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  • 1907
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mistresses) to be taught to read and write and to be brought up to some useful occupation.”

In this connection Washington’s sentiments on slavery as an institution may be glanced at. As early as 1784 he replied to Lafayette, when told of a colonizing plan, “The scheme, my dear Marqs., which you propose as a precedent to encourage the emancipation of the black people of this Country from that state of Bondage in wch. they are held, is a striking evidence of the benevolence of your Heart. I shall be happy to join you in so laudable a work; but will defer going into a detail of the business, till I have the pleasure of seeing you.” A year later, when Francis Asbury was spending a day in Mount Vernon, the clergyman asked his host if he thought it wise to sign a petition for the emancipation of slaves. Washington replied that it would not be proper for him, but added, “If the Maryland Assembly discusses the matter; I will address a letter to that body on the subject, as I have always approved of it.”

When South Carolina refused to pass an act to end the slave-trade, he wrote to a friend in that State, “I must say that I lament the decision of your legislature upon the question of importing slaves after March 1793. I was in hopes that motives of policy as well as other good reasons, supported by the direful effects of slavery, which at this moment are presented, would have operated to produce a total prohibition of the importation of slaves, whenever the question came to be agitated in any State, that might be interested in the measure.” For his own State he expressed the “wish from my soul that the Legislature of this State could see the policy of a gradual Abolition of Slavery; it would prev’t much future mischief.” And to a Pennsylvanian he expressed the sentiment, “I hope it will not be conceived from these observations, that it is my wish to hold the unhappy people, who are the subject of this letter, in slavery. I can only say, that there is not a man living, who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it; but there is only one proper and effectual mode by which it can be accomplished, and that is by legislative authority; and this, as far as my suffrage will go, shall never be wanting.”

Washington by no means restricted himself to slave servitors. Early in life he took into his service John Alton at thirteen pounds per annum, and this white man served as his body-servant in the Braddock campaign, and Washington found in the march that “A most serious inconvenience attended me in my sickness, and that was the losing the use of my servant, for poor John Alton was taken about the same time that I was, and with nearly the same disorder, and was confined as long; so that we did not see each other for several days.” As elsewhere noticed, Washington succeeded to the services of Braddock’s body-servant, Thomas Bishop, on the death of the general, paying the man ten pounds a year.

These two were his servants in his trip to Boston in 1756, and in preparation for that journey Washington ordered his English agent to send him “2 complete livery suits for servants; with a spare cloak and all other necessary trimmings for two suits more. I would have you choose the livery by our arms, only as the field of the arms is white, I think the clothes had better not be quite so, but nearly like the inclosed. The trimmings and facings of scarlet, and a scarlet waist coat. If livery lace is not quite disused, I should be glad to have the cloaks laced. I like that fashion best, and two silver laced hats for the above servants.”

For some reason Bishop left his employment, but in 1760 Washington “wrote to my old servant Bishop to return to me again if he was not otherwise engaged,” and, the man being “very desirous of returning,” the old relation was reassumed. Alton in the mean time had been promoted to be overseer of one of the plantations. In 1785 their master noted in his diary, “Last night Jno Alton an Overseer of mine in the Neck–an old & faithful Servant who has lived with me 30 odd years died–and this evening the wife of Thos. Bishop, another old Servant who had lived with me an equal number of years also died.” Both were remembered in his will by a clause giving “To Sarah Green daughter of the deceased Thomas Bishop, and to Ann Walker, daughter of John Alton, also deceased I give each one hundred dollars, in consideration of the attachment of their father[s] to me, each of whom having lived nearly forty years in my family.”

Of Washington’s general treatment of the serving class a few facts can be gleaned. He told one of his overseers, in reference to the sub-overseers, that “to treat them civilly is no more than what all men are entitled to, but my advice to you is, to keep them at a proper distance; for they will grow upon familiarity, in proportion as you will sink in authority if you do not.” To a housekeeper he promised “a warm, decent and comfortable room to herself, to lodge in, and will eat of the victuals of our Table, but not set at it, or at any time _with us_ be her appearance what it may; for if this was _once admitted_ no line satisfactory to either party, perhaps could be drawn thereafter.”

In visiting he feed liberally, good examples of which are given in the cash account of the visit to Boston in 1756, when he “Gave to Servants on ye Road 10/.” “By Cash Mr. Malbones servants L4.0.0.” “The Chambermaid L1.2.6.” When the wife of his old steward, Fraunces, came to need, he gave her “for Charity L1.17.6.” The majority will sympathize rather than disapprove of his opinion when he wrote, “Workmen in most Countries I believe are necessary plagues;—in this where entreaties as well as money must be used to obtain their work and keep them to their duty they baffle all calculation in the accomplishment of any plan or repairs they are engaged in;–and require more attention to and looking after than can be well conceived.”

The overseers of his many plantations, and his “master” carpenters, millers, and gardeners, were quite as great trials as his slaves. First “young Stephens” gave him much trouble, which his diary reports in a number of sententious entries: “visited my Plantation. Severely reprimanded young Stephens for his Indolence, and his father for suffering it;” “forbid Stephens keeping any horses upon my expence;” “visited my quarters & ye Mill, according to custom found young Stephens absent;” “visited my Plantation and found to my great surprise Stephens constantly at work;” “rid out to my Plantn. and to my Carpenters. Found Richard Stephens hard at work with an ax–Very extraordinary this!”

Again he records, “Visited my Plantations–found Foster had been absent from his charge since the 28th ulto. Left orders for him to come immediately to me upon his return, and repremanded him severely.” Of another, Simpson, “I never hear … without a degree of warmth & vexation at his extreme stupidity,” and elsewhere he expresses his disgust at “that confounded fellow Simpson.” A third spent all the fall and half the winter in getting in his crop, and “if there was any way of making such a rascal as Garner pay for such conduct, no punishment would be too great for him. I suppose he never turned out of mornings until the sun had warmed the earth, and if _he_ did not, the _negros_ would not.” His chief overseer was directed to “Let Mr. Crow know that I view with a very evil eye the frequent reports made by him of sheep dying;… frequent _natural deaths_ is a very strong evidence to my mind of the want of care or something worse.”

Curious distinctions were made oftentimes. Thus, in the contract with an overseer, one clause was inserted to the effect, “And whereas there are a number of whiskey stills very contiguous to the said Plantations, and many idle, drunken and dissolute People continually resorting to the same, priding themselves in debauching sober and well-inclined Persons, the said Edd Voilett doth promise as well for his own sake as his employers to avoid them as he ought.” To the contrary, in hiring a gardener, it was agreed as part of the compensation that the man should have “four dollars at Christmas, with which he may be drunk for four days and four nights; two dollars at Easter to effect the same purpose; two dollars at Whitsuntide to be drunk for two days; a dram in the morning, and a drink of grog at dinner at noon.”

With more true kindness Washington wrote to one of his underlings, “I was very glad to receive your letter of the 31st ultimo, because I was afraid, from the accounts given me of your spitting blood,… that you would hardly have been able to have written at all. And it is my request that you will not, by attempting more than you are able to undergo, with safety and convenience, injure yourself, and thereby render me a disservice…. I had rather therefore hear that you had nursed than exposed yourself. And the things which I sent from this place (I mean the wine, tea, coffee and sugar) and such other matters as you may lay in by the doctor’s direction for the use of the sick, I desire you will make use of as your own personal occasions may require.”

Of one Butler he had employed to overlook his gardeners, but who proved hopelessly unfit, Washington said, “sure I am, there is no obligation upon me to retain him from charitable motives; when he ought rather to be punished as an imposter: for he well knew the services he had to perform, and which he promised to fulfil with zeal, activity, and intelligence.” Yet when the man was discharged his employer gave him a “character:” “If his activity, spirit, and ability in the management of Negroes, were equal to his honesty, sobriety and industry, there would not be the least occasion for a change,” and Butler was paid his full wages, no deduction being made for lost time, “as I can better afford to be without the money than he can.”

Another thoroughly incompetent man was one employed to take charge of the negro carpenters, of whom his employer wrote, “I am apprehensive … that Green never will overcome his propensity to drink; that it is this which occasions his frequent sickness, absences from work and poverty. And I am convinced, moreover, that it answers no purpose to admonish him.” Yet, though “I am so well satisfied of Thomas Green’s unfitness to look after Carpenters,” for a time “the helpless situation in which you find his family, has prevailed on me to retain him,” and when he finally had to be discharged for drinking, Washington said, “Nothing but compassion for his helpless family, has hitherto induced me to keep him a moment in my service (so bad is the example he sets); but if he has no regard for them himself, it is not to be expected that I am to be a continual sufferer on this account for his misconduct.” His successor needed the house the family lived in, but Washington could not “bear the thought of adding to the distress I know they must be in, by turning them adrift;… It would be better therefore on all accounts if they were removed to some other place, even if I was to pay the rent, provided it was low, or make some allowance towards it.”

To many others, besides family, friends, and employees, Washington was charitable. From an early date his ledger contains frequent items covering gifts to the needy. To mention a tenth of them would take too much space, but a few typical entries are worth quoting:

“By Cash gave a Soldiers wife 5/;” “To a crippled man 5/;” “Gave a man who had his House Burnt L1.;” “By a begging woman /5;” “By Cash gave for the Sufferers at Boston by fire L12;” “By a wounded soldier 10/;” “Alexandria Academy, support of a teacher of Orphan children L50;” “By Charity to an invalid wounded Soldier who came from Redston with a petition for Charity 18/;” “Gave a poor man by the President’s order $2;” “Delivd to the President to send to two distress’d french women at Newcastle $25;” “Gave Pothe a poor old man by the President’s order $2;” “Gave a poor sailor by the Presdt order $1;” “Gave a poor blind man by the Presdt order $1.50;” “By Madame de Seguer a french Lady in distress gave her $50;” “By Subscription paid to Mr. Jas. Blythe towards erecting and Supporting an Academy in the State of Kentucky $100;” “By Subscription towards an Academy in the South Western Territory $100;” “By Charity sent Genl Charles Pinckney in Columbus Bank Notes, for the sufferers by the fire in Charleston So. Carolina $300;” “By Charity gave to the sufferers by fire in Geo. Town $10;” “By an annual Donation to the Academy at Alexandria pd. Dr. Cook $166.67;” “By Charity to the poor of Alexandria deld. to the revd. Dr. Muir $100.”

To an overseer he said, concerning a distant relative, “Mrs. Haney should endeavor to do what she can for herself–this is a duty incumbent on every one; but you must not let her suffer, as she has thrown herself upon me; your advances on this account will be allowed always, at settlement; and I agree readily to furnish her with provisions, and for the good character you give of her daughter make the latter a present in my name of a handsome but not costly gown, and other things which she may stand most in need of. You may charge me also with the worth of your tenement in which she is placed, and where perhaps it is better she should be than at a great distance from your attentions to her.”

After the terrible attack of fever in Philadelphia in 1793, Washington wrote to a clergyman of that city,–

“It has been my intention ever since my return to the city, to contribute my mite towards the relief of the _most_ needy inhabitants of it. The pressure of public business hitherto has suspended, but not altered my resolution. I am at a loss, however, for whose benefit to apply the little I can give, and in whose hands to place it; whether for the use of the fatherless children and widows, made so by the late calamity, who may find it difficult, whilst provisions, wood, and other necessaries are so dear, to support themselves; or to other and better purposes, if any, I know not, and therefore have taken the liberty of asking your advice. I persuade myself justice will be done to my motives for giving you this trouble. To obtain information, and to render the little I can afford, without ostentation or mention of my name, are the sole objects of these inquiries. With great and sincere esteem and regard, I am, &c.”

His adopted grandson he advised to “never let an indigent person ask, without receiving _something_ if you have the means; always recollecting in what light the widow’s mite was viewed.” And when he took command of the army in 1775, the relative who took charge of his affairs was told to “let the hospitality of the house, with respect to the poor, be kept up. Let no one go hungry away. If any of this kind of people should be in want of corn, supply their necessities, provided it does not encourage them in idleness; and I have no objection to your giving my money in charity, to the amount of forty or fifty pounds a year, when you think it well bestowed. What I mean by having no objection is, that it is my desire that it should be done. You are to consider, that neither myself nor wife is now in the way to do these good offices.”



