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George Washington: Farmer by Paul Leland Haworth

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been standing in a tub abt two hours exposed to the sun."

Three weeks later he inspected the boxes and concluded that Nos. 8 and 9
gave the best results.

The plows of the period were cumbersome and did their work poorly.
Consequently in March, 1760, Washington "Fitted a two Eyed Plow instead
of a Duck Bill Plow", and tried it out, using his carriage horses in the
work. But this new model proved upon the whole a failure and a little
later he "Spent the greater part of the day in making a new plow of my
own Invention." Next day he set the new plow to work "and found She
answerd very well."

A little later he "got a new harrow made of smaller and closer teethings
for harrowing in grain--the other being more proper for preparing the
ground for sowing."

Much of his attention in the next few years was devoted to wheat
growing, for, as already related, he soon decided gradually to
discontinue tobacco and it was imperative for him to discover some
other money crop to take its place. We find him steeping his seed wheat
in brine and alum to prevent smut and he also tried other experiments to
protect his grain from the Hessian fly and rust. Noticing how the
freezing and thawing of the ground in spring often injured the wheat by
lifting it out of the ground, he adopted the practice of running a heavy
roller over the wheat in order to get the roots back into the ground and
he was confident that when the operation was performed at the proper
time, that is when the ground was soft and the roots were still alive,
it was productive of good results.

In June, 1763, he "dug up abt. a load of Marle to spread over Wheat Land
for experiment." In 1768 he came to the conclusion that most farmers
began to cut their wheat too late, for of course cradling was a slow
process--scarcely four acres per day per cradler--and if the acreage was
large several days must elapse before the last of the grain could be
cut, with the result that some of it became so ripe that many of the
kernels were shattered out and lost before the straw could be got to the
threshing floor. By careful experiments he determined that the grain
would not lose perceptibly in size and weight if the wheat were cut
comparatively green. In wheat-growing communities the discussion as to
this question still rages--extremists on one side will not cut their
wheat till it is dead ripe, while those on the other begin to harvest it
when it is almost sea-green.

In 1763 Washington entered into an agreement with John Carlyle and
Robert Adams of Alexandria to sell to them all the wheat he would have
to dispose of in the next seven years. The price was to be three
shillings and nine pence per bushel, that is, about ninety-one cents.
This would not be far from the average price of wheat to-day, but, on
the one side, we should bear in mind that ninety-one cents then had much
greater purchasing power than now, so that the price was really much
greater, and, on the other, that the cost of raising wheat was larger
then, owing to lack of self-binders, threshing machines and other
labor-saving devices.

The wheat thus sold by Washington was to be delivered at the wharf at
Alexandria or beside a boat or flat on Four Mile Run Creek. The delivery
for 1764 was 257-1/2 bushels; for 1765, 1,112-3/4 bushels; for 1766,
2,331-1/2 bushels; for 1767--a bad year--1,293-1/2 bushels; for 1768,
4,994-1/2 bushels of wheat and 4,304-1/2 bushels of corn; for 1769,
6,241-1/2 bushels of wheat.

Thereafter he ground a good part of his wheat and sold the flour. He
owned three mills, one in western Pennsylvania, already referred to, a
second on Four Mile Run near Alexandria, and a third on the Mount Vernon
estate. This last mill had been in operation since his father's day. It
was situated near the mouth of the stream known as Dogue Run, which was
not very well suited for the purpose as it ran from the extreme of low
water in summer to violent floods in winter and spring. Thus his miller,
William A. Poole, in a letter that wins the sweepstakes in phonetic
spelling, complains in 1757 that he has been able to grind but little
because "She fails by want of Water." At other times the Master sallies
out in the rain with rescue crews to save the mill from floods and more
than once the "tumbling dam" goes by the board in spite of all efforts.
The lack of water was partly remedied in 1771 by turning the water of
Piney Branch into the Run, and about the same time a new and better mill
was erected, while in 1797 further improvements were made. During the
whole period flatboats and small schooners could come to the wharf to
take away the flour. Corn and other grains were ground, as well as
wheat, and the mill had considerable neighborhood custom, the toll
exacted being one-eighth. Only a few stones sticking in a bank now
remain of the mill.

Washington divided his flour into superfine, fine, middlings and ship
stuff. It was put into barrels manufactured by the plantation coopers
and much of it ultimately found its way to the West India market. A
tradition--much quoted--has it that barrels marked "George Washington,
Mount Vernon," were accepted in the islands without any inspection, but
Mr. J.M. Toner, one of the closest students of Washington's career,
contended that this was a mistake and pointed to the fact that the
Virginia law provided for the inspection of all flour before it was
exported and the placing of a brand on each barrel. However this may be,
we have Washington's own word for it, that his flour was as good in
quality as any manufactured in America--and he was no boaster.

[ILLUSTRATION: Dogue Run below the Site of the Mill]

[ILLUSTRATION: On the Road to the Mill and Pohick Church]

That his flour was so good was in large measure due to the excellent
quality of the wheat from which it was made. By careful attention to his
seed and to cultivation he succeeded in raising grain that often
weighed upward of sixty pounds to the bushel. After the Revolution he
wrote: "No wheat that has ever yet fallen under my observation exceeds
the wheat which some years ago I cultivated extensively."

His idea of good cultivation in these years was to let his fields lie
fallow at certain intervals, though he also made use of manure, marl,
etc., and in 1772 tried the experiment of sowing two bushels of salt per
acre upon fallow ground, dividing the plot up into strips eight feet in
width and sowing the alternate strips in order that he might be able to
determine results.

He imported from England an improved Rotheran or patent plow, and,
having noticed in an agricultural work mention of a machine capable of
pulling up two or three hundred stumps per day, he expressed a desire
for one, saying: "If the accounts are not greatly exaggerated, such
powerful assistance must be of vast utility in many parts of this wooden
country, where it is impossible for our force (and laborers are not to
be hired here), between the finishing of one crop and preparations for
another, to clear ground fast enough to afford the proper changes,
either in the planting or farming business."

These were his golden days. He was not so rich as he was later nor so
famous, but he was strong and well and young, he had abundant friends,
and his neighbors thought well enough of him to send him to the
Burgesses and to make him a vestryman of old Pohick Church; if he felt
the need of recreation he went fishing or fox-hunting or attended a
horse race or played a game of cards with his friends, and he had few
things to trouble him seriously. But fussy kings and ministers overseas
were meddling with the liberties of subjects and were creating a
situation out of which was to come a mighty burden--a burden so
Atalantean that it would have frightened most men, but one that he was
brave enough and strong enough to shoulder and with it march down to



The Revolution rudely interrupted Washington's farming experiments, and
for eight long years he was so actively engaged in the grim business of
checkmating Howe and Clinton and Cornwallis that he could give little
time or thought to agriculture. For more than six years, in fact, he did
not once set foot upon his beloved fields and heard of his crops, his
servants and his live stock only from family visitors to his camps or
through the pages of his manager's letters.

Peace at last brought him release. He had left Mount Vernon a simple
country gentleman; he came back to it one of the most famous men in the
world. He wasted no time in contemplating his laurels, but at once threw
himself with renewed enthusiasm into his old occupation. His observation
of northern agriculture and conversations with other farmers had
broadened his views and he was more than ever progressive. He was now
thoroughly convinced of the great desirability of grass and stock for
conserving the soil and he was also wide awake to the need of better
tools and methods and wished to make his estate beautiful as well
as useful.

Much of his energy in 1784-85 was devoted to rebuilding his house and
improving his grounds, and to his trip to his Ohio lands--all of which
are described elsewhere. No diary exists for 1784 except that of the
trip to the Ohio, but from the diary of 1785 we learn that he found time
to experiment with plaster of Paris and powdered stone as fertilizers,
to sow clover, orchard grass, guinea grass and peas and to borrow a scow
with which to raise rich mud from the bed of the Potomac.

The growing poverty of his soil, in fact, was a subject to which he gave
much attention. He made use of manure when possible, but the supply of
this was limited and commercial fertilizers were unknown. As already
indicated, he was beginning the use of clover and other grasses, but he
was anxious to build up the soil more rapidly and the Potomac muck
seemed to him a possible answer to the problem. There was, as he said,
"an inexhaustible fund" of it, but the task of getting it on the land
was a heavy one. Having heard of a horse-power dredge called the
_Hippopotamus_ that was in use on the Delaware River, he made inquiries
concerning it but feared that it would not serve his purpose, as he
would have to go from one hundred to eight hundred or a thousand yards
from high water-mark for the mud--too far out for a horse to be
available. Mechanical difficulties and the cost of getting up the mud
proved too great for him--as they have proved too great even down to the
present--but he never gave up the idea and from time to time tried
experiments with small plots of ground that had been covered with the
mud. His enthusiasm on the subject was so great that Noah Webster, of
dictionary fame, who visited him in this period, says that the standing
toast at Mount Vernon was "Success to the mud!"

Every scientific agriculturist knows that erosion is one of the chief
causes of loss in soil fertility and that in the basins and deltas of
streams and rivers there is going to waste enough muck to make all of
our land rich. But the cost of getting this fertility back to the soil
has thus far proved too great for us to undertake the task of
restoration. It is conceivable, however, that the time may come when we
shall undertake the work in earnest and then the dream of Washington
will be realized.

The spring and summer of 1785 proved excessively dry, and the crops
suffered, as they always do in times of drought. The wheat yield was
poor and chinch bugs attacked the corn in such myriads that our Farmer
found "hundreds of them & their young under the blades and at the lower
joints of the Stock." By the middle of August "Nature had put on a
melancholy look." The corn was "_fired_ in most places to the Ear, with
little appearance of yielding if Rain should now come & a certainty of
making nothing if it did not."

Like millions of anxious farmers before and after him, he watched
eagerly for the rain that came not. He records in his diary that on
August 17th a good deal of rain fell far up the river, but as for his
fields--it tantalizingly passed by on the other side, and "not enough
fell here to wet a handkerchief." On the eighteenth, nineteenth and
twenty-second clouds and thunder and lightning again awakened hopes but
only slight sprinkles resulted. On the twenty-seventh nature at last
relented and, to his great satisfaction, there was a generous downpour.

The rain was beneficial to about a thousand grains of Cape of Good Hope
wheat that Washington had just sown and by the thirty-first he was able
to note that it was coming up. For several years thereafter he
experimented with this wheat. He found that it grew up very rank and
tried cutting some of it back. But the variety was not well adapted to
Virginia and ultimately he gave it up.

In this period he also tried Siberian wheat, put marl on sixteen square
rods of meadow[4], plowed under rye, and experimented with oats,
carrots, Eastern Shore peas, supposed to be strengthening to land, also
rib grass, burnet and various other things. He planted potatoes both
with and without manure and noted carefully the difference in yields. At
this time he favored planting corn in rows about ten feet apart, with
rows of potatoes, carrots, or peas between. He noted down that his
experience showed that corn ought to be planted not later than May
15th, preferably by the tenth or perhaps even as early as the first, in
which his practice would not differ much from that of to-day. But he
came to an erroneous conclusion when he decided that wheat ought to be
sown in August or at the latter end of July, for this was playing into
the hands of his enemy, the Hessian fly, which is particularly
destructive to early sown wheat. Later he seems to have changed his mind
on that point, for near the end of his life he instructed his manager to
get the wheat in by September 10th. Another custom which he was
advocating was that of fall and winter plowing and he had as much of it
done as time and weather would permit. All of his experiments in this
period were painstakingly set down and he even took the trouble in 1786
to index his agricultural notes and observations for that year.

