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The True George Washington [10th Ed.] by Paul Leicester Ford

Part 2 out of 5

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"Although no man's sentiments are more opposed to any kind of restraint
upon religious principles than mine are, yet I must confess, that I am not
amongst the number of those, who are so much alarmed at the thoughts of
making people pay towards the support of that which they profess, if
of the denomination, of Christians, or to declare themselves Jews,
Mahometans, or otherwise, and thereby obtain proper relief. As the matter
now stands, I wish an assessment had never been agitated, and as it has
gone so far, that the bill could die an easy death; because I think it
will be productive of more quiet to the State, than by enacting it into a
law, which in my opinion would be impolitic, admitting there is a decided
majority for it, to the disquiet of a respectable minority. In the former
case, the matter will soon subside; in the latter, it will rankle and
perhaps convulse the State."

Again in a letter he says,--

"Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are
caused by difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most
inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be deprecated. I was in
hopes, that the lightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present
age, would at least have reconciled _Christians_ of every denomination so
far, that we should never again see their religious disputes carried to
such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society."

And to Lafayette, alluding to the proceedings of the Assembly of Notables,
he wrote,--

"I am not less ardent in my wish, that you may succeed in your plan of
toleration in religious matters. Being no bigot myself, I am disposed to
indulge the professors of Christianity in the church with that road to
Heaven, which to them shall seem the most direct, plainest, easiest, and
least liable to exception."

What Washington believed has been a source of much dispute. Jefferson
states "that Gouverneur Morris, who pretended to be in his secrets, and
believed himself to be so, has often told me that General Washington
believed no more of that system than he himself did," and Morris, it is
scarcely necessary to state, was an atheist. The same authority quotes
Rush, to the effect that "when the clergy addressed General Washington on
his departure from the government, it was observed in their consultation,
that he had never, on any occasion, said a word to the public which showed
a belief in the Christian religion, and they thought they should so pen
their address, as to force him at length to declare publicly whether he
was a Christian or not They did so. But, he observed, the old fox was too
cunning for them. He answered every article of their address particularly
except that, which he passed over without notice."

Whatever his belief, in all public ways Washington threw his influence in
favor of religion, and kept what he really believed a secret, and in only
one thing did he disclose his real thoughts. It is asserted that before
the Revolution he partook of the sacrament, but this is only affirmed by
hearsay, and better evidence contradicts it. After that war he did not, it
is certain. Nelly Custis states that on "communion Sundays he left the
church with me, after the blessing, and returned home, and we sent the
carriage back for my grandmother." And the assistant minister of Christ
Church in Philadelphia states that--

"Observing that on Sacrament Sundays, Gen'l Washington, immediately after
the Desk and Pulpit services, went out with the greater part of the
congregation, always leaving Mrs. Washington with the communicants, she
_invariably_ being one, I considered it my duty, in a sermon on Public
Worship, to state the unhappy tendency of _example_, particularly those in
elevated stations, who invariably turned their backs upon the celebration
of the Lord's Supper. I acknowledge the remark was intended for the
President, as such, he received it. A few days after, in conversation
with, I believe, a Senator of the U.S. he told me he had dined the day
before with the President, who in the course of the conversation at the
table, said, that on the preceding Sunday, he had received a very just
reproof from the pulpit, for always leaving the church before the
administration of the Sacrament; that he honored the preacher for his
integrity and candour; that he had never considered the influence of his
example; that he would never again give cause for the repetition of the
reproof; and that, as he had never been a communicant, were he to become
one then, it would be imputed to an ostentatious display of religious zeal
arising altogether from his elevated station. Accordingly he afterwards
never came on the morning of Sacrament Sunday, tho' at other times, a
constant attendant in the morning."

Nelly Custis, too, tells us that Washington always "stood during the
devotional part of the service," and Bishop White states that "his
behavior was always serious and attentive; but, as your letter seems to
intend an inquiry on the point of kneeling during the service, I owe it to
the truth to declare, that I never saw him in the said attitude." Probably
his true position is described by Madison, who is quoted as saying that he
did "not suppose that Washington had ever attended to the arguments for
Christianity, and for the different systems of religion, or in fact that
he had formed definite opinions on the subject. But he took these things
as he found them existing, and was constant in his observances of worship
according to the received forms of the Episcopal Church, in which he was
brought up."

If there was proof needed that it is mind and not education which pushes a
man to the front, it is to be found in the case of Washington. Despite his
want of education, he had, so Bell states, "an excellent understanding."
Patrick Henry is quoted as saying of the members of the Congress of 1774--
the body of which Adams claimed that "every man in it is a great man, an
orator, a critic, a statesman"--that "if you speak of solid information
and sound judgment Colonel Washington is unquestionably the greatest man
on the floor;" while Jefferson asserted that "his mind was great and
powerful, without being of the very first order; his penetration strong,
though not so acute as that of a Newton, Bacon, or Locke; and as far as he
saw, no judgment was ever sounder. It was slow in operation, being little
aided by invention or imagination, but sure in conclusion."



The book from which Washington derived almost the whole of his education
warned its readers,--

"Young Men have ever more a special care That Womanish Allurements prove
not a snare;"

but, however carefully the lad studied the rest, this particular
admonition took little root in his mind. There can be no doubt that
Washington during the whole of his life had a soft heart for women, and
especially for good-looking ones, and both in his personal intercourse and
in his letters he shows himself very much more at ease with them than in
his relations with his own sex. Late in life, when the strong passions of
his earlier years were under better control, he was able to write,--

"Love is said to be an involuntary passion, and it is, therefore,
contended that it cannot be resisted. This is true in part only, for like
all things else, when nourished and supplied plentifully with aliment, it
is rapid in its progress; but let these be withdrawn and it may be stifled
in its birth or much stinted in its growth. For example, a woman (the same
may be said of the other sex) all beautiful and accomplished will, while
her hand and heart are undisposed of, turn the heads and set the circle in
which she moves on fire. Let her marry, and what is the consequence? The
madness _ceases_ and all is quiet again. Why? not because there is any
diminution in the charms of the lady, but because there is an end of hope.
Hence it follows, that love may and therefore ought to be under the
guidance of reason, for although we cannot avoid first impressions, we may
assuredly place them under guard."

To write thus in one's sixty-sixth year and to practise one's theory in
youth were, however, very different undertakings. Even while discussing
love so philosophically, the writer had to acknowledge that "in the
composition of the human frame, there is a good deal of inflammable
matter," and few have had better cause to know it. When he saw in the
premature engagement of his ward, Jack Custis, the one advantage that it
would "in a great measure avoid those little flirtations with other young
ladies that may, by dividing the attention, contribute not a little to
divide the affection," it is easy to think of him as looking back to his
own boyhood, and remembering, it is to be hoped with a smile, the
sufferings he owed to pretty faces and neatly turned ankles.

While still a school-boy, Washington was one day caught "romping with one
of the largest girls," and very quickly more serious likings followed. As
early as 1748, when only sixteen years of age, his heart was so engaged
that while at Lord Fairfax's and enjoying the society of Mary Cary he
poured out his feelings to his youthful correspondents "Dear Robin" and
"Dear John" and "Dear Sally" as follows:

"My place of Residence is at present at His Lordships where I might was my
heart disengag'd pass my time very pleasantly as theres a very agreeable
Young Lady Lives in the same house (Colo George Fairfax's Wife's Sister)
but as thats only adding Fuel to fire it makes me the more uneasy for by
often and unavoidably being in Company with her revives my former Passion
for your Low Land Beauty whereas was I to live more retired from young
Women I might in some measure eliviate my sorrows by burying that chast
and troublesome Passion in the grave of oblivion or etarnall forgetfulness
for as I am very well assured thats the only antidote or remedy that I
shall be releivd by or only recess that can administer any cure or help to
me as I am well convinced was I ever to attempt any thing I should only
get a denial which would be only adding grief to uneasiness."

"Was my affections disengaged I might perhaps form some pleasure in the
conversation of an agreeable Young Lady as theres one now Lives in the
same house with me but as that is only nourishment to my former affecn for
by often seeing her brings the other into my remembrance whereas perhaps
was she not often & (unavoidably) presenting herself to my view I might in
some measure aliviate my sorrows by burying the other in the grave of
Oblivion I am well convinced my heart stands in defiance of all others but
only she thats given it cause enough to dread a second assault and from a
different Quarter tho' I well know let it have as many attacks as it will
from others they cant be more fierce than it has been."

"I Pass the time of[f] much more agreeabler than what I imagined I should
as there's a very agrewable Young Lady lives in the same house where I
reside (Colo George Fairfax's Wife's Sister) that in a great Measure
cheats my thoughts altogether from your Parts I could wish to be with you
down there with all my heart but as it is a thing almost Impractakable
shall rest myself where I am with hopes of shortly having some Minutes of
your transactions in your Parts which will be very welcomely receiv'd."

Who this "Low Land Beauty" was has been the source of much speculation,
but the question is still unsolved, every suggested damsel--Lucy Grymes,
Mary Bland, Betsy Fauntleroy, _et al._--being either impossible or the
evidence wholly inadequate. But in the same journal which contains the
draughts of these letters is a motto poem--

"Twas Perfect Love before
But Now I do adore"--

followed by the words "Young M.A. his W[ife?]," and as it was a fashion
of the time to couple the initials of one's well-beloved with such
sentiments, a slight clue is possibly furnished. Nor was this the only
rhyme that his emotions led to his inscribing in his journal: and he
confided to it the following:

"Oh Ye Gods why should my Poor Resistless Heart
Stand to oppose thy might and Power
At Last surrender to cupids feather'd Dart
And now lays Bleeding every Hour
For her that's Pityless of my grief and Woes
And will not on me Pity take
He sleep amongst my most inveterate Foes
And with gladness never wish to wake
In deluding sleepings let my Eyelids close
That in an enraptured Dream I may
In a soft lulling sleep and gentle repose
Possess those joys denied by Day."

However woe-begone the young lover was, he does not seem to have been
wholly lost to others of the sex, and at this same time he was able to
indite an acrostic to another charmer, which, if incomplete, nevertheless
proves that there was a "midland" beauty as well, the lady being
presumptively some member of the family of Alexanders, who had a
plantation near Mount Vernon.

"From your bright sparkling Eyes I was undone;
Rays, you have; more transperent than the Sun.
Amidst its glory in the rising Day
None can you equal in your bright array;
Constant in your calm and unspotted Mind;
Equal to all, but will to none Prove kind,
So knowing, seldom one so Young, you'l Find.

Ah! woe's me, that I should Love and conceal
Long have I wish'd, but never dare reveal,
Even though severely Loves Pains I feel;
Xerxes that great, was't free from Cupids Dart,
And all the greatest Heroes, felt the smart."

When visiting Barbadoes, in 1751, Washington noted in his journal his
meeting a Miss Roberts, "an agreeable young lady," and later he went with
her to see some fireworks on Guy Fawkes day. Apparently, however, the
ladies of that island made little impression on him, for he further noted,
"The Ladys Generally are very agreeable but by ill custom or w[ha]t effect
the Negro style." This sudden insensibility is explained by a letter he
wrote to William Fauntleroy a few weeks after his return to Virginia:

"Sir: I should have been down long before this, but my business in
Frederick detained me somewhat longer than I expected, and immediately
upon my return from thence I was taken with a violent Pleurise, but
purpose as soon as I recover my strength, to wait on Miss Betsy, in hopes
of a revocation of the former cruel sentence, and see if I can meet with
any alteration in my favor. I have enclosed a letter to her, which should
be much obliged to you for the delivery of it. I have nothing to add but
my best respects to your good lady and family, and that I am, Sir, Your
most ob't humble serv't."

Because of this letter it has been positively asserted that Betsy
Fauntleroy was the Low-Land Beauty of the earlier time; but as Washington
wrote of his love for the latter in 1748, when Betsy was only eleven, the
absurdity of the claim is obvious.