There can be no doubt that Washington, like the Virginian of his time, was pre-eminently social. It is true that late in life he complained, as already quoted, that his home had become a “well resorted tavern,” and that at his own table “I rarely miss seeing strange faces, come as they say out of respect for me. Pray, would not the word curiosity answer as well?” but even in writing this he added, “how different this from having a few social friends at a cheerful board!” When a surveyor he said that the greatest pleasure he could have would be to hear from or be with “my Intimate friends and acquaintances;” to one he wrote, “I hope you in particular will not Bauk me of what I so ardently wish for,” and he groaned over being “amongst a parcel of barbarians.” While in the Virginia regiment he complained of a system of rations which “deprived me of the pleasure of inviting an officer or friend, which to me would be more agreeable, than nick-nacks I shall meet with,” and when he was once refused leave of absence by the governor, he replied bitterly, “it was not to enjoy a party of pleasure I wanted a leave of absence; I have been indulged with few of these, winter or summer!” At Mount Vernon, if a day was spent without company the fact was almost always noted in his diary, and in a visit, too, he noted that he had “a very lonesome Evening at Colo Champe’s, not any Body favoring us with their Company but himself.”

The plantation system which prevented town life and put long distances between neighbors developed two forms of society. One of these was house parties, and probably nowhere else in the world was that form of hospitality so unstinted as in this colony. Any one of a certain social standing was privileged, even welcomed, to ride up to the seat of a planter, dismount, and thus become a guest, ceasing to be such only when he himself chose. Sometimes one family would go _en masse_ many miles to stay a week with friends, and when they set out to return their hosts would journey with them and in turn become guests for a week. The second form of social life was called clubs. At all the cross-roads and court-houses there sprang up taverns or ordinaries, and in these the men of a neighborhood would gather, and over a bowl of punch or a bottle of wine, the expense of which they “clubbed” to share, would spend their evenings.

Into this life Washington entered eagerly. As a mere lad his ledger records expenditures: “By a club in Arrack at Mr. Gordon’s 2/6;” “Club of a bottle of Rhenish at Mitchells 1/3;” “To part of the club at Port Royal 1/;” “To Cash in part for a Bowl of fruit punch 1/7-1/2.” So, too, he was a visitor at this time at some of the great Virginian houses, as elsewhere noted. When he came into possession of Mount Vernon he offered the same unstinted welcome that he had met with, and even as a bachelor he writes of his “having much company,” and again of being occupied with “a good deal of Company.” In two months of 1768 Washington had company to dinner, or to spend the night, on twenty-nine days, and dined or visited away from home on seven; and this is typical.

Whenever, too, trips were made to Williamsburg, Annapolis, Philadelphia, or elsewhere, it was a rare occurrence when the various stages of the journey were not spent with friends, and in those cities he was dined and wined to a surfeit.

During the Revolution all of Washington’s aides and his secretary lived with him at head-quarters, and constituted what he always called “my family.” In addition, many others sat down at table,–those who came on business from a distance, as well as bidden guests,—which frequently included ladies from the neighborhood, who must have been belles among the sixteen to twenty men who customarily sat down to dinner. “If … convenient and agreeable to you to take pot luck with me to-day,” the General wrote John Adams in 1776, “I shall be glad of your company.” Pot luck it was for commander-in-chief and staff. Mention has been made of how sometimes Washington slept on the ground, and even when under cover there was not occasionally much more comfort. Pickering relates that one night was passed in “Headquarters at Galloway’s, an old log house. The General lodged in a bed, and his family on the floor about him. We had plenty of sepawn and milk, and all were contented.”

Oftentimes there were difficulties in the hospitality. “I have been at my prest. quarters since the 1st day of Decr.,” Washington complained to the commissary-general, “and have not a Kitchen to cook a Dinner in, altho’ the Logs have been put together some considerable time by my own Guard. Nor is there a place at this moment in which a servant can lodge, with the smallest degree of comfort. Eighteen belonging to my family, and all Mrs. Ford’s, are crowded together in her Kitchen, and scarce one of them able to speak for the cold they have caught.” Pickering, in telling how he tried to secure lodgings away from head-quarters, gave for his reasons that “they are exceedingly pinched for room…. Had I conceived how much satisfaction, quiet and even leisure, I should have enjoyed at separate quarters, I would have taken them six months ago. For at head-quarters there is a continual throng, and my room, in particular, (when I was happy enough to get one,) was always crowded by all that came to headquarters on business, because there was no other for them, we having, for the most part, been in such small houses.”

There were other difficulties. “I cannot get as much cloth,” the general wrote, “as will make cloaths for my servants, notwithstanding one of them that attends my person and table is indecently and most shamefully naked.” One of his aides said to a correspondent, jocularly, “I take your Caution to me in Regard to my Health very kindly, but I assure you, you need be under no Apprehension of my losing it on the Score of Excess of living, that Vice is banished from this Army and the General’s Family in particular. We never sup, but go to bed and are early up.” “Only conceive,” Washington complained to Congress, “the mortification they (even the general officers) must suffer, when they cannot invite a French officer, a visiting friend, or a travelling acquaintance, to a better repast, than stinking whiskey (and not always that) and a bit of Beef without vegetables.”

At times, too, it was necessary to be an exemplar. “Our truly republican general,” said Laurens, “has declared to his officers that he will set the example of passing the winter in a hut himself,” and John Adams, in a time of famine, declared that “General Washington sets a fine example. He has banished wine from his table, and entertains his friends with rum and water.”

Whenever it was possible, however, there was company at head-quarters. “Since the General left Germantown in the middle of September last,” the General Orders once read, “he has been without his baggage, and on that account is unable to receive company in the manner he could wish. He nevertheless desires the Generals, Field Officers and Brigades Major of the day, to dine with him in future, at three o’clock in the afternoon.” Again the same vehicle informed the army that “the hurry of business often preventing particular invitations being given to officers to dine with the General; He presents his compliments to the Brigadiers and Field Officers of the day, and requests while the Camp continues settled in the City, they will favor him with their company to dinner, without further or special invitation.”

Mrs. Drinker, who went with a committee of women to camp at Valley Forge, has left a brief description of head-quarters hospitality: “Dinner was served, to which he invited us. There were 15 Officers, besides ye Gl. and his wife, Gen. Greene, and Gen. Lee. We had an elegant dinner, which was soon over, when we went out with ye Genls wife, up to her Chamber–and saw no more of him.” Claude Blanchard, too, describes a dinner, at which “there was twenty-five covers used by some officers of the army and a lady to whom the house belonged in which the general lodged. We dined under the tent. I was placed along side of the general. One of his aides-de-camp did the honors. The table was served in the American style and pretty abundantly; vegetables, roast beef, lamb, chickens, salad dressed with nothing but vinegar, green peas, puddings, and some pie, a kind of tart, greatly in use in England and among the Americans, all this being put upon the table at the same time. They gave us on the same plate beef, green peas, lamb, &c.”

Nor was the menage of the General unequal to unexpected calls. Chastellux tells of his first arrival in camp and introduction to Washington: “He conducted me to his house, where I found the company still at table, although the dinner had been long over. He presented me to the Generals Knox, Waine, Howe, &c. and to his _family_, then composed of Colonels Hamilton and Tilgman, his Secretaries and his Aides de Camp, and of Major Gibbs, commander of his guards; for in England and America, the Aides de Camp, Adjutants and other officers attached to the General, form what is called his _family_. A fresh dinner was prepared for me and mine; and the present was prolonged to keep me company.” “At nine,” he elsewhere writes, “supper was served, and when the hour of bed-time came, I found that the chamber, to which the General conducted me was the very parlour I speak of, wherein he had made them place a camp-bed.” Of his hospitality Washington himself wrote,–

“I have asked Mrs. Cochran & Mrs. Livingston to dine with me to-morrow; but am I not in honor bound to apprize them of their fate? As I hate deception, even where the imagination only is concerned; I will. It is needless to premise, that my table is large enough to hold the ladies. Of this they had ocular proof yesterday. To say how it is usually covered, is rather more essential; and this shall be the purport of my Letter.

“Since our arrival at this happy spot, we have had a ham, (sometimes a shoulder) of Bacon, to grace the head of the Table; a piece of roast Beef adorns the foot; a dish of beans, or greens, (almost imperceptible,) decorates the center. When the cook has a mind to cut a figure, (which, I presume will be the case to-morrow) we have two Beef-steak pyes, or dishes of crabs, in addition, one on each side of the center dish, dividing the space & reducing the distance between dish & dish to about 6 feet, which without them would be near 12 feet apart. Of late he has had the surprising sagacity to discover, that apples will make pyes; and its a question, if, in the violence of his efforts, we do not get one of apples, instead of having both of Beef-steaks. If the ladies can put up with such entertainment, and will submit to partake of it in plates, once Tin but now Iron–(not become so by the labor of scouring), I shall be happy to see them.”

Dinners were not the only form of entertaining. In Cambridge, when Mrs. Washington and Mrs. Jack Custis were at head-quarters, a reception was held on the anniversary of Washington’s marriage, and at other times when there was anything to celebrate,–the capitulation of Burgoyne, the alliance with France, the birth of a dauphin, etc.,–parades, balls, receptions, “feux-de-joie,” or cold collations were given. Perhaps the most ambitious attempt was a dinner given on September 21, 1782, in a large tent, to which ninety sat down, while a “band of American music” added to the “gaiety of the company.”

Whenever occasion called the General to attend on Congress there was much junketing. “My time,” he wrote, “during my winter’s residence in Philadelphia, was unusually (for me) divided between parties of pleasure and parties of business.” When Reed pressed him to pass the period of winter quarters in visiting him in Philadelphia, he replied, “were I to give in to private conveniency and amusement, I should not be able to resist the invitation of my friends to make Philadelphia, instead of a squeezed up room or two, my quarters for the winter.”

While President, a more elaborate hospitality was maintained. Both in New York and Philadelphia the best houses procurable were rented as the Presidential home,–for Washington “wholly declined living in any public building,”–and a steward and fourteen lower servants attended to all details, though a watchful supervision was kept by the President over them, and in the midst of his public duties he found time to keep a minute account of the daily use of all supplies, with their cost. His payments to his stewards for mere servants’ wages and food (exclusive of wine) were over six hundred dollars a month, and there can be little doubt that Washington, who had no expense paid by the public, more than spent his salary during his term of office.

It was the President’s custom to give a public dinner once a week “to as many as my table will hold,” and there was also a bi-weekly levee, to which any one might come, as well as evening receptions by Mrs. Washington, which were more distinctly social and far more exclusive. Ashbel Green states that “Washington’s dining parties were entertained in a very handsome style. His weekly dining day for company was Thursday, and his dining hour was always four o’clock in the afternoon. His rule was to allow five minutes for the variations of clocks and watches, and then go to the table, be present or absent, whoever might. He kept his own clock in the hall, just within the outward door, and always exactly regulated. When lagging members of Congress came in, as they often did, after the guests had sat down to dinner, the president’s only apology was, ‘Gentlemen (or sir) we are too punctual for you. I have a cook who never asks whether the company has come, but whether the hour has come.’ The company usually assembled in the drawing-room, about fifteen or twenty minutes before dinner, and the president spoke to every guest personally on entering the room.”

Maclay attended several of the dinners, and has left descriptions of them. “Dined this day with the President,” he writes. “It was a great dinner– all in the tastes of high life. I considered it as a part of my duty as a Senator to submit to it, and am glad it is over. The President is a cold, formal man; but I must declare that he treated me with great attention. I was the first person with whom he drank a glass of wine. I was often spoken to by him.” Again he says,–

“At dinner, after my second plate had been taken away, the President offered to help me to part of a dish which stood before him. Was ever anything so unlucky? I had just before declined being helped to anything more, with some expression that denoted my having made up my dinner. Had, of course, for the sake of consistency, to thank him negatively, but when the dessert came, and he was distributing a pudding, he gave me a look of interrogation, and I returned the thanks positive. He soon after asked me to drink a glass of wine with him.” On another occasion he “went to the President’s to dinner…. The President and Mrs. Washington sat opposite each other in the middle of the table; the two secretaries, one at each end. It was a great dinner, and the best of the kind I ever was at. The room, however, was disagreeably warm. First the soup; fish roasted and boiled; meats, sammon, fowls, etc…. The middle of the table was garnished in the usual tasty way, with small images, flowers, (artificial), etc. The dessert was, apple pies, pudding, etc.; then iced creams, jellies, etc.; then water-melons, musk-melons, apples, peaches, nuts. It was the most solemn dinner I ever was at. Not a health drank; scarce a word was said until the cloth was taken away. Then the President filling a glass of wine, with great formality drank to the health of every individual by name round the table. Everybody imitated him, charged glasses, and such a buzz of ‘health, sir,’ and ‘health, madam,’ and ‘thank you, sir,’ and ‘thank you, madam,’ never had I heard before…. The ladies sat a good while, and the bottles passed about; but there was a dead silence almost. Mrs. Washington at last withdrew with the ladies. I expected the men would now begin, but the same stillness remained. The President told of a New England clergyman who had lost a hat and wig in passing a river called the Brunks. He smiled, and everybody else laughed. He now and then said a sentence or two on some common subject, and what he said was not amiss…. The President … played with the fork, striking on the edge of the table with it. We did not sit long after the ladies retired. The President rose, went up-stairs to drink coffee; the company followed.”