[4] "On sixteen square rod of ground in my lower pasture, I put 140
Bushels of what we call Marle viz on 4 of these, No. Wt. corner were
placed 50 bushels--on 4 others So. Wt. corner 30 bushels--on 4 others
So. Et. corner 40 bushels--and on the remaining 4-20 bushels. This Marle
was spread on the rods in these proportions--to try first whether what
we have denominated to be Marie possesses any virtue as manure--and
secondly--if it does, the quantity proper for an acre." His ultimate
conclusion was that marl was of little benefit to land such as he owned
at Mount Vernon.

Many of his experiments were made in what he called his "Botanical
Garden," a plot of ground lying between the flower garden and the
spinner's house. But he had experimental plots on most or all of his
plantations, and each day as he made the rounds of his estate on
horseback he would examine how his plants were growing or would start
new experiments.

The record of failures is, of course, much greater than of successes,
but that is the experience of every scientific farmer or horticulturist
who ventures out of the beaten path. Even Burbank, the wizard, has his
failures--and many of them.

One of Washington's successes was what he called a "barrel plough." At
that time all seed, such as corn, wheat and oats had to be sown or
dropped by hand and then covered with a harrow or a hoe or something of
the kind. Washington tried to make a machine that would do the work more
expeditiously and succeeded, though it should be said that his plans
were not altogether original with him, as there was a plan for such a
machine in Duhamel and another was published by Arthur Young about this
time in the _Annals of Agriculture_, which Washington was now perusing
with much attention. Richard Peters also sent yet another plan.

Washington's drill, as we should call it to-day, consisted of a barrel
or hollow cylinder of wood mounted upon a wheeled plow and so arranged
that as the plow moved forward the barrel turned. In the barrel, holes
were cut or burnt through which the corn or other seed could drop into
tubes that ran down to the ground. By decreasing or increasing the
number of holes the grain could be planted thicker or thinner as
desired. To prevent the holes from choking up he found it expedient to
make them larger on the outside than on the inside, and he also found
that the machine worked better if the barrel was not kept too full of
seed. Behind the drills ran a light harrow or drag which covered the
seed, though in rough ground it was necessary to have a man follow after
with a hoe to assist the process. A string was fastened to this harrow
by which it could be lifted around when turning at the ends of the rows,
the drill itself being managed by a pair of handles.

Washington wrote to a friend that the drill would not "work to good
effect in land that is very full either of stumps, stones, or large
clods; but, where the ground is tolerably free from these and in good
tilth, and particularly in light land, I am certain you will find it
equal to your most sanguine expectation, for Indian corn, wheat, barley,
pease, or any other tolerably round grain, that you may wish to sow or
plant in this manner. I have sown oats very well with it, which is among
the most inconvenient and unfit grains for this machine.... A small bag,
containing about a peck of the seed you are sowing, is hung to the nails
on the right handle, and with a small tin cup the barrel is replenished
with convenience, whenever it is necessary, without loss of time, or
waiting to come up with the seed-bag at the end of the row."

As Washington says, the drill would probably work well under ideal
conditions, but there were features of it that would incline, I have no
doubt, to make its operator swear at times. There was a leather band
that ran about the barrel with holes corresponding to those in the
barrel, the purpose of the band being to prevent the seeds issuing out
of more than one hole at the same time. This band had to be "slackened
or braced" according to the influence of the atmosphere upon the
leather, and sometimes the holes in the band tended to gape and admit
seed between the band and the barrel, in which case Washington found it
expedient to rivet "a piece of sheet tin, copper, or brass, the width of
the band, and about four inches long, with a hole through it, the size
of the one in the leather."

Washington was, however, very proud of the drill, and it must have
worked fairly well, for he was not the man to continue to use a
worthless implement simply because he had made it. He even used it to
sow very small seed. In the summer of 1786 he records: "Having fixed a
Roller to the tale of my drill plow, & a brush between it and the
barrel, I sent it to Muddy Hole & sowed turnips in the intervals
of corn[5]."

[5] Another passage from his papers in which he mentions using his drill
plow is also illustrative of the emphasis he placed upon having the seed
bed for a crop properly prepared. The passage describes his sowing some
spring wheat and is as follows: "12th [of April, 1785].--Sowed sixteen
acres of Siberian wheat, with eighteen quarts, in rows between corn,
eight feet apart. This ground had been prepared in the following manner:
1. A single furrow; 2. another in the same to deepen it; 3. four furrows
to throw the earth back into the two first, which made ridges of five
furrows. These, being done some time ago, and the sowing retarded by
frequent rains, had got hard; therefore, 4. before the seed was sown,
these ridges were split again by running twice in the middle of them,
both times in the same furrow; 5. after which the ridges were harrowed;
and, 6. where the ground was lumpy, run a spiked roller with a harrow at
the tail of it, which was found very efficacious in breaking the clods
and pulverizing the earth, and would have done it perfectly, if there
had not been too much moisture remaining from the late rains. After
this, harrowing and rolling were necessary, the wheat was sown with the
drill plough on the reduced ridges eight feet apart, as above mentioned,
and harrowed in with the small harrow belonging to the plough. But it
should have been observed, that, after the ridges were split by the
middle double furrows, and before they were closed again by the harrow,
a little manure was sprinkled in."

No man better understood the value of good clean seed than did he, but
he had much trouble in satisfying his desires in this respect. Often the
seed he bought was foul with weed seeds, and at other times it would not
grow at all. Once he mentions having set the women and "weak hands" to
work picking wild onions out of some Eastern Shore oats that he
had bought.

He advocated planting the largest and finest potatoes instead of the
little ones, as some farmers out of false ideas of economy still make
the mistake of doing, and he followed the same principle that "the best
will produce the best" in selecting all seed.

He also appreciated the importance of getting just the right stand of
grain--not too many plants and not too few--upon his fields and
conducted investigations along this line. He laboriously calculated the
number of seed in a pound Troy of various seeds and ascertained, for
example, that the number of red clover was 71,000, of timothy 298,000,
of "New River Grass" 844,800 and of barley 8,925. Knowing these facts,
he was able to calculate how much ought to be sowed of a given seed
to the acre.

The spectacle of the former Commander of the Armies of a Continent
engaging in such minute labor is ridiculous or sublime, according to the

In the spring of the year that he helped to frame the Federal
Constitution he "Sowed the squares No. 2 & 4 at this place [Dogue Run]
with oats in the following manner--viz--the East half of No. 2 with
half a Bushel of Oats from George Town--and the west half with a Bushel
of Poland Oats--The east half of No. 4 with half a bushel of the Poland
Oats and the west half with a bushel of the George Town Oats. The
objects, and design of this experiment, was to ascertn. 3 things--1st.
which of these two kinds of Oats were best the George Town (which was a
good kind of the common Oats)--2d. whether two or four bushels to the
Acre was best--and 3d. the difference between ground dunged at the Rate
of 5 load or 200 bushels to the Acre and ground undunged."

This experiment is typical of a great many others and it resulted, of
course, in better yields on the manured ground and showed that two
bushels of seed were preferable to four. But if he ever set down the
result of the experiment as regards the varieties, the passage has
escaped me.

While at Fredericksburg this year visiting his mother and his sister
Betty Lewis he learned of an interesting method of raising potatoes
under straw and wrote down the details in his diary. A little later when
attending the Federal Convention he kept his eyes and ears open for
agricultural information. He learned how the Pennsylvanians cultivated
buckwheat and visited the farm of a certain Jones, who was getting good
results from the use of plaster of Paris. With his usual interest in
labor-saving machinery he inspected at Benjamin Franklin's a sort of
ironing machine called a mangle, "well calculated," he thought, "for
Table cloths & such articles as have not pleats & irregular foldings &
would be very useful in large families."

This year he had in wheat seven hundred acres, in grass five hundred
eighty acres, in oats four hundred acres, in corn seven hundred acres,
with several hundred more in buckwheat, barley, potatoes, peas, beans
and turnips.

In 1788 he raised one thousand eighty-eight bushels of potatoes on one
plantation, but they were not dug till December and in consequence some
were badly injured by the frost. An experiment that year was one of
transplanting carrots between rows of corn and it was not successful.

He worked hard in these years, but, as many another industrious farmer
has discovered, he found that he could do little unless nature smiled
and fickle nature persisted in frowning. In 1785 the rain seemed to
forget how to fall, and in 1786 how to stop falling. Some crops failed
or were very short and soon he was so hard up that he was anxious to
sell some lands or negroes to meet debts coming due. In February, 1786,
in sending fifteen guineas to his mother, he wrote:

"I have now demands upon me for more than L500, three hundred and forty
odd of which is due for the tax of 1786; and I know not where or when I
shall receive one shilling with which to pay it. In the last two years I
made no crops. In the first I was obliged to buy corn, and this year
have none to sell, and my wheat is so bad I can neither eat it myself
nor sell it to others, and tobacco I make none. Those who owe me money
cannot or will not pay it without suits, and to sue is to do nothing;
whilst my expenses, not from any extravagance, or an inclination on my
part to live splendidly, but for the absolute support of my family and
the visitors who are constantly here, are exceedingly high."

To bad crops were joined bad conditions throughout the country
generally. The government of the Confederation was dying of inanition,
America was flooded with depreciated currency, both state and
Continental. In western Massachusetts a rebellion broke out, the rebels
being largely discouraged debtors. A state of chaos seemed imminent and
would have resulted had not the Federal Convention, of which Washington
was a member, created a new government. Ultimately this government
brought order and financial stability, but all this took time and
Washington was so financially embarrassed in 1789 when he traveled to
New York to be inaugurated President that he had to borrow money to pay
the expenses of the journey.

After having set the wheels of government in motion he made an extended
trip through New England and whenever public festivities would permit he
examined into New England farm methods and took copious notes. On the
first day up from New York he saw good crops of corn mixed with pumpkins
and met four droves of beef cattle, "some of which were very fine--also
a Flock of Sheep.... We scarcely passed a farm house that did not abd.
in Geese." His judgment of New England stock was that the cattle were
"of a good quality and their hogs large, but rather long legged." The
shingle roofs, stone and brick chimneys, stone fences and cider making
all attracted his attention. The fact that wheat in that section
produced an average of fifteen bushels per acre and often twenty or
twenty-five was duly noted. On the whole he seems to have considered
the tour enjoyable and profitable in spite of the fact that on his
return through Connecticut the law against Sabbath traveling compelled
him to remain over Sunday at Perkins' Tavern and to attend church twice,
where he "heard very lame discourses from a Mr. Pond."

About 1785 Washington had begun a correspondence with Arthur Young and
also began to read his periodical called the _Annals of Agriculture_.
The _Annals_ convinced him more than ever of the superiority of the
English system of husbandry and not only gave him the idea for some of
the experiments that have been mentioned, but also made him very
desirous of adopting a regular and systematic course of cropping in
order to conserve his soil. Taking advantage of an offer made by Young,
he ordered (August 6, 1786) through him English plows, cabbage, turnip,
sainfoin, rye-grass and hop clover seed and eight bushels of winter
vetches; also some months later, velvet wheat, field beans, spring
barley, oats and more sainfoin seed. He furthermore expressed a wish for
"a plan of the most complete and useful farmyard, for farms of about 500
acres. In this I mean to comprehend the barn, and every appurtenance
which ought to be annexed to the yard."

Young was as good as his word. Although English law forbade the
exportation of some of these things--a fact of which Washington was not
aware--he and Sir John Sinclair prevailed upon Lord Grenville to issue a
special permit and in due course everything reached Mount Vernon. Part
of the seeds were somewhat injured by being put into the hold of the
vessel that brought them over, with the result that they overheated--a
thing that troubled Washington whenever he imported seeds--but on the
whole the consignment was in fair order, and our Farmer was
duly grateful.

The plows appeared excessively heavy to the Virginians who looked them
over, but a trial showed that they worked "exceedingly well."

To Young's plan for a barn and barnyard Washington made some additions
and constructed the barn upon Union Farm, building it of bricks that
were made on the estate. He later expressed a belief that it was "the
largest and most convenient one in this country." It has now disappeared
almost utterly, but Young's plan was subsequently engraved in
the _Annals_.