In 1753, while on his mission to deliver the governor's letter to the
French, one duty which fell to the young soldier was a visit to royalty,
in the person of Queen Aliquippa, an Indian majesty who had "expressed
great Concern" that she had formerly been slighted. Washington records
that "I made her a Present of a Match-coat and a Bottle of Rum; which
latter was thought much the best Present of the Two," and thus (externally
and internally) restored warmth to her majesty's feelings.

When returned from his first campaign, and resting at Mount Vernon, the
time seems to have been beguiled by some charmer, for one of Washington's
officers and intimates writes from Williamsburg, "I imagine you By this
time plung'd in the midst of delight heaven can afford & enchanted By
Charmes even Stranger to the Ciprian Dame," and a footnote by the same
hand only excites further curiosity concerning this latter personage by
indefinitely naming her as "Mrs. Neil."

With whatever heart-affairs the winter was passed, with the spring the
young man's fancy turned not to love, but again to war, and only when the
defeat of Braddock brought Washington back to Mount Vernon to recover from
the fatigues of that campaign was his intercourse with the gentler sex
resumed. Now, however, he was not merely a good-looking young fellow, but
was a hero who had had horses shot from under him and had stood firm when
scarlet-coated men had run away. No longer did he have to sue for the
favor of the fair ones, and Fairfax wrote him that "if a Satterday Nights
Rest cannot be sufficient to enable your coming hither to-morrow, the
Lady's will try to get Horses to equip our Chair or attempt their strength
on Foot to Salute you, so desirous are they with loving Speed to have an
occular Demonstration of your being the same Identical Gent--that lately
departed to defend his Country's Cause." Furthermore, to this letter was
appended the following:

"DEAR SIR,--After thanking Heaven for your safe return I must accuse you
of great unkindness in refusing us the pleasure of seeing you this night.
I do assure you nothing but our being satisfied that our company would be
disagreeable should prevent us from trying if our Legs would not carry us
to Mount Vernon this night, but if you will not come to us to-morrow
morning very early we shall be at Mount Vernon.


Nor is this the only feminine postscript of this time, for in the
postscript of a letter from Archibald Cary, a leading Virginian, he is
told that "Mrs. Cary & Miss Randolph joyn in wishing you that sort of
Glory which will most Indear you to the Fair Sex."

In 1756 Washington had occasion to journey on military business to Boston,
and both in coming and in going he tarried in New York, passing ten days
in his first visit and about a week on his return. This time was spent
with a Virginian friend, Beverly Robinson, who had had the good luck to
marry Susannah Philipse, a daughter of Frederick Philipse, one of the
largest landed proprietors of the colony of New York. Here he met the
sister, Mary Philipse, then a girl of twenty-five, and, short as was the
time, it was sufficient to engage his heart. To this interest no doubt are
due the entries in his accounts of sundry pounds spent "for treating
Ladies," and for the large tailors' bills then incurred. But neither
treats nor clothes won the lady, who declined his proposals, and gave her
heart two years later to Lieutenant-Colonel Roger Morris. A curious sequel
to this disappointment was the accident that made the Roger Morris house
Washington's head-quarters in 1776, both Morris and his wife being
fugitive Tories. Again Washington was a chance visitor in 1790, when, as
part of a picnic, he "dined on a dinner provided by Mr. Marriner at the
House lately Colo. Roger Morris, but confiscated and in the occupation of
a common Farmer."

[Illustration: MARY PHILIPSE]

It has been asserted that Washington loved the wife of his friend George
William Fairfax, but the evidence has not been produced. On the contrary,
though the two corresponded, it was in a purely platonic fashion, very
different from the strain of lovers, and that the correspondence implied
nothing is to be found in the fact that he and Sally Carlyle (another
Fairfax daughter) also wrote each other quite as frequently and on
the same friendly footing; indeed, Washington evidently classed them
in the same category, when he stated that "I have wrote to my two
female correspondents." Thus the claim seems due, like many another of
Washington's mythical love-affairs, rather to the desire of descendants to
link their family "to a star" than to more substantial basis. Washington
did, indeed, write to Sally Fairfax from the frontier, "I should think our
time more agreeably spent, believe me, in playing a part in Cato, with the
company you mention, and myself doubly happy in being the Juba to such a
Marcia, as you must make," but private theatricals then no more than now
implied "passionate love." What is more, Mrs. Fairfax was at this very
time teasing him about another woman, and to her hints Washington

"If you allow that any honor can be derived from my opposition ... you
destroy the merit of it entirely in me by attributing my anxiety to the
animating prospect of possessing Mrs. Custis, when--I need not tell you,
guess yourself. Should not my own Honor and country's welfare be the
excitement? 'Tis true I profess myself a votary of love. I acknowledge
that a lady is in the case, and further I confess that this lady is known
to you. Yes, Madame, as well as she is to one who is too sensible of her
charms to deny the Power whose influence he feels and must ever submit to.
I feel the force of her amiable beauties in the recollection of a thousand
tender passages that I could wish to obliterate, till I am bid to revive
them. But experience, alas! sadly reminds me how impossible this is, and
evinces an opinion which I have long entertained that there is a Destiny
which has the control of our actions, not to be resisted by the strongest
efforts of Human Nature. You have drawn me, dear Madame, or rather I have
drawn myself, into an honest confession of a simple Fact. Misconstrue not
my meaning; doubt it not, nor expose it. The world has no business to know
the object of my Love, declared in this manner to you, when I want to
conceal it. One thing above all things in this world I wish to know, and
only one person of your acquaintance can solve me that, or guess my

The love-affair thus alluded to had begun in March, 1758, when ill health
had taken Washington to Williamsburg to consult physicians, thinking,
indeed, of himself as a doomed man. In this trip he met Mrs. Martha
(Dandridge) Custis, widow of Daniel Parke Custis, one of the wealthiest
planters of the colony. She was at this time twenty-six years of age, or
Washington's senior by nine months, and had been a widow but seven, yet in
spite of this fact, and of his own expected "decay," he pressed his
love-making with an impetuosity akin to that with which he had urged his
suit of Miss Philipse, and (widows being proverbial) with better success.
The invalid had left Mount Vernon on March 5, and by April 1 he was back
at Fort Loudon, an engaged man, having as well so far recovered his health
as to be able to join his command. Early in May he ordered a ring from
Philadelphia, at a cost of L2.16.0; soon after receiving it he found
that army affairs once more called him down to Williamsburg, and, as
love-making is generally considered a military duty, the excuse was
sufficient. But sterner duties on the frontier were awaiting him, and very
quickly he was back there and writing to his _fiancee_,--

"We have begun our march for the Ohio. A courier is starting for
Williamsburg, and I embrace the opportunity to send a few words to one
whose life is now inseparable from mine. Since that happy hour when we
made our pledges to each other, my thoughts have been continually going to
you as another Self. That an all-powerful Providence may keep us both in
safety is the prayer of your ever faithful and affectionate friend."

Five months after this letter was written, Washington was able to date
another from Fort Duquesne, and, the fall of that post putting an end to
his military service, only four weeks later he was back in Williamsburg,
and on January 6, 1759, he was married.

Very little is really known of his wife, beyond the facts that she was
petite, over-fond, hot-tempered, obstinate, and a poor speller. In 1778
she was described as "a sociable, pretty kind of woman," and she seems to
have been but little more. One who knew her well described her as "not
possessing much sense, though a perfect lady and remarkably well
calculated for her position," and confirmatory of this is the opinion of
an English traveller that "there was nothing remarkable in the person of
the lady of the President; she was matronly and kind, with perfect good
breeding." None the less she satisfied Washington; even after the
proverbial six months were over he refused to wander from Mount Vernon,
writing that "I am now, I believe, fixed at this seat with an agreeable
Consort for life," and in 1783 he spoke of her as the "partner of all my
Domestic enjoyments."

John Adams, in one of his recurrent moods of bitterness and jealousy
towards Washington, demanded, "Would Washington have ever been commander
of the revolutionary army or president of the United States if he had not
married the rich widow of Mr. Custis?" To ask such a question is to
overlook the fact that Washington's colonial military fame was entirely
achieved before his marriage. It is not to be denied that the match was a
good one from a worldly point of view, Mrs. Washington's third of the
Custis property equalling "fifteen thousand acres of land, a good part of
it adjoining the city of Williamsburg; several lots in the said city;
between two and three hundred negroes; and about eight or ten thousand
pounds upon bond," estimated at the time as about twenty thousand pounds
in all, which was further increased on the death of Patsy Custis in 1773
by a half of her fortune, which added ten thousand pounds to the sum.
Nevertheless the advantage was fairly equal, for Mrs. Custis's lawyer had
written before her marriage of the impossibility of her managing the
property, advising that she "employ a trusty steward, and as the estate is
large and very extensive, it is Mr. Wallers and my own opinion, that you
had better not engage any but a very able man, though he should require
large wages." Of the management of this property, to which, indeed, she
was unequal, Washington entirely relieved her, taking charge also of her
children's share and acting for their interests with the same care with
which he managed the part he was more directly concerned in.

He further saved her much of the detail of ordering her own clothing, and
we find him sending for "A Salmon-colored Tabby of the enclosed pattern,
with satin flowers, to be made in a sack," "1 Cap, Handkerchief, Tucker
and Ruffles, to be made of Brussels lace or point, proper to wear with the
above negligee, to cost L20," "1 pair black, and 1 pair white Satin Shoes,
of the smallest," and "1 black mask." Again he writes his London agent,
"Mrs. Washington sends home a green sack to get cleaned, or fresh dyed of
the same color; made up into a handsome sack again, would be her choice;
but if the cloth won't afford that, then to be thrown into a genteel Night
Gown." At another time he wants a pair of clogs, and when the wrong kind
are sent he writes that "she intended to have leathern Gloshoes." When she
was asked to present a pair of colors to a company, he attended to every
detail of obtaining the flag, and when "Mrs. Washington ... perceived the
Tomb of her Father ... to be much out of Sorts" he wrote to get a workman
to repair it. The care of the Mount Vernon household proving beyond his
wife's ability, a housekeeper was very quickly engaged, and when one who
filled this position was on the point of leaving, Washington wrote his
agent to find another without the least delay, for the vacancy would
"throw a great additional weight on Mrs. Washington;" again, writing in
another domestic difficulty, "Your aunt's distresses for want of a good
housekeeper are such as to render the wages demanded by Mrs. Forbes
(though unusually high) of no consideration." Her letters of form, which
required better orthography than she was mistress of, he draughted for
her, pen-weary though he was.

It has already been shown how he fathered her "little progeny," as he once
called them. Mrs. Washington was a worrying mother, as is shown by a
letter to her sister, speaking of a visit in which "I carried my little
patt with me and left Jacky at home for a trial to see how well I could
stay without him though we were gon but wone fortnight I was quite
impatient to get home. If I at aney time heard the doggs barke or a noise
out, I thought thair was a person sent for me. I often fancied he was sick
or some accident had happened to him so that I think it is impossible
for me to leave him as long as Mr. Washington must stay when he comes
down." To spare her anxiety, therefore, when the time came for "Jacky" to
be inoculated, Washington "withheld from her the information ... &
purpose, if possible, to keep her in total ignorance ... till I hear of
his return, or perfect recovery;... she having often wished that Jack
wou'd take & go through the disorder without her knowing of it, that she
might escape those Tortures which suspense wd throw her into." And on the
death of Patsy he wrote, "This sudden and unexpected blow, I scarce need
add has almost reduced my poor Wife to the lowest ebb of Misery; which is
encreas'd by the absence of her son."

When Washington left Mount Vernon, in May, 1775, to attend the Continental
Congress, he did not foresee his appointment as commander-in-chief, and as
soon as it occurred he wrote his wife,--

"I am now set down to write to you on a subject, which fills me with
inexpressible concern, and this concern is greatly aggravated and
increased, when I reflect upon the uneasiness I know it will give you. It
has been determined in Congress, that the whole army raised for the
defence of the American cause shall be put under my care, and that it is
necessary for me to proceed immediately to Boston to take upon me the
command of it.

