The True George Washington



                        Paul Leicester Ford


             Author of "The Honorable Peter Stirling"

         Editor of "The Writings of Thomas Jefferson" and

                 "The Sayings of Poor Richard"



"That I have foibles, and perhaps many of them, I shall not deny. I should

esteem myself, as the world would, vain and empty, were I to arrogate






"Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice."








                      J.B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY


                         _Tenth Edition_


Electrotyped and Printed by J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, U





                       THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED


                        WILLIAM F. HAVEMEYER,










In every country boasting a history there may be observed a tendency to

make its leaders or great men superhuman. Whether we turn to the legends

of the East, the folk-lore of Europe, or the traditions of the native

races of America, we find a mythology based upon the acts of man gifted

with superhuman powers. In the unscientific, primeval periods in which

these beliefs were born and elaborated into oral and written form, their

origin is not surprising. But to all who have studied the creation of a

mythology, no phase is a more curious one than that the keen, practical

American of to-day should engage in the same process of hero-building

which has given us Jupiter, Wotan, King Arthur, and others. By a slow

evolution we have well-nigh discarded from the lives of our greatest men

of the past all human faults and feelings; have enclosed their greatness

in glass of the clearest crystal, and hung up a sign, "Do not touch."

Indeed, with such characters as Washington, Franklin, and Lincoln we have

practically adopted the English maxim that "the king can do no wrong." In

place of men, limited by human limits, and influenced by human passions,

we have demi-gods, so stripped of human characteristics as to make us

question even whether they deserve much credit for their sacrifices and



But with this process of canonization have we not lost more than we have

gained, both in example and in interest? Many, no doubt, with the greatest

veneration for our first citizen, have sympathized with the view

expressed by Mark Twain, when he said that he was a greater man than

Washington, for the latter "couldn't tell a lie, while he could, but

wouldn't" We have endless biographies of Franklin, picturing him in all

the public stations of life, but all together they do not equal in

popularity his own human autobiography, in which we see him walking down

Market Street with a roll under each arm, and devouring a third. And so it

seems as if the time had come to put the shadow-boxes of humanity round

our historic portraits, not because they are ornamental in themselves, but

because they will make them examples, not mere idols.


If the present work succeeds in humanizing Washington, and making him a

man rather than a historical figure, its purpose will have been fulfilled.

In the attempt to accomplish this, Washington has, so far as is possible,

been made to speak for himself, even though at times it has compelled the

sacrifice of literary form, in the hope that his own words would convey a

greater sense of the personality of the man. So, too, liberal drafts have

been made on the opinions and statements of his contemporaries; but,

unless the contrary is stated or is obvious, all quoted matter is from

Washington's own pen. It is with pleasure that the author adds that the

result of his study has only served to make Washington the greater to him.


The writer is under the greatest obligation to his brother, Worthington

Chauncey Ford, not merely for his numerous books on Washington, of which

his "Writings of George Washington" is easily first in importance of all

works relating to the great American, but also for much manuscript

material which he has placed at the author's service. Hitherto unpublished

facts have been drawn from many other sources, but notably from the rich

collection of Mr. William F. Havemeyer, of New York, from the Department

of State in Washington, and from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

To Mr. S.M. Hamilton, of the former institution, and to Mr. Frederick D.

Stone, of the latter, the writer is particularly indebted for assistance.


































List of Illustrations with Notes






Painted for Washington in 1795, and presented by him to Nelly (Calvert)

Stuart, widow of John Parke Custis, Washington's adopted son. Her son

George Washington Parke Custis, in whose presence the sittings were made,

often spoke of the likeness as "almost perfect."






The injury of the effigy of Laurence Washington and the entire

disappearance of the effigy of Amee antedate the early part of the present

century, and probably were done in the Puritan period. Since the above

tracing was made the brasses of the eleven children have been stolen,

leaving nothing but the lettering and the shield of the Washington arms.





Painted about 1750, and erroneously alleged to be by Copley. Original in

the possession of Mr. R. Byrd Lewis, of Marmion, Virginia.





Original in the possession of General G.W. Custis Lee, of Lexington,






From the miniature by Gilbert Stuart, in the possession of her grandson,

Edward Parke Lewis Custis, of Hoboken, New Jersey.





The lettering reads, "Done from an original Drawn from the Life, by Alex'r

Campbell of Williamsburg in Virginia. Published as the act directs

9 Sept'r 1775 by C. Shepherd." It is the first engraved portrait of

Washington, and was issued to satisfy the English curiosity concerning the

new commander-in-chief of the rebels. From the original print in the

possession of Mr. W.F. Havemeyer, of New York.