In return for the exertions of Young and Sinclair in his behalf
Washington sent over some American products and also took pains to
collect information for them as to the state of American agriculture.
His letters show an almost pathetic eagerness to please these good
friends and it is evident that in his farming operations he regarded
himself as one of Young's disciples. He was no egotist who believed that
because he had been a successful soldier and was now President of the
United States he could not learn anything from a specialist. The trait
was most commendable and one that is sadly lacking in many of his
countrymen, some of whom take pride in declaring that "these here
scientific fellers caint tell me nothin' about raisin' corn!"

Young and Sir John Sinclair were by no means his only agricultural
correspondents. Even Noah Webster dropped his legal and philological
work long enough in 1790 to propound a theory so startlingly modern in
its viewpoint that it is worthy of reproduction. Said he:

"While therefore I allow, in its full extent, the value of stable
manure, marl, plaster of Paris, lime, ashes, sea-weed, sea-shells &
salt, in enriching land, I believe none of them are absolutely
necessary, but that nature has provided an inexhaustible store of
manure, which is equally accessible to the rich and the poor, & which
may be collected & applied to land with very little labor and expense.
This store is the _atmosphere_, & the process by which the fertilizing
substance may be obtained is vegetation."

He added that such crops as oats, peas, beans and buckwheat should be
raised and plowed under to rot and that land should never be left bare.
As one peruses the letter he recalls that scientists of to-day tell us
that the air is largely made up of nitrogen, that plants are able to
"fix it," and he half expects to find Webster advocating "soil
innoculation" and speaking of "nodules" and "bacteria."

Throughout the period after the Revolution our Farmer's one greatest
concern was to conserve and restore his land. When looking for a new
manager he once wrote that the man must be, "above all, Midas like, one
who can convert everything he touches into manure, as the first
transmutation toward gold; in a word, one who can bring worn-out and
gullied lands into good tilth in the shortest time." He saved manure as
if it were already so much gold and hoped with its use and with
judicious rotation of crops to accomplish his object. "Unless some such
practice as this prevails," he wrote in 1794, "my fields will be growing
worse and worse every year, until the Crops will not defray the expense
of the culture of them."

He drew up elaborate plans for the rotation of crops on his different
farms. Not content with one plan, he often drew up several alternatives;
calculated the probable financial returns from each, allowing for the
cost of seed, cultivation and other expenses, and commented upon the
respective advantages from every point of view of the various plans. The
labor involved in such work was very great, but Washington was no
shirker. He was always up before sunrise, both in winter and summer, and
seems to have been so constituted that he was most contented when he had
something to do. Perhaps if he had had to engage in hard manual toil
every day he would have had less inclination for such employment, but he
worked with his own hands only intermittently, devoting his time mostly
to planning and oversight.

One such plan for Dogue Run Farm is given on the next page. To
understand it the reader should bear in mind that the farm contained
five hundred twenty-five arable acres divided into seven fields, each of
which contained about seventy-five acres.

No. of | | | | | | | |
Fields | 1793 | 1794 | 1795 | 1796 | 1797 | 1798 | 1799 |
| Corn | |Buckwheat | Clover | Clover | Clover |
3 | and | Wheat | for | Wheat | or | or | or |
|Potatoes| | Manure | | Grass | Grass | Grass |
| Clover | Corn | |Buckwheat | Clover | Clover |
4 | or | and | Wheat | for | Wheat | or | or |
| Grass |Potatoes| | Manure | | Grass | Grass |
| Clover | Clover | Corn | |Buckwheat | Clover |
5 | or | or | and | Wheat | for | Wheat | or |
| Grass | Grass |Potatoes| | Manure | | Grass |
| Clover | Clover | Clover | Corn | |Buckwheat |
6 | or | or | or | and | Wheat | for | Wheat |
| Grass | Grass | Grass |Potatoes| | Manure | |
| | Clover | Clover | Clover | Corn | |Buckwheat
7 | Wheat | or | or | or | and | Wheat | for |
| | Grass | Grass | Grass |Potatoes| | Manure |
|Buckwheat | Clover | Clover | Clover | Corn | |
1 | for | Wheat | or | or | or | and | Wheat |
| Manure | | Grass | Grass | Grass |Potatoes| |
| |Buckwheat | Clover | Clover | Clover | Cornr |
2 | Wheat | for | Wheat | or | or | or | and |
| | Manure | | Grass | Grass | Grass |Potatoes|

Of this rotation he noted that it "favors the land
very much; inasmuch as there are but three corn
crops [i.e. grain crops] taken in seven years from
any field, & the first of the wheat crops is followed
by a Buck Wheat manure for the second Wheat
Crop, wch. is to succeed it; & which by being laid
to Clover or Grass & continued therein three years
will a ford much Mowing or Grassing, according as
the Seasons happen to be, besides being a restoration
to the Soil--But the produce of the sale of the
Crops is small, unless encreased by the improving
state of the fields. Nor will the Grain for the use of
the Farm be adequate to the consumption of it in
this Course, and this is an essential object to attend to."

In a second table he estimated the amount of work that would be required
each year to carry out this plan of rotation, assuming that one plow
would break up three-fourths of an acre per day. This amount is hardly
half what an energetic farmer with a good team of horses will now turn
over in a day with an ordinary walking plow, but the negro farmer
lacked ambition, the plows were cumbersome, and much of the work was
done with plodding oxen. The table follows:


He estimated that seventy-five acres of corn would yield, at twelve and
a half bushels per acre, 937-1/2 bushels, worth at two shillings and
sixpence per bushel L117.3.9. In this field potatoes would be planted
between the rows of corn and would produce, at twelve and a half bushels
per acre, 937-1/2 bushels, worth at one shilling per bushel L46.17.6.
Two fields in wheat, a total of one hundred fifty acres, at ten bushels
per acre, would yield one thousand five hundred bushels, worth at five
shillings per bushel three hundred seventy-five pounds. Three fields in
clover and grass and the field of buckwheat to be turned under for
manure would yield no money return. In other words the whole farm would
produce three thousand three hundred seventy-five bushels of grain and
potatoes worth a total of L539.1.3.

A second alternative plan would yield crops worth L614.1.3; a third,
about the same; a fourth, L689.1.3; a fifth, providing for two hundred
twenty-five acres of wheat, L801.11.0; a sixth, L764. Number five would
be most productive, but he noted that it would seriously reduce the
land. Number six would be "the 2d. most productive Rotation, but the
fields receive no rest," as it provided for neither grass nor pasture,
while the plowing required would exceed that of any of the other plans
by two hundred eighty days.

On a small scale he tried growing cotton, Botany Bay grass, hemp, white
nankeen grass and various other products. He experimented with deep soil
plowing by running twice in the same furrow and also cultivated some
wheat that had been drilled in rows instead of broadcasted.

In 1793 he built a new sixteen-sided barn on the

[ILLUSTRATION: Part of Washington's Plan for His Sixteen-Sided Barn]

Dogue Run Farm. The plan of this barn, drawn by Washington himself, is
still preserved and is reproduced herewith. He calculated that one
hundred and forty thousand bricks would be required for it and these
were made and burnt upon the estate. The barn was particularly notable
for a threshing floor thirty feet square, with interstices one and a
half inches wide left between the floor boards so that the grain when
trodden out by horses or beat out with flails would fall through to the
floor below, leaving the straw above.

This floor was to furnish an illustration of what Washington called "the
almost impossibility of putting the overseers of this country out of the
track they have been accustomed to walk in. I have one of the most
convenient barns in this or perhaps any other country, where thirty
hands may with great ease be employed in threshing. Half the wheat of
the farm was actually stowed in this barn in the straw by my order, for
threshing; notwithstanding, when I came home about the middle of
September, I found a treading yard not thirty feet from the barn-door,
the wheat again brought out of the barn, and horses treading it out in
an open exposure, liable to the vicissitudes of the weather."

I think we may safely conclude that this was one of those rare
occasions when George lost his temper and "went up in the air!"

Under any conditions treading or flailing out wheat was a slow and
unsatisfactory process and, as Washington grew great quantities of this
grain, he was alert for a better method. We know that he made inquiries
of Arthur Young concerning a threshing machine invented by a certain
Winlaw and pictured and described in volume six of the _Annals_, and in
1790 he watched the operation of Baron Poelnitz's mill on the Winlaw
model near New York City. This mill was operated by two men and was
capable of threshing about two bushels of wheat per hour--pretty slow
work as compared with that of a modern thresher. And the grain had to be
winnowed, or passed through a fan afterward to separate it from
the chaff.

Finally in 1797 he erected a machine on plans evolved by William Booker,
who came to Mount Vernon and oversaw the construction. Next April he
wrote to Booker that the machine "has by no means answered your
expectations or mine," At first it threshed not quite fifty bushels per
day, then fell to less than twenty-five, and ultimately got out of
order before five hundred bushels had been threshed, though it had used
up two bands costing between eight and ten pounds. Booker replied that
he had now greatly improved his invention and would come to Mount Vernon
and make these additions, but whether or not he ever did so I have
failed to discover.

By 1793 the burden of the estate had become so heavy that Washington
decided to rent all of it except the Mansion House Farm and accordingly
he wrote to Arthur Young telling his desire in the hope that Englishmen
might be found to take it over. One man, Parkinson, of whom more
hereafter, came to America and looked at one of the farms, but decided
not to rent it. Washington's elaborate description of his land in his
letter to Young, with an accompanying map, forms one of our best sources
of information regarding Mount Vernon, so that we may be grateful that
he had the intention even though nothing came of it. The whole of Mount
Vernon continued to be cultivated as before until the last year of his
life when he rented Dogue Run Farm to his nephew, Lawrence Lewis.

As a public man he was anxious to improve the general state of American
agriculture and in his last annual message to Congress recommended the
establishment of a board of agriculture to collect and diffuse
information and "by premiums and small pecuniary aids to encourage and
assist a spirit of discovery and improvement." In this recommendation
the example of the English Board of Agriculture and the influence of his
friend Arthur Young are discernible. It would have been well for the
country if Congress had heeded the advice, but public opinion was not
then educated to the need of such a step and almost a century passed
before anything of much importance was done by the national government
to improve the state of American agriculture.

In farming as in politics Washington was no standpatter. Notwithstanding
many discouragements, he could not be kept from trying new things, and
he furnished his farms with every kind of improved tool and implement
calculated to do better work. At his death he owned not only threshing
machines and a Dutch fan, but a wheat drill, a corn drill, a machine for
gathering clover seed and another for raking up wheat. Yet most of his
countrymen remained content to drop corn by hand, to broadcast their
wheat, to tread out their grain and otherwise to follow methods as old
as the days of Abel for at least another half century.

He was the first American conservationist. He realized that man owes a
duty to the future just as he owes a debt to the past. He deplored the
already developing policy of robber exploitation by which our soil and
forests have been despoiled, for he foresaw the bitter fruits which such
a policy must produce, and indeed was already producing on the fields of
Virginia. He was no misanthropic cynic to exclaim, "What has posterity
ever done for us that we should concern ourselves for posterity?" His
care for the lands of Mount Vernon was evidence of the God-given trait
imbedded in the best of men to transmit unimpaired to future generations
what has been handed down to them.

His agricultural career has its lessons for us, even though we should
not do well to follow some of his methods. The lessons lie rather in his
conception of farming as an honorable occupation capable of being put on
a better and more scientific basis by the application of brains and
intelligence; in his open-minded and progressive seeking after better
ways. Many of his experiments failed, it is true, but for his time he
was a great Farmer, just as he was a great Patriot, Soldier and
Statesman. Patient, hard-working, methodical, willing to sacrifice his
own interests to those of the general good, he was one of those men who
have helped raise mankind from the level of the brute and his whole
career reflects credit upon human nature.