Bradbury gives the menu of a dinner at which he was, where “there was an elegant variety of roast beef, veal, turkey, ducks, fowls, hams, &c.; puddings, jellies, oranges, apples, nuts, almonds, figs, raisins, and a variety of wines and punch. We took our leave at six, more than an hour after the candles were introduced. No lady but Mrs. Washington dined with us. We were waited on by four or five men servants dressed in livery.” At the last official dinner the President gave, Bishop White was present, and relates that “to this dinner as many were invited as could be accommodated at the President’s table…. Much hilarity prevailed; but on the removal of the cloth it was put an end to by the President–certainly without design. Having filled his glass, he addressed the company, with a smile on his countenance, saying: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is the last time I shall drink your health, as a public man. I do it with sincerity, and wishing you all possible happiness.’ There was an end of all pleasantry.”

A glance at Mrs. Washington’s receptions has been given, but the levees of the President remain to be described. William Sullivan, who attended many, wrote,–

“At three o’clock or at any time within a quarter of an hour afterward, the visitor was conducted to this dining room, from which all seats had been removed for the time. On entering, he saw” Washington, who “stood always in front of the fire-place, with his face towards the door of entrance. The visitor was conducted to him, and he required to have the name so distinctly pronounced that he could hear it. He had the very uncommon faculty of associating a man’s name, and personal appearance, so durably in his memory, as to be able to call one by name, who made him a second visit. He received his visitor with a dignified bow, while his hands were so disposed of as to indicate, that the salutation was not to be accompanied with shaking hands. This ceremony never occurred in these visits, even with his most near friends, that no distinction might be made. As visitors came in, they formed a circle round the room. At a quarter past three, the door was closed, and the circle was formed for that day. He then began on the right, and spoke to each visitor, calling him by name, and exchanging a few words with him. When he had completed his circuit, he resumed his first position, and the visitors approached him in succession, bowed and retired. By four o’clock the ceremony was over.”

The ceremony of the dinners and levees and the liveried servants were favorite impeachments of the President among the early Democrats before they had better material, and Washington was charged with trying to constitute a court, and with conducting himself like a king. Even his bow was a source of criticism, and Washington wrote in no little irritation in regard to this, “that I have not been able to make bows to the taste of poor Colonel Bland, (who, by the by, I believe, never saw one of them), is to be regretted, especially too, as (upon those occasions), they were indiscriminately bestowed, and the best I was master of, would it not have been better to throw the veil of charity over them, ascribing their stiffness to the effects of age, or to the unskillfulness of my teacher, than to pride and dignity of office, which God knows has no charms for me? For I can truly say, I had rather be at Mount Vernon with a friend or two about me, than to be attended at the seat of government by the officers of state, and the representatives of every power in Europe.”

There can be no doubt that Washington hated ceremony as much as the Democrats, and yielded to it only from his sense of fitness and the opinions of those about him. Jefferson and Madison both relate how such unnecessary form was used at the first levee by the master of ceremonies as to make it ridiculous, and Washington, appreciating this, is quoted as saying to the amateur chamberlain, “Well, you have taken me in once, but, by God, you shall never take me in a second time.” His secretary, in writing to secure lodgings in Philadelphia, when the President and family were on their way to Mount Vernon, said, “I must repeat, what I observed in a former letter, that as little ceremony & parade may be made as possible, for the President wishes to command his own time, which these things always forbid in a greater or less degree, and they are to him fatiguing and oftentimes painful. He wishes not to exclude himself from the sight or conversation of his fellow citizens, but their eagerness to show their affection frequently imposes a heavy tax on him.”

This was still further shown in his diary of his tours through New England and the Southern States. Nothing would do but for Boston to receive him with troops, etc., and Washington noted, “finding this ceremony not to be avoided, though I had made every effort to do it, I named the hour.” In leaving Portsmouth he went “quietly, and without any attendance, having earnestly entreated that all parade and ceremony might be avoided on my return.” When travelling through North Carolina, “a small party of horse under one Simpson met us at Greenville, and in spite of every endeavor which could comport with decent civility, to excuse myself from it, they would attend me to Newburn.”

During the few years that Washington was at Mount Vernon subsequent to the Revolution, the same unbounded hospitality was dispensed as in earlier times, while a far greater demand was made upon it, and one so variegated that at times the host was not a little embarrassed. Thus he notes that “a Gentleman calling himself the Count de Cheiza D’Artigan Officer of the French Guards came here to dinner; but bringing no letters of introduction, nor any authentic testimonials of his being either; I was at a loss how to receive or treat him,–he stayed to dinner and the evening,” and the next day departed in Washington’s carriage to Alexandria. “A farmer came here to see,” he says, “my drill plow, and staid all night.” In another instance he records that a woman whose “name was unknown to me dined here.” Only once were visitors frowned on, and this was when a British marauding party came to Mount Vernon during the Revolution. Even they, in Washington’s absence, were entertained by his overseer, but his master wrote him, on hearing of this, “I am little sorry of my own [loss]; but that which gives me most concern is, that you should go on board the enemy’s vessels and furnish them with refreshments. It would have been a less painful circumstance to me to have heard, that in consequence of your non-compliance with their request, they had burnt my House and laid the plantation in ruins. You ought to have considered yourself as my representative, and should have reflected on the bad example of communicating with the enemy, and making a voluntary offer of refreshments to them with a view to prevent a conflagration.”

The hospitality at Mount Vernon was perfectly simple. A traveller relates that he was taken there by a friend, and, as Washington was “viewing his laborers,” we “were desired to tarry.” “When the President returned he received us very politely. Dr. Croker introduced me to him as a gentleman from Massachusetts who wished to see the country and pay his respects. He thanked us, desired us to be seated, and to excuse him a few moments…. The President came and desired us to walk in to dinner and directed us where to sit, (no grace was said)…. The dinner was very good, a small roasted pigg, boiled leg of lamb, roasted fowles, beef, peas, lettice, cucumbers, artichokes, etc., puddings, tarts, etc., etc. We were desired to call for what drink we chose. He took a glass of wine with Mrs. Law first, which example was followed by Dr. Croker and Mrs. Washington, myself and Mrs. Peters, Mr. Fayette and the young lady whose name is Custis. When the cloth was taken away the President gave ‘All our Friends,'”

Another visitor tells that he was received by Washington, and, “after … half an hour, the General came in again, with his hair neatly powdered, a clean shirt on, a new plain drab coat, white waistcoat and white silk stockings. At three, dinner was on the table, and we were shown by the General into another room, where everything was set off with a peculiar taste and at the same time neat and plain. The General sent the bottle about pretty freely after dinner, and gave success to the navigation of the Potomac for his toasts, which he has very much at heart…. After Tea General Washington retired to his study and left us with the … rest of the Company. If he had not been anxious to hear the news of Congress from Mr. Lee, most probably he would not have returned to supper, but gone to bed at his usual hour, nine o’clock, for he seldom makes any ceremony. We had a very elegant supper about that time. The General with a few glasses of champagne got quite merry, and being with his intimate friends laughed and talked a good deal. Before strangers he is very reserved, and seldom says a word. I was fortunate in being in his company with his particular acquaintances…. At 12 I had the honor of being lighted up to my bedroom by the General himself.”

This break on the evening hours was quite unusual, Washington himself saying in one place that nine o’clock was his bedtime, and he wrote of his hours after dinner, “the usual time of setting at table, a walk, and tea, brings me within the dawn of candlelight; previous to which, if not prevented by company I resolve, that as soon as the glimmering taper supplies the place of the great luminary, I will retire to my writing table and acknowledge the letters I have received; but when the lights were brought, I feel tired and disinclined to engage in this work, conceiving that the next night will do as well. The next comes, and with it the same causes for postponement, and effect, and so on.”

The foregoing allusion to Washington’s conversation is undoubtedly just. All who met him formally spoke of him as taciturn, but this was not a natural quality. Jefferson states that “in the circle of his friends, where he might be unreserved with safety, he took a free share in conversation,” and Madison told Sparks that, though “Washington was not fluent nor ready in conversation, and was inclined to be taciturn in general society,” yet “in the company of two or three intimate friends, he was talkative, and when a little excited was sometimes fluent and even eloquent” “The story so often repeated of his never laughing,” Madison said, was “wholly untrue; no man seemed more to enjoy gay conversation, though he took little part in it himself. He was particularly pleased with the jokes, good humor, and hilarity of his companions.”

Washington certainly did enjoy a joke. Nelly Custis said, “I have sometimes made him laugh most heartily from sympathy with my joyous and extravagant spirits,” and many other instances of his laughing are recorded. He himself wrote in 1775 concerning the running away of some British soldiers, “we laugh at his idea of chasing the Royal Fusileers with the stores. Does he consider them as inanimate, or as treasure?” When the British in Boston sent out a bundle of the king’s speech, “farcical enough, we gave great joy to them, (the red coats I mean), without knowing or intending it; for on that day, the day which gave being to the new army, (but before the proclamation came to hand,) we had hoisted the union flag in compliment to the United Colonies. But, behold, it was received in Boston as a token of the deep impression the speech had made upon us, and as a signal of submission.”

At times Washington would joke himself, though it was always somewhat labored, as in the case of the Jack already cited. “Without a coinage,” he wrote, “or unless a stop can be put to the cutting and clipping of money, our dollars, pistareens, &c., will be converted, as Teague says, into _five_ quarters.” When the Democrats were charging the Federalists with having stolen from the treasury, he wrote to a Cabinet official, “and pray, my good sir, what part of the $800.000 have come to your share? As you are high in Office, I hope you did not disgrace yourself in the acceptance of a paltry bribe–a $100.000 perhaps.” He once even attempted a pun, by writing, “our enterprise will be ruined, and we shall be stopped at the Laurel Hill this winter; but not to gather laurels, (except of the kind that covers the mountains).”

Probably the neatest turn was his course on one occasion with General Tryon, who sent him some British proclamations with the request, “that through your means, the officers and men under your command may be acquainted with their contents.” Washington promptly replied that he had given them “free currency among the officers and men under my command,” and enclosed to Tryon a lot of the counter-proclamation, asking him to “be instrumental in communicating its contents, so far as it may be in your power, to the persons who are the objects of its operation. The benevolent purpose it is intended to answer will I persuade myself, sufficiently recommend it to your candor.”

To a poetess who had sent him some laudatory verses about himself he expressed his thanks, and added, “Fiction is to be sure the very life and Soul of Poetry–all Poets and Poetesses have been indulged in the free and indisputable use of it, time out of mind. And to oblige you to make such an excellent Poem on such a subject without any materials but those of simple reality, would be as cruel as the Edict of Pharoah which compelled the children of Israel to manufacture Bricks without the necessary Ingredients.”

