Lot 297
  • 297


25,000 - 30,000 USD
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  • Autograph letter signed ("Go: Washington") to William Neale
1 1/2 pages (11 7/8 x 7 5/8 in.; 302 x 193 mm) on a leaf of laid paper watermarked crowned GR, [Mount Vernon], 19 September 1767, written beneath and on the verso of Neale's autograph letter signed ("Wm Neale"), King William, 15 September 1767, to Washington; some fold separations and repairs, 4 or 5 tiny incidents of ink corrosion costing bits of letters, a few light stains.


Sold, American Art Association, 21 January 1926, lot 292 (undesignated consignor) — William Randolph Hearst (Parke-Bernet, 16 November 1938, lot 359)


The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, ed. Abbot & Twohig, 8: 42–43

Catalogue Note

Settling a debt. John Robinson was a Virginia landowner and Speaker of the House of Burgesses from 1738 until his death in May 1766. It was discovered by Robinson’s executor, Edmund Pendleton, that Robinson had made personal loans of more than £100,000 to fellow planters with monies taken from the public treasury. Bernard Moore, who lived between the Mattaponi and Pamunkey rivers in King William County, was one of the largest debtors to the Robinson estate, and he was forced to sell all of his property to settle the debt. On 15 September 1767, William Neale, a neighbor of Moore’s, wrote to George Washington about a supposed debt of Martha Washington owed to Moore: "Sometime last month Colo. Bernard Moore settled his Account with Colo. Pendleton as Admin[istrat]or of John Robinson Esqr. deced, wherein there be an Article charged to Colo. Moore, thus 'To Mrs Washington October 1758 being what She agreed to lay out in the Purchase of Mrs Chamberlayne’s Estate £100' of this I am desired to acquaint you, as it is now a Charge with the Interest thereon by Colo. Moore agst You, the which He allowed on said Settlement, not knowing any thing of such Charge ’till then."

Washington wrote his response directly below Neale’s letter, perhaps indicating that he did not believe the merit of the claim necessitated his keeping a record of it. Washington’s letter  is  headed "In answer to the above Letter" and is directed at the end of the text "To Mr. Wm. Neale In King William."

Washington acknowledges the debt, explains that he had repeatedly tried to settle it, and steadfastly refuses to pay any interest on it. "I have receivd your Letter of the 15th Ulto the contents of which are somewhat misterious, and stand in need of further explination before I can be satisfied of the Equity of allowing £100 to Colo. Moore with Intt thereon since Octr 1758. True it is, that previous to my Marriage, my Wife informd me that she had engagd to purchase things at Mrs Chamberlaynes Sale to the amount of £100; but what was done in consequence of it she knew not, altho. she had declard her readiness to pay the money at any time when calld upon for that purpose by the late Speaker (who she lookd upon as an acting person in that affair). Certain it also is that once, if not twice, since my Marriage I have spoke to that Gentleman to know what was done in consequence of her Engagement. What was to be the Issue of it. In short what I had to expect, or apprehend from it; & his answer to the best of my remembrance, was that he coud not well tell what to say about it, or something to this effect; from whence I concluded, & not I think improperly, that I was considered in the light of a Security only, for that Sum when demanded (which in Truth I never expected wd be the case after 9 Years silence)—How it comes to pass then that Colo. Moore shoud be chargd with it & I have no Intimation thereof in all this time, not withstanding I enquird of the very person who coud best inform me. & why Colo. Moore shoud take upon himself to allow Interest thereon without my privity or consent (who alone was Interested & concernd in the event) I really cannot tell; but so extraordinary it appears, that you will please to let him know; that I shall always be ready to settle the matter (if we can) in an amicable & friendly manner. that I will strictly comply with whatever honour & justice may demand from my Wife’s engagements. but that, I cannot (under present knowledge I have of the affair) conceive myself bound by honr or good conscience to pay more than the original sum (of £100 at any rate) as she before Marriage, and I ever since Marriage, have always been ready, & willing to settle and pay to the utmost extent of her promis."

Wilhelmina Byrd Chamberlayne held the sale at which the £100 in question was spent. More than four years after this exchange of letters with Neale, January 1772, Washington noted in his accounts, "To Jno. Robinson Esqr. for Sundries purchasd at her Husbands Sale & settled in Trust pr acct in Ledger." He paid the £100 without any interest and wrote it off as a loss (General Ledger B, 1772–1793; Library of Congress, George Washington Papers, Series 5, Financial Papers, folio 33).