The sheet from which Washington modelled his handwriting, and to which his

earliest script shows a marked resemblance. From the original in the

possession of the author.





Showing changes and corrections made by Washington at a later date. From

original copy-book in the Washington MSS. in the Department of State.





From the original formerly in the possession of Mr. Frederick Philipse.





Alleged to have been painted by Woolaston about 1757. It has been asserted

by Mr. L.W. Washington and Mr. Moncure D. Conway that this is a portrait

of Betty Washington Lewis, but in this they are wholly in error, as proof

exists that it is a portrait of Mrs. Washington before her second






Made by Washington as a boy, and one of the earliest specimens of his

work. The small drawing of the house represents it as it was before

Washington enlarged it, and is the only picture of it known. Original in

the Department of State.





From the original in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.





Painted by Edward Savage about 1795, and issued as a large engraving in

1798. The original picture is now in the possession of Mr. William F.

Havemeyer, of New York.





The official invitation while President, from the original in the

possession of the author.





This gives only the first few names, many more following. The original was

formerly in the possession of Mr. Thomas Biddle, of Philadelphia.





This is a slight variation from the true Washington coat of arms, the

changes being introduced by Washington. From the original in the

possession of the author.





Washington's birthplace. The survey was made in 1743, on the property

coming into the possession of Augustine Washington (second) from his

father, with the object of readjusting the boundary-lines. Original in the

possession of Mr. William F. Havemeyer, of New York.





This record, with the exception of the interlined note concerning Betty

Washington Lewis, is in the handwriting of George Washington, and was

written when he was about sixteen years old. Original in the possession of

Mrs. Lewis Washington, of Charlestown, West Virginia.





By an unknown artist. From the original in the possession of General G.W.

Custis Lee, of Lexington, Virginia.





On a fly-leaf of the volume to which this title belongs is written, "This

autograph of Genl. Washington's name is believed to be the earliest

specimen of his writing, when he was probably not more than 8 or 9 years

of age." This is a note by G.C. Washington, to whom Washington's library

descended. Original in the possession of the Boston Athenaeum.





First page of Washington's boyish transcript, written when he was about

thirteen years of age. Used here by courtesy of Mr. S.M. Hamilton and

"Public Opinion," who are preparing a fac-simile edition of the entire






Taken by Houdon in October, 1785. From the replica in the Historical

Society of Pennsylvania.





Of this first edition but two copies are known. From the original in the

Lenox Library.





Philadelphia offered to furnish the house for the President during the

time Congress sat in that city, but Washington "wholly declined living in

any public building," and rented this house from Robert Morris. Though it

was considered one of the finest in the city, Washington several times

complained of being cramped.













Although Washington wrote that the history of his ancestors was, in his

opinion, "of very little moment," and "a subject to which I confess I have

paid very little attention," few Americans can prove a better pedigree.

The earliest of his forebears yet discovered was described as "gentleman,"

the family were granted lands by Henry the Eighth, held various offices of

honor, married into good families, and under the Stuarts two were knighted

and a third served as page to Prince Charles. Lawrence, a brother of the

three thus distinguished, matriculated at Oxford as a "generosi filius"

(the intermediate class between sons of the nobility, "armigeri filius,"

and of the people, "plebeii filius"), or as of the minor gentry. In time

he became a fellow and lector of Brasenose College, and presently obtained

the good living of Purleigh. Strong royalists, the fortunes of the family

waned along with King Charles, and sank into insignificance with the

passing of the Stuart dynasty. Not the least sufferer was the rector of

Purleigh, for the Puritan Parliament ejected him from his living, on the

charge "that he was a common frequenter of ale-houses, not only himself

sitting dayly tippling there ... but hath oft been drunk,"--a charge

indignantly denied by the royalists, who asserted that he was a "worthy

Pious man, ... always ... a very Modest, Sober Person;" and this latter

claim is supported by the fact that though the Puritans sequestered the

rich living, they made no objection to his serving as rector at Brixted

Parva, where the living was "such a Poor and Miserable one that it was

always with difficulty that any one was persuaded to accept of it."


Poverty resulting, John, the eldest son of this rector, early took to the

sea, and in 1656 assisted "as second man in Sayleing ye Vessel to

Virginia." Here he settled, took up land, presently became a county

officer, a burgess, and a colonel of militia. In this latter function he

commanded the Virginia troops during the Indian war of 1675, and when his

great-grandson, George, on his first arrival on the frontier, was called

by the Indians "Conotocarius," or "devourer of villages," the formidable

but inappropriate title for the newly-fledged officer is supposed to have

been due to the reputation that John Washington had won for his name among

the Indians eighty years before.