Twice he joked about his own death. “As I have heard,” he said after Braddock’s defeat, “since my arrival at this place, a circumstancial account of my death and dying speech, I take this early opportunity of contradicting the first, and of assuring you, that I have not as yet composed the latter.” Many years later, in draughting a letter for his wife, he wrote,–

“I am now by desire of the General to add a few words on his behalf; which he desires may be expressed in the terms following, that is to say,–that despairing of hearing what may be said of him, if he should really go off in an apoplectic, or any other fit (for he thinks all fits that issue in death are worse than a love fit, a fit of laughter, and many other kinds which he could name)–he is glad to hear _beforehand_ what will be said of him on that occasion; conceiving that nothing extra will happen between _this_ and _then_ to make a change in his character for better, or for worse. And besides, as he has entered into an engagement … not to quit _this_ world before the year 1800, it may be _relied upon_ that no breach of contract shall be laid to him on that account, unless dire necessity should bring it about, maugre all his exertions to the contrary. In that same, he shall hope they would do by him as he would do by them–excuse it. At present there seems to be no danger of his thus giving them the slip, as neither his health nor spirits, were ever in greater flow, notwithstanding, he adds, he is descending, and has almost reached the bottom of the hill; or in other words, the shades below. For your particular good wishes on this occasion he charges me to say that he feels highly obliged, and that he reciprocates them with great cordiality.”

Other social qualities of the man cannot be passed over. A marked trait was his extreme fondness of afternoon tea. “Dined at Mr. Langdon’s, and drank Tea there, with a large circle of Ladies;” “in the afternoon drank Tea … with about 20 ladies, who had been assembled for the occasion;” “exercised between 5 & 7 o’clock in the morning & drank Tea with Mrs. Clinton (the Governor’s Lady) in the afternoon;” “Drank tea at the Chief Justice’s of the U. States;” “Dined with the Citizens in public; and in the afternoon, was introduced to upwards of 50 ladies who had assembled (at a Tea party) on the occasion;” “Dined and drank tea at Mr. Bingham’s in great splendor.” Such are the entries in his diary whenever the was “kettle-a-boiling-be” was within reach. Pickering’s journal shows that tea served regularly at head-quarters, and at Mount Vernon it was drunk in summer on the veranda. In writing to Knox of his visit to Boston, Washington mentioned his recollection of the chats over tea-drinking, and of how “social and gay” they were.

A fondness for picnics was another social liking. “Rid with Fanny Bassett, Mr. Taylor and Mr. Shaw to meet a Party from Alexandria at Johnsons Spring … where we dined on a cold dinner brought from Town by water and spent the Afternoon agreeably–Returning home by Sun down or a little after it,” is noted in his diary on one occasion, and on another he wrote, “Having formed a Party, consisting of the Vice-President, his lady, Son & Miss Smith; the Secretaries of State, Treasury & War, and the ladies of the two latter; with all the Gentlemen of my family, Mrs. Lear & the two Children, we visited the old position of Fort Washington and afterwards dined on a dinner provided by Mr. Mariner.” Launchings, barbecues, clambakes, and turtle dinners were other forms of social dissipations.

A distinct weakness was dancing. When on the frontier he sighed, “the hours at present are melancholy dull. Neither the rugged toils of war, nor the gentler conflict of A[ssembly] B[alls,] is in my choice.” His diary shows him at balls and “Routs” frequently; when he was President he was a constant attendant at the regular “Dancing Assemblies” in New York and Philadelphia, and when at Mount Vernon he frequently went ten miles to Alexandria to attend dances. Of one of these Alexandria balls he has left an amusing description: “Went to a ball at Alexandria, where Musick and dancing was the chief Entertainment, however in a convenient room detached for the purpose abounded great plenty of bread and butter, some biscuits, with tea and coffee, which the drinkers of could not distinguish from hot water sweet’ned–Be it remembered that pocket handkerchiefs servd the purposes of Table cloths & Napkins and that no apologies were made for either. I shall therefore distinguish this ball by the stile and title of the Bread & Butter Ball.”

During the Revolution, too, he killed many a weary hour of winter quarters by dancing. When the camp spent a day rejoicing over the French alliance, “the celebration,” according to Thacher, “was concluded by a splendid ball opened by his Excellency General Washington, having for his partner the lady of General Knox.” Greene describes how “we had a little dance at my quarters a few evenings past. His Excellency and Mrs. Greene danced upwards of three hours without once sitting down.” Knox, too, tells of “a most genteel entertainment given by self and officers” at which Washington danced. “Everybody allows it to be the first of the kind ever exhibited in this State at least. We had above seventy ladies, all of the first ton in the State, and between three and four hundred gentlemen. We danced all night–an elegant room, the illuminating, fireworks, &c., were more than pretty.” And at Newport, when Rochambeau gave a ball, by request it was opened by Washington. The dance selected by his partner was “A Successful Campaign,” then in high favor, and the French officers took the instruments from the musicians and played while he danced the first figure.


While in winter quarters he subscribed four hundred dollars (paper money, equal to eleven dollars in gold) to get up a series of balls, of which Greene wrote, “We have opened an assembly in Camp. From this apparent ease, I suppose it is thought we must be in happy circumstances. I wish it was so, but, alas, it is not. Our provisions are in a manner, gone. We have not a ton of hay at command, nor magazine to draw from. Money is extremely scarce and worth little when we get it. We have been so poor in camp for a fortnight, that we could not forward the public dispatches, for want of cash to support the expresses.” At the farewell ball given at Annapolis, when the commander-in-chief resigned his command, Tilton relates that “the General danced in every set, that all the ladies might have the pleasure of dancing with him; or as it has since been handsomely expressed, ‘get a touch of him.'” He still danced in 1796, when sixty-four years of age, but when invited to the Alexandria Assembly in 1799, he wrote to the managers, “Mrs. Washington and myself have been honored with your polite invitation to the assemblies of Alexandria this winter, and thank you for this mark of your attention. But, alas! our dancing days are no more. We wish, however all those who have a relish for so agreeable and innocent an amusement all the pleasure the season will afford them; and I am, gentlemen,

“Your most obedient and obliged humble servant,




A market trait of Washington’s character was his particularity about his clothes; there can be little question that he was early in life a good deal of a dandy, and that this liking for fine feathers never quite left him. When he was about sixteen years old he wrote in his journal, “Memorandum to have my Coat made by the following Directions to be made a Frock with a Lapel Breast the Lapel to Contain on each side six Button Holes and to be about 5 or 6 Inches wide all the way equal and to turn as the Breast on the Coat does to have it made very long Waisted and in Length to come down to or below the bent of the knee the Waist from the armpit to the Fold to be exactly as long or Longer than from thence to the Bottom not to have more than one fold in the Skirt and the top to be made just to turn in and three Button Holes the Lapel at the top to turn as the Cape of the Coat and Bottom to Come Parallel with the Button Holes the Last Button hole in the Breast to be right opposite to the Button on the Hip.”

In 1754 he bought “a Superfine blue broad cloth Coat, with Silver Trimmings,” “a fine Scarlet Waistcoat full Lac’d,” and a quantity of “silver lace for a Hatt,” and from another source it is learned that at this time he was the possessor of ruffled shirts. A little later he ordered from London “As much of the best superfine blue Cotton Velvet as will make a Coat, Waistcoat and Breeches for a Tall Man, with a fine silk button to suit it, and all other necessary trimmings and linings, together with garters for the Breeches,” and other orders at different times were for “6 prs. of the Very neatest shoes,” “A riding waistcoat of superfine scarlet cloth and gold Lace,” “2 prs. of fashionable mix’d or marble Color’d Silk Hose,” “1 piece of finest and fashionable Stock Tape,” “1 Suit of the finest Cloth & fashionable colour,” “a New Market Great Coat with a loose hood to it, made of Bleu Drab or broad cloth, with straps before according to the present taste,” “3 gold and scarlet sword-knots, 3 silver and blue do, 1 fashionable gold-laced hat.”

As these orders indicated, the young fellow strove to be in the fashion. In 1755 he wrote his brother, “as wearing boots is quite the mode, and mine are in a declining state, I must beg the favor of you to procure me a pair that is good and neat.” “Whatever goods you may send me,” he wrote his London agent, “let them be fashionable, neat and good of their several kinds.” It was a great trial to him that his clothes did not fit him. “I should have enclosed you my measure,” he wrote to London, “but in a general way they are so badly taken here, that I am convinced that it would be of very little service.” “I have hitherto had my clothes made by one Charles Lawrence in Old Fish Street,” he wrote his English factor. “But whether it be the fault of the tailor, or the measure sent, I can’t say, but, certain it is, my clothes have never fitted me well.”

It must not be inferred, however, that Washington carried his dandyism to weakness. When fine clothes were not in place, they were promptly discarded. In his trip to the Ohio in 1753 he states that “I put myself in an Indian walking Dress,” and “tied myself up in a Match Coat,”–that is, an Indian blanket. In the campaign of 1758 he wrote to his superior officer “that were I left to pursue my own Inclinations, I would not only order the Men to adopt the Indian dress, but cause the Officers to do it also, and be at the first to set the example myself. Nothing but the uncertainty of its taking with the General causes me to hesitate a moment at leaving my Regimentals at this place, and proceeding as light as any Indian in the Woods. ‘T is an unbecoming dress, I confess, for an officer; but convenience, rather than shew, I think should be consulted.” And this was such good sense that the general gave him leave, and it was done.

With increase of years his taste in clothes became softened and more sober. “On the other side is an invoice of clothes which I beg the favor of you to purchase for me,” he wrote to London. “As they are designed for wearing apparel for myself, I have committed the choice of them to your fancy, having the best opinion of your taste. I want neither lace nor embroidery. Plain clothes, with a gold or silver button (if worn in genteel dress) are all I desire.” “Do not conceive,” he told his nephew in 1783, “that fine clothes make fine men more than fine feathers make fine Birds. A plain genteel dress is more admired, and obtains more credit than lace and embroidery, in the Eyes of the judicious and sensible.” And in connection with the provisional army he decided that “on reconsidering the uniform of the Commander in Chief, it has become a matter of doubt with me, (although, as it respects myself _personally_, I was against _all_ embroidery,) whether embroidery on the Cape, Cuffs, and Pockets of the Coat, and none on the buff waistcoat would not have a disjointed and awkward appearance.” Probably nowhere did he show his good taste more than in his treatment of the idea of putting him in classic garments when his bust was made by Houdon.

“In answer to your obliging inquiries respecting the dress, attitude, &c.,” he wrote, “which I would wish to have given to the statue in question, I have only to observe, that, not having sufficient knowledge in the art of sculpture to oppose my judgment to the taste of connoisseurs, I do not desire to dictate in the matter. On the contrary I shall be perfectly satisfied with whatever may be judged decent and proper. I should even scarcely have ventured to suggest, that perhaps a servile adherence to the garb of antiquity might not be altogether so expedient, as some little deviation in favor of the modern costume.”

Washington, as noted, bought his clothes in England; but it was from necessity more than choice. “If there be any homespun Cloths in Philadelphia which are tolerably fine, that you can come reasonably at,” he said to his Philadelphia agent in 1784, “I would be obliged to you to send me patterns of some of the best kinds–I should prefer that which is mixed in the grain, because it will not so readily discover its quality as a plain cloth.” Before he was inaugurated he wrote “General Knox this day to procure me homespun broadcloth of the Hartford fabric, to make a suit of clothes for myself,” adding, “I hope it will not be a great while before it will be unfashionable for a gentleman to appear in any other dress. Indeed, we have already been too long subject to British prejudices.” At another time he noted in his diary with evident pride, “on this occasion I was dressed in a suit made at the Woolen Manufactory at Hartford, as the buttons also were.” But then, as now, the foreign clothes were so much finer that his taste overcame his patriotism, and his secretary wrote that “the President is desireous of getting as much superfine blk broad Cloth as will make him a suit of Clothes, and desires me to request that you would send him that quantity … The best superfine French or Dutch black–exceedingly fine–of a soft, silky texture–not glossy like the Engh cloths.”

A caller during the Presidency spoke of him as dressed in purple satin, and at his levees he is described by Sullivan as “clad in black velvet; his hair in full dress, powdered and gathered behind in a large silk bag; yellow gloves on his hands; holding a cocked hat with a cockade in it, and the edges adorned with a black feather about an inch deep. He wore knee and shoe buckles; and a long sword, with a finely wrought and polished steel hilt, which appeared at the left hip; the coat worn over the sword, so that the hilt, and the part below the coat behind, were in view. The scabbard was white polished leather.”