"You may believe me, my dear Patsey, when I assure you, in the most solemn
manner, that, so far from seeking this appointment, I have used every
endeavor in my power to avoid it, not only from my unwillingness to part
with you and the family, but from a consciousness of its being a trust too
great for my capacity, and that I should enjoy more real happiness in one
month with you at home, than I have the most distant prospect of finding
abroad, if my stay were to be seven times seven years.... I shall feel no
pain from the toil or danger of the campaign; my unhappiness will flow
from the uneasiness I know you will feel from being left alone."

To prevent this loneliness as far as possible, he wrote at the same time
to different members of the two families as follows:

"My great concern upon this occasion is, the thought of leaving your
mother under the uneasiness which I fear this affair will throw her into;
I therefore hope, expect, and indeed have no doubt, of your using every
means in your power to keep up her spirits, by doing everything in your
power to promote her quiet. I have, I must confess, very uneasy feelings
on her account, but as it has been a kind of unavoidable necessity which
has led me into this appointment, I shall more readily hope that success
will attend it and crown our meetings with happiness."

"I entreat you and Mrs. Bassett if possible to visit at Mt. Vernon, as
also my wife's other friends. I could wish you to take her down, as I have
no expectation of returning till winter & feel great uneasiness at her
lonesome situation."

"I shall hope that my friends will visit and endeavor to keep up the
spirits of my wife, as much as they can, as my departure will, I know, be
a cutting stroke upon her; and on this account alone I have many very
disagreeable sensations. I hope you and my sister, (although the distance
is great), will find as much leisure this summer as to spend a little time
at Mount Vernon."

When, six months later, the war at Boston settled into a mere siege,
Washington wrote that "seeing no prospect of returning to my family and
friends this winter, I have sent an invitation to Mrs. Washington to come
to me," adding, "I have laid a state of difficulties, however, which must
attend the journey before her, and left it to her own choice." His wife
replied in the affirmative, and one of Washington's aides presently wrote
concerning some prize goods to the effect that "There are limes, lemons
and oranges on board, which, being perishable, you must sell immediately.
The General will want some of each, as well of the sweetmeats and pickles
that are on board, as his lady will be here to-day or to-morrow. You will
please to pick up such things on board as you think will be acceptable to
her, and send them as soon as possible; he does not mean to receive
anything without payment."

Lodged at head-quarters, then the Craigie house in Cambridge, the
discomforts of war were reduced to a minimum, but none the less it was a
trying time to Mrs. Washington, who complained that she could not get used
to the distant cannonading, and she marvelled that those about her paid so
little heed to it. With the opening of the campaign in the following
summer she returned to Mount Vernon, but when the army was safely in
winter quarters at Valley Forge she once more journeyed northward, a trip
alluded to by Washington in a letter to Jack, as follows: "Your Mamma is
not yet arrived, but ... expected every hour. [My aide] Meade set off
yesterday (as soon as I got notice of her intention) to meet her. We are
in a dreary kind of place, and uncomfortably provided." And of this
reunion Mrs. Washington wrote, "I came to this place, some time about the
first of February where I found the General very well,... in camp in what
is called the great valley on the Banks of the Schuylkill. Officers and
men are chiefly in Hutts, which they say is tolerably comfortable; the
army are as healthy as can be well expected in general. The General's
apartment is very small; he has had a log cabin built to dine in, which
has made our quarters much more tolerable than they were at first"

Such "winterings" became the regular custom, and brief references in
various letters serve to illustrate them. Thus, in 1779, Washington
informed a friend that "Mrs. Washington, according to custom marched home
when the campaign was about to open;" in July, 1782, he noted that his
wife "sets out this day for Mount Vernon," and later in the same year he
wrote, "as I despair of seeing my home this Winter, I have sent for Mrs.
Washington;" and finally, in a letter he draughted for his wife, he made
her describe herself as "a kind of perambulator, during eight or nine
years of the war."

Another pleasant glimpse during these stormy years is the couple, during a
brief stay in Philadelphia, being entertained almost to death, described
as follows by Franklin's daughter in a letter to her father: "I have
lately been several times abroad with the General and Mrs. Washington. He
always inquires after you in the most affectionate manner, and speaks of
you highly. We danced at Mrs. Powell's your birthday, or night I should
say, in company together, and he told me it was the anniversary of his
marriage; it was just twenty years that night" Again there was junketing
in Philadelphia after the surrender at Yorktown, and one bit of this is
shadowed in a line from Washington to Robert Morris, telling the latter
that "Mrs. Washington, myself and family, will have the honor of dining
with you in the way proposed, to-morrow, being Christmas day."

With the retirement to Mount Vernon at the close of the war, little more
companionship was obtained, for, as already stated, Washington could only
describe his home henceforth as a "well resorted tavern," and two years
after his return he entered in his diary, "Dined with only Mrs. Washington
which I believe is the first instance of it since my retirement from
public life."

Even this was only a furlough, for in six years they were both in public
life again. Mrs. Washington was inclined to sulk over the necessary
restraints of official life, writing to a friend, "Mrs. Sins will give you
a better account of the fashions than I can--I live a very dull life hear
and know nothing that passes in the town--I never goe to any public
place--indeed I think I am more like a State prisoner than anything else;
there is certain bounds set for me which I must not depart from--and as I
cannot doe as I like, I am obstinate and stay at home a great deal."


None the less she did her duties well, and in these "Lady Washington" was
more at home, for, according to Thacher, she combined "in an uncommon
degree, great dignity of manner with most pleasing affability," though
possessing "no striking marks of beauty," and there is no doubt that she
lightened Washington's shoulders of social demands materially. At the
receptions of Mrs. Washington, which were held every Friday evening, so a
contemporary states, "the President did not consider himself as visited.
On these occasions he appeared as a private gentleman, with neither hat
nor sword, conversing without restraint."

From other formal society Mrs. Washington also saved her husband, for a
visitor on New Year's tells of her setting "'the General' (by which title
she always designated her husband)" at liberty: "Mrs. Washington had stood
by his side as the visitors arrived and were presented, and when the clock
in the hall was heard striking nine, she advanced and with a complacent
smile said, 'The General always retires at nine, and I usually precede
him,' upon which all arose, made their parting salutations, and withdrew."
Nor was it only from the fatigues of formal entertaining that the wife
saved her husband, Washington writing in 1793, "We remain in Philadelphia
until the 10th instant. It was my wish to have continued there longer; but
as Mrs. Washington was unwilling to leave me surrounded by the malignant
fever which prevailed, I could not think of hazarding her, and the
Children any longer by _my_ continuance in the City, the house in which we
live being in a manner blockaded by the disorder, and was becoming every
day more and more fatal; I therefore came off with them."

Finally from these "scenes more busy, tho' not more happy, than the
tranquil enjoyment of rural life," they returned to Mount Vernon, hoping
that in the latter their "days will close." Not quite three years of this
life brought an end to their forty years of married life. On the night
that Washington's illness first became serious his secretary narrates that
"Between 2 and 3 o'clk on Saturday morning he [Washington] awoke Mrs.
Washington & told her he was very unwell, and had had an ague.
She ... would have got up to call a servant; but he would not permit her
lest she should take cold." As a consequence of this care for her, her
husband lay for nearly four hours in a chill in a cold bedroom before
receiving any attention, or before even a fire was lighted. When death
came, she said, "Tis well--All is now over--I have no more trials to pass
through--I shall soon follow him." In his will he left "to my dearly
beloved wife" the use of his whole property, and named her an executrix.

As a man's views of matrimony are more or less colored by his personal
experience, what Washington had to say on the institution is of interest.
As concerned himself he wrote to his nephew, "If Mrs. Washington should
survive me, there is a moral certainty of my dying without issue: and
should I be the longest liver, the matter in my opinion, is hardly less
certain; for while I retain the faculty of reasoning, I shall never marry
a girl; and it is not probable that I should have children by a woman of
an age suitable to my own, should I be disposed to enter into a second
marriage." And in a less personal sense he wrote to Chastellux,--

"In reading your very friendly and acceptable letter,... I was, as you
may well suppose, not less delighted than surprised to meet the plain
American words, 'my wife.' A wife! Well, my dear Marquis, I can hardly
refrain from smiling to find you are caught at last. I saw, by the
eulogium you often made on the happiness of domestic life in America, that
you had swallowed the bait, and that you would as surely be taken, one day
or another, as that you were a philosopher and a soldier. So your day has
at length come. I am glad of it, with all my heart and soul. It is quite
good enough for you. Now you are well served for coming to fight in favor
of the American rebels, all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, by catching
that terrible contagion--domestic felicity--which same, like the small pox
or the plague, a man can have only once in his life; because it commonly
lasts him (at least with us in America--I don't know how you manage these
matters in France) for his whole life time. And yet after all the
maledictions you so richly merit on the subject, the worst wish which I
can find in my heart to make against Madame de Chastellux and yourself is,
that you may neither of you ever get the better of this same domestic
felicity during the entire course of your mortal existence."

Furthermore, he wrote to an old friend, whose wife stubbornly refused to
sign a deed, "I think, any Gentleman, possessed of but a very moderate
degree of influence with his wife, might, in the course of five or six
years (for I think it is at least that time) have prevailed upon her to do
an act of justice, in fulfiling his Bargains and complying with his
wishes, if he had been really in earnest in requesting the matter of her;
especially, as the inducement which you thought would have a powerful
operation on Mrs. Alexander, namely the birth of a child, has been
doubled, and tripled."

However well Washington thought of "the honorable state," he was
no match-maker, and when asked to give advice to the widow of Jack Custis,
replied, "I never did, nor do I believe I ever shall, give advice to a
woman, who is setting out on a matrimonial voyage; first, because I never
could advise one to marry without her own consent; and, secondly because I
know it is to no purpose to advise her to refrain, when she has obtained
it. A woman very rarely asks an opinion or requires advice on such an
occasion, till her resolution is formed; and then it is with the hope and
expectation of obtaining a sanction, not that she means to be governed by
your disapprobation, that she applies. In a word the plain English of the
application may be summed up in these words: 'I wish you to think as I do;
but, if unhappily you differ from me in opinion, my heart, I must confess,
is fixed, and I have gone too far now to retract.'" Again he wrote:

"It has ever been a maxim with me through life, neither to promote nor to
prevent a matrimonial connection, unless there should be something
indispensably requiring interference in the latter. I have always
considered marriage as the most interesting event of one's life, the
foundation of happiness or misery. To be instrumental therefore in
bringing two people together, who are indifferent to each other, and may
soon become objects of disgust; or to prevent a union, which is prompted
by the affections of the mind, is what I never could reconcile with
reason, and therefore neither directly nor indirectly have I ever said a
word to Fanny or George, upon the subject of their intended connection."

The question whether Washington was a faithful husband might well be left
to the facts already given, were it not that stories of his immorality are
bandied about in clubs, a well-known clergyman has vouched for their
truth, and a United States senator has given further currency to them by
claiming special knowledge on the subject. Since such are the facts, it
seems best to consider the question and show what evidence there actually
is for these stories, that at least the pretended "letters," etc., which
are always being cited, and are never produced, may no longer have
credence put in them, and the true basis for all the stories may be known
and valued at its worth.

In the year 1776 there was printed in London a small pamphlet entitled
"Minutes of the Trial and Examination of Certain Persons in the Province
of New York," which purported to be the records of the examination of the
conspirators of the "Hickey plot" (to murder Washington) before a
committee of the Provincial Congress of New York. The manuscript of this
was claimed in the preface to have been "discovered (on the late capture
of New York by the British troops) among the papers of a person who
appears to have been secretary to the committee." As part of the evidence
the following was printed:

"William Cooper, soldier, sworn.

"Court. Inform us what conversation you heard at the Serjeant's Arms?

