Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO GEORGE MERCER, LONDON. 1 - The Writings of George Washington, vol. II (1758-1775)
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TO GEORGE MERCER, LONDON. 1 - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. II (1758-1775) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1889). Vol. II (1758-1775).
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TO GEORGE MERCER, LONDON.1
Williamsburg, 7 November, 1771.
2 Since you first left this country, I have been favored with two letters from you; one of them serving to enter your own, and the claims of Captains Stobo and Vanbraam, to part of the two hundred thousand acres of land, granted under Governor Dinwiddie’s proclamation; and the other, of the 18th of December, which did not come to my hands till about the first of last month, urging the expediency of prosecuting our right to those lands with spirit.
In respect to the first, I have only to inform you, that your own claim, as well that for your brother as yourself, was entered before the receipt of your letter, and that Stobo’s and Vanbraam’s are also entered. In answer to the second, I can only add, that the same backwardness, which has ever appeared in our Honorable Board to recognise our right to these lands, seems still to prevail, and that our business in this affair is by no means in that forwardness, which I could wish, owing, I believe I may say, to other causes, as well as to a lukewarmness in those from whom we seek redress. The unequal interest and dispersed situation of the claimants make a regular coöperation difficult. An undertaking of this kind cannot be conducted without a good deal of expense and trouble; and the doubt of obtaining the lands, after the utmost efforts, is such, as to discourage the larger part of the claimants from lending assistance, whilst a few are obliged to wade through every difficulty, or relinquish every hope.
In this state of things, and in behalf of those, who had contributed to the expense of exploring and surveying the lands, I petitioned the Governor and Council, that the amount of each man’s share, according to his rank, should be ascertained, and each claimant suffered to designate and survey his portion separately, by which means every man would stand upon his own footing. This petition I thought so reasonable, and so consistent with every principle of common justice, to say nothing of the disadvantage of being forced into large tracts, and the manifest inconvenience of dividing them afterwards, that I conceived it could not possibly be rejected; but to my great astonishment it was so, and we are now compelled to be at the expense of surveying our whole quantity in twenty surveys, and then each individual subjected to the charge of surveying his own separately. In this way we are doubly taxed, while the whole is held as a kind of joint interest, and no man knows his property, or can tell how or in what manner to dispose of it. In short, so many glaring obstacles opposed their mode of proceeding, that they did not even attempt to remove them, but contented themselves with putting the soldiers upon a worse footing, than the meanest individual in the community, rather than be thought to give a license for the pillaging of his Majesty’s or the Proprietary lands, when it is a fact well known, and every age evinces it, that no country ever was or ever will be settled without some indulgence. What inducements have men to explore uninhabited wilds, but the prospect of getting good lands? Would any man waste his time, expose his fortune, nay, life, in such a search, if he was to share the good and the bad with those that come after him? Surely not. We have surveyed ten of the largest tracts we can find in the district allowed us, and have been able to get sixty thousand acres, and for this tract we have been obliged to go between two and three hundred miles below Fort Pitt, as the lands thereabouts are thought to be within the Pennsylvania government; at least, they are surveyed under those rights, and held by such a number of individuals, that it was thought to be impolitic to engage in private disputes, whilst there appeared but a gloomy prospect of getting any land at all.