About his person Washington was as neat as he desired his clothes to be. At seventeen when surveying he records that he was

“Lighted into a Room & I not being so good a Woodsman as ye rest of my Company striped myself very orderly & went in to ye Bed as they called it when to my Surprize I found it to be nothing but a Little Straw–Matted together without Sheets or any thing else but only one thread Bear blanket with double its Weight of Vermin such as Lice, Fleas &c. I was glad to get up (as soon as ye Light was carried from us) I put on my Cloths & Lay as my Companions. Had we not have been very tired I am sure we should not have slep’d much that night. I made a Promise not to Sleep so from that time forward chusing rather to sleep in ye open Air before a fire as will appear hereafter.” The next day he notes that the party “Travell’d up to Frederick Town where our Baggage came to us we cleaned ourselves (to get Rid of ye Game we had catched y. Night before)” and slept in “a good Feather Bed with clean Sheets which was a very agreeable regale.”

Wherever he happened to be, the laundress was in constant demand. His bill from the washer-lady for the week succeeding his inauguration as President, and before his domestic menage was in running order, was for “6 Ruffled shirts, 2 plain shirts, 8 stocks, 3 pair Silk Hose, 2 White hand. 2 Silk Handks. 1 pr. Flanl. Drawers, 1 Hair nett.”

The barber, too, was a constant need, and Washington’s ledger shows constant expenditures for perfumed hair-powder and pomatum, and also for powder bags and puffs. Apparently the services of this individual were only for the arranging of his hair, for he seems never to have shaved Washington, that being done either by himself or by his valet. Of this latter individual Washington said (when the injury to William Lee unfitted him for the service), “I do not as yet know whether I shall get a substitute for William: nothing short of excellent qualities and a man of good appearance, would induce me to do it–and under my present view of the matter, too, who would employ himself otherwise than William did–that is as a butler as well as a valette, for my wants of the latter are so trifling that any man (as William was) would soon be ruined by idleness, who had only them to attend to.”

In food Washington took what came with philosophy. “If you meet with collegiate fare, it will be unmanly to complain,” he told his grandson, though he once complained in camp that “we are debarred from the pleasure of good living; which, Sir, (I dare say with me you will concur,) to one who has always been used to it, must go somewhat hard to be confined to a little salt provision and water.” Usually, however, poor fare was taken as a matter of course. “When we came to Supper,” he said in his journal of 1748, “there was neither a Cloth upon ye Table nor a Knife to eat with but as good luck would have it we had Knives of our own,” and again he wrote, “we pull’d out our Knapsack in order to Recruit ourselves every one was his own Cook our Spits was Forked Sticks our Plates was a Large Chip as for Dishes we had none.” Nor was he squeamish about what he ate. In the voyage to Barbadoes he several times ate dolphin; he notes that the bread was almost “eaten up by Weavel & Maggots,” and became quite enthusiastic over some “very fine Bristol tripe” and “a fine Irish Ling & Potatoes.” But all this may have been due to the proverbial sea appetite.

Samuel Stearns states that Washington “breakfasts about seven o’clock on three small Indian hoe-cakes, and as many dishes of tea,” and Custis relates that “Indian cakes, honey, and tea formed this temperate repast.” These two writers tell us that at dinner “he ate heartily, but was not particular in his diet, with the exception of fish, of which he was excessively fond. He partook sparingly of dessert, drank a home-made beverage, and from four to five glasses of Madeira wine” (Custis), and that “he dines, commonly on a single dish, and drinks from half a pint to a pint of Madeira wine. This, with one small glass of punch, a draught of beer, and two dishes of tea (which he takes half an hour before sun-setting) constitutes his whole sustenance till the next day.” (Stearns.) Ashbel Green relates that at the state banquets during the Presidency Washington “generally dined on one single dish, and that of a very simple kind. If offered something either in the first or second course which was very rich, his usual reply was–‘That is too good for me.'” It is worth noting that he religiously observed the fasts proclaimed in 1774 and 1777, going without food the entire day.

A special liking is mentioned above. In 1782 Richard Varick wrote to a friend, “General Washington dines with me to-morrow; he is exceedingly fond of salt fish; I have some coming up, & tho’ it will be here in a few days, it will not be here in time–If you could conveniently lend me as much fish as would serve a pretty large company to-morrow (at least for one Dish), it will oblige me, and shall in a very few days be returned in as good Dun Fish as ever you see. Excuse this freedom, and it will add to the favor. Could you not prevail upon somebody to catch some Trout for me early to-morrow morning?” When procurable, salt codfish was Washington’s regular Sunday dinner.

A second liking was honey. His ledger several times mentions purchases of this, and in 1789 his sister wrote him, “when I last had the Pleasure of seeing you I observ’d your fondness for Honey; I have got a large Pot of very fine in the comb, which I shall send by the first opportunity.” Among his purchases “sugar candy” is several times mentioned, but this may have been for children, and not for himself. He was a frequent buyer of fruit of all kinds and of melons.

He was very fond of nuts, buying hazelnuts and shellbarks by the barrel, and he wrote his overseer in 1792 to “tell house Frank I expect he will lay up a more plenteous store of the black common walnuts than he usually does.” The Prince de Broglie states that “at dessert he eats an enormous quantity of nuts, and when the conversation is entertaining he keeps eating through a couple of hours, from time to time giving sundry healths, according to the English and American custom. It is what they call ‘toasting.'”

Washington was from boyhood passionately fond of horsemanship, and when but seventeen owned a horse. Humphreys states that “all those who have seen General Washington on horseback, at the head of his army, will doubtless bear testimony with the author that they never saw a more graceful or dignified person,” and Jefferson said of him that he was “the best horseman of his age, and the most graceful figure that could be seen on horseback.” His diary shows that he rode on various occasions as much as sixty miles in a day, and Lawrence reports that he “usually rode from Rockingham to Princeton, which is five miles, in forty minutes.” John Hunter, in a visit to Mount Vernon in 1785, writes that he went

“to see his famous race-horse Magnolia–a most beautiful creature. A whole length of his was taken a while ago, (mounted on Magnolia) by a famous man from Europe on copper…. I afterwards went to his stables, where among an amazing number of horses, I saw old Nelson, now 22 years of age, that carried the General almost always during the war; Blueskin, another fine old horse next to him, now and then had that honor. Shaw also shewed me his old servant, that was reported to have been taken, with a number of the General’s papers about him. They have heard the roaring of many a cannon in their time. Blueskin was not the favorite, on account of his not standing fire so well as venerable old Nelson.”

Chastellux relates, “he was so attentive as to give me the horse he rode, the day of my arrival, which I had greatly commended–I found him as good as he is handsome; but above all, perfectly well broke, and well trained, having a good mouth, easy in hand and stopping short in a gallop without bearing the bit–I mention these minute particulars, because it is the general himself who breaks all his own horses; and he is a very excellent and bold horseman, leaping the highest fences, and going extremely quick, without standing upon his stirrups, bearing on the bridle, or letting his horse run wild.”

As a matter of course this liking for horses made Washington fond of racing, and he not only subscribed liberally to most of the racing purses, but ran horses at them, attending in person, and betting moderately on the results. So, too, he was fond of riding to the hounds, and when at Mount Vernon it was a favorite pastime. From his diary excerpts of runs are,–

“Went a Fox hunting with the Gentlemen who came here yesterday…. after a very early breakfast–found a Fox just back of Muddy hole Plantation and after a Chase of an hour and a quarter with my Dogs, & eight couple of Doctor Smiths (brought by Mr. Phil Alexander) we put him into a hollow tree, in which we fastened him, and in the Pincushion put up another Fox which, in an hour & 13 Minutes was killed–We then after allowing the Fox in the hole half an hour put the Dogs upon his trail & in half a Mile he took to another hollow tree and was again put out of it but he did not go 600 yards before he had recourse to the same shift–finding therefore that he was a conquered Fox we took the Dogs off, and came home to Dinner.”

“After an early breakfast [my nephew] George Washington, Mr. Shaw and Myself went into the Woods back of Muddy hole Plantation a hunting and were joined by Mr. Lund Washington and Mr. William Peake. About half after ten Oclock (being first plagued with the Dogs running Hogs) we found a fox near Colo Masons Plantation on little Hunting Creek (West fork) having followed on his Drag more than half a Mile; and run him with Eight Dogs (the other 4 getting, as was supposed after a Second Fox) close and well for an hour. When the Dogs came to a fault and to cold Hunting until 20 minutes after when being joined by the missing Dogs they put him up afresh and in about 50 Minutes killed up in an open field of Colo Mason’s every Rider & every Dog being present at the Death.”

During the Revolution, when opportunity offered, he rode to the hounds, for Hiltzheimer wrote in 1781, “My son Robert [having] been on a Hunt at Frankfort says that His Excel’y Gen. Washington was there.”

This liking made dogs an interest to him, and he took much pains to improve the breed of his hounds. On one occasion he “anointed all my Hounds (as well old Dogs as Puppies) which have the mange, with Hogs Lard & Brimstone.” Mopsey, Pilot, Tartar, Jupiter, Trueman, Tipler, Truelove, Juno, Dutchess, Ragman, Countess, Lady, Searcher, Rover, Sweetlips, Vulcan, Singer, Music, Tiyal, and Forrester are some of the names he gave them. In 1794, in the fall of his horse, as already mentioned, he wrenched his back, and in consequence, when he returned to Mount Vernon, this pastime was never resumed, and his pack was given up.

Kindred to this taste for riding to the hounds was one for gunning. A few entries in his diary tell the nature of his sport. “Went a ducking between breakfast and dinner and kill’d 2 Mallards & 5 bald faces.” “I went to the Creek but not across it. Kill’d 2 ducks, viz. a sprig tail and a Teal.” “Rid out with my gun but kill’d nothing.” In 1787 a man asked for permission to shoot over Mount Vernon, and Washington refused it because

“my fixed determination is, that no person whatever shall hunt upon my grounds or waters–To grant leave to one and refuse another would not only be drawing a line of discrimination which would be offensive, but would subject one to great inconvenience–for my strict and positive orders to all my people are if they hear a gun fired upon my Land to go immediately in pursuit of it…. Besides, as I have not lost my relish for this sport when I find time to indulge myself in it, and Gentlemen who come to the House are pleased with it, it is my wish not to have game within my jurisdiction disturbed.”

Fishing was another pastime. He “went a dragging for Sturgeon” frequently, and sometimes “catch’d one” and sometimes “catch’d none.” While in Philadelphia in 1787 he went up to the old camp at Valley Forge and spent a day fishing, and in 1789 at Portsmouth, “having lines, we proceeded to the Fishing Banks a little without the Harbour and fished for Cod; but it not being a proper time of tide, we only caught two.” After his serious sickness in 1790 a newspaper reports that “yesterday afternoon the President of the United States returned from Sandy Hook and the fishing banks, where he had been for the benefit of the sea air, and to amuse himself in the delightful recreation of fishing. We are told he has had excellent sport, having himself caught a great number of sea-bass and black fish–the weather proved remarkably fine, which, together with the salubrity of the air and wholesome exercise, rendered this little voyage extremely agreeable, and cannot fail, we hope, of being serviceable to a speedy and complete restoration of his health.”

Washington was fond of cards, and in bad weather even records “at home all day, over cards.” How much time must have been spent in this way is shown by the innumerable purchases of “1 dozen packs playing cards” noted in his ledger. In 1748, when he was sixteen years old, he won two shillings and threepence from his sister-in-law at whist and five shillings at “Loo” (or, as he sometimes spells it, “Lue”) from his brother, and he seems always to have played for small stakes, which sometimes mounted into fairly sizable sums. The largest gain found is three pounds, and the largest loss nine pounds fourteen shillings and ninepence. He seems to have lost oftener than he won.

Billiards was a rival of cards, and a game of which he seems to have been fond. In his seventeenth year he won one shilling and threepence by the cue, and from that time won and lost more or less money in this way. Here, too, he seems to have been out of pocket, though not for so much money, his largest winning noted being only seven shillings and sixpence, and his largest loss being one pound and ten shillings.

In 1751, at Barbadoes, Washington “was treated with a play ticket to see the Tragedy of George Barnwell acted: the character of Barnwell and several others was said to be well perform’d there was Musick a Dapted and regularly conducted.” This presumptively was the lad’s first visit to the playhouse, but from that time it was one of his favorite amusements. At first his ledger shows expenditures of “Cash at the Play House 1/3,” which proves that his purse would bear the cost of only the cheapest seats; but later he became more extravagant in this respect, and during the Presidency he used the drama for entertaining, his ledger giving many items of tickets bought. A type entry in Washington’s diary is, “Went to the play in the evening–sent tickets to the following ladies and gentlemen and invited them to seats in my box, viz:–Mrs. Adams (lady of the Vice-President,) General Schuyler and lady, Mr. King and lady, Majr. Butler and lady, Colo Hamilton and lady, Mrs. Green–all of whom accepted and came except Mrs. Butler, who was indisposed.”