Both John's son, Lawrence, and Lawrence's son, Augustine, describe

themselves in their wills as "gentlemen," and both intermarried with the

"gentry families" of Virginia. Augustine was educated at Appleby School,

in England, like his grandfather followed the sea for a time, was

interested in iron mines, and in other ways proved himself far more than

the average Virginia planter of his day. He was twice married,--which

marriages, with unconscious humor, he describes in his will as "several

Ventures,"--had ten children, and died in 1743, when George, his fifth

child and the first by his second "Venture," was a boy of eleven. The

father thus took little part in the life of the lad, and almost the only

mention of him by his son still extant is the one recorded in Washington's

round school-boy hand in the family Bible, to the effect that "Augustine

Washington and Mary Ball was Married the Sixth of March 17-30/31.

Augustine Washington Departed this Life ye 12th Day of April 1743, Aged 49



The mother, Mary Washington, was more of a factor, though chiefly by mere

length of life, for she lived to be eighty-three, and died but ten years

before her son. That Washington owed his personal appearance to the Balls

is true, but otherwise the sentimentality that has been lavished about the

relations between the two and her influence upon him, partakes of fiction

rather than of truth. After his father's death the boy passed most of his

time at the homes of his two elder brothers, and this was fortunate, for

they were educated men, of some colonial consequence, while his mother

lived in comparatively straitened circumstances, was illiterate and

untidy, and, moreover, if tradition is to be believed, smoked a pipe. Her

course with the lad was blamed by a contemporary as "fond and unthinking,"

and this is borne out by such facts as can be gleaned, for when his

brothers wished to send him to sea she made "trifling objections," and

prevented his taking what they thought an advantageous opening; when the

brilliant offer of a position on Braddock's staff was tendered to

Washington, his mother, "alarmed at the report," hurried to Mount Vernon

and endeavored to prevent him from accepting it; still again, after

Braddock's defeat, she so wearied her son with pleas not to risk the

dangers of another campaign that Washington finally wrote her, "It would

reflect dishonor upon me to refuse; and _that_, I am sure, must or _ought_

to give you greater uneasiness, than my going in an honorable command."

After he inherited Mount Vernon the two seem to have seen little of each

other, though, when occasion took him near Fredericksburg, he usually

stopped to see her for a few hours, or even for a night.


Though Washington always wrote to his mother as "Honored Madam," and

signed himself "your dutiful and aff. son," she none the less tried him

not a little. He never claimed from her a part of the share of his

father's estate which was his due on becoming of age, and, in addition,

"a year or two before I left Virginia (to make her latter days comfortable

and free from care) I did, at her request, but at my own expence,

purchase a commodious house, garden and Lotts (of her own choosing) in

Fredericksburg, that she might be near my sister Lewis, her only

daughter,--and did moreover agree to take her land and negroes at a

certain yearly rent, to be fixed by Colo Lewis and others (of her own

nomination) which has been an annual expence to me ever since, as the

estate never raised one half the rent I was to pay. Before I left Virginia

I answered all her calls for money; and since that period have directed my

steward to do the same." Furthermore, he gave her a phaeton, and when she

complained of her want of comfort he wrote her, "My house is at your

service, and [I] would press you most sincerely and most devoutly to

accept it, but I am sure, and candor requires me to say, it will never

answer your purposes in any shape whatsoever. For in truth it may be

compared to a well resorted tavern, as scarcely any strangers who are

going from north to south, or from south to north, do not spend a day or

two at it. This would, were you to be an inhabitant of it, oblige you to

do one of 3 things: 1st, to be always dressing to appear in company; 2d,

to come into [the room] in a dishabille, or 3d to be as it were a prisoner

in your own chamber. The first you'ld not like; indeed, for a person at

your time of life it would be too fatiguing. The 2d, I should not like,

because those who resort here are, as I observed before, strangers and

people of the first distinction. And the 3d, more than probably, would not

be pleasing to either of us."


Under these circumstances it was with real indignation that Washington

learned that complaints of hers that she "never lived soe poore in all my

life" were so well known that there was a project to grant her a pension.