Peace hath its victories no less renowned than war, and the picture of
the American Cincinnatus striving as earnestly on the green fields of
Mount Vernon as he did upon the scarlet ones of Monmouth and Brandywine,
is one that the world can not afford to forget.



A various times in his career Washington raised deer, turkeys, hogs,
cattle, geese, negroes and various other forms of live stock, but his
greatest interest seems to have been reserved for horses, sheep
and mules.

From his diaries and other papers that have come down to us it is easy
to see that during his early married life he paid most attention to his
horses. In 1760 he kept a stallion both for his own mares and for those
of his neighbors, and we find many entries concerning the animal.
Successors were "Leonidas," "Samson," "Steady," "Traveller" and
"Magnolia," the last a full-blooded Arabian and probably the finest
beast he ever owned. When away from home Washington now and then
directed the manager to advertise the animal then reigning or to exhibit
him in public places such as fairs. Mares brought to the stallion were
kept upon pasture, and foal was guaranteed. Many times the General
complained of the difficulty of collecting fees.

During the Revolution he bought twenty-seven worn-out army mares for
breeding purposes and soon after he became President he purchased at
Lancaster, Pennsylvania, thirteen fine animals for the same use. These
last cost him a total of L317.17.6, the price of the highest being
L25.7.6 and of the cheapest L22.10. These mares were unusually good
animals, as an ordinary beast would have cost only five or six pounds.

In November, 1785, he had on his various Mount Vernon farms a total of
one hundred thirty horses, including the Arabian already mentioned.
Among the twenty-one animals kept at the Mansion House were his old war
horses "Nelson" and "Blewskin," who after bearing their master through
the smoke and dangers of many battles lived in peace to a ripe old age
on the green fields of Virginia.

In his last days he bought two of the easy-gaited animals known as
Narragansetts, a breed, some readers will recall, described at some
length by Cooper in _The Last of the Mohicans._ A peculiarity of these
beasts was that they moved both legs on a side forward at the same time,
that is, they were pacers. Washington's two proved somewhat skittish,
and one of them was responsible for the only fall from horseback that we
have any record of his receiving. In company with Major Lewis, Mr.
Peake, young George Washington Custis and a groom he was returning in
the evening from Alexandria and dismounted for a few moments near a fire
on the roadside. When he attempted to mount again the horse sprang
forward suddenly and threw him. The others jumped from their horses to
assist him, but the old man got up quickly, brushed his clothes and
explained that he had been thrown only because he had not yet got
seated. All the horses meanwhile had run away and the party started to
walk four miles home, but luckily some negroes along the road caught the
fugitives and brought them back. Washington insisted upon mounting his
animal again and rode home without further incident. This episode
happened only a few weeks before his death.

Like every farmer he found that his horses had a way of growing old.
Those with which he had personal associations, like "Blueskin" and
"Nelson," he kept until they died of old age. With others he sometimes
followed a different course. In 1792 we find his manager, Whiting,
writing: "We have several Old Horses that are not worth keeping thro
winter. One at Ferry has not done one days work these 18 Months. 2 at
Muddy hole one a horse with the Pole evil which I think will not get
well the other an Old Mare was not capable of work last summer. Likewise
the Horse called old Chatham and the Lame Horse that used to go in the
Waggon now in a one horse Cart. If any thing could be Got for them it
might be well but they are not worth keeping after Christmas." No doubt
a sentimental person would say that Washington ought to have kept these
old servants, but he had many other superannuated servants of the human
kind upon his hands, so he replied that Whiting might dispose of the old
horses "as you judge best for my interest."

Now and then his horses met with accidents. Thus on February 22, 1760,
his horse "Jolly" got his right foreleg "mashed to pieces," probably by
a falling limb. "Did it up as well as I could this night." "Saturday,
Feb. 23d. Had the Horse Slung upon Canvas and his leg fresh set,
following Markleham's directions as well as I could." Two days later the
horse fell out of the sling and hurt himself so badly that he had to
be killed.

Of Washington's skill as a trainer of horses his friend De Chastellux
writes thus: "The weather being fair, on the 26th, I got on horseback,
after breakfasting with the general--he was so attentive as to give me
the horse he rode, the day of my arrival, which I had greatly
commended--I found him as good as he is handsome; but above all,
perfectly well broke, and well trained, having a good mouth, easy in
hand, and stopping short in a gallop without bearing the bit--I mention
these minute particulars, because it is the general himself who breaks
all his own horses; and he is a very excellent and bold horseman,
leaping the highest fences, and going extremely quick, without standing
upon his stirrups, bearing on the bridle, or letting his horse run
wild,--circumstances which young men look upon as so essential a part of
English horsemanship, that they would rather break a leg or an arm than
renounce them."

Comparatively few farmers in Virginia kept sheep, yet as early as 1758
Washington's overseer at Mount Vernon reported sixty-five old sheep and
forty-eight lambs; seven years later the total number was one hundred
fifty-six. The next year he records that he "put my English Ram Lamb to
65 Ewes," so that evidently he was trying to improve the breed. What
variety this ram belonged to he does not say. Near the end of his career
he had some of Bakewell's breed, an English variety that put on fat
rapidly and hence were particularly desirable for mutton.

During his long absences from home his sheep suffered grievously, for
sheep require a skilled care that few of his managers or overseers knew
how to give. But sheep were an important feature of the English
agriculture that he imitated, and he persisted in keeping them. In 1793
he had over six hundred.

"Before I left home in the spring of 1789," he wrote to Arthur Young, "I
had improved that species of my stock so much as to get 5-1/4 lbs of
Wool as the average of the fleeces of my whole flock,--and at the last
shearing they did not yield me 2-1/2 lbs.--By procuring (if I am able)
good rams and giving the necessary attention, I hope to get them up
again for they are with me, as you have declared them to be with you,
that part of my stock in which I most delight."

In 1789, by request, he sent Young "a fleece of a midling size and
quality." Young had this made up into cloth and returned it to
the General.

In 1793 we find our Farmer giving such instructions to Whiting as to
cull out the unthrifty sheep and transform them into mutton and to
choose a few of the best young males to keep as rams. Whiting, however,
did not manage the flock well, for the following February we find
Pearce, the new manager, writing:

"I am sorry to have to inform you that the stock of sheep at Both Union
and Dogue Run farms are Some of them Dicing Every Week--& a great many
of Them will be lost, let what will be done--Since I came I have had
shelters made for them & Troughs to feed them In & to give them salt--&
have attended to them myself & was In hopes to have saved those that I
found to be weak, but they were too far gone--and Several of the young
Cattle at Dogue Run was past all Recovery when I come & some have died
already & several more I am afraid must die before spring, they are so
very poor and weak."

Washington, according to his own account, was the first American to
attempt the raising of mules. Soon after the Revolution he asked our
representative in Spain to ascertain whether it would be possible "to
procure permission to extract a Jack ass of the best breed." At that
time the exportation of these animals from Spain was forbidden by law,
but Florida Blanca, the Spanish minister of state, brought the matter
to the attention of the king, who in a fit of generosity proceeded to
send the American hero two jacks and two jennets. One of the jacks died
on the way over, but the other animals, in charge of a Spanish
caretaker, reached Boston, and Washington despatched an overseer to
escort them to Mount Vernon, where they arrived on the fifth of
December, 1785. An interpreter named Captain Sullivan was brought down
from Alexandria, and through him the General propounded to the caretaker
many grave inquiries regarding the care of the beasts, the answers being
carefully set down in writing.

[ILLUSTRATION: Bill of Lading for "Royal Gift"]

"Royal Gift," as he was duly christened, probably by the negro groom,
Peter, who seems to have considered it beneath his dignity to minister
to any but royalty, was a large animal. According to careful
measurements taken on the porch at Mount Vernon he was fifteen hands
high, and his body and limbs were very large in proportion to his
height; his ears were fourteen inches long, and his vocal cords were
good. He was, however, a sluggish beast, and the sea voyage had affected
him so unfavorably that for some time he was of little use. In letters
to Lafayette and others Washington commented facetiously upon the
beast's failure to appreciate "republican enjoyment." Ultimately,
however, "Royal Gift" recovered his strength and ambition and proved a
valuable piece of property. He was presently sent on a lour of the
South, and while in South Carolina was in the charge of Colonel William
Washington, a hero of the Cowpens and many other battles. The profits
from the tour amounted to $678.64, yet poor "Royal Gift" seems to have
experienced some rough usage on the way thither, arriving lame and thin
and in a generally debilitated condition. The General wrote to the
Colonel about it thus:

"From accounts which I have received from some gentlemen in Virginia he
was most abominably treated on the journey by the man to whom he was
entrusted;--for, instead of moving him slowly and steadily along as he
ought, he was prancing (with the Jack) from one public meeting or place
to another in a gate which could not but prove injurious to an animal
who had hardly ever been out of a walk before--and afterward, I presume,
(in order to recover lost time) rushed him beyond what he was able to
bear the remainder of the journey."

No doubt the beast aroused great curiosity along the way among people
who had never before set eyes upon such a creature. We can well believe
that the cry, "General Washington's jackass is coming!" was always
sufficient to attract a gaping crowd. And many would be the sage
comments upon the animal's voice and appearance.

In 1786 Lafayette sent Washington from the island of Malta another jack
and two jennets, besides some Chinese pheasants and partridges. The
animals landed at Baltimore in November and reached Mount Vernon in good
condition later in the month. To Campion, the man who accompanied them,
Washington gave "30 Louis dores for his trouble." The new jack, the
"Knight of Malta," as he was called, was a smaller beast than "Royal
Gift," and his ears measured only twelve inches, but he was well formed
and had the ferocity of a tiger.

By crossing the two strains Washington ultimately obtained a jack called
"Compound," who united in his person the size and strength of the "Gift"
with the courage and activity of the "Knight." The General also raised
many mules, which he found to be good workers and more cheaply kept in
condition than horses.

Henceforward the peaceful quiet of Mount Vernon was broken many times a
day by sounds which, if not musical or mellifluous, were at least
jubilant and joyous.

Evidently the sounds in no way disturbed the General, for in 1788 we
find him describing the acquisitions in enthusiastic terms to Arthur
Young. He called the mules "a very excellent race of animals," cheap to
keep and willing workers. Recalling, perhaps, that a king's son once
rode upon a mule, he proposes to breed heavy ones from "Royal Gift" for
draft purposes and lighter ones from the "Knight" for saddle or
carriage. He adds: "Indeed in a few years, I intend to drive no other in
my carriage, having appropriated for the sole purpose of breeding them,
upwards of twenty of my best mares."

Ah, friend George, what would the world not give to see thee and thy
wife Martha driving in the Mount Vernon coach down Pennsylvania Avenue
behind four such long-eared beasts!

In all his stock raising, as in most other matters, Washington was
greatly hampered by the carelessness of his overseers and slaves. It is
notorious that free negroes will often forget or fail to water and feed
their own horses, and it may easily be believed that when not influenced
by fear, slaves would neglect the stock of their master. Among the
General's papers I have found a list of the animals that died upon his
Mount Vernon estate from April 16, 1789, to December 25, 1790. In that
period of about twenty months he lost thirty-three horses, thirty-two
cattle and sixty-five sheep! Considering the number of stock he had, a
fifth of that loss would have been excessive. During most of the period
he was away from home looking after the affairs of the nation and in his
absence his own affairs suffered.

Hardly a report of his manager did not contain some bad news. Thus one
of January, 1791, states that "the Young black Brood Mare, with a long
tail, which Came from Pennsylvania, said to be four Years old next
spring ... was found with her thigh broke quite in two." This happened
on the Mansion House farm. On another farm a sheep was reported to have
been killed by dogs while a second had died suddenly, perhaps from
eating some poisonous plant.

