George Washington, Preparing to Form A New Government, Secures Ownership to His Farthest Eastern Land

The First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia from September 5 to October 26, 1774, and Washington was a delegate from Virginia. It drafted the Articles of Association – a compact among the colonies to boycott British goods beginning on December 1, 1774 – that asserted American liberties and virtually guaranteed that there...

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George Washington, Preparing to Form A New Government, Secures Ownership to His Farthest Eastern Land

The First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia from September 5 to October 26, 1774, and Washington was a delegate from Virginia. It drafted the Articles of Association – a compact among the colonies to boycott British goods beginning on December 1, 1774 – that asserted American liberties and virtually guaranteed that there would be increasingly serious trouble ahead with Britain. It also set May 10, 1775 as the date for it to reconvene. Washington and his fellow delegates began arriving home in early November, knowing that they needed to take care of their personal affairs promptly so as to be ready for the trials all knew would await them when they once again met in Philadelphia.

George Washington owned extensive lands throughout Virginia and was an astute buyer of real estate. His main focus was, of course, on extending the Mount Vernon homestead properties and nearby properties. On December 12, 1774, Washington signed a contract to purchase a 1200-acre tract of land contiguous to his holdings and located partly within present-day Arlington County. This property, named “Four Mile Run,” would constitute the eastern boundary of Washington’s land. It would also prove to be the last property he would acquire before the outbreak of the Revolution. The sellers were George Mercer (who had been his aide de camp during the French and Indian War and been  wounded at the Battle of Fort Necessary), Elias Lindo and a Mr. Cazenove, who together received commitments of 900 pounds from Washington, 450 of which would be put up as a bond payable to the sellers’ attorney, Neil McCoull.

The Revolution broke out four months later, and sixty days after that Washington would be called upon to lead the gathering American army. He was kept away from his personal affairs leading the Continental Army for the next eight years. Only when the war was over and Washington returned to his beloved home in Northern Virginia was he able to survey the Four Mile Run property that he had purchased. Washington continued to own the land at the time of his death in 1799 and afterwards it became known as “Washington’s Forest.” When Washington acquired it, the land was indeed still covered by forest, as the name of the tract implies. Since then, however, most of the land has been developed. Today much of Washington Forest is home to subdivisions, stores and soccer fields, instead of the quiet forest of Washington’s day. The Four Mile Run portion of Washington’s Forest, however, has been turned into parkland by Arlington County. Here the trees have grown back and the land again looks something like it did when Washington walked here.

After Mercer’s death in 1784, a question arose over the legal validity of the 1774 land transfer. On November 19, 1786, Washington wrote his son and heir, James Mercer, jurist and Virginia delegate to the Constitutional Convention, staking his claim to the land and desiring a new document to certify his ownership.  Mercer was glad to oblige the war hero, perhaps in part because Washington had loaned his family money in the interim.  This new paperwork absolved Washington of his 450 pound bond commitment to the Mercers, a bond that McCoull still retained, in return for Washington’s absolving the Mercer’s of the same quantity of money in their debt to him.

In early August 1788, just as the U.S. Constitution was being approved by the states and Washington was preparing for his inevitable leadership of the new government, McCoull wrote Washington, informing him of his intent to collect on the original Mercer bond.  Washington wrote McCoull referring him to Mercer and then wrote Mercer to ensure that he would be duly credited the money from the bond and that McCoull and Mercer would independently settle their accounts. This would clear title and all obligations for Washington on the Four Mile Run tract of land.

Autograph Letter Signed, Mount Vernon, August 17, 1788, to Mercer. “Dear Sir, By the last Post I received the enclosed letter from Mr McCoull—to which I have given the answer that accompanies it. I pray your direction for my conduct, as there can be little doubt, of Mr McCoulls intention to prosecute the Bond—since he has made application for payment of it after what has passed between you and him on the subject. I am Dr Sir, Yrs &c. Go. Washington.”

Washington’s title was secured, and he was able to turn his attention to the pressing affairs of the country.

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