The pain this caused a man who always showed such intense dislike to

taking even money earned from public coffers, and who refused everything

in the nature of a gift, can easily be understood. He at once wrote a

letter to a friend in the Virginia Assembly, in which, after reciting

enough of what he had done for her to prove that she was under no

necessity of a pension,--"or, in other words, receiving charity from the

public,"--he continued, "But putting these things aside, which I could not

avoid mentioning in exculpation of a presumptive want of duty on my part;

confident I am that she has not a child that would not divide the last

sixpence to relieve her from real distress. This she has been repeatedly

assured of by me; and all of us, I am certain, would feel much hurt, at

having our mother a pensioner, while we had the means of supporting her;

but in fact she has an ample income of her own. I lament accordingly that

your letter, which conveyed the first hint of this matter, did not come to

my hands sooner; but I request, in pointed terms, if the matter is now in

agitation in your Assembly, that all proceedings on it may be stopped, or

in case of a decision in her favor, that it may be done away and repealed

at my request."


Still greater mortification was in store for him, when he was told that

she was borrowing and accepting gifts from her neighbors, and learned "on

good authority that she is, upon all occasions and in all companies,

complaining ... of her wants and difficulties; and if not in direct terms,

at least by strong innuendoes, endeavors to excite a belief that times

are much altered, &c., &c., which not only makes _her_ appear in an

unfavorable point of view, but _those also_ who are connected with her."

To save her feelings he did not express the "pain" he felt to her, but he

wrote a brother asking him to ascertain if there was the slightest basis

in her complaints, and "see what is necessary to make her comfortable,"

for "while I have anything I will part with it to make her so;" but

begging him "at the same time ... to represent to her in delicate terms,

the impropriety of her complaints, and _acceptance_ of favors, even when

they are voluntarily offered, from any but relations." Though he did not

"touch upon this subject in a letter to her," he was enough fretted to end

the renting of her plantation, not because "I mean ... to withhold any aid

or support I can give from you; for whilst I have a shilling left, you

shall have part," but because "what I shall then give, I shall have credit

for," and not be "viewed as a delinquent, and considered perhaps by the

world as [an] unjust and undutiful son."


In the last years of her life a cancer developed, which she refused to

have "dressed," and over which, as her doctor wrote Washington, the "Old

Lady" and he had "a small battle every day." Once Washington was summoned

by an express to her bedside "to bid, as I was prepared to expect, the

last adieu to an honored parent," but it was a false alarm. Her health was

so bad, however, that just before he started to New York to be inaugurated

he rode to Fredericksburg, "and took a final leave of my mother, never

expecting to see her more," a surmise that proved correct.


Only Elizabeth--or "Betty"--of Washington's sisters grew to womanhood, and

it is said that she was so strikingly like her brother that, disguised

with a long cloak and a military hat, the difference between them was

scarcely detectable. She married Fielding Lewis, and lived at "Kenmore

House" on the Rappahannock, where Washington spent many a night, as did

the Lewises at Mount Vernon. During the Revolution, while visiting there,

she wrote her brother, "Oh, when will that day arrive when we shall meet

again. Trust in the lord it will be soon,--till when, you have the prayers

and kind wishes for your health and happiness of your loving and sincerely

affectionate sister." Her husband died "much indebted," and from that time

her brother gave her occasional sums of money, and helped her in other



Her eldest son followed in his father's footsteps, and displeased

Washington with requests for loans. He angered him still more by conduct

concerning which Washington wrote to him as follows:



"Sir, Your letter of the 11th of Octor. never came to my hands 'till

yesterday. Altho' your disrespectful conduct towards me, in coming into

this country and spending weeks therein without ever coming near me,

entitled you to very little notice or favor from me; yet I consent that

you may get timber from off my Land in Fauquier County to build a house on

your Lott in Rectertown. Having granted this, now let me ask you what your

views were in purchasing a Lott in a place which, I presume, originated

with and will end in two or three Gin shops, which probably will exist no

longer than they serve to ruin the proprietors, and those who make the

most frequent applications to them. I am, &c."




Other of the Lewis boys pleased him better, and he appointed one an

officer in his own "Life Guard." Of another he wrote, when President, to

his sister, "If your son Howell is living with you, and not usefully

employed in your own affairs, and should incline to spend a few months

with me, as a writer in my office (if he is fit for it) I will allow him

at the rate of three hundred dollars a year, provided he is diligent in

discharging the duties of it from breakfast until dinner--Sundays

excepted. This sum will be punctually paid him, and I am particular in

declaring beforehand what I require, and what he may expect, that there

may be no disappointment, or false expectations on either side. He will

live in the family in the same manner his brother Robert did." This Robert

had been for some time one of his secretaries, and at another time was

employed as a rent-collector.


Still another son, Lawrence, also served him in these dual capacities, and

Washington, on his retirement from the Presidency, offered him a home at

Mount Vernon. This led to a marriage with Mrs. Washington's grandchild,

Eleanor Custis, a match which so pleased Washington that he made

arrangements for Lawrence to build on the Mount Vernon estate, in his will

named him an executor, and left the couple a part of this property, as

well as a portion of the residuary estate.