Dogs, in fact, constituted an ever present menace to the sheep and it
was only by constant watchfulness that the owner kept his negroes from
overrunning the place with worthless curs. In 1792 he wrote to his
manager: "I not only approve of your killing those Dogs which have been
the occasion of the late loss, & of thinning the Plantations of others,
but give it as a positive order that after saying what dog, or dogs
shall remain, if any negro presumes under any pretence whatsoever, to
preserve, or bring one into the family, that he shall be severely
punished, and the dog hanged.--I was obliged to adopt this practice
whilst I resided at home, and from the same motive, that is for the
preservation of my Sheep and Hogs.... It is not for any good purpose
Negroes raise, and keep dogs; but to aid them in their night robberies;
for it is astonishing to see the command under which the dogs are."

After the Revolution, in imitation of English farmers, he made use of
hurdles in pasturing sheep and milk cows. Thereby he secured more even
distribution of the manure, which was one of his main objects in
raising stock.

Washington's interest in cattle seems to have been less intense than was
the case with some other kinds of stock. He always had a great number of
cows, bulls, oxen and calves upon his farms--in 1793 over three hundred
"black cattle" of all sorts. He was accustomed to brand his cattle with
the letters "G.W.," the location of the brand on the body indicating
the farm on which the beast was raised. To what extent he endeavored to
improve the breed of his cattle I am unable to say, but I have found
that as early as 1770 he owned an English bull, which in July he killed
and sold to the crew of the British frigate _Boston_, which lay in the
Potomac off his estate. In 1797 he made inquiries looking toward the
purchase of an improved bull calf from a cattle breeder named Gough, but
upon learning that the price was two hundred dollars he decided not to
invest. Gough, however, heard of Washington's interest in his animals,
and being an admirer of the General, gave him a calf. An English farmer,
Parkinson, who saw the animal in 1798, describes him in terms the
reverse of enthusiastic, and of this more hereafter.

A large part of the heavy work on all the farms was done by oxen. In
November, 1785, there were thirteen yoke of these beasts on the Mount
Vernon estate and the number was sometimes still larger. In 1786
Washington recorded putting "a Collar on a large Bull in order to break
him to the draft.--at first he was sulky and restive but came to by
degrees." The owner always aimed to have enough oxen broken so that none
would have to be worked too hard, but he did not always succeed in his
aim. When they attained the age of eight years the oxen were usually
fattened and killed for beef.

The management of the milk cows seems to have been very poor. In May,
1793, we find the absent owner writing to his manager: "If for the sake
of making a little butter (for which I shall get scarcely anything) my
calves are starved, & die, it may be compared to stopping the spigot,
and opening the faucit." Evidently the making of butter was almost
totally discontinued, for in his last instructions, completed only a few
days before his death, he wrote: "And It is hoped and will be expected,
that more effectual measures will be pursued to make butter another
year; for it is almost beyond belief, that from 101 Cows actually
reported on a late enumeration of the Cattle, that I am obliged to _buy
butter_ for the use of my family."

In his later years he became somewhat interested in the best methods of
feeding cattle and once suggested that the experiment be tried of
fattening one bullock on potatoes, another on corn, and a third on a
mixture of both, "keeping an exact account of the time they are fatting,
and what is eaten of each, and of hay, by the different steers; that a
judgment may be formed of the best and least expensive mode of stall
feeding beef for market, or for my own use."

During his early farming operations his swine probably differed little
if at all from the razor-backs of his neighbors. They ranged half wild
in the woods in summer and he once expressed the opinion that fully half
the pigs raised were stolen by the slaves, who loved roast pork fully as
well as did their master. In the fall the shoats were shut up to fatten.
More than a hundred were required each year to furnish meat for the
people on the estate; the average weight was usually less than one
hundred forty pounds. Farmers in the Middle West would to-day have their
Poland Chinas or Durocs of the same age weighing two hundred fifty to
three hundred pounds. Still the smallness of Washington's animals does
not necessarily indicate such bad management as may at first glance
appear. Until of considerable size the pigs practically made their own
living, eating roots and mast in the woods, and they did not require
much grain except during fattening time. And, after all, as the story
has it, "what's time to a hawg?"

In his later years he seems to have taken more interest in his pigs. By
1786 he had decided that when fattening they ought to be put into
closed pens with a plank floor, a roof, running water and good troughs.
A visitor to Mount Vernon in 1798 says that he had "about 150 of the
Guinea kind, with short legs and hollow back," so it is evident that he
was experimenting with new breeds. These Guinea swine were red in color,
and it is said that the breed was brought to America from west Africa by
slave traders. It was to these animals that Washington fed the
by-products of his distillery.

In the slaughtering of animals he tried experiments as he did in so many
other matters. In 1768 he killed a wether sheep which weighed one
hundred three pounds gross. He found that it made sixty pounds of meat
worth three pence per pound, five and a half of tallow at seven and a
half pence, three of wool at fifteen pence, and the skin was worth one
shilling and three pence, a total of L1.3.5. One object of such
experiments was to ascertain whether it was more profitable to butcher
animals or sell them on the hoof.

Washington also raised chickens, turkeys, swans, ducks, geese and
various other birds and beasts. In 1788 Gouverneur Morris sent him two
Chinese pigs and with them "a pair of Chinese geese, which are really
the foolishest geese I ever beheld; for they choose all times for
setting but in the spring, and one of them is even now [November]
actually engaged in that business." Of some golden pheasants that had
been brought from China the General said that before seeing the birds he
had considered that pictures of them must be "only works of fancy, but
now I find them to be only Portraits."

The fact is that his friends and admirers sent him so many feathered or
furred creatures that toward the end of his life he was the proprietor
of a considerable zoo.

Notwithstanding mismanagement by his employees and slaves, Washington
accumulated much valuable domestic stock. In his will, made the year of
his death, he lists the following: "1 Covering horse, 5 Cob. horses--4
Riding do--Six brood mares--20 working horses and mares,--2 Covering
jacks & 3 young ones 10 she asses--42 working mules--15 younger ones.
329 head of horned cattle. 640 head of Sheep, and the large stock of
hogs, the precise number unknown." He further states that his manager
believes the stock worth seven thousand pounds, but he conservatively
sets it down at fifteen thousand six hundred fifty-three dollars.



Washington's work as a horticulturist prior to the educating influences
of the Revolution was mostly utilitarian. That he had a peach orchard as
early as 1760 is proven by an entry in his diary for February 22: "Laid
in part, the Worm of a fence round the Peach orchard." Just where this
orchard stood I am not quite certain, but it was probably on the slope
near the old tomb.

He learned how to propagate and "wed" his own trees and in 1763 was
particularly active. On March 21st he recorded that he had "Grafted 40
cherries, viz 12 Bullock Hearts, 18 very fine May Cherry, 10 Coronation.
Also grafted 12 Magnum Bonum Plums. Also planted 4 Nuts of the
Mediterranean Pame in the Pen where the Chestnut grows--sticks by East.
Note, the Cherrys and Plums came from Collo. Masons Nuts from Mr.
Gr[een's.] Set out 55 cuttings of the Madeira Grape."

A little later he grafted quinces on pear and apple stocks; also he
grafted "Spanish pairs," "Butter pears," "Bergamy Pears," "Newtown
Pippins," "43 of the Maryland Red Strick," etc., and transplanted
thirty-five young crab scions. These scions he obtained by planting the
pumice of wild crab apples from which cider had been made. They were
supposed to make hardier stocks than those grown from ordinary seeds.

He grafted many cherries, plums, etc., in March, 1764, and yet again in
the spring of 1765, when he put English mulberry scions on wild mulberry
stocks. In that year "Peter Green came to me a Gardener." In 1768 and
1771 he planted grapes in the inclosure below the vegetable garden and
in March, 1775, he again grafted cherries and also planted peach seeds
and seeds of the "Mississippi nut" or pecan.

Long before this he had begun to gather fruits from his early trees and
vines. Being untroubled by San Jose scale and many other pests that now
make life miserable to the fruit grower, he grew fine products and no
doubt enjoyed them.

His esthetic sense was not yet fully developed, but he was always
desirous of having his possessions make a good appearance, and by 1768
was beginning to think of beautifying his grounds. In that year he
expressed a wish that he later carried out, namely to have about his
mansion house every possible specimen of native tree or shrub noted for
beauty of form, leaf or flower.

Even amid the trials of the Revolution this desire was not forgotten. In
1782 he directed Lund Washington, his manager, to plant locusts and
other ornamental trees and shrubs at the ends of the house. He wrote
that such trees would be more likely to live if taken from the open
fields than from the woods because the change of environment would be
less pronounced. To what extent the work was carried I have been unable
to ascertain, for, as elsewhere stated, very little of his
correspondence with his manager during these years survives.

He returned from the Revolution with a strong desire to beautify his
estate, a desire in part due no doubt to seeing beautiful homes
elsewhere and to contact with cultured people, both Americans and
foreigners. One of his first tasks was to rebuild and enlarge his house.
From a small house of eight rooms he transformed Mount Vernon into the
present large mansion, ninety-six feet and four inches long by
thirty-two feet in depth, with two floors and an attic, an immense
cellar and the magnificent portico overlooking the Potomac. The plans
and specifications he drew with his own hands, and those who have
visited the place will hardly deny that the mansion fits well into its
setting and that, architects tell us, is a prime consideration. The
flagstones for the floor of the portico he imported from Whitehaven,
England, and these still remain in place, though many are cracked
or broken.

The portico runs the entire length of the house, is over fourteen feet
deep and its floor is one hundred twenty-four feet ten and one-half
inches above high water-mark, according to calculations made by
Washington himself. From it one commands miles of the Potomac and of the
Maryland shore and there are few such noble prospects in America.
Washington owned a telescope and spy glasses and with them could watch
the movements of ships and boats on the river. The portico was a sort of
trysting place for the family and visitors on summer afternoons and
evenings, and some of the thirty or so Windsor chairs bought for it are
still in existence.

[Illustration: West Front of Mansion House, Showing Bowling Green and
Part of Serpentine Drive]

[Illustration: Experimental Plot, with Servants' Quarters (restored) in

This was the second time our Farmer reconstructed his house, as in
1758-60 he had made numerous alterations[6]. In 1758 he paid John
Patterson L328.0.5 for work done upon it, and the whole house was pretty
thoroughly renovated and remodeled in preparation for the reception of a
new mistress. In March, 1760, we find the owner contracting with William
Triplett "to build me two houses in front of my house (plastering them
also) and running walls to them from the great house and from the great
house to the washouse and kitchen also." By the "front" he means the
west front, as that part toward the river is really the rear of the
mansion. Hitherto the house had stood detached and these walls were the
originals of the colonnades, still a noticeable feature of the building.

[6] In 1775 a Frenchman was engaged to panel the main hall and apply
stucco ornaments to the ceilings of the parlor and dining-room.

Owing to the absence of a diary of his home activities during 1784 we
can not trace in detail his work that year upon either his house or
grounds, but we know such facts as that he was ordering materials for
the house and that he had his French friend Malesherbes and others
collecting vines and plants for him.

With January 1, 1785, he began a new diary, and from it we ascertain
that on the twelfth, on a ride about his estate, he observed many trees
and shrubs suitable for transplanting. Thereafter he rarely rode out
without noticing some crab, holly, magnolia, pine or other young tree
that would serve his purpose. He was more alive to the beauties of
nature than he had once been, or at least more inclined to comment upon
them. On an April day he notes that "the flower of the Sassafras was
fully out and looked well--an intermixture of this and Red bud I
conceive would look very pretty--the latter crowned with the former or
vice versa." He was no gushing spring poet, but when the sap was
running, the flowers blooming and the birds singing he felt it all in
his heart--perhaps more deeply than do some who say more about it.

