1838: Henry Overton Middleton to Benjamin Harrison VII

This letter was written by Henry Overton Middleton (1792-1867), the son of Capt. Theodore Middleton (1758-1845) and Julianna Hoxton (1767-1812). Henry married Mildred Crutchfield (1792-1838) in 1820. Henry was a lawyer who worked as a land agent of western lands. In 1831, Middleton kept an office in Fredericksburg, Virginia, eight months of the year and in Lewisburg, Greenbrier County, Virginia, the other four months. Later he resided in Buckhannon, Upshur County, Virginia (later West Virginia).

Middleton wrote the letter to Benjamin Harrison VII (1787-1842), who lived at Berkeley — a National Historic Landmark — located six miles west of Charles City Court House.

Stampless Letter

Stampless Letter

Addressed to Benjamin Harrison, Esqr., Charles City County Court House, Virginia

Fredericksburg [Virginia]
January 2d 1838

Dear Sir,

On my return home I found your three last letters. The first of date the 26th October, which came to Clarksburg in my absence and was transmitted to Fredericksburg where I really expected to return early in November. The second postmarked the 7th December & the last the 24th December. I must endeavor to satisfy you by a statement of facts which I hope will be sufficient apology to you for the apparent neglect at not replying earlier.

The latter part of October I was called to the interior of the western part of Virginia and detained unexpectedly on sundry objects of business of my own that I had deferred to my injury & when I commenced on it I could not withdraw until I had concluded. And the reason I did not send you the money $215 I wrote you in October that I had received for you and that I would enclose you at your risk, I expected to reach Charleston where I could in some way negotiate and dispose of the Western Bank notes I had received for you, that I expected would be of no use to you without encountering a large discount to convert into Virginia money. I did not go to Charleston, nor was I in Jackson County or in the vicinity of your business this fall. Though from letters I have received and reports from that Section, enabled me to do all and to learn all that I could have been done as well as if I had been there. It is inconvenient to enter on the subject of these letters and reports in this communication as it is necessary for you to see them, and for that and other important matters and purposes, for us to meet in Richmond this winter. I hope to be there in January & will write you a few days before, and hope you will come up.

I placed in an attorney’s hands many of your bonds, not to sue on, but to collect by persuasion, and perhaps he may be able to send me some money for you by the time we meet. I will write and urge him. Believe me, Mr. Harrison, I should be much gratified in collections for you.

I now enclose to you the certificate of deposit of $325 in the Bank at CHarleston which I had placed there for your special use which please to receive on account of the transaction of which I advised you in October last.

In reply to your letter of the 7th December, you were under the impression when you wrote that I was at home. I did not reach home till the 27th December and I fear you may have felt grieved at my apparent neglect. I have met an affliction in the loss of my dear wife that has caused a suspension of all sort of business. This is the first letter of a business nature.

You must prepare your mind for disappointment in the receipt of money from the sales of the Morris Lands and I regret to tell you so, and when you see the letters and reports I have received from Jackson County, you will feel as I have experienced — that to make money by forcing the collections by lawsuits is impossible and I must here drop you a hint of more injunctions and bills in chancery, which I will show you when we meet.

Mr. Nixon will not reply and all injunctions and bills that have been heretofore instituted have been perpetuated & confirmed against him and all who are sued will pursue the same course. They doubt the Morris title and they tell us facts in their Bills that we can not gainsay, and we must meet & put up with the consequences — defeat and loss.

My agents write me that without settlers under younger titles are removed, that no more sales can be effected and those who have contracted to purchase have done so under the impression that suits would be instituted against those who hold under junior titles and refuse to buy of us. They say that Mr. Nixon must establish his right to the lands and they will buy & pay willingly.

I shall be prepared to make you a full report in addition to that I made you last winter of Mr. Nixon’s business.

There is an adjourned term of the Superior Court of Jackson County in this month in consequence of the sickness of Judge Summers the last fall term. Mr. Morrell, the clerk of the Superior Court, wrote me you had not sent him the voucher between McFarland & myself that we sent you. Please to send it to me or the clerk without delay. Before you transmit it, take an attested copy well witnessed by disinterested persons for fear of loss. It is a very important document to me as well as may become to yourself. I mean to request a certified copy of it on _____ it, in the suit.

Joseph Mairs to whom you conveyed a parcel of land has instituted a suit in Chancery against you, Mr. Nixon, & some others to whom land has been sold since McFarland’s agency ceased, alleging that he had purchased the land and paid McFarland previous to his dismissal. There is collision between McFarland & Mairs and I can prove it. The paper I have written to you for is a strong voucher as well as I remember that will go to prove it.

I confess that I am not able under the doubtful and defective titles to those lands to contend in law against such men and although I am desirous to do all I can for you (which is but little) I must put things in a condition so as to clear myself — morally and legally — from any substantial censure or liability in this agency, and surrender to you the whole business and papers.

In reply to that part of your letter relative to the land claim in the county of Hardy of 44,000 acres, I discovered this claim last summer and sent my son up to pay the taxes and make all examination. He did not pay the taxes in consequence of the claim which Mr. Lee was there enforcing. He had made many little sales to poor persons & had received money from them. The land as to Mr. Nixon is now in the Literary fund but I hope to be able to obtain a ____ Legislature to permit a redemption. I did not doubt but Mr. Lee had a valid claim but was investigating his title to know the fact. Whether Mr. Morris paid for it, I do not know, but suppose he did. The way I discovered the claim was by examination of some papers relative to William Morris’ Surrender Schedule. The land is very inferior, situated in the face of and covering a very sterile, craggy mountain — unlike the mountains the other side of the Alleganey. I will further enquire into it in every respect. I hope Mr. Nixon will decline to negotiate with Mr. Lee without knowing facts.

You have reminded me of my contingent promise to advance you a thousand dollars out of my own resources to be returned from collections out of your bonds — objects of speculations in Western Lands have presented and could not resist investments in large bodies of land in Virginia that I think I shall be well reimbursed, if I can give my personal attention. You will have to excuse me if I should not receive money in all this month from some gentlemen in Baltimore to whom I have probably sold a very large quantity of land to of my own. I have proposed to take $8,000 in cash for a quantity rather under three hundred thousand acres in West Virginia. The first of February is fixed for a determination. I have done nothing with William R. Smith. He does not positively refuse to make the stock good at par, but puts me off. He insists that we have no legal demand on him. I received of him $6,000 of the same stock at par value for a large parcel of Western Lands I sold him of my own. Legal proceedings will no doubt make the original proprietory refund. I am told suits have been commenced and it is the opinion of Watkins Leigh & R. Steward that they will have to refund. This I have understood from good authority. Fraud is attributed to the original parties and can be proved or is believed. I shall be pleased to hear from you.

Most respectfully yours, — H. O. Middleton


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