As already noted, much of Washington's early life was passed at the homes

of his elder (half-) brothers, Lawrence and Augustine, who lived

respectively at Mount Vernon and Wakefield. When Lawrence developed

consumption, George was his travelling companion in a trip to Barbadoes,

and from him, when he died of that disease, in 1752, came the bequest of

Mount Vernon to "my loveing brother George." To Augustine, in the only

letter now extant, Washington wrote, "The pleasure of your company at

Mount Vernon always did, and always will afford me infinite satisfaction,"

and signed himself "your most affectionate brother." Surviving this

brother, he left handsome bequests to all his children.


Samuel, the eldest of his own brothers, and his junior by but two years,

though constantly corresponded with, was not a favorite. He seems to have

had extravagant tendencies, variously indicated by five marriages, and by

(perhaps as a consequence) pecuniary difficulties. In 1781, Washington

wrote to another brother, "In God's name how did my brother Samuel get

himself so enormously in debt?" Very quickly requests for loans followed,

than which nothing was more irritating to Washington. Yet, though he

replied that it would be "very inconvenient" to him, his ledger shows that

at least two thousand dollars were advanced, and in a letter to this

brother, on the danger of borrowing at interest, Washington wrote, "I do

not make these observations on account of the money I purpose to lend you,

because all I shall require is that you return the net sum when in your

power, without interest." Better even than this, in his will Washington

discharged the debt.


To the family of Samuel, Washington was equally helpful. For the eldest

son he obtained an ensigncy, and "to save Thornton and you [Samuel] the

expence of buying a horse to ride home on, I have lent him a mare." Two

other sons he assumed all the expenses of, and showed an almost fatherly

interest in them. He placed them at school, and when the lads proved

somewhat unruly he wrote them long admonitory letters, which became stern

when actual misconduct ensued, and when one of them ran away to Mount

Vernon to escape a whipping, Washington himself prepared "to correct him,

but he begged so earnestly and promised so faithfully that there should be

no cause for complaint in the future, that I have suspended punishment."

Later the two were sent to college, and in all cost Washington "near five

thousand dollars."


An even greater trouble was their sister Harriot, whose care was assumed

in 1785, and who was a member of Washington's household, with only a

slight interruption, till her marriage in 1796. Her chief failing was "no

disposition ... to be careful of her cloathes," which were "dabbed about

in every hole and corner and her best things always in use," so that

Washington said "she costs me enough!" To her uncle she wrote on one

occasion, "How shall I apologise to my dear and Honor'd for intruding on

his goodness so soon again, but being sensible for your kindness to me

which I shall ever remember with the most heartfelt gratitude induces me

to make known my wants. I have not had a pair of stays since I first came

here: if you could let me have a pair I should be very much obleiged to

you, and also a hat and a few other articles. I hope my dear Uncle will

not think me extravagant for really I take as much care of my cloaths as I

possibly can." Probably the expense that pleased him best in her case was

that which he recorded in his ledger "By Miss Harriot Washington gave her

to buy wedding clothes $100."


His second and favorite brother, John Augustine, who was four years his

junior, Washington described as "the intimate companion of my youth and

the friend of my ripened age." While the Virginia colonel was on the

frontier, from 1754 to 1759, he left John in charge of all his business

affairs, giving him a residence at and management of Mount Vernon. With

this brother he constantly corresponded, addressing him as "Dear Jack,"

and writing in the most intimate and affectionate terms, not merely to

him, but when John had taken unto himself a wife, to her, and to "the

little ones," and signing himself "your loving brother." Visits between

the two were frequent, and invitations for the same still more so, and in

one letter, written during the most trying moment of the Revolution,

Washington said, "God grant you all health and happiness. Nothing in this

world could contribute so to mine as to be fixed among you." John died in

1787, and Washington wrote with simple but undisguised grief of the death

of "my beloved brother."