On January 19th of this year he began laying out his grounds on a new
plan. This plan, as completed, provided for sunken walls or "Haw has!"
at the ends of the mansion, and on the west front a large elliptical
lawn or bowling green such as still exists there. Along the sides of the
lawn he laid out a serpentine drive or carriage way, to be bordered with
a great variety of shade trees on each side and a "Wilderness" on the
outside. At the extreme west, where the entrance stood, the trees were
omitted so that from the house one could see down a long vista, cut
through the oaks and evergreens, the lodge gate three-quarters of a mile
away. On each side of the opening in the lawn stood a small artificial
mound, and just in front of the house a sun-dial by which each day, when
the weather was clear, he set his watch. A sun-dial stands on the same
spot now but, alas, it is not the original. That was given away or sold
by one of the subsequent owners.

This same spring our Farmer records planting ivy, limes and lindens sent
by his good friend Governor Clinton of New York; lilacs, mock oranges,
aspen, mulberries, black gums, berried thorns, locusts, sassafras,
magnolia, crabs, service berries, catalpas, papaws, honey locusts, a
live oak from Norfolk, yews, aspens, swamp berries, hemlocks, twelve
horse chestnut sent by "Light Horse Harry" Lee, twelve cuttings of tree
box, buckeye nuts brought by him the preceding year from the mouth of
Cheat River, eight nuts from a tree called "the Kentucke Coffee tree," a
row of shell bark hickory nuts from New York, some filberts from "sister
Lewis." His brother John sent him four barrels of holly seeds, which he
sowed in the semicircle north of the front gate; in the south
semicircle, from the kitchen to the south "Haw ha!"; and from the
servants' hall to the north "Haw ha!"

Nor did he neglect more utilitarian work, for in April he grafted many
cherries, pears and other fruit trees. Such work was continued at
intervals till his death.

In raising fruit, as in many other things, he was troubled by the
thieving propensities of the slaves. September tenth of this year he
records that because of the scarcity of apples and the depredations that
were being committed "every Night upon the few I have, I found it
necessary (tho much too early) to gather and put them up for
Winter use."

The spring of 1785 proved an exceptionally dry one and he was forced to
be absent from home several days, leaving the care of the trees and
shrubs to his careless lazy servants. He records that they _said_ that
they watered them according to directions, but he seems to doubt it. At
all events, "Most of my transplanted trees have a sickly look.--The
small Pines in the Wilderness are entirely dead.--The larger ones in the
Walks, for the most part appear to be alive (as yet)--almost the whole
of the Holly are dead--many of the Ivy, wch. before looked healthy &
well seem to be declining--few of the Crab trees had put forth leaves;
not a single Ash tree has unfolded its buds; whether owing to the trees
declining or any other cause, I know not.... The lime trees, which had
some appearance of Budding when I went away, are now withering--and the
Horse chestnut & Tree box from Colo. Harry Lee's discover little signs
of shooting.--the Hemlock is almost entirely dead, & bereft of their
leaves;--and so are the live Oak.--In short half the Trees in the
Shrubberies & many in the Walk are dead & declin[in]g."

Nevertheless he refused to be discouraged and proceeded to plant
forty-eight mahogany tree seeds brought by his nephew, George A.
Washington, from the West Indies. He also set out a "Palmetto Royal" in
the garden and sowed or planted sandbox trees, palmettos, physic nuts,
pride of Chinas, live oaks, accacias, bird peppers, "Caya pepper,"
privet, guinea grass, and a great variety of Chinese grasses, the names
of which, such as _"In che fa," "all san fa" "se lon fa,"_ he gravely
set down in his diary.

The dry weather continued and presently he notes that all the poplars,
black gums and pines, most of the mulberries, all of the crab apples
and papaws, most of the hemlock and sassafras, and several of the cedars
are dead, while the tops of the live oaks are dead but shoots are coming
up from the trunks and roots. The Chinese grasses are in a bad way, and
those that have come up are almost entirely destroyed either by insects
or drought. None of this grass survived the winter, though he took the
trouble to cover it with straw.

During the fall of 1785 and spring of 1786 he sowed the lawn with
English grass seeds, replaced the dead trees in the serpentine walks and
shrubberies, and sent two hundred and fifteen apple trees to his River
Plantation. He made the two low mounds already mentioned and planted
thereon weeping willows. He set out stocks of imported hawthorns, four
yellow jessamines, twenty-five of the Palinurus for hedges, forty-six
pistacia nuts and seventy-five pyramidical cypress, which last were
brought to him by the botanist Michaux from the King of France. As 1786
was one of the wettest summers ever known, his plants and trees lived
better than they had done the preceding year.

During this period and until the end of his life he was constantly
receiving trees and shrubs from various parts of the world. Thus in
1794 he sent to Alexandria by Thomas Jefferson a bundle of "Poccon
[pecan] or Illinois nut," which in some way had come to him at
Philadelphia. He instructed the gardener to set these out at Mount
Vernon, also to sow some seeds of the East India hemp that had been left
in his care. The same year thirty-nine varieties of tropical plants,
including the bread fruit tree, came to him from a well wisher in
Jamaica. At other times he sowed seeds of the cucumber tree, chickory
and "colliflower" and planted ivy and wild honeysuckle. Again he once
more planted pecans and hickory nuts. It can hardly be that at his
advanced age he expected to derive any personal good from either of
these trees, but he was very fond of nuts, eating great quantities for
dessert, and the liking inclined him to grow trees that produced them.
In this, as in many other matters, he planted for the benefit of

In order to care for his exotic plants he built adjoining the upper
garden a considerable conservatory or hothouse. In this he placed many
of the plants sent to him as presents and also purchased many others
from the collection of the celebrated botanist, John Bartram, at
Philadelphia. The structure, together with the servants' quarters
adjoining, was burned down in December, 1835, and when the historian
Lossing visited Mount Vernon in 1858 nothing remained of these buildings
except bare walls crumbling to decay. Of the movable plants that had
belonged to Washington there remained in 1858 only a lemon tree, a
century plant and a sago palm, all of which have since died. The
conservatory and servants' quarters have, however, been rebuilt and the
conservatory restocked with plants such as Washington kept in it. The
buildings probably look much as they did in his time.

One of the sights to-day at Mount Vernon is the formal garden, which all
who have visited the place will remember. Strangely enough it seems
impossible to discover exactly when this was laid out as it now stands.
The guides follow tradition and tell visitors that Washington set out
the box hedge, the principal feature, after his marriage, and that he
told Martha that she should be mistress of this flower garden and he the
master of the vegetable garden. It is barely possible that he did set
out the hedges at that time, but, if so, it must have been in 1759, for
no mention is made of it in the diary begun in 1760. In April, 1785, we
find by his diary that he planted twelve cuttings of the "tree box" and
again in the spring of 1787 he planted in his shrubberies some holly
trees, "also ... some of the slips of the tree box." But of box hedges I
can find no mention in any of the papers I have seen. One guess is about
as good as another, and I am inclined to believe that if they were
planted in his time, it was done during his presidency by one of his
gardeners, perhaps Butler or the German, Ehler. They may have been set
out long after his death. At all events the garden was modeled after the
formal gardens of Europe and the idea was not original with him.

East of the formal garden lies a plot of ground that he used for
agricultural experiments. The vegetable garden was south of the Bowling
Green and separated from it by a brick wall. Here utility was lord and a
great profusion of products was raised for the table. Washington took an
interest in its management and I have found an entry in his diary
recording the day that green peas were available for the first time that
year. Evidently he was fond of them.

The bent of our Farmer's mind was to the practical, yet he took pride in
the appearance of his estate. "I shall begrudge no reasonable expense
that will contribute to the improvement and neatness of my farms," he
wrote one of his managers, "for nothing pleases me better than to see
them in good order, and everything trim, handsome, and thriving about
them; nor nothing hurts me more than to find them otherwise."

Live hedges tend to make a place look well and it was probably this and
his passion for trees that caused Washington to go in extensively for
hedges about his farms. They took the place of wooden fences and saved
trees and also grew more trees and bushes. His ordinary course in
building a fence was to have a trench dug on each side of the line and
the dirt thrown toward the center. Upon the ridge thus formed he built a
post and rail fence and along it planted cedars, locusts, pines, briars
or thorn bushes to discourage cattle and other stock. The trenches not
only increased the efficiency of the fence but also served as ditches.
In many places they are still discernible. The lines of the hedges are
also often marked in many places by trees which, though few or none can
be the originals, are descended from the roots or seeds of those trees.
Cedar and locust trees are particularly noticeable.

[Illustration: First page of the Diary for 1760]

In 1794 our Farmer had five thousand white thorn sent from England for
hedge purposes, but they arrived late in the spring and few survived and
even these did not thrive very well. Another time he sent from
Philadelphia two bushels of honey locust seed to be planted in his
nursery. These are only instances of his activities in this direction.

Much of what he undertook as a planter of trees failed for one reason or
another, most of all because he attended to the business of his country
at the expense of his own, but much that he attempted succeeded and
enough still remains to enable us to realize that by his efforts he made
his estate attractive. He was no Barbarian or Philistine. He had a sense
of beauty and it is only in recent years that his countrymen, absorbed
in material undertakings, have begun to appreciate the things that he
was enjoying so long ago.

"The visitor at Mount Vernon still finds a charm no art alone could
give, in trees from various climes, each a witness of the taste that
sought, or the love that sent them, in fields which the desolating step
of war reverently passed by, in flowers whose root is not in graves, yet
tinged with the lifeblood of the heart that cherished them from
childhood to old age. On those acres we move beneath the shade or
shelter of the invisible tree which put forth whatever meets the eye,
and has left some sign on each object, large or small. Still planted
beside his river, he brings forth fruit in his season. Nor does his
leaf wither."



In colonial Virginia, as in most other new countries, one of the
greatest problems that confronted the settlers was that of labor. It
took human muscle to clear away the forest and tend the crops, and the
quantity of human muscle available was small. One solution of the
problem was the importation of black slaves, and of this solution as it
concerned Washington something will be said in a separate chapter.
Another solution was the white indentured servant.

Some of these white servants were political offenders, such as the
followers of Monmouth, who were punished by transportation for a term of
years or for life to the plantations. Others were criminals or
unfortunate debtors who were sold in America instead of being sent to
jail. Others were persons who had been kidnapped and carried across the
sea into servitude. Yet others were men and women who voluntarily bound
themselves to work for a term of years in payment of their passage to
the colonies. By far the largest number of the white servants in
Washington's day belonged to this last-mentioned class, who were often
called "redemptioners." Some of these were ambitious, well-meaning
people, perhaps skilled artisans, who after working out their time
became good citizens and often prospered. A few were even well educated.
In favor of the convicts, however, little could be said. In general they
were ignorant and immoral and greatly lowered the level of the
population in the Southern States, the section to which most of them
were sent.

Whether they came to America of their own free will or not such servants
were subjected to stringent regulations and were compelled to complete
their terms of service. If they ran away, they could be pursued and
brought back by force, and the papers of the day were full of
advertisements for such absconders. Owing to their color and the ease
with which they found sympathizers among the white population, however,
the runaways often managed to make good their escape.

To give a complete list of Washington's indentured servants, even if it
were possible, would be tedious and tiresome. For the most part he
bought them in order to obtain skilled workmen. Thus in 1760 we find him
writing to a Doctor Ross, of Philadelphia, to purchase for him a joiner,
a brick-layer and a gardener, if any ship with servants was in port. As
late as 1786 he bought the time of a Dutchman named Overdursh, who was a
ditcher and mower, and of his wife, a spinner, washer and milker; also
their daughter. The same year he "received from on board the Brig Anna,
from Ireland, two servant men for whom I agreed yesterday--viz--Thomas
Ryan, a shoemaker, and Cavan Bowen a Tayler Redemptioners for 3 years
service by Indenture." These cost him twelve pounds each. The story of
his purchase of servants for his western lands is told in another place,
as is also that of his plan to import Palatines for the same purpose.

