Refers to his not being aware of the sale of some of his lands at Millers run to Col. Ritchie “Your exposition of and conduct under them is as honourable to yourself, as they are pleasing to me ... for on truth my pecuniary wants call loudly for the money, and nothing short of that necessity would have induced the sale”. He concludes by mentioning Mrs. Ritchie and the impending election. On 20th August 1795 James Ross wrote to George Washington “I have agreed to sell your lands on Millers Run in Washington County to Colo. Matthew Ritchie, at four Dollars per Acre strict measure.1 One fourth part of the purchase money to be paid upon the first day of next June, The residue to be paid in four equal Installments commencing on the first day of June 1797”.
In September 1784, Washington travelled into western Pennsylvania to survey the 2,813 acres the British government had awarded him for his service in the French and Indian War. There, Scotch-Irish families had already settled on some of his lands, and the general feared that the loss of even a single parcel to squatters would have a cascading effect, and that he and other legitimate investors might lose hundreds of thousands of acres.
Washington also hoped to attract settlers to western Pennsylvania as part of a tremendously ambitious plan for development of the new nation. The retired general was planning a grandiose scheme of canals and roads that would link Lake Erie to the Ohio River to the Potomac River to the Atlantic Ocean, a system that would carry the wealth of the nation's interior to himself and his home state of Virginia.
When Washington arrived at his Pennsylvania properties in September, 1784, he was met by a group of Scotch-Irish Presbyterians led by David Reed, who had already settled upon and laid claim to the lands given to him by Congress. When these squatters had arrived in the early 1770s, the area was a trackless forest, still considered by many to be part of the sprawling colony of Virginia. These frontier families had cleared the land; built fences, log cabins and barns; and endured the risk of Indian attacks. They had grown their own corn and wheat, raised cows and pigs, and hunted wild game.
Now, years later, they were being confronted by an absentee landlord, who had kept track of every acre he owned and every shilling of rent he was due. Operating on the assumption that those who improved the land had stronger legal and moral claim to ownership than someone who simply possessed a paper title, they refused to grant Washington occupancy and were unimpressed by his revolutionary war credentials.
Calling themselves the Covenanters, they identified themselves with the Scotsmen who in the 1640s had opposed King Charles I' efforts to tax and rule them without their consent. Washington, on the other hand, saw himself as the victim. Unlike other speculators such as Robert Morris, Henry Knox, William Bingham, and the Holland Land Company, Washington actually took pains to physically visit and attempt to settle and organize his several holdings. He also knew that squatters frequently sold land to which they had no real title.
Washington was convinced that the squatters had taken advantage of him, penalizing him for the years he had led his country's army in its fight for independence. “Indeed, comparatively speaking I possess very little land on the Western Waters,” he wrote to his attorney. “To attempt therefore to deprive me of the little I have, is, considering the circumstances under which I have been and the inability of attending to my own affairs, not only unjust, but pitifully mean.” He had little sympathy for this “grazing multitude,” who “set forth their pretensions” to his land, and attempted to “discover all the flaws they could in my Deed.”
On September 14, 1784, Washington and the squatters faced off near his gristmill at present-day Venice. After explaining their respective positions, they agreed to meet again in a few days. Doing his best to salvage the situation, the general met again with the squatters, who again refused to recognize his ownership.
On September 20, 1784, thirteen of the farmers who had been squatting on Washington's lands for the previous twelve years, met with the general at the home of Reed. After Washington again insisted he held title to the land, they announced that they would be willing to buy the land from him outright. They made clear to the general that they were not conceding that he owned the land, but had no desire to engage in a long and nasty dispute - a dispute they well knew Washington could win.
Washington said he would accept no less than twenty-five shillings an acre, paid in three annual installments, with interest. Otherwise, they could sign a 999-year lease. These were stiff terms. None of the thirteen squatters was interested in the lease. When they asked Washington if he would sell the land at his asking price over a much longer period of time and without any interest, he refused, at which point they formally declared that they did not recognize his ownership.
The ensuing lawsuit dragged on for two years. In October, 1786, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice marker Thomas McKean, riding circuit in the western part of the state, presided over the trial in Washington, Pennsylvania. When the jury came back with a verdict in favour of the general, he became the proprietor of thirteen separate plantations. Washington showed some mercy by absolving the squatters from twelve years of back rent. Permitting the squatters to keep their plantations, he only demanded that they pay future rent. But the squatters would have none of it.
Abandoning the homes they had built over many years, they all moved away. Several obtained warrants for land adjacent to or near Washington's land, cleared it, and built new plantations.
Washington would keep his grip on the land for another decade. In 1796, with western land speculation in full collapse, he sold the entire tract to a local agent for the modest sum of $12,000. When the agent defaulted on the mortgage, the general then retained the land until his death.
The Mount Vernon estate had been owned by the Washington family since 1674, with George Washington inheriting the land in 1761. Residing on the banks of the Potomac River, he would end up growing the estate to have an 11,028-square foot mansion with five different, fully operating farms.
The 1801 map of Mount Vernon is among the first large-scale maps of Virginia to be published at the time. It includes the Mansion House Farm as well as the River, Muddy Hole, Dogue Run, and Union farms, which were the crux of agricultural activity on the estate. Mount Vernon produced a variety of crops, at first planting tobacco and then switching to grains in 1766. Washington devoted much of his life to expanding and developing agriculture and husbandry, searching for expertise on how best to cultivate the land. Between 1786 and 1799, Washington exchanged nearly 30 letters with Arthur
Young, a British agriculturist who wrote dozens of books on farming, writes Redmond.