The eldest son of this brother, Bushrod, was his favorite nephew, and

Washington took much interest in his career, getting the lad admitted to

study law with Judge James Wilson, in Philadelphia, and taking genuine

pride in him when he became a lawyer and judge of repute. He made this

nephew his travelling companion in the Western journey of 1784, and at

other times not merely sent him money, but wrote him letters of advice,

dwelling on the dangers that beset young men, though confessing that he

was himself "not such a Stoic" as to expect too much of youthful blood. To

Bushrod, also, he appealed on legal matters, adding, "You may think me an

unprofitable applicant in asking opinions and requiring services of you

without dousing my money, but pay day may come," and in this he was as

good as his word, for in his will Washington left Bushrod, "partly in

consideration of an intimation to his deceased father, while we were

bachelors and he had kindly undertaken to superintend my Estates, during

my military services in the former war between Great Britain and France,

that if I should fall therein, Mt. Vernon ... should become his property,"

the home and "mansion-house farm," one share of the residuary estate, his

private papers, and his library, and named him an executor of the



Of Washington's relations with his youngest brother, Charles, little can

be learned. He was the last of his brothers to die, and Washington

outlived him so short a time that he was named in his will, though only

for a mere token of remembrance. "I add nothing to it because of the ample

provision I have made for his issue." Of the children so mentioned,

Washington was particularly fond of George Augustine Washington. As a mere

lad he used his influence to procure for him an ensigncy in a Virginia

regiment, and an appointment on Lafayette's staff. When in 1784 the young

fellow was threatened with consumption, his uncle's purse supplied him

with the funds by which he was enabled to travel, even while Washington

wrote, "Poor fellow! his pursuit after health is, I fear, altogether

fruitless." When better health came, and with it a renewal of a troth with

a niece of Mrs. Washington's, the marriage was made possible by Washington

appointing the young fellow his manager, and not merely did it take place

at Mount Vernon, but the young couple took up their home there. More than

this, that their outlook might be "more stable and pleasing," Washington

promised them that on his death they should not be forgotten. When the

disease again developed, Washington wrote his nephew in genuine anxiety,

and ended his letter, "At all times and under all circumstances you and

yours will possess my affectionate regards." Only a few days later the

news of his nephew's death reached him, and he wrote his widow, "To you

who so well know the affectionate regard I had for our departed friend, it

is unnecessary to describe the sorrow with which I was afflicted at the

news of his death." He asked her and her children "to return to your old

habitation at Mount Vernon. You can go to no place where you can be more

welcome, nor to any where you can live at less expence and trouble," an

offer, he adds, "made to you with my whole heart." Furthermore, Washington

served as executor, assumed the expense of educating one of the sons, and

in his will left the two children part of the Mount Vernon estate, as

well as other bequests, "on account of the affection I had for, and the

obligation I was under to their father when living, who from his youth

attached himself to my person, and followed my fortunes through the

vicissitudes of the late Revolution, afterwards devoting his time for many

years whilst my public employments rendered it impracticable for me to do

it myself, thereby affording me essential services and always performing

them in a manner the most filial and respectful."


Of his wife's kith and kin Washington was equally fond. Both alone and

with Mrs. Washington he often visited her mother, Mrs. Dandridge, and in

1773 he wrote to a brother-in-law that he wished "I was master of

Arguments powerful enough to prevail upon Mrs. Dandridge to make this

place her entire and absolute home. I should think as she lives a lonesome

life (Betsey being married) it might suit her well, & be agreeable, both

to herself & my Wife, to me most assuredly it would." Washington was also

a frequent visitor at "Eltham," the home of Colonel Bassett, who had

married his wife's sister, and constantly corresponded with these

relatives. He asked this whole family to be his guests at the Warm

Springs, and, as this meant camping out in tents, he wrote, "You will have

occasion to provide nothing, if I can be advised of your intentions, so

that I may provide accordingly." To another brother-in-law, Bartholomew

Dandridge, he lent money, and forgave the debt to the widow in his will,

also giving her the use during her life of the thirty-three negroes he had

bid in at the bankruptcy sale of her husband's property.


The pleasantest glimpses of family feeling are gained, however, in his

relations with his wife's children and grandchildren. John Parke and

Martha Parke Custis--or "Jack" and "Patsey," as he called them--were

at the date of his marriage respectively six and four years of age, and in

the first invoice of goods to be shipped to him from London after he had

become their step-father, Washington ordered "10 shillings worth of Toys,"

"6 little books for children beginning to read," and "1 fashionable-dressed

baby to cost 10 shillings." When this latter shared the usual fate, he

further wrote for "1 fashionable dress Doll to cost a guinea," and for "A

box of Gingerbread Toys & Sugar Images or Comfits." A little later he

ordered a Bible and Prayer-Book for each, "neatly bound in Turkey," with

names "in gilt letters on the inside of the cover," followed ere long by an

order for "1 very good Spinet" As Patsy grew to girlhood she developed

fits, and "solely on her account to try (by the advice of her Physician)

the effect of the waters on her Complaint," Washington took the family over

the mountains and camped at the "Warm Springs" in 1769, with "little

benefit," for, after ailing four years longer, "she was seized with one of

her usual Fits & expired in it, in less than two minutes, without uttering

a word, or groan, or scarce a sigh." "The Sweet Innocent Girl," Washington

wrote, "entered into a more happy & peaceful abode than she has met with in

the afflicted Path she has hitherto trod," but none the less "it is an

easier matter to conceive than to describe the distress of this family" at

the loss of "dear Patsy Custis."