"Cooper. Being there the 21st of May, I heard John Clayford inform the
company, that Mary Gibbons was thoroughly in their interest, and that the
whole would be safe. I learnt from enquiry that Mary Gibbons was a girl
from New Jersey, of whom General Washington was very fond, that he
maintained her genteelly at a house near Mr. Skinner's,--at the North
River; that he came there very often late at night in disguise; he learnt
also that this woman was very intimate with Clayford, and made him
presents, and told him of what General Washington said.

"Court. Did you hear Mr. Clayford say any thing himself that night?

"Cooper. Yes; that he was the day before with Judith, so he called her,
and that she told him, Washington had often said he wished his hands were
clear of the dirty New-Englanders, and words to that effect.

"Court. Did you hear no mention made of any scheme to betray or seize him?

"Cooper. Mr. Clayford said he could easily be seized and put on board a
boat, and carried off, as his female friend had promised she would assist:
but all present thought it would be hazardous."

"William Savage, sworn.

"Court. Was you at the Serjeant's Arms on the 21st of May? Did you hear
any thing of this nature?

"Savage. I did, and nearly as the last evidence has declared; the society
in general refused to be concerned in it, and thought it a mad scheme.

"Mr. Abeel. Pray, Mr. Savage, have not you heard nothing of an information
that was to be given to Governor Tryon?

"Savage. Yes; papers and letters were at different times shewn to the
society, which were taken out of General Washington's pockets by Mrs.
Gibbons, and given (as she pretended some occasion of going out) to Mr.
Clayford, who always copied them, and they were put into his pockets

The authenticity of this pamphlet thus becomes of importance, and over
this little time need be spent. The committee named in it differs from the
committee really named by the Provincial Congress, and the proceedings
nowhere implicate the men actually proved guilty. In other words, the
whole publication is a clumsy Tory forgery, put forward with the same idle
story of "captured papers" employed in the "spurious letters" of
Washington, and sent forth from the same press (J. Bew) from which that
forgery and several others issued.

The source from which the English fabricator drew this scandal is
fortunately known. In 1775 a letter to Washington from his friend Benjamin
Harrison was intercepted by the British, and at once printed broadcast in
the newspapers. In this the writer gossips to Washington "to amuse you and
unbend your minds from the cares of war," as follows: "As I was in the
pleasing task of writing to you, a little noise occasioned me to turn my
head around, and who should appear but pretty little Kate, the
Washer-woman's daughter over the way, clean, trim and as rosy as the
morning. I snatched the golden, glorious opportunity, and, but for the
cursed antidote to love, Sukey, I had fitted her for my general against his
return. We were obliged to part, but not till we had contrived to meet
again: if she keeps the appointment, I shall relish a week's longer stay."
From this originated the stories of Washington's infidelity as already
given, and also a coarser version of the same, printed in 1776 in a Tory
farce entitled "The Battle of Brooklyn."

Jonathan Boucher, who knew Washington well before the Revolution, yet who,
as a loyalist, wrote in no friendly spirit of him, asserted that "in his
moral character, he is regular." A man who disliked him far more, General
Charles Lee, in the excess of his hatred, charged Washington in 1778 with
immorality,--a rather amusing impeachment, since at the very time Lee was
flaunting the evidence of his own incontinence without apparent shame,--and
a mutual friend of the accused and accuser, Joseph Reed, whose service on
Washington's staff enabled him to speak wittingly, advised that Lee
"forbear any Reflections upon the Commander in Chief, of whom for the
first time I have heard Slander on his private Character, viz., great
cruelty to his Slaves in Virginia & Immorality of Life, tho' they
acknowledge so very secret that it is difficult to detect. To me who have
had so good opportunities to know the Purity of the latter & equally
believing the Falsehood of the former from the known excellence of his
disposition, it appears so nearly bordering upon frenzy, that I can pity
the wretches rather than despise them."

Washington was too much of a man, however, to have his marriage lessen his
liking for other women; and Yeates repeats that "Mr. Washington once told
me, on a charge which I once made against the President at his own Table,
that the admiration he warmly professed for Mrs. Hartley, was a Proof of
his Homage to the worthy Part of the Sex, and highly respectful to his
Wife." Every now and then there is an allusion in his letters which shows
his appreciation of beauty, as when he wrote to General Schuyler, "Your
fair daughter, for whose visit Mrs. Washington and myself are greatly
obliged," and again, to one of his aides, "The fair hand, to whom your
letter ... was committed presented it safe."

His diary, in the notes of the balls and assemblies which he attended,
usually had a word for the sex, as exampled in: "at which there were
between 60 & 70 well dressed ladies;" "at which there was about 100 well
dressed and handsome ladies;" "at which were 256 elegantly dressed
ladies;" "where there was a select Company of ladies;" "where (it is said)
there were upwards of 100 ladies; their appearance was elegant, and many
of them very handsome;" "at wch. there were about 400 ladies the number
and appearance of wch. exceeded anything of the kind I have ever seen;"
"where there were about 75 well dressed, and many of them very handsome
ladies--among whom (as was also the case at the Salem and Boston
assemblies) were a greater proportion with much blacker hair than are
usually seen in the Southern States."

At his wife's receptions, as already said, Washington did not view himself
as host, and "conversed without restraint, generally with women, who
rarely had other opportunity of seeing him," which perhaps accounts for
the statement of another eye-witness that Washington "looked very much
more at ease than at his own official levees." Sullivan adds that "the
young ladies used to throng around him, and engaged him in conversation.
There were some of the well-remembered belles of the day who imagined
themselves to be favorites with him. As these were the only opportunities
which they had of conversing with him, they were disposed to use them." In
his Southern trip of 1791 Washington noted, with evident pleasure, that he
"was visited about 2 o'clock, by a great number of the most respectable
ladies of Charleston--the first honor of the kind I had ever experienced
and it was flattering as it was singular." And that this attention was not
merely the respect due to a great man is shown in the letter of a
Virginian woman, who wrote to her correspondent in 1777, that when
"General Washington throws off the Hero and takes up the chatty agreeable
Companion--he can be down right impudent sometimes--such impudence, Fanny,
as you and I like."

Another feminine compliment paid him was a highly laudatory poem which was
enclosed to him, with a letter begging forgiveness, to which he playfully

"You apply to me, my dear Madam, for absolution as tho' I was your father
Confessor; and as tho' you had committed a crime, great in itself, yet of
the venial class. You have reason good--for I find myself strangely
disposed to be a very indulgent ghostly adviser on this occasion; and,
notwithstanding 'you are the most offending Soul alive' (that is, if it is
a crime to write elegant Poetry,) yet if you will come and dine with me on
Thursday, and go thro' the proper course of penitence which shall be
prescribed I will strive hard to assist you in expiating these poetical
trespasses on this side of purgatory. Nay more, if it rests with me
to direct your future lucubrations, I shall certainly urge you to a
repetition of the same conduct, on purpose to shew what an admirable knack
you have at confession and reformation; and so without more hesitation, I
shall venture to command the muse, not to be restrained by ill-grounded
timidity, but to go on and prosper. You see, Madam, when once the woman
has tempted us, and we have tasted the forbidden fruit, there is no such
thing as checking our appetites, whatever the consequences may be. You
will, I dare say, recognize our being the genuine Descendants of those who
are reputed to be our great Progenitors."

Nor was Washington open only to beauty and flattery. From the rude
frontier in 1756 he wrote, "The supplicating tears of the women,... melt
me into such deadly sorrow, that I solemnly declare, if I know my own
mind, I could offer myself a willing sacrifice to the butchering enemy,
provided that would contribute to the people's ease." And in 1776 he said,
"When I consider that the city of New York will in all human probability
very soon be the scene of a bloody conflict, I cannot but view the great
numbers of women, children, and infirm persons remaining in it, with the
most melancholy concern. When the men-of-war passed up the river, the
shrieks and cries of these poor creatures running every way with their
children, were truly distressing.... Can no method be devised for their

Nevertheless, though liked by and liking the fair sex, Washington was
human, and after experience concluded that "I never again will have two
women in my house when I am there myself."



The earliest known Washington coat of arms had blazoned upon it "3 Cinque
foiles," which was the herald's way of saying that the bearer was a
landholder and cultivator, and when Washington had a book-plate made for
himself he added to the conventional design of the arms spears of wheat
and other plants, as an indication of his favorite labor. During his
career he acted several parts, but in none did he find such pleasure as in
farming, and late in life he said, "I think with you, that the life of a
husbandman of all others is the most delectable. It is honorable, it is
amusing, and, with judicious management, it is profitable. To see plants
rise from the earth and flourish by the superior skill and bounty of the
laborer fills a contemplative mind with ideas which are more easy to be
conceived than expressed." "Agriculture has ever been the most favorite
amusement of my life," he wrote after the Revolution, and he informed
another correspondent that "the more I am acquainted with agricultural
affairs, the better pleased I am with them; insomuch, that I can no where
find so great satisfaction as in those innocent and useful pursuits: In
indulging these feelings, I am led to reflect how much more delightful to
an undebauched mind is the task of making improvements on the earth, than
all the vain glory which can be acquired from ravaging it, by the most
uninterrupted career of conquests." A visitor to Mount Vernon in 1785
states that his host's "greatest pride is, to be thought the first farmer
in America. He is quite a Cincinnatus."

Undoubtedly a part of this liking flowed from his strong affection for
Mount Vernon. Such was his feeling for the place that he never seems to
have been entirely happy away from it, and over and over again, during his
various and enforced absences, he "sighs" or "pants" for his "own vine and
fig tree." In writing to an English correspondent, he shows his feeling
for the place by saying, "No estate in United America, is more pleasantly
situated than this. It lies in a high, dry and healthy country, three
hundred miles by water from the sea, and, as you will see by the plan, on
one of the finest rivers in the world."

The history of the Mount Vernon estate begins in 1674, when Lord Culpepper
conveyed to Nicholas Spencer and Lieutenant-Colonel John Washington five
thousand acres of land "scytuate Lying and being within the said terrytory
in the County of Stafford in the ffreshes of the Pottomocke River
and ... bounded betwixt two Creeks." Colonel John's half was bequeathed to
his son Lawrence, and by Lawrence's will it was left to his daughter
Mildred. She sold it to the father of George, who by his will left it to
his son Lawrence, with a reversion to George should Lawrence die without
issue. The original house was built about 1740, and the place was named
Mount Vernon by Lawrence, in honor of Admiral Vernon, under whom he had
served at Carthagena. After the death of Lawrence, the estate of
twenty-five hundred acres came under Washington's management, and from 1754
it was his home, as it had been practically even in his brother's life.

Twice Washington materially enlarged the house at Mount Vernon, the first
time in 1760 and the second in 1785, and a visitor reports, what his host
must have told him, that "its a pity he did not build a new one at
once, for it has cost him nearly as much to repair his old one." These
alterations consisted in the addition of a banquet-hall at one end (by far
the finest room in the house), and a library and dining-room at the other,
with the addition of an entire story to the whole.

The grounds, too, were very much improved. A fine approach, or bowling
green, was laid out, a "botanical garden," a "shrubbery," and greenhouses
were added, and in every way possible the place was improved. A deer
paddock was laid out and stocked, gifts of Chinese pheasants and geese,
French partridges, and guinea-pigs were sent him, and were gratefully
acknowledged, and from all the world over came curious, useful, or
beautiful plants.

The original tract did not satisfy the ambition of the farmer, and from
the time he came into the possession of Mount Vernon he was a persistent
purchaser of lands adjoining the property. In 1760 he bargained with one
Clifton for "a tract called Brents," of eighteen hundred and six acres,
but after the agreement was closed the seller, "under pretence of his wife
not consenting to acknowledge her right of dower wanted to disengage
himself ... and by his shuffling behavior convinced me of his being the
trifling body represented." Presently Washington heard that Clifton had
sold his lands to another for twelve hundred pounds, which "fully
unravelled his conduct ... and convinced me that he was nothing less than
a thorough pac'd rascall." Meeting the "rascall" at a court, "much
discourse," Washington states, "happened between him and I concerning his
ungenerous treatment of me, the whole turning to little account, 'tis not
worth reciting." After much more friction, the land was finally sold at
public auction, and "I bought it for L1210 Sterling, [and] under many
threats and disadvantages paid the money."


