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    George Washington's executors discuss Dismal Swamp land

    [George Washington] John A. Washington Autograph Letter Signed by four executors of Washington's estate. One page, 8" x 10", "Berry Hill, Jefferson Co., May 1809." The Dismal Swamp is a vast marshy region in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. In 1763, a small group of investors including George Washington purchased 40,000 acres of this terrain. With the help of slave labor, they hoped to drain parts of the land to make room for farms for tobacco and other crops. They also planned to sell timber and wood shingles from the area's dense forests and to profit from roads and canals built through the land to transport commerce. The adventurers soon realized, however, that the task of draining the swamp was impossible and gave up that part of their plan to concentrate on lumbering. They cut much of the cypress trees for use in shipbuilding and the cedars for shingles and other products.

    By 1796, Washington had become disappointed in the management of the Dismal Swamp lumber business and contracted to sell his 1/12th share to General Harry "Lighthorse" Lee, father of Robert E. Lee, who never was able to come up with the purchase price. A few weeks before being sent to debtor's prison, General Lee contacted the executors of George Washington's will through his attorneys, in hopes of settling this long-standing debt. Washington's executors--half-brothers Samuel Washington and John A. Washington, and nephews Bushrod Washington and Lawrence Lewis--agreed to Lee's proposition and issued a printed circular of this original handwritten letter signed by all four executors. It reads in full:

    "Gentlemen, Your letter by post of May 13th came safe to hand, In which you state, that our testator, some time before his death sold his Dismal Swamp property to Gen. Lee, without, however, having made a deed for the same. Some part of the consideration money was paid, but the exact amount is not now recollected. You state also that Gen. Lee has lately proposed to recind [sic] the contract, without requiring a return of the money paid by him; and believing that the property is likely to become very valuable, and could now be sold for a good price, it is your decided opinion that his offer ought to be accepted. Upon this subject we pretend to have very little knowledge, consequently our opinions must be made up from the argument urged in your letter. It will therefore only be necessary for us to say that we concur with you in opinion, and do consent as far as we are interested that the proposition which you state to have been made by Gen. Lee should be accepted of. We are, gentlemen, yr ob serv'ts. Jno. A. Washington, The honl Bushrod Washington & Lawrence Lewis esq, Samuel Washington."

    The executors held public sales of some of the livestock at Mount Vernon before Martha Washington's death in 1802, and they began selling the remainder of the listed property at sales shortly thereafter. Final settlement of the estate was not achieved until June 21, 1847. There are two recorded copies of the printed circular of this letter: one in the Library of Congress, and one in the Massachussetts Historical Society in Boston. We offer here, the original handwritten letter in outstanding condition, with little more than faint toning to reveal its age. An important and highly desirable collectible in very fine condition!


    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    June, 2009
    16th-17th Tuesday-Wednesday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 2
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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