of the
money and what proportion still remains unpaid.”

All this was done accordingly, but it was sometime before I was able to
procure the necessary documents for the purpose.

“I shall be very happy to hear from you, and to receive any instructions
for the better conducting the business you may think proper to
give me”.

To this Letter I received the following answer.

Dear Sir, “I omitted to answer your Excellys. favor of the 12th. of April
last, from an expectation of hearing from you soon after on the
subject of it. This hope I was led to entertain from an
expression contained in it, and had therefore resolved to
trouble you but once, by way of reply.”

“It is not perhaps the smallest evil, which Virginia has derived from the
War, that the public papers and records, in being removed from
the Offices, exposed to danger, have undergone great
diminution, and that even those parts, which survive the
carelessness of Clerks, are not yet recovered from their
confusion. This circumstance has hitherto rendered it difficult
to lay our hands upon all the documents in Colo. Mercers case.
The Clerk of the Chancery within whose province this business
falls is so much engaged in another line, that he is unable to
make the necessary arrangements in his department of the Court.
I do not question however, that I shall procure everything,
which may serve as a foundation for a final decree, as far as
papers are concerned. But I fear, that the Sequestering Act
forbids the Court of chancery to proceed in this cause. It
provides generally, that all Suits, which were depending in any
Court of Law or equity within this commonwealth, on the 12th.
day of April in the year of our Lord 1774 wherein British
subjects alone are Plaintiffs, and any Citizen of this
Commonwealth is a defendant, shall stand continued (unless
abated by the death of either party) in the same state, in
which they were at that time Now Mr. Gravat, Miss Wroughton and
Colo. Mercer come within the description of British Subjects,
and thereby have occasioned a suspension of the Suit. I will
take the opinion of the Court at their next Session in April,
whether an Interlocutory decree does not except your Situation
from the restrictions of this Law. I should have mentioned,
that my Father must have filed every paper in his possession,
respecting this business, as not a trace is to be found of one
in his Press. I am the rather too inclined to believe this, as
all exhibits must have been before the Court at the time of the
Interlocutory decree”.

After this intercourse by Letter, I heard nothing more of the matter until
Jany. 1783; when I recd. (under cover) the following Interlocutory
decree, wch. has been complied with on my part.

On the motion of the Plaintiff by his Council, it appearing to the Court
that his Excellency Genl Washington is the only Survivor of the
Persons appointed to sell the Estate of the Defendt. Geo:
Mercer who acted therein under an Interlocutory decree of the
former General Court betwn. the said Richd. Grayat &ct.
Plaintiffs agt. the said John Francis Mercer and others
defendts. and the present public employment of the said Genl.
Washington rendering it impracticable that he should continue
the collection of the Money produced by the said Sale, It is
ordered that the Plaintiff be appointed receiver of the effects
in the room of the said Genl. Washington and that he do receive
as well the Money which may remain in the said General
Washingtons hands as the Bonds and other Securities which he
may have for the outstanding Debts and collect the money due
thereupon: Provided that the said Plaintiff do execute a Bond
with sufficient security to be approved of by the Court if
sitting or any two Judges thereof in vacation with condition
for paying such money as may come to his hands in virtue hereof
according to the future decree of the Court as well in this
Suit as the Suit of the said Gravat and others Plaintiffs
against the said John Francis Mercer and others defendts.

A Copy teste

John Beckley C H C. Ch”

Thus far is all that is necessary to relate of my own official transaction
of this business, what follows is from information and report.

Sometime after my letter of the 19th. of August to Colo. Tayloe, Mr. Land
Washington received authority from that Gentleman (but of what kind, or
date, I know not, never having seen it) to collect the debts. In
consequence, he received in paper Bills of credit at different times
(including interest ?8622.16.9?; ?3480 of which was placed (I presume
by Colo. Tayloes order) in the Funds of the United States Novr. 1777,
and in Octr. 1779 ?5008.18.0 more was deposited in the State fund of
Virginia, while ?66.9.6. appear to have been employed in the payment of
the Tax on money

Thus were matters circumstanced when the Interlocutory decree took the
Bonds and other Securities out of my hands. What has happened since I
know not, nor can any person inform you, except the Gentleman who is
now vested with the collection of them, a copy of whose receipt to Mr.
Lurid Washington is hereunto annexed, to which might be added the
amount of my purchase at the Sale, viz, Four hundred and fifty one
pounds ten shillings

What may be further necessary, on the part of Miss Wroughton and Mr.
Gravat, none can better determine than Mr. Montagu. If it was in my
power to render further assistance, I would, but it absolutely is not.
Company, a thousand references of old matters (in the Military line),
Letters to answer, and other things, have put it entirely out of my
power hitherto to give the smallest attention to the business which
more immediately relate, and is interesting to myself; it would be
folly in the extreme therefore (even if I did not wish for, and stand
in need of relaxation) to attempt to manage that of others.

I have been more prolix in this recital, especially in some part of it
perhaps, than you may conceive necessary; but it is my wish that the
Agency I have had from first to last in the business may be fully
understood by Mr. Montagu from your report to him.

I am etc.3

Notes:

1 The omitted letter is that of December 11, 1775, which is printed in full
on p. 515 – 517 of this Appendix. It varies in minor verbal details
from the copy Washington inserted here.

2 Washington has here crossed out the word “collection.”

3 From a photostat of the original kindly loaned by Mrs. I. Clayton Mitchell,
of Lloyds, Va., through Dr. Josiah H. Penniman, provost of the
University of Pennsylvania.