In 1778, when some other land was offered, Washington wrote to his agent,
"I have premised these things to shew my inability, not my unwillingness
to purchase the Lands in my own Neck at (almost) any price--& this I am
very desirous of doing if it could be accomplished by any means in my
power, in ye way of Barter for other Land--for Negroes ... or in short--for
any thing else ... but for money I cannot, I want the means." Again, in
1782, he wrote, "Inform Mr. Dulany,... that I look upon L2000 to be a
great price for his land; that my wishes to obtain it do not proceed from
its intrinsic value, but from the motives I have candidly assigned in my
other letter. That to indulge this fancy, (for in truth there is more
fancy than judgment in it) I have submitted, or am willing to submit, to
the disadvantage of borrowing as large a sum as I think this Land is
worth, in order to come at it"

By thus purchasing whenever an opportunity occurred, the property was
increased from the twenty-five hundred acres which had come into
Washington's possession by inheritance to an estate exceeding eight
thousand acres, of which over thirty-two hundred were actually under
cultivation during the latter part of its owner's life.

To manage so vast a tract, the property was subdivided into several
tracts, called "Mansion House Farm," "River Farm," "Union Farm," "Muddy
Hole Farm," and "Dogue Run Farm," each having an overseer to manage it,
and each being operated as a separate plantation, though a general
overseer controlled the whole, and each farm derived common benefit from
the property as a whole. "On Saturday in the afternoon, every week,
reports are made by all his overseers, and registered in books kept for
the purpose," and these accounts were so schemed as to show how every
negro's and laborer's time had been employed during the whole week, what
crops had been planted or gathered, what increase or loss of stock had
occurred, and every other detail of farm-work. During Washington's
absences from Mount Vernon his chief overseer sent him these reports, as
well as wrote himself, and weekly the manager received in return long
letters of instruction, sometimes to the length of sixteen pages, which
showed most wonderful familiarity with every acre of the estate and the
character of every laborer, and are little short of marvellous when
account is taken of the pressure of public affairs that rested upon their
writer as he framed them.

When Washington became a farmer, but one system of agriculture, so far as
Virginia was concerned, existed, which he described long after as follows:

"A piece of land is cut down, and kept under constant cultivation, first
in tobacco, and then in Indian corn (two very exhausting plants), until it
will yield scarcely any thing; a second piece is cleared, and treated in
the same manner; then a third and so on, until probably there is but
little more to clear. When this happens, the owner finds himself reduced
to the choice of one of three things--either to recover the land which he
has ruined, to accomplish which, he has perhaps neither the skill, the
industry, nor the means; or to retire beyond the mountains; or to
substitute quantity for quality, in order to raise something. The latter
has been generally adopted, and, with the assistance of horses, he
scratches over much ground, and seeds it, to very little purpose."

Knowing no better, Washington adopted this one-crop system, even to the
extent of buying corn and hogs to feed his hands. Though following in the
beaten track, he experimented in different kinds of tobacco, so that, "by
comparing then the loss of the one with the extra price of the other, I
shall be able to determine which is the best to pursue." The largest crop
he ever seems to have produced, "being all sweet-scented and neatly
managed," was one hundred and fifteen hogsheads, which averaged in sale
twelve pounds each.

From a very early time Washington had been a careful student of such books
on agriculture as he could obtain, even preparing lengthy abstracts of
them, and the knowledge he thus obtained, combined with his own practical
experience, soon convinced him that the Virginian system was wrong. "I
never ride on my plantations," he wrote, "without seeing something which
makes me regret having continued so long in the ruinous mode of farming,
which we are in," and he soon "discontinued the growth of tobacco myself;
[and] except at a plantation or two upon York River, I make no more of
that article than barely serves to furnish me with goods."

From this time (1765) "the whole of my force [was] in a manner confined to
the growth of wheat and manufacturing of it into flour," and before long
he boasted that "the wheat from some of my plantations, by one pair of
steelyards, will weigh upwards of sixty pounds,... and better wheat than
I now have I do not expect to make." After the Revolution he claimed that
"no wheat that has ever yet fallen under my observation exceeds the wheat
which some years ago I cultivated extensively but which, from inattention
during my absence of almost nine years from home, has got so mixed or
degenerated as scarcely to retain any of its original characteristics
properly." In 1768 he was able to sell over nineteen hundred bushels, and
how greatly his product was increased after this is shown by the fact that
in this same year he sowed four hundred and ninety bushels.

Still further study and experimentation led him to conclude that "my
countrymen are too much used to corn blades and corn shucks; and have too
little knowledge of the profit of grass lands," and after his final
home-coming to Mount Vernon, he said, "I have had it in contemplation ever
since I returned home to turn my farms to grazing principally, as fast as
I can cover the fields sufficiently with grass. Labor and of course
expence will be considerably diminished by this change, the nett profit as
great and my attention less divided, whilst the fields will be improving."
That this was only an abandonment of a "one crop" system is shown by the
fact that in 1792 he grew over five thousand bushels of wheat, valued at
four shillings the bushel, and in 1799 he said, "as a farmer, wheat and
flour are my principal concerns." And though, in abandoning the growth of
tobacco, Washington also tried "to grow as little Indian corn as may be,"
yet in 1795 his crop was over sixteen hundred barrels, and the quantity
needed for his own negroes and stock is shown in a year when his crop
failed, which "obliged me to purchase upwards of eight hundred barrels of

In connection with this change of system, Washington became an early
convert to the rotation of crops, and drew up elaborate tables sometimes
covering periods of five years, so that the quantity of each crop should
not vary, yet by which his fields should have constant change. This system
naturally very much diversified the product of his estate, and flax, hay,
clover, buckwheat, turnips, and potatoes became large crops. The scale on
which this was done is shown by the facts that in one year he sowed
twenty-seven bushels of flaxseed and planted over three hundred bushels of

Early and late Washington preached to his overseers the value of
fertilization; in one case, when looking for a new overseer, he said the
man must be, "above all, Midas like, one who can convert everything he
touches into manure, as the first transmutation towards gold;--in a word
one who can bring worn out and gullied Lands into good tilth in the
shortest time." Equally emphatic was his urging of constant ploughing and
grubbing, and he even invented a deep soil plough, which he used till he
found a better one in the English Rotheran plough, which he promptly
imported, as he did all other improved farming tools and machinery of
which he could learn. To save his woodlands, and for appearance's sake, he
insisted on live fences, though he had to acknowledge that "no hedge,
alone, will, I am persuaded, do for an outer inclosure, where _two_ or
four footed hogs find it convenient to open passage." In all things he was
an experimentalist, carefully trying different kinds of tobacco and wheat,
various kinds of plants for hedges, and various kinds of manure for
fertilizers; he had tests made to see whether he could sell his wheat to
best advantage in the grain or when made into flour, and he bred from
selected horses, cattle, and sheep. "In short I shall begrudge no
reasonable expence that will contribute to the improvement and neatness of
my Farms;--for nothing pleases me better than to see them in good order,
and everything trim, handsome, and thriving about them."

The magnitude of the charge of such an estate can be better understood
when the condition of a Virginia plantation is realized. Before the
Revolution practically everything the plantation could not produce was
ordered yearly from Great Britain, and after the annual delivery
of the invoices the estate could look for little outside help. Nor did
this change rapidly after the Revolution, and during the period of
Washington's management almost everything was bought in yearly supplies.
This system compelled each plantation to be a little world unto itself;
indeed, the three hundred souls on the Mount Vernon estate went far to
make it a distinct and self-supporting community, and one of Washington's
standing orders to his overseers was to "buy nothing you can make within
yourselves." Thus the planting and gathering of the crops were but a small
part of the work to be done.

A corps of workmen--some negroes, some indentured servants, and some hired
laborers--were kept on the estate. A blacksmith-shop occupied some, doing
not merely the work of the plantation, but whatever business was brought
to them from outside; and a wood-burner kept them and the mansion-house
supplied with charcoal. A gang of carpenters were kept busy, and their
spare time was utilized in framing houses to be put up in Alexandria, or
in the "Federal city," as Washington was called before the death of its
namesake. A brick-maker, too, was kept constantly employed, and masons
utilized the product of his labor. The gardener's gang had charge of the
kitchen-garden, and set out thousands of grape-vines, fruit-trees, and

A water-mill, with its staff, not merely ground meal for the hands, but
produced a fine flour that commanded extra price in the market In 1786
Washington asserted that his flour was "equal, I believe, in quality to
any made in this country," and the Mount Vernon brand was of such value
that some money was made by buying outside wheat and grinding it into
flour. The coopers of the estate made the barrels in which it was packed,
and Washington's schooner carried it to market.

The estate had its own shoemaker, and in time a staff of weavers was
trained. Before this was obtained, in 1760, though with only a modicum of
the force he presently had, Washington ordered from London "450 ells of
Osnabrig, 4 pieces of Brown Wools, 350 yards of Kendall Cotton, and 100
yards of Dutch blanket." By 1768 he was manufacturing the chief part of
his requirements, for in that year his weavers produced eight hundred and
fifteen and three-quarter yards of linen, three hundred and sixty-five and
one-quarter yards of woollen, one hundred and forty-four yards of linsey,
and forty yards of cotton, or a total of thirteen hundred and sixty-five
and one-half yards, one man and five negro girls having been employed.
When once the looms were well organized an infinite variety of cloths was
produced, the accounts mentioning "striped woollen, woolen plaided, cotton
striped, linen, wool-birdseye, cotton filled with wool, linsey, M.'s &
O.'s, cotton-India dimity, cotton jump stripe, linen filled with tow,
cotton striped with silk, Roman M., Janes twilled, huccabac, broadcloth,
counterpain, birdseye diaper, Kirsey wool, barragon, fustian, bed-ticking,
herring-box, and shalloon."

One of the most important features of the estate was its fishery, for the
catch, salted down, largely served in place of meat for the negroes' food.
Of this advantage Washington wrote, "This river,... is well supplied with
various kinds of fish at all seasons of the year; and, in the spring, with
the greatest profusion of shad, herrings, bass, carp, perch, sturgeon, &c.
Several valuable fisheries appertain to the estate; the whole shore, in
short, is one entire fishery." Whenever there was a run of fish, the seine
was drawn, chiefly for herring and shad, and in good years this not merely
amply supplied the home requirements, but allowed of sales; four or five
shillings the thousand for herring and ten shillings the hundred for shad
were the average prices, and sales of as high as eighty-five thousand
herring were made in a single year.

In 1795, when the United States passed an excise law, distilling became
particularly profitable, and a still was set up on the plantation. In
this whiskey was made from "Rye chiefly and Indian corn in a certain
proportion," and this not merely used much of the estate's product of
those two grains, but quantities were purchased from elsewhere. In 1798
the profit from the distillery was three hundred and forty-four pounds
twelve shillings and seven and three-quarter pence, with a stock carried
over of seven hundred and fifty-five and one-quarter gallons; but this was
the most successful year. Cider, too, was made in large quantities.

A stud stable was from an early time maintained, and the Virginia papers
regularly advertised that the stud horse "Samson," "Magnolia," "Leonidas,"
"Traveller," or whatever the reigning stallion of the moment might be,
would "cover" mares at Mount Vernon, with pasturage and a guarantee of
foal, if their owners so elected. During the Revolution Washington bought
twenty-seven of the army mares that had been "worn-down so as to render it
beneficial to the public to have them sold," not even objecting to those
"low in flesh or even crippled," because "I have many large Farms and am
improving a good deal of Land into Meadow and Pasture, which cannot fail
of being profited by a number of Brood Mares." In addition to the stud,
there were, in 1793, fifty-four draught horses on the estate.