On the day of Lexington and Concord, but before the news of that
conflict reached Virginia, two of his indentured servants ran away and
he published a lengthy advertisement of them in the Virginia _Gazette_,
offering a reward of forty dollars for the return of both or twenty
dollars for the return of either. They were described as follows:

"THOMAS SPEARS, a joiner, born in _Bristol_, about 20 years of age, 5
feet 6 inches and a half high, slender made. He has light grey or
blueish colored eyes, a little pock-marked, and freckled, with sandy
colored hair, cut short; his voice is coarse, and somewhat drawling. He
took with him a coat, waistcoat, and breeches, of light brown duffil,
with black horn buttons, a light colored cloth waistcoat, old leather
breeches, check and oznabrig shirts, a pair of old ribbed ditto, new
oznabrig trowsers, and a felt hat, not much the worse for wear. WILLIAM
WEBSTER, a brick maker, born in _Scotland_, and talks pretty broad. He
is about 5 feet six inches high and well made, rather turned of 30, with
light brown hair, and roundish face.... They went off in a small yawl,
with turpentine sides and bottom, the inside painted with a mixture of
tar and red lead."

In the course of his business career Washington also employed a
considerable number of free white men, who likewise were usually skilled
workers or overseers. He commonly engaged them for the term of one year
and by written contracts, which he drew up himself, a thing he had
learned to do when a boy by copying legal forms. Many of these papers
still survive and contracts with joiners and gardeners jostle inaugural
addresses and opinions of cabinet meetings.

As a rule the hired employees received a house, an allowance of corn,
flour, meat and perhaps other articles, the money payment being
comparatively small.

Some of the contracts contain peculiar stipulations. That with a certain
overseer provided: "And whereas there are a number of whiskey stills
very contiguous to the said Plantations, and many idle, drunken and
dissolute People continually resorting the same, priding themselves in
debauching sober and well-inclined Persons the said Edd. Voilett doth
promise as well for his own sake as his employers to avoid them as
he ought."

Probably most readers have heard of the famous contract with the
gardener Philip Bater, who had a weakness for the output of stills such
as those mentioned above. It was executed in 1787 and, in consideration
of Bater's agreement "not to be disguised with liquor except on times
hereinafter mentioned," provided that he should be given "four dollars
at Christmas, with which he may be drunk four days and four nights; two
dollars at Easter to effect the same purpose; two dollars at
Whitsuntide to be drunk for two days; a dram in the morning, and a drink
of grog at dinner at noon."

Washington's most famous white servant was Thomas Bishop, who figures in
some books as a negro. He had been the personal servant of General
Braddock, and tradition says that the dying General commended him to
Washington. At all events Washington took him into his service at ten
pounds per year and, except for a short interval about 1760, Bishop
remained one of his retainers until death. It was Bishop and John Alton
who accompanied Washington on his trip to New York and Boston in
1756--that trip in the course of which, according to imaginative
historians, the young officer became enamored of the heiress Mary
Phillipse. Doubtless the men made a brave show along the way, for we
know that Washington had ordered for them "2 complete livery suits for
servants; with a spare cloak and all other necessary trimmings for two
suits more. I would have you choose the livery by our arms, only as the
field of arms is white, I think the clothes had better not be quite so,
but nearly like the inclosed. The trimmings and facings of scarlet, and
a scarlet waist coat. If livery lace is not quite disused, I should be
glad to have the cloaks laced. I like that fashion best, and two silver
laced hats for the above servants."

When the Revolution came Bishop was too old to take the field and was
left at home as the manager of a plantation. He was allowed a house, for
he had married and was now the father of a daughter. He lived to a great
age, but on fair days, when the Farmer was at home, the old man always
made it a point to grasp his cane and walk out to the road to see his
master ride by, to salute him and to pass a friendly word. He seems to
have thought of leaving Mount Vernon with his daughter in 1794, for the
President wrote to Pearce: "Old Bishop must be taken care of whether he
goes or stays." He died the following January, while Washington was away
in Philadelphia.

Custis tells an amusing story of Bishop's daughter Sally. Following the
Revolution two of Washington's aides-de-camp, Colonels Smith and
Humphreys, the latter a poet of some pretensions, spent considerable
time at Mount Vernon arranging the General's military papers. One
afternoon Smith strolled out from the Mansion House for relaxation and
came upon Sally, then in her teens and old enough to be interesting to
a soldier, milking a cow. When she started for the house with the pail
of milk the Colonel gallantly stepped forward and asked to be permitted
to carry it. But Sally had heard from her father dire tales of what
befell damsels who had anything to do with military men and the fact
that Smith was a fine-looking young fellow in no way lessened her sense
of peril. In great panic she flung down the pail, splashing the contents
over the officer, and ran screaming to the house. Smith followed, intent
upon allaying her alarm and ran plump into old Bishop, who at once
accused him of attempting to philander with the girl, turned a deaf ear
to all the Colonel's explanations, and declared that he would bring word
of the offense to his honor the General, nay more, to Mrs. Washington!

In great alarm the Colonel betook himself toward the Mansion House
pondering upon some way of getting himself out of the scrape he had
fallen into. At last he bethought himself of Billy Lee, the mulatto body
servant, and these two old soldiers proceeded to hold a council of war.
Smith said: "It's bad enough, Billy, for this story to get to the
General's ears, but to those of the lady will never do; and then
there's Humphreys, he will be out upon me in a d--d long poem that will
spread my misfortunes from Dan to Beersheba!" At last it was decided
that Billy should act as special ambassador to Bishop and endeavor to
divert him from his purpose. Meanwhile Bishop had got out his old
clothes--Cumberland cocked hat and all--of the period of the French War,
had dressed with great care and, taking up his staff, had laid his line
of march straight to the Mansion House. Billy met him midway upon the
road and much skirmishing ensued, Billy taking two lines of attack:
first, that Smith was a perfect gentleman, and, second, that Bishop had
no business to have such a devilishly pretty daughter. Finally these
tactics prevailed, Bishop took the right about, and a guinea dropped
into the ambassador's palm completed the episode.

In due time Sally lost her dreadful fear of men and married the
plantation carpenter, Thomas Green, with whose shiftless ways, described
elsewhere, Washington put up for a long time for the sake of "his
family." Ultimately Green quitted Washington's service and seems to have
deserted his wife or else died; at all events she and her family were
left in distressed circumstances. She wrote a letter to Washington
begging assistance and he instructed his manager to aid her to the
extent of L20 but to tell her that if she set up a shop in Alexandria,
as she thought of doing, she must not buy anything of his negroes. He
seems to have allowed her a little wood, flour and meat at killing time
and in 1796 instructed Pearce that if she and her family were really in
distress, as reported, to afford them some relief, "but in my opinion it
had better be in anything than money, for I very strongly suspect that
all that has, and perhaps all that will be given to her in that article,
is applied more in rigging herself, than in the purchase of real and
useful necessaries for her family."

By his will Washington left Sally Green and Ann Walker, daughter of John
Alton, each one hundred dollars in "consideration of the attachment of
their father[s] to me."

Alton entered Washington's service even before Bishop, accompanying him
as a body servant on the Braddock campaign and suffering a serious
illness. He subsequently was promoted to the management of a plantation
and enjoyed Washington's confidence and esteem. It was with a sad heart
that Washington penned in his diary for 1785: "Last night Jno. Alton an
Overseer of mine in the Neck--an old & faithful Servant who has lived
with me 30 odd years died--and this evening the wife of Thos. Bishop,
another old Servant who had lived with me an equal number of years
also died."

The adoption of Mrs. Washington's two youngest grandchildren, Nelly
Custis and George Washington Custis, made necessary the employment of a
tutor. One applicant was Noah Webster, who visited Mount Vernon in 1785,
but for some reason did not engage. A certain William Shaw had charge
for almost a year and then in 1786 Tobias Lear, a native of New
Hampshire and a graduate of Harvard, was employed. It is supposed that
some of the lessons were taught in the small circular building in the
garden; Washington himself refers to it as "the house in the Upper
Garden called the School house."

Lear's duties were by no means all pedagogical and ultimately he became
Washington's private secretary. In Philadelphia he and his family lived
in the presidential mansion. Washington had for him "a particular
friendship," an almost fatherly affection. His interest in Lear's little
son Lincoln was almost as great as he would have bestowed upon his own
grandson. Apropos of the recovery of the child from a serious illness he
wrote in 1793: "It gave Mrs. Washington, myself, and all who knew him
sincere pleasure to hear that our little favourite had arrived safe and
was in good health at Portsmouth--we sincerely wish him a long
continuance of the latter--that he may be always as charming and
promising as he now is--that he may live to be a comfort and blessing to
you--and an ornament to his Country. As a token of my affection for him
I send him a ticket in the lottery that's now drawing in the Federal
City; if it should be his fortune to draw the Hotel, it will add to the
pleasure I feel in giving it."

Truly a rather singular gift for a child, we would think in these days.
Let us see how it turned out. The next May Washington wrote to Lear,
then in Europe on business for the Potomac Navigation Company, of which
he had become president: "Often, through the medium of Mr. Langdon, we
hear of your son Lincoln, and with pleasure, that he continues to be the
healthy and sprightly child he formerly was. He declared if his ticket
should turn up a prize, he would go and live in the Federal City. He did
not consider, poor little fellow, that some of the prizes would hardly
build him a baby house nor foresee that one of these small tickets would
be his lot, having drawn no more than ten dollars."

Lear's first wife had died the year before of yellow fever at the
President's house in Philadelphia, and for his second he took the widow
of George A. Washington--Fanny--who was a niece of Martha Washington,
being a daughter of Anna Dandridge Bassett and Colonel Burwell Bassett.
This alliance tended to strengthen the friendly relations between Lear
and the General. In Washington's last moments Lear held his dying hand
and later penned a noble description of the final scene that reveals a
man of high and tender sentiments with a true appreciation of his
benefactor's greatness. Washington willed him the use of three hundred
sixty acres east of Hunting Creek during life. When Fanny Lear died,
Lear married Frances Dandridge Henley, another niece of Mrs. Washington.
Lear's descendants still own a quilt made by Martha Washington and given
to this niece.

During part at least of Washington's absence in the French war his
younger brother John Augustine, described in the General's will as "the
intimate friend of my ripened age," had charge of his business affairs
and resided at Mount Vernon. The relations with this brother were
unusually close and Washington took great interest in John's eldest son
Bushrod, who studied law and became an associate justice of the Federal
Supreme Court. To Bushrod the General gave his papers, library, the
Mansion House Farm and other land and a residuary share in the estate.

I am inclined to believe that during 1757-58 John Augustine did not have
charge, as Mount Vernon seems to have been under the oversight of a
certain Humphrey Knight, who worked the farm on shares. He was evidently
a good farmer, for in 1758 William Fairfax, who kept a friendly eye upon
his absent neighbor's affairs, wrote: "You have some of the finest
Tobacco & Corn I have seen this year," The summer was, however,
exceedingly dry and the crop was good in a relative sense only. Knight
tried to keep affairs in good running order and the men hard at work,
reporting "as to ye Carpentrs I have minded em all I posably could, and
has whipt em when I could see a fault." Knight died September 9, 1758, a
few months before Washington's marriage.

Washington's general manager during the Revolution was Lund Washington,
a distant relative. He was a man of energy and ability and retired
against protests in 1785. Unfortunately not much of the correspondence
between the two has come down to us, as Lund destroyed most of the
General's letters. Why he did so I do not know, though possibly it was
because in them Washington commented freely about persons and sections.
In one that remains, for example, written soon after his assumption of
command at Cambridge, the General speaks disparagingly of some New
England officers and says of the troops that they may fight well, but
are "dirty fellows." When the British visited Mount Vernon in 1781 Lund
conciliated them by furnishing them provisions, thereby drawing down
upon himself a rebuke from the owner, who said that he would rather have
had his buildings burned down than to have purchased their safety in
such a way. Nevertheless the General appreciated Lund's services and the
two always remained on friendly terms.