The care of Jack Custis was a worry to Washington in quite another way. As

a lad, Custis signed his letters to him as "your most affectionate and

dutiful son," "yet I conceive," Washington wrote, "there is much greater

circumspection to be observed by a guardian than a natural parent." Soon

after assuming charge of the boy, a tutor was secured, who lived at Mount

Vernon, but the boy showed little inclination to study, and when fourteen,

Washington wrote that "his mind [is] ... more turned ... to Dogs, Horses

and Guns, indeed upon Dress and equipage." "Having his well being much at

heart," Washington wished to make him "fit for more useful purposes than

[a] horse racer," and so Jack was placed with a clergyman, who agreed to

instruct him, and with him he lived, except for some home visits, for

three years. Unfortunately, the lad, like the true Virginian planter of

his day, had no taste for study, and had "a propensity for the [fair]

sex." After two or three flirtations, he engaged himself, without the

knowledge of his mother or guardian, to Nellie Calvert, a match to which

no objection could be made, except that, owing to his "youth and

fickleness," "he may either change and therefore injure the young lady; or

that it may precipitate him into a marriage before, I am certain, he has

ever bestowed a serious thought of the consequences; by which means his

education is interrupted." To avoid this danger, Washington took his ward

to New York and entered him in King's College, but the death of Patsy

Custis put a termination to study, for Mrs. Washington could not bear to

have the lad at such a distance, and Washington "did not care, as he is

the last of the family, to push my opposition too far." Accordingly, Jack

returned to Virginia and promptly married.


The young couple were much at Mount Vernon from this time on, and

Washington wrote to "Dear Jack," "I am always pleased with yours and

Nelly's abidance at Mount Vernon." When the winter snows made the siege of

Boston purely passive, the couple journeyed with Mrs. Washington to

Cambridge, and visited at head-quarters for some months. The arrival of

children prevented the repetition of such visits, but frequent letters,

which rarely failed to send love to "Nelly and the little girls," were

exchanged. The acceptance of command compelled Washington to resign the

care of Custis's estate, for which service "I have never charged him or

his sister, from the day of my connexion with them to this hour, one

farthing for all the trouble I have had in managing their estates, nor for

any expense they have been to me, notwithstanding some hundreds of pounds

would not reimburse the moneys I have actually paid in attending the

public meetings in Williamsburg to collect their debts, and transact these

several matters appertaining to the respective estates." Washington,

however, continued his advice as to its management, and in other letters

advised him concerning his conduct when Custis was elected a member of the

Virginia House of Delegates. In the siege of Yorktown Jack served as an

officer of militia, and the exposure proved too much for him. Immediately

after the surrender, news reached Washington of his serious illness, and

by riding thirty miles in one day he succeeded in reaching Eltham in "time

enough to see poor Mr. Custis breath his last," leaving behind him "four

lovely children, three girls and a boy."


Owing to his public employment, Washington refused to be guardian for

these "little ones," writing "that it would be injurious to the children

and madness in me, to undertake, _as a principle_, a trust which I could

not discharge. Such aid, however, as it ever may be with me to give to the

children especially the boy, I will afford with all my heart, and on this

assurance you may rely." Yet "from their earliest infancy" two of Jack's

children, George Washington Parke and Eleanor Parke Custis, lived at Mount

Vernon, for, as Washington wrote in his will, "it has always been my

intention, since my expectation of having issue has ceased, to consider

the grandchildren of my wife in the same light as my own relations, and to

act a friendly part by them." Though the cares of war prevented his

watching their property interests, his eight years' absence could not make

him forget them, and on his way to Annapolis, in 1783, to tender Congress

his resignation, he spent sundry hours of his time in the purchase of

gifts obviously intended to increase the joy of his homecoming to the

family circle at Mount Vernon; set forth in his note-book as follows:


"By Sundries bo't. in Phil'a.


    A Locket                         £5  5

    3 Small Pockt. Books              1 10

    3 Sashes                          1  5 0

    Dress Cap                         2  8

    Hatt                              3 10

    Handkerchief                      1

    Childrens Books                      4 6

    Whirligig                            1 6

    Fiddle                               2 6

    Quadrille Boxes                   1 17 6."