A unique feature of this stud was the possession of two jackasses, of
which the history was curious. At that time there was a law in Spain
(where the best breed was to be found) which forbade the exportation of
asses, but the king, hearing of Washington's wish to possess a jack,
sent him one of the finest obtainable as a present, which was promptly
christened "Royal Gift." The sea-voyage and the change of climate,
however, so affected him that for a time he proved of little value
to his owner, except as a source of amusement, for Washington wrote
Lafayette, "The Jack I have already received from Spain in appearance is
fine, but his late Royal master, tho' past his grand climacteric cannot be
less moved by female allurements than he is; or when prompted, can proceed
with more deliberation and majestic solemnity to the work of procreation."
This reluctance to play his part Washington concluded was a sign of
aristocracy, and he wrote a nephew, "If Royal Gift will administer, he
shall be at the service of your Mares, but at present he seems too full of
Royalty, to have anything to do with a plebeian Race," and to Fitzhugh he
said, "particular attention shall be paid to the mares which your servant
brought, and when my Jack is in the humor, they shall derive all the
benefit of his labor, for labor it appears to be. At present tho' young,
he follows what may be supposed to be the example of his late Royal
Master, who can not, tho' past his grand climacteric, perform seldomer or
with more majestic solemnity than he does. However I am not without hope
that when he becomes a little better acquainted with republican enjoyment,
he will amend his manners, and fall into a better and more expeditious
mode of doing business." This fortunately proved to be the case, and his
master not merely secured such mules as he needed for his own use, but
gained from him considerable profit by covering mares in the neighborhood.
He even sent him on a tour through the South, and Royal Gift passed a
whole winter in Charleston, South Carolina, with a resulting profit of six
hundred and seventy-eight dollars to his owner. In 1799 there were on the
estate "2 Covering Jacks & 3 young ones, 10 she asses, 42 working mules
and 15 younger ones."

Of cattle there were in 1793 a total of three hundred and seventeen head,
including "a sufficiency of oxen broke to the yoke," and a dairy was
operated separate from the farms, and some butter was made, but Washington
had occasion to say, "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."

Sheep were an unusual adjunct of a Virginia plantation, and of his flock
Washington wrote, "From the beginning of the year 1784 when I returned
from the army, until shearing time of 1788, I improved the breed of my
sheep so much by buying and selecting the best formed and most promising
Rams, and putting them to my best ewes, by keeping them always well culled
and clean, and by other attentions, that they averaged me ... rather over
than under five pounds of washed wool each." In another letter he said,
"I ... was proud in being able to produce perhaps the largest mutton and
the greatest quantity of wool from my sheep that could be produced. But I
was not satisfied with this; and contemplated further improvements both in
the flesh and wool by the introduction of other breeds, which I should by
this time have carried into effect, had I been permitted to pursue my
favorite occupation." In 1789, however, "I was again called from home, and
have not had it in my power since to pay any attention to my farms. The
consequence of which is, that my sheep at the last shearing, yielded me not
more than 2-1/2" pounds. In 1793 he had six hundred and thirty-four in his
flock, from which he obtained fourteen hundred and-fifty-seven pounds of
fleece. Of hogs he had "many," but "as these run pretty much at large in
the woodland, the number is uncertain." In 1799 his manager valued his
entire live-stock at seven thousand pounds.

A separate account was kept of each farm, and of many of these separate
departments, and whenever there was a surplus of any product an account
was opened to cover it. Thus in various years there are accounts raised
dealing with cattle, hay, flour, flax, cord-wood, shoats, fish, whiskey,
pork, etc., and his secretary, Shaw, told a visitor that the "books were
as regular as any merchant whatever." It is proper to note, however, that
sometimes they would not balance, and twice at least Washington could only
force one, by entering "By cash supposed to be paid away & not credited
_L_17.6.2," and "By cash lost, stolen or paid away without charging
_L_143.15.2." All these accounts were tabulated at the end of the year
and the net results obtained. Those for a single year are here given:


_Dr. gained._

Dogue Run Farm. 397.11.02
Union Farm ..... 529.10.11-1/2
River Farm ..... 234. 4.11
Smith's Shop.... 34.12.09 1/2
Distillery ..... 83.13.01
Jacks .......... 56.01
Traveller (studhorse) 9.17
Shoemaker....... 28.17.01
Fishery ........ 165.12.0-3/4
Dairy .......... 30.12.03

_Cr. lost._

Mansion House... 466.18.02-1/2
Muddy Hole Farm 60.01.03-1/2
Spinning ....... 51.02.0
Hire of head
overseer .... 140.00.0

By Clear gain on
the Estate. _L_898.16.4-1/4

A pretty poor showing for an estate and negroes which had certainly cost
him over fifty thousand dollars, and on which there was livestock which at
the lowest estimation was worth fifteen thousand dollars more. It is not
strange that in 1793 Washington attempted to find tenants for all but the
Mansion farm. This he reserved for my "own residence, occupation and
amusement," as Washington held that "idleness is disreputable," and in
1798 he told his chief overseer he did not choose to "discontinue my rides
or become a cipher on my own estate."

When at Mount Vernon, as this indicated, Washington rode daily about his
estate, and he has left a pleasant description of his life immediately
after retiring from the Presidency: "I begin my diurnal course with the
sun;... if my hirelings are not in their places at that time I send them
messages expressive of my sorrow for their indisposition;... having put
these wheels in motion, I examine the state of things further; and the
more they are probed, the deeper I find the wounds are which my buildings
have sustained by my absence and neglect of eight years; by the time
I have accomplished these matters, breakfast (a little after seven
o'clock)... is ready;... this being over, I mount my horse and ride round
my farms, which employs me until it is time to dress for dinner." A
visitor at this time is authority for the statement that the master "often
works with his men himself--strips off his coat and labors like a common
man. The General has a great turn for mechanics. It's astonishing with
what niceness he directs everything in the building way, condescending
even to measure the things himself, that all may be perfectly uniform."

This personal attention Washington was able to give only with very serious
interruptions. From 1754 till 1759 he was most of the time on the
frontier; for nearly nine years his Revolutionary service separated him
absolutely from his property; and during the two terms of his Presidency
he had only brief and infrequent visits. Just one-half of his forty-six
years' occupancy of Mount Vernon was given to public service.

The result was that in 1757 he wrote, "I am so little acquainted with the
business relative to my private affairs that I can scarce give you any
information concerning it," and this was hardly less true of the whole
period of his absences. In 1775 he engaged overseers to manage his various
estates in his absence "upon shares," but during the whole war the
plantations barely supported themselves, even with depletion of stock and
fertility, and he was able to draw nothing from them. One overseer, and a
confederate, he wrote, "I believe, divided the profits of my Estate on the
York River, tolerably betwn. them, for the devil of any thing do I get."
Well might he advise knowingly that "I have no doubt myself but that
middling land under a man's own eyes, is more profitable than rich land at
a distance." "No Virginia Estate (except a very few under the best of
management) can stand simple Interest," he declared, and went even further
when he wrote, "the nature of a Virginia Estate being such, that without
close application, it never fails bringing the proprietors in Debt
annually." "To speak within bounds," he said, "ten thousand pounds will
not compensate the losses I might have avoided by being at home, &
attending a little to my own concerns" during the Revolution.

Fortunately for the farmer, the Mount Vernon estate was but a small part
of his property. His father had left him a plantation of two hundred and
eighty acres on the Rappahannock, "one Moiety of my Land lying on Deep
Run," three lots in Frederick "with all the houses and Appurtenances
thereto belonging," and one quarter of the residuary estate. While
surveying for Lord Fairfax in 1748, as part of his compensation Washington
patented a tract of five hundred and fifty acres in Frederick County,
which he always spoke of as "My Bull-skin plantation."

As a military bounty in the French and Indian War the governor of Virginia
issued a proclamation granting Western lands to the soldiers, and under
this Washington not merely secured fifteen thousand acres in his own
right, but by buying the claims of some of his fellow officers doubled
that quantity. A further tract was also obtained under the kindred
proclamation of 1763, "5000 Acres of Land in my own right, & by purchase
from Captn. Roots, Posey, & some other officers, I obtained rights to
several thousand more." In 1786, after sales, he had over thirty thousand
acres, which he then offered to sell at thirty thousand guineas, and in
1799, when still more had been sold, his inventory valued the holdings at
nearly three hundred thousand dollars.

In addition, Washington was a partner in several great land
speculations,--the Ohio Company, the Walpole Grant, the Mississippi
Company, the Military Company of Adventures, and the Dismal Swamp Company;
but all these ventures except the last collapsed at the beginning of the
Revolution and proved valueless. His interest in the Dismal Swamp Company
he held at the time of his death, and it was valued in the inventory at
twenty thousand dollars.

The properties that came to him from his brother Lawrence and with his
wife have already been described. It may be worth noting that with the
widow of Lawrence there was a dispute over the will, but apparently it was
never carried into the courts, and that owing to the great depreciation of
paper money during the Revolution the Custis personal property was
materially lessened, for "I am now receiving a shilling in the pound in
discharge of Bonds which ought to have been paid me, & would have been
realized before I left Virginia, but for my indulgences to the debtors,"
Washington wrote, and in 1778 he said, "by the comparitive worth of money,
six or seven thousand pounds which I have in Bonds upon Interest is now
reduced to as many hundreds because I can get no more for a thousand at
this day than a hundred would have fetched when I left Virginia, Bonds,
debts, Rents, &c. undergoing no change while the currency is depreciating
in value and for ought I know may in a little time be totally sunk."
Indeed, in 1781 he complained "that I have totally neglected all my
private concerns, which are declining every day, and may, possibly, end in
capital losses, if not absolute ruin, before I am at liberty to look after

In 1784 he became partner with George Clinton in some land purchases in
the State of New York with the expectation of buying the "mineral springs
at Saratoga; and ... the Oriskany tract, on which Fort Schuyler stands."
In this they were disappointed, but six thousand acres in the Mohawk
valley were obtained "amazingly cheap." Washington's share cost him,
including interest, eighteen hundred and seventy-five pounds, and in 1793
two-thirds of the land had been sold for three thousand four hundred
pounds, and in his inventory of 1799 Washington valued what he still held
of the property at six thousand dollars.

In 1790, having inside information that the capital was to be removed from
New York to Philadelphia, Washington tried to purchase a farm near that
city, foreseeing a speedy rise in value. In this apparently he did not
succeed. Later he purchased lots in the new Federal city, and built houses
on two of them. He also had town lots in Williamsburg, Alexandria,
Winchester, and Bath. In addition to all this property there were many
smaller holdings. Much was sold or traded, yet when he died, besides his
wife's real estate and the Mount Vernon property, he possessed fifty-one
thousand three hundred and ninety-five acres, exclusive of town property.
A contemporary said "that General Washington is, perhaps, the greatest
landholder in America."

All these lands, except Mount Vernon, were, so far as possible, rented,
but the net income was not large. Rent agents were employed to look after
the tenants, but low rents, war, paper money, a shifting population, and
Washington's dislike of lawsuits all tended to reduce the receipts, and
the landlord did not get simple interest on his investments. Thus, in 1799
he complains of slow payments from tenants in Washington and Lafayette
Counties (Pennsylvania). Instead of an expected six thousand dollars, due
June 1, but seventeen hundred dollars were received.

Income, however, had not been his object in loading himself with such a
vast property, as Washington believed that he was certain to become
rich. "For proof of" the rise of land, he wrote in 1767, "only look to
Frederick, [county] and see what fortunes were made by the ... first
taking up of those lands. Nay, how the greatest estates we have in this
colony were made. Was it not by taking up and purchasing at very low rates
the rich back lands, which were thought nothing of in those days, but are
now the most valuable land we possess?"

In this he was correct, but in the mean time he was more or less
land-poor. To a friend in 1763 he wrote that the stocking and repairing of
his plantations "and other matters ... swallowed up before I well knew
where I was, all the moneys I got by marriage, nay more, brought me in
debt" In 1775, replying to a request for a loan, he declared that "so far
am I from having L200 to lend ... I would gladly borrow that sum myself
for a few months." When offered land adjoining Mount Vernon for three
thousand pounds in 1778, he could only reply that it was "a sum I have
little chance, if I had inclination, to pay; & therefore would not engage
it, as I am resolved not to incumber myself with Debt." In 1782, to secure
a much desired tract he was forced to borrow two thousand pounds York
currency at the rate of seven per cent.

