WASHINGTON, George. Autograph letter signed ("Go: Washington") AS PRESIDENT, to his nephew, Corbin Washington, New York, 16 December 1789. 3 full pages, 4to, addressed by Washington on page 4, small seal hole (repaired). With Corbin's docket: "General Washington's letter respecting my suit with the Hites & Greens."
A BUSY PRESIDENT ADVISES HIS NEPHEW ON FRONTIER LANDS AND THE PITFALLS OF DISHONEST OVERSEERS
Washington's nephew Corbin (married to a daughter of Richard Henry Lee), has written in hopes the President possesses deeds and conveyances that may help him confirm his title to lands on the Virginia frontier inherited from his father, the President's older brother, John Augustine Washington (1736-1787). Corbin's ownership has been the subject of a lawsuit.
In response, Washington writes, "Your letter...only came to hand last night...". To reply...by the time requested...is impossible. But was it practicable, I can recollect nothing respecting the title of your lands in Berkeley that would...be greatly serviceable to you in your dispute....Nor is [sic] there any papers in my possession, that...can throw any light on the matter. It is presumable that the title papers...were in your father's possession--and that, if the conveyances to your Uncle Lawrence...were well drawn, you would there find a proper derivation of the Title. This is the source from whence you have obtained the land, and the best channel of information that I can suggest.... Most of the lands possessed by your father in Berkeley County, being unpatented [unsurveyed] at the time my Brother Lawrence bought them, were conveyed to him by Deeds from the Lord Proprietor....It is possible however the Deeds might be granted to the persons of whom my brother bought the land, in that case the transfers will be found among the records of Frederick County Court, as they were made long before the division of that County took place."
Washington patiently directs Corbin to certain "likely persons to apply to for oral information," as they are "intimately acquainted with all the lands in that part of the Country, the several claimants of them, and their alienations." He is confident that he himself does not possess papers relative to his brother's lands: "Confident I am that there is no authentic document relative to your land among my papers at Mount Vernon--but as I surveyed most of the lands about Bullskin, it is possible, tho' not at all probable, some minutes may be found...of these lands among my papers and, if any exist, they are to be found in my study, among, my Land Papers in small parchment covered books...or in a broad untied bundle of loose and old Plats of Surveys in the Pidgeon holes which are labeled Land Papers. If the spot on which your house stands at is involved...you may...derive useful information from Col (or Gen) Bull, and the purchasers from the Stephensors; all of whose land was originally one tract...."
"Having suggested everything that occurs to me on the subject," Washington chides Corbin, hoping that "no exertions of your own may be wanted to secure Lands which are of infinite more value to you than those [you] have chosen for your residence; [and] where your essential interest loudly called upon you to establish yourself. Where, as it is the last time, probably, I shall ever express any sentiments to you upon the occasion, I will venture to predict you might (by living thereon) have improved your fortune considerably, but without it, will find it a source of trouble, vexation, and loss. Your aunt [Martha Washington] joins me in best wishes for you...." Then Washington adds a pertinent footnote, cautioning his nephew--from his own bitter experience--about the pitfalls of employing agents to manage distant lands: "So wide an odds is there between having your business conducted under your own eyes, and those of a manager at a distance; who, if he possesses skill, honestly and industry, will extort half the profits for his share. If lazy or dishonest, will make nothing, or apply [embezzle] the whole."
Papers of George Washington, ed. W.W. Abbott, pp. 351-352.