Bullskin Run, also known as Bullskin Creek, is a tributary of the Shenandoah River, located in present-day Jefferson County West Virginia, formerly part of Frederick County in Virginia.  The surrounding Bullskin Lands, taking their name from the creek, are comprised of fertile farmland characteristic of the Shenandoah Valley. George Washington began acquiring tracts of land along Bullskin Run while in the service of Lord Thomas Fairfax as a young surveyor in the 1750s.  He continued to expand his holdings along Bullskin Run, eventually owning thousands of acres of property, tracts of which he leased to tenant farmers while operating his own personal plantation.

Washington was first introduced to the Bullskin Lands as a teenager, while working as part of a surveying team measuring the extent of Lord Fairfax’s property, and quickly realized the value of the land.  At the age of eighteen, he acquired the first of his Bullskin properties, purchasing 453 acres in Frederick County from Lord Fairfax.1 Shortly thereafter, he received an additional 93-acre grant before purchasing another 456 acres from James McCraken.2  Over the next few years, Washington continued to purchase portions of the Bullskin Lands and began to establish a successful tobacco operation.

After being appointed to the rank of major in the Virginia Regiment of the British militia in 1753, Washington began to focus on maintaining and operating the lands he had already acquired, and did not pursue new properties along the Bullskin.  Rather, he arranged for the transportation and sale of crops raised on the property in Virginia markets, notably tobacco, four hogsheads of which he had shipped to Alexandria while on campaign in the Ohio River Valley in 1754.3  A year later, following the death of General Edward Braddock at the Battle of the Monongahela, Washington directed the British retreat through Frederick County, and took advantage of the opportunity to “take my Bullskin Plantation’s in my way.”4  Throughout the remainder of his time in the British service, Washington maintained his Bullskin holdings primarily through correspondence and existing contracts.  Only after resigning his commission as a provincial officer in 1758 was he able to devote himself more fully to the running of his plantation.

Following his resignation from the militia and his marriage to Martha Dandridge Custis in January 1759, Washington returned to the responsibility of personally managing his properties.  At this time his land holdings along the Bullskin totaled just less than 2,500 acres.5  Though he employed a number of overseers to manage his Bullskin farm, he occasionally traveled out himself or sent his cousin Lund Washington to inspect the plantation.  During an outbreak of smallpox at the Bullskin plantation in the spring of 1760, Washington rode out from Mount Vernon to personally oversee the efforts to combat the disease and lessen its effect on his employees and slaves.  He arranged for a nurse to be on hand and purchased new supplies including fresh blankets, “to prev[en]t the Small Pox from Spreading—and in case of its spreading for the care of the Negroes.“6

In addition to his personal plantation on the Bullskin Lands, Washington leased and sold farmland out to various tenants to supplement his income and avoid the additional labor of maintaining and running those tracts.  The largest landholder of Washington’s tenants was John Ariss, who in 1786 began leasing 700 acres of the Bullskin Lands for £60 per year.7  In 1771, Washington agreed to sell Philip Pendleton a tract of land of roughly 180 acres for £400 with interest and an agreement to pay rent for one year.8  Pendleton soon decided to sell the land to Washington’s brother, Samuel Washington, without having fully paid his debt. 

Samuel Washington never paid his brother back in full either, choosing instead to hand down the property to his son, Thornton Washington, who also did not pay the remaining debt on the land to his uncle.9  In 1786, Thornton Washington wrote to his uncle complaining about the Hite family, who claimed to be the rightful owners of his tract of the Bullskin Lands, a claim the family had been making in courts for decades.10  In the end, the Washington title to the land in question was not challenged; however, it was not until George Washington’s death in 1799 that the Pendleton land account was finally settled.  In his will, Washington chose to forgive the debt, and relieved “the Estate of my deceased brother Samuel Washington, from the payment of the money which is due me for the Land I sold to Philip Pendleton.”11  

In the Schedule of Property enclosed with his will, Washington estimated that his remaining Bullskin holdings in Frederick and Berkeley Counties were worth over $56,000.12  Following his death, a series of disputes that took twenty years to resolve arose regarding the inheritance of the Bullskin Lands before Lawrence Lewis eventually purchased the property from the estate. 

 

Zachary Toland

George Washington University

 

Notes:

1. “Land Grant, from Thomas, Lord Fairfax, 20 October 1750,” Founders Online, National Archives. Source: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, vol. 1, 7 July 1748?–?14 August 1755, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1983, 47–48.

2. Ibid.

3. “To George Washington from John Carlyle, 17 June 1754,” Founders Online, National Archives, Source: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, vol. 1, 7 July 1748?–?14 August 1755, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1983, 140–145.

4. “From George Washington to John Augustine Washington, 18 July 1755,” Founders Online, National Archives, Source: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, vol. 1, 7 July 1748?–?14 August 1755, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1983, 343.

5. Memorandum, 1758–1759,” Founders Online, National Archives, Source: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, vol. 6, 4 September 1758?–?26 December 1760, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1988, 183–184. 

6. Diary entry: 8 May 1760,” Founders Online, National Archives, Source: The Diaries of George Washington, vol. 1, 11 March 1748?–?13 November 1765, ed. Donald Jackson. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1976, 276–277.

7.  To George Washington from John Ariss, 5 August 1784,” Founders Online, National Archives, Source: The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series, vol. 2, 18 July 1784?–?18 May 1785, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1992, 24–25.

8. Bond to Philip Pendleton, 7 December 1771,” Founders Online, National Archives, Source: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, vol. 8, 24 June 1767?–?25 December 1771, ed. W. W. Abbot and Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993, 573.

9. From George Washington to James Nourse, 22 January 1784,” Founders Online, National Archives, Source: The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series, vol. 1, 1 January 1784?–?17 July 1784, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1992, 69–70.

10. To George Washington from Thornton Washington, 6 June 1786,” Founders Online, National Archives, Source: The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series, vol. 4, 2 April 1786?–?31 January 1787, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995, 100–102.

11. George Washington’s Last Will and Testament, 9 July 1799,” Founders Online, National Archives, Source: The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series, vol. 4, 20 April 1799?–?13 December 1799, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999, 479–511.

12. Enclosure: Schedule of Property, 9 July 1799,” Founders Online, National Archives, Source: The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series, vol. 4, 20 April 1799?–?13 December 1799, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999, 512–527.

Bibliography:

Knollenberg, Bernhard. George Washington, the Virginia Period, 1732-1775. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1964.

Matrana, Marc R. Lost Plantations of the South. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2009.

Thane, Elswyth. Potomac Squire. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1963.

 

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