In 1788, "the total loss of my crop last year by the drought" "with
necessary demands for cash" "have caused me much perplexity and given me
more uneasiness than I ever experienced before from want of money," and a
year later, just before setting out to be inaugurated, he tried to borrow
five hundred pounds "to discharge what I owe" and to pay the expenses of
the journey to New York, but was "unable to obtain more than half of it,
(though it was not much I required), and this at an advanced interest with
other rigid conditions," though at this time "could I get in one fourth
part of what is due me on Bonds" "without the intervention of suits" there
would have been ample funds. In 1795 the President said, "my friends
entertain a very erroneous idea of my particular resources, when they set
me down for a money lender, or one who (now) has a command of it. You may
believe me when I assert that the bonds which were due to me before the
Revolution, were discharged during the progress of it--with a few
exceptions in depreciated paper (in some instances as low as a shilling in
the pound). That such has been the management of the Estate, for many
years past, especially since my absence from home, now six years, as
scarcely to support itself. That my public allowance (whatever the world
may think of it) is inadequate to the expence of living in this City; to
such an extravagant height has the necessaries as well as the conveniences
of life arisen. And, moreover that to keep myself out of debt; I have
found it expedient now and then to sell Lands, or something else to effect
this purpose."


As these extensive land ventures bespoke a national characteristic, so a
liking for other forms of speculation was innate in the great American.
During the Revolution he tried to secure an interest in a privateer. One
of his favorite flyers was chances in lotteries and raffles, which, if now
found only in association with church fairs, were then not merely
respectable, but even fashionable. In 1760 five pounds and ten shillings
were invested in one lottery. Five pounds purchased five tickets in
Strother's lottery in 1763. Three years later six pounds were risked in
the York lottery and produced prizes to the extent of sixteen pounds.
Fifty pounds were put into Colonel Byrd's lottery in 1769, and drew a
half-acre lot in the town of Manchester, but out of this Washington was
defrauded. In 1791 John Potts was paid four pounds and four shillings "in
part for 20 Lottery tickets in the Alexa. street Lottery at 6/ each, 14
Dollrs. the Bal. was discharged by 2.3 Lotr prizes." Twenty tickets of
Peregrine and Fitzhugh's lottery cost one hundred and eighty-eight dollars
in 1794. And these are but samples of innumerable instances. So, too, in
raffles, the entries are constant,--"for glasses 20/," "for a Necklace
L1.," "by profit & loss in two chances in raffling for Encyclopadia
Britannica, which I did not win L1.4," two tickets were taken in the
raffle of Mrs. Dawson's coach, as were chances for a pair of silver
buckles, for a watch, and for a gun; such and many others were smaller
ventures Washington took.

There were other sources of income or loss besides. Before the Revolution
he had a good sized holding of Bank of England stock, and an annuity in
the funds, besides considerable property on bond, the larger part of
which, as already noted, was liquidated in depreciated paper money. This
paper money was for the most part put into United States securities, and
eventually the "at least L10,000 Virginia money" proved to be worth six
thousand two hundred and forty-six dollars in government six per cents and
three per cents. A great believer in the Potomac Canal Company, Washington
invested twenty-four hundred pounds sterling in the stock, which produced
no income, and in time showed a heavy shrinkage. Another and smaller loss
was an investment in the James River Canal Company. Stock holdings in the
Bank of Columbia and in the Bank of Alexandria proved profitable

None the less Washington was a successful businessman. Though his property
rarely produced a net income, and though he served the public with
practically no profit (except as regards bounty lands), and thus was
compelled frequently to dip into his capital to pay current expenses, yet,
from being a surveyor only too glad to earn a doubloon (seven dollars and
forty cents) a day, he grew steadily in wealth, and when he died his
property, exclusive of his wife's and the Mount Vernon estate, was valued
at five hundred and thirty thousand dollars. This made him one of the
wealthiest Americans of his time, and it is to be questioned if a fortune
was ever more honestly acquired or more thoroughly deserved.



In his "rules of civility" Washington enjoined that "those of high Degree
ought to treat" "Artificers & Persons of low Degree" "with affibility &
Courtesie, without Arrogancy," and it was a needed lesson to every young
Virginian, for, as Jefferson wrote, "the whole commerce between master and
slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most
insulting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the

Augustine Washington's will left to his son George "Ten negro Slaves,"
with an additional share of those "not herein particularly Devised," but
all to remain in the possession of Mary Washington until the boy was
twenty-one years of age. With his taking possession of the Mount Vernon
estate in his twenty-second year eighteen more came under Washington's
direction. In 1754 he bought a "fellow" for L40.5, another (Jack) for
L52.5, and a negro woman (Clio) for L50. In 1756 he purchased of the
governor a negro woman and child for L60, and two years later a fellow
(Gregory) for L60.9. In the following year (the year of his marriage) he
bought largely: a negro (Will) for L50; another for L60; nine for L406, an
average of L45; and a woman (Hannah) and child, L80. In 1762 he added to
the number by purchasing seven of Lee Massey for L300 (an average of L43),
and two of Colonel Fielding Lewis at L115, or L57.10 apiece. From the
estate of Francis Hobbs he bought, in 1764, Ben, L72; Lewis, L36.10; and
Sarah, L20. Another fellow, bought of Sarah Alexander, cost him L76; and a
negro (Judy) and child, sold by Garvin Corbin, L63. In 1768 Mary Lee sold
him two mulattoes (Will and Frank) for L61.15 and L50, respectively; and
two boys (negroes), Adam and Frank, for L19 apiece. Five more were
purchased in 1772, and after that no more were bought. In 1760 Washington
paid tithes on forty-nine slaves, five years later on seventy-eight, in
1770 on eighty-seven, and in 1774 on one hundred and thirty-five; besides
which must be included the "dower slaves" of his wife. Soon after this
there was an overplus, and Washington in 1778 offered to barter for some
land "Negroes, of whom I every day long more to get clear of," and even
before this he had learned the economic fact that except on the richest of
soils slaves "only add to the Expence."

In 1791 he had one hundred and fifteen "hands" on the Mount Vernon estate,
besides house servants, and De Warville, describing his estate in the same
year, speaks of his having three hundred negroes. At this time Washington
declared that "I never mean (unless some particular circumstance compel me
to it) to possess another slave by purchase," but this intention was
broken, for "The running off of my cook has been a most inconvenient thing
to this family, and what rendered it more disagreeable, is that I had
resolved never to become the Master of another slave by purchase, but this
resolution I fear I must break. I have endeavored to hire, black or white,
but am not yet supplied."

A few more slaves were taken in payment of a debt, but it was from
necessity rather than choice, for at this very time Washington had decided
that "it is demonstratively clear, that on this Estate (Mount Vernon) I
have more working negros by a full moiety, than can be employed to any
advantage in the farming system, and I shall never turn Planter thereon.
To sell the overplus I cannot, because I am principled against this kind
of traffic in the human species. To hire them out, is almost as bad,
because they could not be disposed of in families to any advantage, and to
disperse the families I have an aversion. What then is to be done?
Something must or I shall be ruined; for all the money (in addition to
what I raise by crops, and rents) that have been _received_ for Lands,
sold within the last four years, to the amount of Fifty thousand dollars,
has scarcely been able to keep me afloat." And writing of one set he said,
"it would be for my interest to set them free, rather than give them
victuals and cloaths."

The loss by runaways was not apparently large. In October, 1760, his
ledger contains an item of seven shillings "To the Printing Office ... for
Advertising a run-a-way Negro." In 1761 he pays his clergyman, Rev. Mr.
Green, "for taking up one of my Runaway Negroes L4." In 1766 rewards are
paid for the "taking up" of "Negro Tom" and "Negro Bett." The "taking up
of Harry when Runaway" in 1771 cost L1.16. When the British invaded
Virginia in 1781, a number escaped or were carried away by the enemy. By
the treaty of peace these should have been returned, and their owner
wrote, "Some of my own slaves, and those of Mr. Lund Washington who lives
at my house may probably be in New York, but I am unable to give you their
description--their names being so easily changed, will be fruitless to
give you. If by chance you should come at the knowledge of any of them, I
will be much obliged by your securing them, so that I may obtain them

In 1796 a girl absconded to New England, and Washington made inquiries of
a friend as to the possibility of recovering her, adding, "however well
disposed I might be to a gradual abolition, or even to an entire
emancipation of that description of people (if the latter was in itself
practicable) at this moment, it would neither be politic nor just to
reward unfaithfulness with a premature preference, and thereby discontent
beforehand the minds of all her fellow servants, who, by their steady
attachment, are far more deserving than herself of favor," and at this
time Washington wrote to a relative, "I am sorry to hear of the loss of
your servant; but it is my opinion these elopements will be much more,
before they are less frequent; and that the persons making them should
never be retained--if they are recovered, as they are sure to contaminate
and discontent others."

Another source of loss was sickness, which, in spite of all Washington
could do, made constant inroads on the numbers. A doctor to care for them
was engaged by the year, and in the contracts with his overseers clauses
were always inserted that each was "to take all necessary and proper care
of the Negroes committed to his management using them with proper humanity
and descretion," or that "he will take all necessary and proper care of
the negroes committed to his management, treating them with humanity and
tenderness when sick, and preventing them when well, from running about
and visiting without his consent; as also forbid strange negroes
frequenting their quarters without lawful excuses for so doing."

Furthermore, in writing to his manager, while absent from Mount Vernon,
Washington reiterated that "although it is last mentioned it is foremost
in my thoughts, to desire you will be particularly attentive to my negros
in their sickness; and to order every overseer _positively_ to be so
likewise; for I am sorry to observe that the generality of them view these
poor creatures in scarcely any other light than they do a draught horse or
ox; neglecting them as much when they are unable to work; instead of
comforting and nursing them when they lye on a sick bed." And in another
letter he added, "When I recommended care of, and attention to my negros
in sickness, it was that the first stage of, and the whole progress
through the disorders with which they might be seized (if more than a
slight indisposition) should be closely watched, and timely applications
and remedies be administered; especially in the pleurisies, and all
inflammatory disorders accompanied with pain, when a few days' neglect, or
want of bleeding might render the ailment incurable. In such cases
sweeten'd teas, broths and (according to the nature of the complaint, and
the doctor's prescription) sometimes a little wine, may be necessary to
nourish and restore the patient; and these I am perfectly willing to
allow, when it is requisite. My fear is, as I expressed to you in a former
letter, that the under overseers are so unfeeling, in short viewing the
negros in no other light than as a better kind of cattle, the moment they
cease to work, they cease their care of them."

At Mount Vernon his care for the slaves was more personal. At a time when
the small-pox was rife in Virginia he instructed his overseer "what to do
if the Small pox should come amongst them," and when he "received letters
from Winchester, informing me that the Small pox had got among my quarters
in Frederick; [I] determin'd ... to leave town as soon as possible, and
proceed up to them.... After taking the Doctors directions in regard to my
people ... I set out for my quarters about 12 oclock, time enough to go
over them and found every thing in the utmost confusion, disorder and
backwardness.... Got Blankets and every other requisite from Winchester,
and settl'd things on the best footing I cou'd, ... Val Crawford agreeing
if any of those at the upper quarter got it, to have them remov'd into my
room and the Nurse sent for."

Other sickness was equally attended to, as the following entries in his
diary show: "visited my Plantations and found two negroes sick ... ordered
them to be blooded;" "found that lightening had struck my quarters and
near 10 Negroes in it, some very bad but with letting blood they
recover'd;" "ordered Lucy down to the House to be Physikd," and "found the
new negro Cupid, ill of a pleurisy at Dogue Run Quarter and had him brot
home in a cart for better care of him.... Cupid extremely Ill all this day
and at night when I went to bed I thought him within a few hours of
breathing his last."