The claims, which have been presented to me, are now all given in, and the Governor and Council have determined, that each officer shall share according to the rank in which he entered the service, and that the land shall be distributed in the following manner, namely, to each field-officer fifteen thousand acres, to each captain nine thousand, to each subaltern six thousand, to the cadets two thousand five hundred each, six hundred to a sergeant, five hundred to a corporal, and four hundred to each private soldier. They have made a reserve of thirty thousand acres, as well to provide for any claims, which may hereafter come in, as to compensate those, who have been and must necessarily continue to be saddled with the expense, which we find will not be very inconsiderable, as we have already expended near two hundred pounds, and the surveyor not yet paid.1
This expense must now be greatly augmented, as we shall be exposed to a considerable charge in exploring the lands, before we can proceed to survey any more. From every thing we know at present, it appears impossible to get two hundred thousand acres in twenty surveys, without including mountains and inhospitable hills to the amount of near one half, which will render the grant of little value, and be the source of much discontent at a division. It behooves us, therefore, to examine the lands well before we survey. And allow me to add, that it will be very proper for you to give Messrs. Stobo and Vanbraam a hint, that something more than entering their claims is necessary. I dare say they will hardly think it reasonable to profit by the labor and purse of others. It is highly incumbent on them, therefore, to appoint an agent in this country to transact their business and advance their proportion of the expense, if they expect to share in the lands.
To give you a minute detail of the proceedings, respecting this grant, would be a work of time, and afford you little entertainment. What I have here said will serve as a general outline, and that is all I have aimed at in this letter. I should not have delayed answering your first letter till this time, had you not mentioned your intention of embarking soon on your return. This account having been frequently corroborated by your brother, of whom I often inquired after you, I thought a letter could have little chance of finding you in England. I have just been told by Mr. Mercer, that you are to remain in London for some advices from him, respecting the affairs of the Ohio Company. Mrs. Washington makes a tender of her compliments to you, and I am, with very sincere regard, dear Sir, your most obedient humble servant.
[1 ]From an interleaved Almanac.
[2 ]Mercer had been in England for upwards of six years as the agent of the old “Ohio Company.” Failing to establish the claims of the company, he approached the organizers of the new company known as Walpole’s Grant, and sought to merge the interests of the two claimants. This he accomplished, as on May 7. 1770, the following agreement was made: “We the Committee of the Purchasers of a Tract of Country for a new Province on the Ohio in America, do hereby admit the Ohio Company as a co-purchaser with us for two shares of the said Purchase [equal to two seventy-second parts of the entire purchase], in consideration of the engagement of their agent, Col. Mercer, to withdraw the application of the said Company for a separate grant within the limits of the said Purchase.” This agreement was repudiated by the old company. On the 18th of December, 1770, Mercer wrote to Washington from Dublin: “Before I left England, I mentioned my having agreed with, or I may rather say prevailed with, the great Land Company [i. e. Walpole’s Grant] there, that the two hundred thousand acres, claimed by the officers of the Virginia troops, should be allowed out of their grant.”
[1 ]Major George Muse had been accused of cowardice at the affair of the Great Meadows, and his name was omitted in the vote of thanks to the officers by the legislature. It was decided, however, that this person should have his share of the land, and the following extract from a letter to him on this subject will show with what spirit and tone Washington could retort upon rudeness, when there was occasion.
“Your impertinent letter was delivered to me yesterday. As I am not accustomed to receive such from any man, nor would have taken the same language from you personally, without letting you feel some marks of my resentment, I would advise you to be cautious in writing me a second of the same tenor. But for your stupidity and sottishness you might have known, by attending to the public gazette, that you had your full quantity of ten thousand acres of land allowed you, that is, nine thousand and seventy-three acres in the great tract, and the remainder in the small tract.
“But suppose you had really fallen short, do you think your superlative merit entitles you to greater indulgence than others? Or, if it did, that I was to make it good to you, when it was at the option of the Governor and Council to allow but five hundred acres in the whole, if they had been so inclined? If either of these should happen to be your opinion, I am very well convinced, that you will be singular in it; and all my concern is, that I ever engaged in behalf of so ungrateful a fellow as you are. But you may still be in need of my assistance, as I can inform you, that your affairs, in respect to these lands, do not stand upon so solid a basis as you may imagine, and this you may take by way of hint.
“I wrote to you a few days ago concerning the other distribution, proposing an easy method of dividing our lands; but since I find in what temper you are, I am sorry I took the trouble of mentioning the land or your name in a letter, as I do not think you merit the least assistance from me.”