Lund was succeeded by Major George Augustine Washington, son of the
General's brother Charles. From his youth George Augustine had attached
himself to his uncle's service and fought under him in the Revolution,
a part of the time on the staff of Lafayette. The General had a strong
affection for him and in 1784 furnished him with money to take a trip to
the West Indies for his health. Contrary to expectations, he improved,
married Fanny Bassett, and for several years resided at Mount Vernon.
But the disease, consumption, returned and, greatly to his uncle's
distress, he died in 1792. Washington helped to care for the widow until
she became the wife of Tobias Lear.

Two other nephews, Robert Lewis and Howell Lewis, were in turn for short
intervals in charge of affairs, but presently the estate was committed
to the care of an Englishman named Anthony Whiting, who was already
overseer of two of the farms. Like his predecessor he was a victim of
consumption and died in June, 1793. Washington showed him great
kindness, repeatedly urging him not to overexert, to make use of wines,
tea, coffee and other delicacies that had been sent for the use of
guests. As Whiting was also troubled with rheumatism, the President
dropped affairs of state long enough to write him that "Flannel next the
skin [is] the best cure for, & preventative of the Rheumatism I have
ever tried." Yet after Whiting's death the employer learned that he had
been deceived in the man--that he "drank freely--kept bad company at my
house in Alexandria--and was a very debauched person."

William Pearce, who followed Whiting, came from the eastern shore of
Maryland, where he owned an estate called "Hopewell." His salary was a
hundred guineas a year. A poor speller and grammarian, he was
nevertheless practical and one of the best of all the managers. He
resigned in 1797 on account of rheumatism, which he thought would
prevent him from giving business the attention it deserved. Washington
parted from him with much regret and gave him a "certificate" in which
he spoke in the most laudatory terms of his "honesty, sobriety industry
and skill" and stated that his conduct had given "entire satisfaction."
They later corresponded occasionally and exchanged farm and family news
in the most friendly way.

The last manager, James Anderson, was described by his employer as "an
honest, industrious and judicious Scotchman." His salary was one hundred
forty pounds a year. Though born in a country where slaves were unknown,
he proved adaptable to Virginia conditions and assisted the overseers
"in some chastisements when needful." As his employer retired from the
presidency soon after he took charge he had not the responsibility of
some who had preceded him, for Washington was unwilling to be reduced to
a mere cipher on his own estate. Seeing the great profusion of cheap
corn and rye, Anderson, who was a good judge of whisky, engaged the
General in a distillery, which stood near the grist mill. The returns
for 1798 were L344.12.7-3/4, with 755-1/4 gallons still unsold.

Washington's letters to his managers are filled with exhortations and
sapient advice about all manner of things. He constantly urged them to
avoid familiarities with the blacks and preached the importance of
"example," for, "be it good or bad," it "will be followed by all those
who look up to you.--Keep every one in their place, & to their duty;
relaxation from, or neglect in small matters, lead to like attempts in
matters of greater magnitude."

The absent owner was constantly complaining that his managers failed to
inform him about matters concerning which he had inquired. Hardly a
report reached him that did not fail to explain something in which he
was interested. This was one of the many disadvantages of farming at
long range.

In 1793 Washington described his overseers to Pearce, who was just
taking charge, in great detail. Stuart is competent, sober and
industrious, but talkative and conceited. "If he stirs early and works
late ... his talkativeness and vanity may be humored." Crow is active
and possessed of good judgment, but overly fond of "visiting and
receiving visits." McKoy is a "sickly, slothful and stupid fellow."
Butler, the gardener, may mean well, but "he has no more authority over
the Negroes he is placed over than an old woman would have." Ultimately
he dismissed Butler on this ground, but as the man could find no other
job he was forced to give him assistance. The owner's opinions of Davy,
the colored overseer at Muddy Hole Farm, and of Thomas Green, the
carpenter, are given elsewhere.

In the same letter he exhorted Pearce to see what time the overseers
"turn out of a morning--for I have strong suspicions that this, with
some of them, is at a late hour, the consequences of which to the
Negroes is not difficult to foretell. All these Overseers as you will
perceive by their agreements, which I here with send, are on standing
wages; and this with men who are not actuated by the principles of honor
or honesty, and not very regardful of their characters, leads naturally
to endulgences--as _their_ profits whatever may be _mine_, are the same
whether they are at a horse race or on the farm."

From the above it will appear that he did not believe that the overseers
were storing up any large treasury of good works. In the Revolution he
wrote that one overseer and a confederate, "I believe, divide the
profits of my Estate on the York River, tolerably between them, for the
devil of anything do I get." Later he approved the course of George A.
Washington in depriving an overseer of the privilege of killing four
shoats, as this gave him an excuse when caught killing a pig to say that
it was one of those to which he was entitled. Even when honest, the
overseers were likely to be careless. They often knew little about the
stock under their charge and in making their weekly reports would take
the number from old reports instead of actually making the count, with
the result that many animals could die or disappear long before those in
charge became aware of it.

[Illustration: Part of Manger's Weekly Report]

Washington's carpenters were mostly slaves, but he usually hired a
white man to oversee and direct them. In 1768, for example, he engaged
for this purpose a certain Jonathan Palmer, who was to receive forty
pounds a year, four hundred pounds of meat, twenty bushels of corn, a
house to live in, a garden, and also the right to keep two cows.

The carpenters were required not only to build houses, barns, sheds and
other structures, but also boats, and had to hew out or whipsaw many of
the timbers and boards used.

The carpenter whose name we meet oftenest was Thomas Green, who married
Sally Bishop. I have seen a contract signed by Green in 1786, by which
he was to receive annually forty-five pounds in Virginia currency, five
hundredweight of pork, pasture for a cow, and two hundred pounds of
common flour. He also had the right to be absent from the plantation
half a day in every month. He did not use these vacations to good
advantage, for he was a drunken incompetent and tried Washington's
patience sorely. Washington frequently threatened to dismiss him and as
often relented and Green finally, in 1794, quit of his own accord,
though Washington thereafter had to assist his family.

The employment of white day labor at Mount Vernon was not extensive. In
harvest time some extra cradlers were employed, as this was a kind of
work at which the slaves were not very skilful. Payment was at the rate
of about a dollar a day or a dollar for cutting four acres, which was
the amount a skilled man could lay down in a day. The men were also
given three meals a day and a pint of spirits each. They slept in the
barns, with straw and a blanket for a bed. With them worked the
overseers, cutting, binding and setting up the sheaves in stools
or shocks.

Laziness in his employees gave our Farmer a vast deal of unhappiness. It
was an enemy that he fought longer and more persistently than he fought
the British. In his early career a certain "Young Stephens," son of the
miller, seems to have been his greatest trial. "Visited my Plantations,"
he confides to his diary. "Severely reprimanded young Stephens for his
Indolence, and his father for suffering it." "Visited my Quarters & ye
Mill according to custom found young Stephens absent." "Visited my
Plantations and found to my great surprise Stephens constantly at work."
"Rid out to my Plantn. and to my Carpenters. Found Richard Stephens hard
at work with an ax--very extraordinary this!"

To what extent the change proved permanent we do not know. But even
though the reformation was absolute, it mattered little, for each year
produces a new crop of lazybones just as it does "lambs" and "suckers."

Enough has been said to show that our Farmer was impatient, perhaps even
a bit querulous, but innumerable incidents prove that he was also
generous and just. Thus when paper currency depreciated to a low figure
he, of his own volition, wrote to Lund Washington that he would not hold
him to his contract, but would pay his wages by a share in the crops,
and this at a time when his own debtors were discharging their
indebtedness in the almost worthless paper.

If ever a square man lived, Washington was that man. He believed in the
Golden Rule and he practiced it--not only in church, but in business. It
was not for nothing that as a boy he had written as his one hundred
tenth "Rule of Civility": "Labor to keep alive in your Breast that
Little Spark of Celestial fire called Conscience."

In looking through his later letters I came upon one, dated January 7,
1796, from Pearce stating that Davenport, a miller whom Washington had
brought from Pennsylvania, was dead. He had already received six
hundred pounds of pork and more wages than were due him as advances for
the coming year. What should be done? asked the manager. "His Wife and
Children will be in a most Distressed Situation." As I examined the
papers that followed I said to myself: "I will see if I know what his
answer will be." I thought I did, and so it proved. Back from
Philadelphia came the answer:

"Altho' she can have no _right_ to the Meat, I would have none of it
taken from her.--You may also let her have middlings from the Mill,--and
until the house may become indispensably necessary for the succeeding
Miller, let her remain in it.--As she went from these parts she can have
no friends (by these I mean relations) where she is. If therefore she
wishes to return back to his, or her own relations, aid her in
doing so."

Not always were his problems so somber as this. Consider, for example,
the case of William M. Roberts, an employee who feared that he was about
to get the sack. "In your absence to Richmond," writes anxious William,
November 25, 1784, "My Wife & I have had a Most Unhappy falling out
Which I Shall not Trouble you with the Praticlers No farther than This.
I hapened To Git to Drinking one Night as She thought Two Much. & From
one Cros Question to a nother Matters weare Carred to the Langth it has
been. Which Mr. Lund Washington will Inform you For My part I am
Heartily Sorry in my Sole My Wife appares to be the Same & I am of a
pinion that We Shall Live More Happy than We have Don for the fewter."

In his dealings with servants Washington was sometimes troubled with
questions that worry us when we are trying to hire "Mary" or "Bridget."
Thus when Mrs. Washington's ill health necessitated his engaging in 1797
a housekeeper he made the following minute and anxious inquiries of
Bushrod Washington at Richmond concerning a certain Mrs. Forbes:

"What countrywoman is she?

"Whether Widow or Wife? if the latter

"Where her husband is?

"What family she has?

"What age she is?

"Of what temper?

"Whether active and spirited in the execution of her business?

"Whether sober and honest?

"Whether much knowledge in Cookery, and understands ordering and
setting out a Table?

"What her appearance is?

"With other matters which may occur to you to ask,--and necessary for me
to know.

"Mrs. Forbes will have a warm, decent and comfortable room to herself,
to lodge in, and will eat of the victuals of our Table, but not set at
it, at any time _with us_, be her appearance what it may, for if this
was _once admitted_, no line satisfactory to either party, perhaps,
could be drawn thereafter.--It might be well for me to know however
whether this was admitted at Govr. Brookes or not."

Considerate and just though he was, his deliberate judgment of servants
after a long and varied experience was that they are "necessary
plagues ... they baffle all calculation in the accomplishment of any
plan or repairs they are engaged in; and require more attention to and
looking after than can be well conceived."

Perhaps the soundest philosophy upon this trying and much debated
servant question is that of Miles Standish, who proceeded, however,
straightway to violate it.



It is one of the strange inconsistencies of history that one of the
foremost champions of liberty of all time should himself have been the
absolute owner and master of men, women and children.

Visitors at Mount Vernon saw many faces there, but only a few were white
faces, the rest were those of black slaves. On each farm stood a village
of wooden huts, where turbaned mammies crooned and piccaninnies gamboled
in the sunshine. The cooks, the house servants, the coachmen, the stable
boys, almost all the manual workers were slaves. Even the Mansion House
grounds, if the master was away, were apt to be overrun with black
children, for though only the progeny of a few house servants were
supposed to enter the precincts, the others often disregarded the
prohibition, to the destruction of the Farmer's flowers and rare shrubs.

From his father Washington inherited ten or a dozen slaves and, as
occasion required or opportunity offered, he added to the number. By
1760 he paid taxes on forty-nine slaves, in 1770 on eighty-seven and in

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