This matter of sickness, however, had another phase, which caused
Washington much irritation at times when he could not personally look into
the cases, but heard of them through the reports of his overseers. Thus,
he complained on one occasion, "I find by reports that Sam is, in a
manner, always returned sick; Doll at the Ferry, and several of the
spinners very frequently so, for a week at a stretch; and ditcher Charles
often laid up with lameness. I never wish my people to work when they are
really sick, or unfit for it; on the contrary, that all necessary care
should be taken of them when they are so; but if you do not examine into
their complaints, they will lay by when no more ails them, than all those
who stick to their business, and are not complaining from the fatigue and
drowsiness which they feel as the effect of night walking and other
practices which unfit them for the duties of the day." And again he asked,
"Is there anything particular in the cases of Ruth, Hannah and Pegg, that
they have been returned sick for several weeks together? Ruth I know is
extremely deceitful; she has been aiming for some time past to get into
the house, exempt from work; but if they are not made to do what their age
and strength will enable them, it will be a bad example for others--none
of whom would work if by pretexts they can avoid it"

Other causes than running away and death depleted the stock. One negro was
taken by the State for some crime and executed, an allowance of sixty-nine
pounds being made to his master. In 1766 an unruly negro was shipped to
the West Indies (as was then the custom), Washington writing the captain
of the vessel,--

"With this letter comes a negro (Tom) which I beg the favor of you to sell
in any of the islands you may go to, for whatever he will fetch, and bring
me in return for him
"One hhd of best molasses
"One ditto of best rum
"One barrel of lymes, if good and cheap
"One pot of tamarinds, containing about 10 lbs.
"Two small ditto of mixed sweetmeats, about 5 lbs. each.
And the residue, much or little, in good old spirits. That this fellow is
both a rogue and a runaway (tho' he was by no means remarkable for the
former, and never practised the latter till of late) I shall not pretend
to deny. But that he is exceeding healthy, strong, and good at the hoe,
the whole neighborhood can testify, and particularly Mr. Johnson and his
son, who have both had him under them as foreman of the gang; which gives
me reason to hope he may with your good management sell well, if kept
clean and trim'd up a little when offered for sale."

Another "misbehaving fellow" was shipped off in 1791, and was sold for
"one pipe and Quarter Cask of wine from the West Indies." Sometimes only
the threat of such riddance was used, as when an overseer complained of
one slave, and his master replied, "I am very sorry that so likely a
fellow as Matilda's Ben should addict himself to such courses as he is
pursuing. If he should be guilty of any atrocious crime, that would effect
his life, he might be given up to the civil authority for trial; but for
such offences as most of his color are guilty of, you had better try
further correction, accompanied with admonition and advice. The two latter
sometimes succeed where the first has failed. He, his father and mother
(who I dare say are his receivers) may be told in explicit language, that
if a stop is not put to his rogueries and other villainies, by fair means
and shortly, that I will ship him off (as I did Wagoner Jack) for the West
Indies, where he will have no opportunity of playing such pranks as he is
at present engaged in."

It is interesting to note, in connection with this conclusion, that
"admonition and advice" were able to do what "correction" sometimes failed
to achieve, that there is not a single order to whip, and that the above
case, and that which follows, are the only known cases where punishment
was approved. "The correction you gave Ben, for his assault on Sambo, was
just and proper. It is my earnest desire that quarrels may be stopped or
punishment of both parties follow, unless it shall appear _clearly_,
that one only is to blame, and the other forced into [a quarrel] from
self-defence." In one other instance Washington wrote, "If Isaac had his
deserts he would receive a severe punishment for the house, tools and
seasoned stuff, which has been burned by his carelessness." But instead of
ordering the "deserts" he continued, "I wish you to inform him, that I
sustain injury enough by their idleness; they need not add to it by their

This is the more remarkable, because his slaves gave him constant
annoyance by their wastefulness and sloth and dishonesty. Thus, "Paris has
grown to be so lazy and self-willed" that his master does not know what to
with him; "Doll at the Ferry must be taught to knit, and _made_ to do a
sufficient day's work of it--otherwise (if suffered to be idle) many more
will walk in her steps"; "it is observed by the weekly reports, that the
sewers make only six shirts a week, and the last week Carolina (without
being sick) made only five. Mrs. Washington says their usual task was to
make nine with shoulder straps and good sewing. Tell them therefore from
me, that what _has_ been done, _shall_ be done"; "none I think call louder
for [attention] than the smiths, who, from a variety of instances which
fell within my own observation whilst I was at home, I take to be two very
idle fellows. A daily account (which ought to be regularly) taken of their
work, would alone go a great way towards checking their idleness." And the
overseer was told to watch closely "the people who are at work with the
gardener, some of whom I know to be as lazy and deceitful as any in the
world (Sam particularly)."

Furthermore, the overseers were warned to "endeavor to make the Servants
and Negroes take care of their cloathes;" to give them "a weekly
allowance of Meat ... because the annual one is not taken care of but
either profusely used or stolen"; and to note "the delivery to and the
application of nails by the carpenters,... [for] I cannot conceive how it
is possible that 6000 twelve penny nails could be used in the corn house
at River Plantation; but of one thing I have no great doubt, and that is,
if they can be applied to other uses, or converted into cash, rum or other
things there will be no scruple in doing it."

When robbed of some potatoes, Washington complained that "the
deception ... is of a piece with other practices of a similar kind by which
I have suffered hitherto; and may serve to evince to you, in strong colors,
first how little confidence can be placed in any one round you; and
secondly the necessity of an accurate inspection into these things
yourself,--for to be plain, Alexandria is such a recepticle for every thing
that can be filched from the right owners, by either blacks or whites; and
I have such an opinion of my negros (two or three only excepted), and not
much better of some of the whites, that I am perfectly sure not a single
thing that can be disposed of at any price, at that place, that will not,
and is not stolen, where it is possible; and carried thither to some of the
underlying keepers, who support themselves by this kind of traffick." He
dared not leave wine unlocked, even for the use of his guests, "because
the knowledge I have of my servants is such, as to believe, that if
opportunities are given them, they will take off two glasses of wine for
every one that is drank by such visitors, and tell you they were used by
them." And when he had some work to do requiring very ordinary qualities,
he had to confess that "I know not a negro among all mine, whose capacity,
integrity and attention could be relied on for such a trust as this."

Whatever his opinion of his slaves, Washington was a kind master. In one
case he wrote a letter for one of them when the "fellow" was parted from
his wife in the service of his master, and at another time he enclosed
letters to a wife and to James's "del Toboso," for two of his servants, to
save them postage. In reference to their rations he wrote, "whether this
addition ... is sufficient, I will not undertake to decide;--but in most
explicit language I desire they may have plenty; for I will not have my
feelings hurt with complaints of this sort, nor lye under the imputation
of starving my negros, and thereby driving them to the necessity of
thieving to supply the deficiency. To prevent waste or embezzlement is the
only inducement to allowancing of them at all--for if, instead of a peck
they could eat a bushel of meal a week fairly, and required it, I would
not withhold or begrudge it them." At Christmas-time there are entries in
his ledger for whiskey or rum for "the negroes," and towards the end of
his life he ordered the overseer, "although others are getting out of the
practice of using spirits at Harvest, yet, as my people have always been
accustomed to it, a hogshead of Rum must be purchased; but I request at
the same time, that it may be used sparingly."

A greater kindness of his was, in 1787, when he very much desired a negro
mason offered for sale, yet directed his agent that "if he has a family,
with which he is to be sold; or from whom he would reluctantly part, I
decline the purchase; his feelings I would not be the means of hurting in
the latter case, nor _at any rate_ be incumbered with the former."

The kindness thus indicated bore fruit in a real attachment of the slaves
for their master. In Humphreys's poem on Washington the poet alluded to
the negroes at Mount Vernon in the lines,--

"Where that foul stain of manhood, slavery, flow'd
Through Afric's sons transmitted in the blood;
Hereditary slaves his kindness shar'd,
For manumission by degrees prepar'd:
Return'd from war, I saw them round him press,
And all their speechless glee by artless signs express."

And in a foot-note the writer added, "The interesting scene of his return
home, at which the author was present, is described exactly as it

A single one of these slaves deserves further notice. His body-servant
"Billy" was purchased by Washington in 1768 for sixty-eight pounds and
fifteen shillings, and was his constant companion during the war, even
riding after his master at reviews; and this servant was so associated
with the General that it was alleged in the preface to the "forged
letters" that they had been captured by the British from "Billy," "an old
servant of General Washington's." When Savage painted his well-known
"family group," this was the one slave included in the picture. In 1784
Washington told his Philadelphia agent that "The mulatto fellow, William,
who has been with me all the war, is attached (married he says) to one of
his own color, a free woman, who during the war, was also of my family.
She has been in an infirm condition for some time, and I had conceived
that the connexion between them had ceased; but I am mistaken it seems;
they are both applying to get her here, and tho' I never wished to see her
more, I cannot refuse his request (if it can be complied with on
reasonable terms) as he has served me faithfully for many years. After
premising this much, I have to beg the favor of you to procure her a
passage to Alexandria."


When acting as chain-bearer in 1785, while Washington was surveying a
tract of land, William fell and broke his knee-pan, "which put a stop to
my surveying; and with much difficulty I was able to get him to Abington,
being obliged to get a sled to carry him on, as he could neither walk,
stand or ride." From this injury Lee never quite recovered, yet he started
to accompany his master to New York in 1789, only to give out on the road.
He was left at Philadelphia, and Lear wrote to Washington's agent that
"The President will thank you to propose it to Will to return to Mount
Vernon when he can be removed for he cannot be of any service here, and
perhaps will require a person to attend upon him constantly. If he should
incline to return to Mount Vernon, you will be so kind as to have him sent
in the first Vessel that sails for Alexandria after he can be moved with
safety--but if he is still anxious to come on here the President would
gratify him, altho' he will be troublesome--He has been an old and
faithful Servant, this is enough for the President to gratify him in every
reasonable wish."

By his will Washington gave Lee his "immediate freedom or if he should
prefer it (on account of the accidents which have befallen him and which
have rendered him incapable of walking or of any active employment) to
remain in the situation he now is, it shall be optional in him to do so--
In either case however I allow him an annuity of thirty dollars during his
natural life which shall be independent of the victuals and _cloaths_ he
has been accustomed to receive; if he _chuses_ the last alternative, but
in full with his freedom, if he prefers the first, and this I give him as
a testimony of my sense of his attachment to me and for his faithful
services during the Revolutionary War."

Two small incidents connected with Washington's last illness are worth
noting. The afternoon before the night he was taken ill, although he had
himself been superintending his affairs on horseback in the storm most of
the day, yet when his secretary "carried some letters to him to frank,
intending to send them to the Post Office in the evening," Lear tells us
"he franked the letters; but said the weather was too bad to send a
servant up to the office that evening." Lear continues, "The General's
servant, Christopher, attended his bed side & in the room, when he was
sitting up, through his whole illness.... In the [last] afternoon the
General observing that Christopher had been standing by his bed side for a
long time--made a motion for him to sit in a chair which stood by the bed

A clause in Washington's will directed that

"Upon the decease of my wife it is my will and desire that all the
slaves which I hold in _my own right_ shall receive their freedom--To
emancipate them during her life, would, tho' earnestly wished by me, be
attended with such insuperable difficulties, on account of their
intermixture of marriages with the Dower negroes as to excite the most
painful sensations--if not disagreeable consequences from the latter,
while both descriptions are in the occupancy of the same proprietor, it
not being in my power under the tenure by which the dower Negroes are held
to manumit them--And whereas among those who will receive freedom
according to this devise there may be some who from old age, or bodily
infirmities & others who on account of their infancy, that will be unable
to support themselves, it is my will and desire that all who come under
the first and second description shall be comfortably cloathed and fed by
my heirs while they live and that such of the latter description as have
no parents living, or if living are unable or unwilling to provide for
them, shall be bound by the Court until they shall arrive at the age of
twenty five years.... The negroes thus bound are (by their masters and

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