Maclay describes the first of these theatre parties as follows: “I received a ticket from the President of the United States to use his box this evening at the theatre, being the first of his appearances at the playhouse since his entering on his office. Went The President, Governor of the State, foreign Ministers, Senators from New Hampshire, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, M.[aryland] and South Carolina; and some ladies in the same box. I am old, and notices or attentions are lost on me. I could have wished some of my dear children in my place; they are young and would have enjoyed it. Long might they live to boast of having been seated in the same box with the first Character in the world. The play was the ‘School for Scandal,’ I never liked it; indeed, I think it an indecent representation before ladies of character and virtue. Farce, the ‘Old Soldier.’ The house greatly crowded, and I thought the players acted well; but I wish we had seen the _Conscious Lovers_, or some one that inculcated more prudential manners.”

Of the play, or rather interlude, of the “Old Soldier” its author, Dunlap, gives an amusing story. It turned on the home-coming of an old soldier, and, like the topical song of to-day, touched on local affairs:

“When Wignell, as Darby, recounts what had befallen him in America, in New York, at the adoption of the Federal Constitution, and the inauguration of the president, the interest expressed by the audience in the looks and the changes of countenance of this great man [Washington] became intense. He smiled at these lines, alluding to the change in the government–

There too I saw some mighty pretty shows; A revolution, without blood or blows,
For, as I understood, the cunning elves, The people all revolted from themselves.

But at the lines–

A man who fought to free the land from we, _Like me_, had left his farm, a-soldiering to go: But having gain’d his point, he had _like me_, Return’d his own potato ground to see.
But there he could not rest. With one accord He’s called to be a kind of–not a lord– I don’t know what, he’s not a _great man_, sure, For poor men love him just as he were poor. They love him like a father or a brother, DERMOT.
As we poor Irishmen love one another.

The president looked serious; and when Kathleen asked,

How looked he, Darby? Was he short or tall?

his countenance showed embarrassment, from the expectation or one of those eulogiums which, he had been obliged to hear on many public occasions, and which must doubtless have been a severe trial to his feelings: but Darby’s answer that he had _not seen him_, because he had mistaken a man ‘all lace and glitter, botherum and shine,’ for him, until all the show had passed, relieved the hero from apprehension of farther personality, and he indulged in that which was with him extremely rare, a hearty laugh.”

Washington did not even despise amateur performances. As already mentioned, he expressed a wish to take part in “Cato” himself in 1758, and a year before he had subscribed to the regimental “players at Fort Cumberland,” His diary shows that in 1768 the couple at Mount Vernon “& ye two children were up to Alexandria to see the Inconstant or ‘the way to win him’ acted,” which was probably an amateur performance. Furthermore, Duer tells us that “I was not only frequently admitted to the presence of this most august of men, in _propria persona_, but once had the honor of appearing before him as one of the _dramatis personae_ in the tragedy of Julius Caesar, enacted by a young ‘American Company,’ (the theatrical corps then performing in New York being called the ‘Old American Company’) in the garret of the Presidential mansion, wherein before the magnates of the land and the elite of the city, I performed the part of Brutus to the Cassius of my old school-fellow, Washington Custis.”

The theatre was by no means the only show that appealed to Washington. He went to the circus when opportunity offered, gave nine shillings to a “man who brought an elk as a show,” three shillings and ninepence “to hear the Armonica,” two dollars for tickets “to see the automatum,” treated the “Ladies to ye Microcosm” and paid to see waxworks, puppet shows, a dancing bear, and a lioness and tiger. Nor did he avoid a favorite Virginia pastime, but attended cockfights when able. His frequent going to concerts has been already mentioned.

Washington seems to have been little of a reader except of books on agriculture, which he bought, read, and even made careful abstracts of many, and on this subject alone did he ever seem to write from pleasure. As a lad, he notes in his journal that he is reading _The Spectator_ and a history of England, but after those two brief entries there is no further mention of books or reading in his daily memorandum of “where and how my time is spent.” In his ledger, too, almost the least common expenditure entered is one for books. Nor do his London invoices, so far as extant, order any books but those which treated of farming and horses. In the settlement of the Custis estate, “I had no particular reason for keeping and handing down to his son, the books of the late Colo Custis saving that I thought it would be taking the advantage of a low appraisement, to make them my own property at it, and that to sell them was not an object.”

With the broadening that resulted from the command of the army more attention was paid to books, and immediately upon the close of the Revolution Washington ordered the following works: “Life of Charles the Twelfth,” “Life of Louis the Fifteenth,” “Life and Reign of Peter the Great,” Robertson’s “History of America,” Voltaire’s “Letters,” Vertot’s “Revolution of Rome” and “Revolution of Portugal,” “Life of Gustavus Adolphus,” Sully’s “Memoirs,” Goldsmith’s “Natural History,” “Campaigns of Marshal Turenne,” Chambaud’s “French and English Dictionary,” Locke “on the Human Understanding,” and Robertson’s “Charles the Fifth.” From this time on he was a fairly constant book-buyer, and subscribed as a “patron” to a good many forthcoming works, while many were sent him as gifts. On politics he seems to have now read with interest; yet in 1797, after his retirement from the Presidency, in writing of the manner in which he spent his hours, he said, “it may strike you that in this detail no mention is made of any portion of time allotted to reading. The remark would be just, for I have not looked into a book since I came home, nor shall I be able to do it until I have discharged my workmen; probably not before the nights grow long when possibly I may be looking into Doomsday book.” There can be no doubt that through all his life Washington gave to reading only the time he could not use on more practical affairs.

His library was a curious medley of books, if those on military science and agriculture are omitted. There is a fair amount of the standard history of the day, a little theology, so ill assorted as to suggest gifts rather than purchases, a miscellany of contemporary politics, and a very little belles-lettres. In political science the only works in the slightest degree noticeable are Smith’s “Wealth of Nations,” “The Federalist,” and Rousseau’s “Social Compact,” and, as the latter was in French, it could not have been read. In lighter literature Homer, Shakespeare, and Burns, Lord Chesterfield, Swift, Smollett, Fielding, and Sterne, and “Don Quixote,” are the only ones deserving notice. It is worthy of mention that Washington’s favorite quotation was Addison’s “‘Tis not in mortals to command success,” but he also utilized with considerable aptitude quotations from Shakespeare and Sterne. There were half a dozen of the ephemeral novels of the day, but these were probably Mrs. Washington’s, as her name is written in one, and her husband’s in none. Writing to his grandson, Washington warned him that “light reading (by this, I mean books of little importance) may amuse for the moment, but leaves nothing solid behind.”


One element of Washington’s reading which cannot be passed over without notice is that of newspapers. In his early life he presumably read the only local paper of the time (the _Virginia Gazette_), for when an anonymous writer, “Centinel,” in 1756, charged that Washington’s regiment was given over to drunkenness and other misbehavior, he drew up a reply, which he sent with ten shillings to the newspaper, but the printer apparently declined to print it, for it never appeared.

After the Revolution he complained to his Philadelphia agent, “I have such a number of Gazettes, crowded upon me (many without orders) that they are not only expensive, but really useless; as my other avocations will not afford me time to read them oftentimes, and when I do attempt it, find them more troublesome, than profitable; I have therefore to beg, if you Should get Money into your hands on Acct of the Inclosed Certificate, that you would be so good as to pay what I am owing to Messrs Dunlap & Claypoole, Mr. Oswald & Mr. Humphrey’s. If they consider me however as engaged for the year, I am Content to let the matter run on to the Expiration of it” During the Presidency he subscribed to the _Gazette of the United States_, Brown’s _Gazette_, Dunlap’s _American Advertiser_, the _Pennsylvania Gazette_, Bache’s _Aurora_, and the _New York Magazine_, Carey’s _Museum_, and the _Universal Asylum_, though at this time he “lamented that the editors of the different gazettes in the Union do not more generally and more correctly (instead of stuffing their papers with scurrility and nonsensical declamation, which few would read if they were apprised of the contents,) publish the debates in Congress on all great national questions.”

Presently, for personal and party reasons, certain of the papers began to attack him, and Jefferson wrote to Madison that the President was “extremely affected by the attacks made and kept up on him in the public papers. I think he feels these things more than any person I ever met with.” Later the Secretary of State noted that at an interview Washington “adverted to a piece in Freneau’s paper of yesterday, he said that he despised all their attacks on him personally, but that there never had been an act of government … that paper had not abused … He was evidently sore and warm.” At a cabinet meeting, too, according to the same writer, “the Presidt was much inflamed, got into one of those passions when he cannot command himself, ran on much on the personal abuse which had been bestowed on him, defied any man on earth to produce a single act of his since he had been in the govmt which was not done on the purest motives, that he had never repented but once the having slipped the moment of resigning his office, & that was every moment since, that _by god_ he had rather be in his grave than in his present situation. That he had rather be on his farm than to be made _emperor of the world_ and yet that they were charging him with wanting to be a king. That that _rascal Freneau_ sent him 3 of his papers every day, as if he thought he would become the distributor of his papers, that he could see in this nothing but an impudent design to insult him. He ended in this high tone. There was a pause.”

To correspondents, too, Washington showed how keenly he felt the attacks upon him, writing that “the publications in Freneau’s and Bache’s papers are outrages on common decency; and they progress in that style in proportion as their pieces are treated with contempt, and are passed by in silence, by those at whom they are aimed,” and asked “in what will this abuse terminate? The result, as it respects myself, I care not; for I have consolation within, that no earthly efforts can deprive me of, and that is, that neither ambitious nor interested motives have influenced my conduct. The arrows of malevolence, therefore however barbed and well pointed, never can reach the most vulnerable part of me; though, whilst I am _up_ as a _mark_, they will be continually aimed.”

On another occasion he said, “I am beginning to receive, what I had made my mind up for on this occasion, the abuse of Mr. Bache, and his correspondents.” He wrote a friend, “if you read the Aurora of this city, or those gazettes, which are under the same influence, you cannot but have perceived with what malignant industry and persevering falsehoods I am assailed, in order to weaken if not destroy the confidence of the public.”

When he retired from office he apparently cut off his subscriptions to papers, for a few months later he inquired, “what is the character of Porcupine’s Gazette? I had thought when I left Philadelphia, of ordering it to be sent to me; then again, I thought it best not to do it; and altho’ I should like to see both his and Bache’s, the latter may, under all circumstances, be the best decision; I mean not subscribing to either of them.” This decision to have no more to do with papers did not last, for on the night he was seized with his last illness Lear describes how “in the evening the papers having come from the post office, he sat in the room with Mrs. Washington and myself, reading them, till about nine o’clock when Mrs. Washington went up into Mrs. Lewis’s room, who was confined, and left the General and myself reading the papers. He was very cheerful; and, when he met with anything which he thought diverting or interesting, he would read it aloud as well as his hoarseness would permit. He desired me to read to him the debates of the Virginia Assembly, on the election of a Senator and Governor; which I did–and, on hearing Mr. Madison’s observations respecting Mr. Monroe, he appeared much affected, and spoke with some degree of asperity on the subject, which I endeavored to moderate, as I always did on such occasions.”



The frequently repeated statement that Washington was a man without friends is not the least curious of the myths that have obtained general credence. That it should be asserted only goes to show how absolutely his private life has been neglected in the study of his public career.

In his will Washington left tokens of remembrance “to the acquaintances and friends of my juvenile years, Lawrence Washington and Robert Washington of Chotanck,” the latter presumably the “dear Robin” of his earliest letter, and these two very distant kinsmen, whom he had come to know while staying at Wakefield, are the earliest friends of whom any record exists. Contemporary with them was a “Dear Richard,” whose letters gave Washington “unspeakable pleasure, as I am convinced I am still in the memory of so worthy a friend,–a friendship I shall ever be proud of increasing.”

