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    Description

    George Washington Autograph Letter Signed. One page with integral blank (detached, but present), 7.25" x 9", Mount Vernon; July 17, 1785. A letter to Michael Hillegas, Treasurer of the United States, concerning a legal suit against squatters on land owned by Washington in Pennsylvania. He informs Hillegas that he is forwarding papers (not present) relating to the case by way of his attorney Thomas Smith.

    Sir,

    The enclosed Packet contains necessary & valuable Papers, in a Suit which I have depending in Washington County in the State of Pensylvania [sic]; under the manage[ment] of the Gentleman to whom they are directed.

    Mr. Smith requested me (tho' circuitous) to address them to your care, and he should be certain of getting them. This must be my apology for the trouble I am giving you, and, I hope will obtain your excuse.

    The sooner the packet could be sent by a safe hand the better, as some of the Papers point to evidence which may require time to obtain,-and all of them want consideration. With esteem & regard, I am-Sir
    Yr. Most Ob
    G: Washington

    After Washington resigned his commission as commander in chief of the American Army, he retired to Mount Vernon pursue farming and other business interests, which included his land holdings in western Pennsylvania. Before the Revolutionary War, Washington acquired large tracts of land in western Virginia and in the Ohio Valley. By the beginning of the war, he laid claim to over 37,000 acres in the West, acquired under the proclamations of 1754 and 1763 for military services rendered during the French and Indian War or through purchases from other veterans. In 1770, in payment for a financial debt owed him by a neighbor, Washington received a warrant for 3,000 acres, land that his neighbor was entitled to under the Proclamation of 1763. Washington used the major part of the warrant to claim 2,813 acres on Millers Run, an area then considered a part of Augusta County, Virginia, but by 1784 lay across the boundary in Washington County, Pennsylvania. Millers Run was surveyed for Washington in 1771, but he was not able to patent it until July 1774.

    From the beginning, Washington had troubles with squatters on his Millers Run land. After the war, Washington returned to Mount Vernon and, in 1784, renewed his interest in his Pennsylvania landholdings. In the spring of that year, he informed the settlers on his land that he had a legal right to the property but would be willing to allow them to live on it if they would pay rent. In September 1784, Washington visited his landholdings in the West and met the tenants. The squatters indicated their willingness to purchase the land if Washington offered moderate terms. Subsequent discussions between Washington and the squatters broke down, however, and the squatters decided not to purchase but to stay on the land. Washington, with attorney Thomas Smith, decided to sue the squatters. During 1785 and 1786, Washington devoted much of his time assembling evidence to reinforce his claim to clear title to the land for his hearing in Pennsylvania circuit court. It is not clear what role, if any, Hillegas played in this court case. Washington won his case against the squatters in 1786.

    Michael Hillegas (1729-1804), born in Philadelphia, was a successful merchant, sugar refiner, and iron magnate who became active in the politics of his city and state. He was a member of the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly (1765-1775) and served as treasurer of the Committee of Safety under Benjamin Franklin in 1774. He was the first treasurer of the United States, serving in that post from 1775 to 1789.

    An interesting letter that shows Washington pursuing his legal case concerning his Pennsylvania land holdings.

    Condition: The letter has two horizontal folds, small areas of paper loss not affecting any text and adhesive residue along left hand margin. Stray adhesive staining just below date. There is tape on the upper right and left hand corners on both recto and verso of the integral page repairing tears. Pencil annotation at bottom reads, "Michael", otherwise good.




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    Auction Dates
    April, 2018
    18th Wednesday
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