nb: For a complete explanation of the complications entailed in settling the estate of George Mercer, please see the notes to the James Mercer letter cited above.
"I take the earliest opportunity of acknowledging the receipt of your letter of the 20th instant, to shew you that I have not been inattentive to the contents of it. But I must delay giving a definitive answer to your request for using my name in the Suit which you propose to institute, until the return of your Brother, Colo. John Mercer, to this City, shall enable me to learn from him whether the decree of chancery entitled him to use the names of the trustees without their express permission; which if it did, would render an express permission unnecessary in this case. Or, until I am informed of the kind of Suit, and against whom my name is to be drawn forth; and also, what steps can now be taken, so as to place this debt upon the same footing with those, which have been paid out of the aggregate fund. For however inclined I am to give every facility in my power toward the recovery of the debt which you mention; yet prudence will suggest that a permission to use my name in a suit should be granted but with great caution, and only where it may be absolutely necessary: as I am resolved that no voluntary act of mine shall again involve me in a business from which I have been discharged by a decree of the High Court of Chancery of the State of Virginia."
Washington had long been involved with James and John Francis Mercer in the settlement of the estate of their brother George, who died in 1784. Even earlier, in November 1774, Washington and John Tayloe had overseen the sale of most of Mercer’s property in Virginia as Trustees for the Creditors of George Mercer. The present letter was prompted by a 20 February 1792 letter that James Mercer wrote to Washington concerning a debt incurred by Lord Dunmore at the 1774 auctions for the purchase of "certain Slaves to the value of 436₤ Va. Currency" (Papers, Presidential Series 9:577–78). Washington also had attempted for decades to recover debts owed to him personally from the estate of their father, John Mercer of Marlborough (see Papers, Presidential Series 1:405–06n).
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