Next in time came his intimacy with the Fairfaxes and Carlyles, which began with Washington’s visits to his brother Lawrence at Mount Vernon. About four miles from that place, at Belvoir, lived the Fairfaxes; and their kinspeople, the Carlyles, lived at Alexandria. Lawrence Washington had married Ann Fairfax, and through his influence his brother George was taken into the employment of Lord Fairfax, half as clerk and half as surveyor of his great tract of land, “the northern neck,” which he had obtained by marriage with a daughter of Lord Culpeper, who in turn had obtained it from the “Merrie Monarch” by means so disreputable that they are best left unstated. From that time till his death Washington corresponded with several of the family and was a constant visitor at Belvoir, as the Fairfaxes were at Mount Vernon.


In 1755 Washington told his brother that “to that family I am under many obligations, particularly the old gentleman,” but as time went on he more than paid the debt. In 1757 he acted as pallbearer to William Fairfax, and twelve years later his diary records, “Set off with Mrs. Washington and Patsey,… in order to stand for Mr. B. Fairfax’s third son, which I did together with my wife, Mr. Warner Washington and his lady.” For one of the family he obtained an army commission, and for another he undertook the care of his property during a visit to England; a care which unexpectedly lengthened, and was resigned only when Washington’s time became public property. Nor did that lessen his services or the Fairfaxes’ need of them, for in the Revolution that family were loyalists. Despite this, “the friendship,” Washington assured them, “which I ever professed and felt for you, met no diminution from the difference in our political sentiments,” and in 1778 he was able to secure the safety of Lord Fairfax from persecution at the hands of the Whigs, a service acknowledged by his lordship in the following words:

“There are times when favors conferred make a greater impression than at others, for, though I have received many, I hope I have not been unmindful of them; yet that, at a time your popularity was at the highest and mine at the lowest, and when it is so common for men’s resentments to run up high against those, who differ from them in opinion, you should act with your wonted kindness towards me, has affected me more than any favor I have received; and could not be believed by some in New York, it being above the run of common minds.”

In behalf of another member of the family, threatened with confiscation, he wrote to a member of the House of Delegates, “I hope, I trust, that no act of Legislation in the State of Virginia has affected, or can affect, the properly of this gentleman, otherwise than in common with that of every good and well disposed citizen of America,” and this was sufficient to put an end to the project At the close of the war he wrote to this absentee, “There was nothing wanting in [your] Letter to give compleat satisfaction to Mrs. Washington and myself but some expression to induce us to believe you would once more become our neighbors. Your house at Belvoir I am sorry to add is no more, but mine (which is enlarged since you saw it), is most sincerely and heartily at your service till you could rebuild it. As the path, after being closed by a long, arduous, and painful contest, is to use an Indian metaphor, now opened and made smooth, I shall please myself with the hope of hearing from you frequently; and till you forbid me to indulge the wish, I shall not despair of seeing you and Mrs. Fairfax once more the inhabitants of Belvoir, and greeting you both there the intimate companions of our old age, as you have been of our younger years.” And to another he left a token of remembrance in his will.

One of the most curious circle of friends was that composed of Indians. After his mission among them in 1753, Washington wrote to a tribe and signed himself “your friend and brother.” In a less general sense he requested an Indian agent to “recommend me kindly to Mononcatoocha and others; tell them how happy it would make Conotocarius to have an opportunity of taking them by the hand.” A little later he had this pleasure, and he wrote the governor, “the Indians are all around teasing and perplexing me for one thing or another, so that I scarce know what I write.” When Washington left the frontier this intercourse ceased, but he was not forgotten, for in descending the Ohio in his Western trip of 1770 a hunting party was met, and “in the person of Kiashuto I found an old acquaintance, he being one of the Indians that went [with me] to the French in 1753. He expressed satisfaction at seeing me, and treated us with great kindness, giving us a quarter of very fine buffalo. He insisted upon our spending that night with him, and, in order to retard us as little as possible moved his camp down the river.”

With his appointment to the Virginia regiment came military friends. From the earliest of these–Van Braam, who had served under Lawrence Washington in the Carthagena expedition of 1742, and who had come to live at Mount Vernon–Washington had previously taken lessons in fencing, and when appointed the bearer of a letter to the French commander on the Ohio he took Van Braam with him as interpreter. A little later, on receiving his majority, Washington appointed Van Braam his recruiting lieutenant, and recommended him to the governor for a captain’s commission on the grounds that he was “an experienced good officer.” To Van Braam fell the duty of translating the capitulation to the French at Fort Necessity, and to his reading was laid the blunder by which Washington signed a statement acknowledging himself as an “assassin.” Inconsequence he became the scapegoat of the expedition, was charged by the governor with being a “poltroon” and traitor, and was omitted from the Assembly’s vote of thanks and extra pay to the regiment. But Washington stood by him, and when himself burgess succeeded in getting this latter vote rescinded.

Another friend of the same period was the Chevalier Peyroney, whom Washington first made an ensign, and then urged the governor to advance him, promising that if the governor “should be pleased to indulge me in this request, I shall look upon it in a very particular light.” Peyroney was badly wounded at Fort Necessity and was furloughed, during which he wrote his commander, “I have made my particular Business to tray if any had some Bad intention against you here Below; But thank God I meet allowais with a good wish for you from evry Mouth each one entertining such Caracter of you as I have the honour to do myself.” He served again in the Braddock march, and in that fiasco, Washington wrote, “Captain Peyroney and all his officers down to a corporal, was killed.”

With Captain Stewart–“a gentleman whose assiduity and military capacity are second to none in our Service”–Washington was intimate enough to have Stewart apply in 1763 for four hundred pounds to aid him to purchase a commission, a sum Washington did not have at his disposal. But because of “a regard of that high nature that I could never see you uneasy without feeling a part and wishing to remove the cause,” Washington lent him three hundred pounds towards it, apparently without much return, for some years later he wrote to a friend that he was “very glad to learn that my friend Stewart was well when you left London. I have not had a letter from him these five years.” At the close of the Revolution he received a letter from Stewart containing “affectionate and flattering expressions,” which gave Washington “much pleasure,” as it “removed an apprehension I had long labored under, of your having taken your departure for the land of Spirits. How else could I account for a silence of 15 years. I shall always be happy to see you at Mt. Vernon.”

His friend William Ramsay–“well known, well-esteemed, and of unblemished character”–he appointed commissary, and long after, in 1769, wrote,–

“Having once or twice of late heard you speak highly in praise of the Jersey College, as if you had a desire of sending your son William there … I should be glad, if you have no other objection to it than what may arise from the expense, if you would send him there as soon as it is convenient, and depend on me for twenty-five pounds this currency a year for his support, so long as it may be necessary for the completion of his education. If I live to see the accomplishment of this term, the sum here stipulated shall he annually paid; and if I die in the mean while, this letter shall be obligatory upon my heirs, or executors, to do it according to the true intent and meaning hereof. No other return is expected, or wished, for this offer, than that you will accept it with the same freedom and good will, with which it is made, and that you may not even consider it in the light of an obligation or mention it as such; for, be assured, that from me it will never be known.”

The dearest friendship formed in these years was with the doctor of the regiment, James Craik, who in the course of his duties attended Washington in two serious illnesses, and when the war was ended settled near Mount Vernon. He was frequently a visitor there, and soon became the family medical attendant. When appointed General, Washington wrote, “tell Doctor Craik that I should be very glad to see him here if there was anything worth his acceptance; but the Massachusetts people suffer nothing to go by them that they lay hands upon.” In 1777 the General secured his appointment as deputy surgeon-general of the Middle Department, and three years later, when the hospital service was being reformed, he used his influence to have him retained. Craik was one of those instrumental in warning the commander-in-chief of the existence of the Conway Cabal, because “my attachment to your person is such, my friendship is so sincere, that every hint which has a tendency to hurt your honor, wounds me most sensibly.” The doctor was Washington’s companion, by invitation, in both his later trips to the Ohio, and his trust in him was so strong that he put under his care the two nephews whose charge he had assumed. In Washington’s ledger an entry tells of another piece of friendliness, to the effect, “Dr. James Craik, paid him, being a donation to his son, Geo. Washington Craik for his education L30,” and after graduating the young man for a time served as one of his private secretaries. After a serious illness in 1789, Washington wrote to the doctor, “persuaded as I am, that the case has been treated with skill, and with as much tenderness as the nature of the complaint would admit, yet I confess I often wished for your inspection of it,” and later he wrote, “if I should ever have occasion for a Physician or Surgeon, I should prefer my old Surgeon, Dr. Craik, who, from 40 years’ experience, is better qualified than a Dozen of them put together.” Craik was the first of the doctors to reach Washington’s bedside in his last illness, and when the dying man predicted his own death, “the Doctor pressed his hand but could not utter a word. He retired from the bedside and sat by the fire absorbed in grief.” In Washington’s will he left “to my compatriot in arms and old and intimate friend, Doctor Craik I give my Bureau (or as the Cabinet makers called it, Tambour Secretary) and the circular chair, an appendage of my study.”

The arrival of Braddock and his army at Alexandria brought a new circle of military friends. Washington “was very particularly noticed by that General, was taken into his family as an extra aid, offered a Captain’s commission by _brevet_ (which was the highest grade he had it in his power to bestow) and had the compliment of several blank Ensigncies given him to dispose of to the Young Gentlemen of his acquaintance.” In this position he was treated “with much complaisance … especially from the General,” which meant much, as Braddock seems to have had nothing but curses for nearly every one else, and the more as Washington and he “had frequent disputes,” which were “maintained with warmth on both sides, especially on his.” But the general, “though his enmities were strong,” in “his attachments” was “warm,” and grew to like and trust the young volunteer, and had he “survived his unfortunate defeat, I should have met with preferment,” having “his promise to that effect.” Washington was by the general when he was wounded in the lungs, lifted him into a covered cart, and “brought him over the _first_ ford of the Monongahela,” into temporary safety. Three days later Braddock died of his wounds, bequeathing to Washington his favorite horse and his body-servant as tokens of his gratitude. Over him Washington read the funeral service, and it was left to him to see that “the poor general” was interred “with the honors of war.”

Even before public service had made him known, Washington was a friend and guest of many of the leading Virginians. Between 1747 and 1754 he visited the Carters of Shirley, Nomony, and Sabine Hall, the Lewises of Warner Hall, the Lees of Stratford, and the Byrds of Westover, and there was acquaintance at least with the Spotswoods, Fauntleroys, Corbins, Randolphs, Harrisons, Robinsons, Nicholases, and other prominent families. In fact, one friend wrote him, “your health and good fortune are the toast of every table,” and another that “the Council and Burgesses are mostly your friends,” and those two bodies included every Virginian of real influence. It was Richard Corbin who enclosed him his first commission, in a brief note, beginning “Dear George” and ending “your friend,” but in time relations became more or less strained, and Washington suspected him “of representing my character … with ungentlemanly freedom.” With John Robinson, “Speaker” and Treasurer of Virginia, who wrote Washington in 1756, “our hopes, dear George, are all fixed on you,” a close correspondence was maintained, and when Washington complained of the governor’s course towards him Robinson replied, “I beg dear friend, that you will bear, so far as a man of honor ought, the discouragements and slights you have too often met with.” The son, Beverly Robinson, was a fellow-soldier, and, as already mentioned, was Washington’s host on his visit to New York in 1756. The Revolution interrupted the friendship, but it is alleged that Robinson (who was deep in the Arnold plot) made an appeal to the old-time relation in an endeavor to save Andre. The appeal was in vain, but auld lang syne had its influence, for the sons of Beverly, British officers taken prisoners in 1779, were promptly exchanged, so one of them asserted, “in consequence of the embers of friendship that still remained unextinguished in the breasts of my father and General Washington.”

Outside of his own colony, too, Washington made friends of many prominent families, with whom there was more or less interchange of hospitality. Before the Revolution there had been visiting or breaking of bread with the Galloways, Dulaneys, Carrolls, Calverts, Jenifers, Edens, Ringgolds, and Tilghmans of Maryland, the Penns, Cadwaladers, Morrises, Shippens, Aliens, Dickinsons, Chews, and Willings of Pennsylvania, and the De Lanceys and Bayards of New York.

Election to the Continental Congress strengthened some friendships and added new ones. With Benjamin Harrison he was already on terms of intimacy, and as long as the latter was in Congress he was the member most in the confidence of the General. Later they differed in politics, but Washington assured Harrison that “my friendship is not in the least lessened by the difference, which has taken place in our political sentiments, nor is my regard for you diminished by the part you have acted.” Joseph Jones and Patrick Henry both took his part against the Cabal, and the latter did him especial service in forwarding to him the famous anonymous letter, an act for which Washington felt “most grateful obligations.” Henry and Washington differed later in politics, and it was reported that the latter spoke disparagingly of the former, but this Washington denied, and not long after offered Henry the Secretaryship of State. Still later he made a personal appeal to him to come forward and combat the Virginia resolutions of 1798, an appeal to which Henry responded. The intimacy with Robert Morris was close, and, as already noted, Washington and his family were several times inmates of his home. Gouverneur Morris was one of his most trusted advisers, and, it is claimed, gave the casting vote which saved Washington from being arrested in 1778, when the Cabal was fiercest. While President, Washington sent him on a most important mission to Great Britain, and on its completion made him Minister to France. From that post the President was, at the request of France, compelled to recall him; but in doing so Washington wrote him a private letter assuring Morris that he “held the same place in my estimation” as ever, and signed himself “yours affectionately.” Charles Carroll of Carrollton was a partisan of the General, and very much disgusted a member of the Cabal by telling him “almost literally that anybody who displeased or did not admire the Commander-in-chief, ought not to be kept in the army.” And to Edward Rutledge Washington wrote, “I can but love and thank you, and I do it sincerely for your polite and friendly letter…. The sentiments contained in it are such as have uniformly flowed from your pen, and they are not the less flattering than pleasing to me.”

The command of the Continental army brought a new kind of friend, in the young aides of his staff. One of his earliest appointments was Joseph Reed, and, though he remained but five months in the service, a close friendship was formed. Almost weekly Washington wrote him in the most confidential and affectionate manner, and twice he appealed to Reed to take the position once more, in one instance adding that if “you are disposed to continue with me, I shall think myself too fortunate and happy to wish for a change.” Yet Washington none the less sent Reed congratulations on his election to the Pennsylvania Assembly, “although I consider it the coup-de-grace to my ever seeing you” again a “member of my family,” to help him he asked a friend to endeavor to get Reed legal business, and when all law business ceased and the would-be lawyer was without occupation or means of support, he used his influence to secure him the appointment of adjutant.

Reed kept him informed as to the news of Philadelphia, and wrote even such adverse criticism of the General as he heard, which Washington “gratefully” acknowledged. But one criticism Reed did not write was what he himself was saying of his general after the fall of Fort Washington, for which he blamed the commander-in-chief in a letter to Lee, and probably to others, for when later Reed and Arnold quarrelled, the latter boasted that “I can say I never basked in the sunshine of my general’s favor, and courted him to his face, when I was at the same time treating him with the greatest disrespect and villifying his character when absent. This is more than a ruling member of the Council of Pennsylvania can say.” Washington learned of this criticism in a letter from Lee to Reed, which was opened at head-quarters on the supposition that it was on army matters, and “with no idea of its being a private letter, much less the tendency of the correspondence,” as Washington explained in a letter to Reed, which had not a word of reproach for the double-dealing that must have cut the General keenly, coming as it did at a moment of misfortune and discouragement. Reed wrote a lame explanation and apology, and later sought to “regain” the “lost friendship” by an earnest appeal to Washington’s generosity. Nor did he appeal in vain, for the General replied that though “I felt myself hurt by a certain letter … I was hurt … because the same sentiments were not communicated immediately to myself.” The old-time intimacy was renewed, and how little his personal feeling had influenced Washington is shown in the fact that even previous to this peace-making he had secured for Reed the appointment to command one of the choicest brigades in the army. Perhaps the friendship was never quite as close, but in writing him Washington still signed himself “yours affectionately.”

John Laurens, appointed an aide in 1777, quickly endeared himself to Washington, and conceived the most ardent affection for his chief. The young officer of twenty-four used all his influence with his father (then President of Congress) against the Cabal, and in 1778, when Charles Lee was abusing the commander-in-chief, Laurens thought himself bound to resent it, “as well on account of the relation he bore to General Washington, as from motives of personal friendship and respect for his character,” and he challenged the defamer and put a bullet into him. To his commander he signed himself “with the greatest veneration and attachment your Excellency’s Faithful Aid,” and Washington in his letters always addressed him as “my dear Laurens.” After his death in battle, Washington wrote, in reply to an inquiry,–

“You ask if the character of Colonel John Laurens, as drawn in the _Independent Chronicle_ of 2d of December last, is just. I answer, that such parts of the drawing as have fallen under my observation, is literally so; and that it is my firm belief his merits and worth richly entitle him to the whole picture. No man possessed more of the _amor patriae_. In a word, he had not a fault, that I could discover, unless intrepidity bordering upon rashness could come under that denomination; and to this he was excited by the purest motives.”

Of another aide, Tench Tilghman, Washington said, “he has been a zealous servant and slave to the public, and a faithful assistant to me for near five years, great part of which time he refused to receive pay. Honor and gratitude interest me in his favor.” As an instance of this, the commander-in-chief gave to him the distinction of bearing to Congress the news of the surrender of Cornwallis, with the request to that body that Tilghman should be honored in some manner. And in acknowledging a letter Washington said, “I receive with great sensibility and pleasure your assurances of affection and regard. It would be but a renewal of what I have often repeated to you, that there are few men in the world to whom I am more attached by inclination than I am to you. With the Cause, I hope–most devoutly hope–there will be an end to my Military Service, when as our places of residence will not be far apart, I shall never be more happy than in your Company at Mt. Vernon. I shall always be glad to hear from, and keep up a correspondence with you.” When Tilghman died, Washington asserted that

“He had left as fair a reputation as ever belonged to a human character,” and to his father he wrote, “Of all the numerous acquaintances of your lately deceased son, & midst all the sorrowings that are mingled on that melancholy occasion, I may venture to assert that (excepting those of his nearest relatives) none could have felt his death with more regret than I did, because no one entertained a higher opinion of his worth, or had imbibed sentiments of greater friendship for him than I had done…. Midst all your grief, there is this consolation to be drawn;–that while living, no man could be more esteemed, and since dead, none more lamented than Colo. Tilghman.”

To David Humphreys, a member of the staff, Washington gave the honor of carrying to Congress the standards captured at Yorktown, recommending him to the notice of that body for his “attention, fidelity, and good services.” This aide escorted Washington to Mount Vernon at the close of the Revolution, and was “the last officer belonging to the army” who parted from “the Commander-in-chief.” Shortly after, Humphreys returned to Mount Vernon, half as secretary and half as visitor and companion, and he alluded to this time in his poem of “Mount Vernon,” when he said,–

“Twas mine, return’d from Europe’s courts To share his thoughts, partake his sports.”


When Washington was accused of cruelty in the Asgill case, Humphreys published an account of the affair, completely vindicating his friend, for which he was warmly thanked. He was frequently urged to come to Mount Vernon, and Washington on one occasion lamented “the cause which has deprived us of your aid in the attack of Christmas pies,” and on another assured Humphreys of his “great pleasure [when] I received the intimation of your spending the winter under this Roof. The invitation was not less sincere, than the reception will be cordial. The only stipulations I shall contend for are, that in all things you shall do as you please–I will do the same; and that no ceremony may be used or any restraint be imposed on any one.” Humphreys was visiting him when the notification of his election as President was received, and was the only person, except servants, who accompanied Washington to New York. Here he continued for a time to give his assistance, and was successively appointed Indian commissioner, informal agent to Spain, and finally Minister to Portugal. While holding this latter position Washington wrote to him, “When you shall think with the poet that ‘the post of honor is a private station’–& may be inclined to enjoy yourself in my shades … I can only tell you that you will meet with the same cordial reception at Mount Vernon that you have always experienced at that place,” and when Humphreys answered that his coming marriage made the visit impossible, Washington replied, “The desire of a companion in my latter days, in whom I could confide … induced me to express too strongly … the hope of having you as an inmate.” On the death of Washington, Humphreys published a poem expressing the deepest affection and admiration for “my friend.”

The longest and closest connection was that with Hamilton. This very young and obscure officer attracted Washington’s attention in the campaign of 1776, early in the next year was appointed to the staff, and quickly became so much a favorite that Washington spoke of him as “my boy.” Whatever friendliness this implied was not, however, reciprocated by Hamilton. After four years of service, he resigned, under circumstances to which he pledged Washington to secrecy, and then himself, in evident irritation, wrote as follows:

“Two days ago, the General and I passed each other on the stairs. He told me he wanted to speak to me. I answered that I would wait upon him immediately. I went below, and delivered Mr. Tilghman a letter to be sent to the commissary, containing an order of a pressing and interesting nature. Returning to the General, I was stopped on the way by the Marquis de Lafayette, and we conversed together about a minute on a matter of business. He can testify how impatient I was to get back, and that I left him in a manner which, but for our intimacy would have been more than abrupt. Instead of finding the General, as is usual, in his room, I met him at the head of the stairs, where, accosting me in an angry tone, ‘Colonel Hamilton,’ said he ‘you have kept me waiting at the head of the stairs these ten minutes. I must tell you, sir, you treat me with disrespect.’ I replied without petulancy, but with decision: ‘I am not conscious of it, sir; but since you have thought it necessary to tell me so, we part.’ ‘Very well, sir,’ said he, ‘if it be your choice,’ or something to this effect, and we separated. I sincerely believe my absence, which gave so much umbrage, did not last two minutes. In less than an hour after, Tilghman came to me in the General’s name, assuring me of his great confidence in my abilities, integrity, usefulness, etc, and of his desire, in a candid conversation, to heal a difference which could not have happened but in a moment of passion. I requested Mr Tilghman to tell him–1st. That I had taken my resolution in a manner not to be revoked … Thus we stand … Perhaps you may think I was precipitate in rejecting the overture made by the General to an accomodation. I assure you, my dear sir, it was not the effect of resentment; it was the deliberate result of maxims I had long formed for the government of my own conduct…. I believe you know the place I held in the General’s confidence and counsels, which will make more extraordinary to you to learn that for three years past I have felt no friendship for him and have professed none. The truth is, our dispositions are the opposites of each other, and the pride of my temper would not suffer me to profess what I did not feel. Indeed, when advances of this kind have been made to me on his part, they were received in a manner that showed at least that I had no desire to court them, and that I desired to stand rather upon a footing of military confidence than of private attachment.”

Had Washington been the man this letter described he would never have forgiven this treatment. On the contrary, only two months later, when compelled to refuse for military reasons a favor Hamilton asked, he said that “my principal concern arises from an apprehension that you will impute my refusal to your request to other motives.” On this refusal Hamilton enclosed his commission to Washington, but “Tilghman came to me in his name, pressed me to retain my commission, with an assurance that he would endeavor, by all means, to give me a command.” Later Washington did more than Hamilton himself had asked, when he gave him the leading of the storming party at Yorktown, a post envied by every officer in the army.

Apparently this generosity lessened Hamilton’s resentment, for a correspondence on public affairs was maintained from this time on, though Madison stated long after “that Hamilton often spoke disparagingly of Washington’s talents, particularly after the Revolution and at the first part of the presidentcy,” and Benjamin Rush confirms this by a note to the effect that “Hamilton often spoke with contempt of General Washington. He said that … his heart was a stone.” The rumor of the ill feeling was turned to advantage by Hamilton’s political opponents in 1787, and compelled the former to appeal to Washington to save him from the injury the story was doing. In response Washington wrote a letter intended for public use, in which he said,–

“As you say it is insinuated by some of your political adversaries, and may obtain credit, ‘that you _palmed_ yourself upon me, and was _dismissed_ from my family,’ and call upon me to do you justice by a recital of the facts, I do therefore explicitly declare, that both charges are entirely unfounded. With respect to the first, I have no cause to believe, that you took a single step to accomplish, or had the most distant idea of receiving an appointment in my family till you were invited in it; and, with respect to the second, that your quitting it was altogether the effect of your own choice.”

With the appointment as Secretary of the Treasury warmer feelings were developed. Hamilton became the President’s most trusted official, and was tireless in the aid he gave his superior. Even after he left office he performed many services equivalent to official ones, for which Washington did “not know how to thank” him “sufficiently,” and the President leaned on his judgment to an otherwise unexampled extent. This service produced affection and respect, and in 1792 Washington wrote from Mount Vernon, “We have learnt … that you have some thoughts of taking a trip this way. I felt pleasure at hearing it, and hope it is unnecessary to add, that it would be considerably increased by seeing you under this roof; for you may