Indeed, in every way Washington showed how entirely he considered himself

as a father, not merely speaking of them frequently as "the children," but

even alluding to himself in a letter to the boy as "your papa." Both were

much his companions during the Presidency. A frequent sight in New York

and Philadelphia was Washington taking "exercise in the coach with Mrs.

Washington and the two children," and several times they were taken to the

theatre and on picnics.


For Eleanor, or "Nelly," who grew into a great beauty, Washington showed

the utmost tenderness, and on occasion interfered to save her from her

grandmother, who at moments was inclined to be severe, in one case to

bring the storm upon himself. For her was bought a "Forte piano,"

and later, at the cost of a thousand dollars, a very fine imported

harpsichord, and one of Washington's great pleasures was to have her play

and sing to him. His ledger constantly shows gifts to her ranging from

"The Wayworn traveller, a song for Miss Custis," to "a pr. of gold

eardrops" and a watch. The two corresponded. One letter from Washington

merits quotation:


[Illustration: ELLANOR (NELLY) CUSTIS]


"Let me touch a little now on your Georgetown ball, and happy, thrice

happy, for the fair who assembled on the occasion, that there was a man to

spare; for had there been 79 ladies and only 78 gentlemen, there might, in

the course of the evening have been some disorder among the caps;

notwithstanding the apathy which _one_ of the company entertains for the

'_youth_' of the present day, and her determination 'Never to give herself

a moment's uneasiness on account of any of them.' A hint here; men and

women feel the same inclinations towards each other _now_ that they always

have done, and which they will continue to do until there is a new order

of things, and _you_, as others have done, may find, perhaps, that the

passions of your sex are easier raised than allayed. Do not therefore

boast too soon or too strongly of your insensibility to, or resistance of,

its powers. In the composition of the human frame there is a good deal of

inflammable matter, however dormant it may lie for a time, and like an

intimate acquaintance of yours, when the torch is put to it, _that_ which

is _within you_ may burst into a blaze; for which reason and especially

too, as I have entered upon the chapter of advices, I will read you a

lecture from this text."



Not long after this was written, Nelly, as already

mentioned, was married at Mount Vernon to Washington's

nephew, Lawrence Lewis, and in time became

joint-owner with her husband of part of that



As early as 1785 a tutor was wanted for "little Washington," as the lad

was called, and Washington wrote to England to ask if some "worthy man of

the cloth could not be obtained," "for the boy is a remarkably fine one,

and my intention is to give him a liberal education." His training became

part of the private secretary's duty, both at Mount Vernon and New York

and Philadelphia, but the lad inherited his father's traits, and "from his

infancy ... discovered an almost unconquerable disposition to indolence."

This led to failures which gave Washington "extreme disquietude," and in

vain he "exhorted him in the most parental and friendly manner." Custis

would express "sorrow and repentance" and do no better. Successively he

was sent to the College of Philadelphia, the College of New Jersey, and

that at Annapolis, but from each he was expelled, or had to be withdrawn.

Irritating as it must have been, his guardian never in his letters

expressed anything but affection, shielded the lad from the anger of his

step-father, and saw that he was properly supplied with money, of which he

asked him to keep a careful account,--though this, as Washington wrote,

was "not because I want to know how you spend your money." After the last

college failure a private tutor was once more engaged, but a very few

weeks served to give Washington "a thorough conviction that it was in vain

to keep Washington Custis to any literary pursuits, either in a public

Seminary or at home," and, as the next best thing, he procured him a

cornetcy in the provisional army. Even here, balance was shown; for, out

of compliment and friendship to Washington, "the Major Generals were

desirous of placing him as lieutenant in the first instance; but his age

considered, I thought it more eligible that he should enter into the

lowest grade."


In this connection one side of Washington's course with his relations

deserves especial notice. As early as 1756 he applied for a commission in

the Virginia forces for his brother, and, as already shown, he placed

several of his nephews and other connections in the Revolutionary or

provisional armies. But he made clear distinction between military and

civil appointments, and was very scrupulous about the latter. When his

favorite nephew asked for a Federal appointment, Washington answered,--



"You cannot doubt my wishes to see you appointed to any office of honor or

emolument in the new government, to the duties of which you are competent;

but however deserving you may be of the one you have suggested, your

standing at the bar would not justify my nomination of you as attorney to

the Federal District Court in preference to some of the oldest and most

esteemed general court lawyers in your State, who are desirous of this

appointment. My political conduct in nominations, even if I were

uninfluenced by principle, must be exceedingly circumspect and proof

against just criticism; for the eyes of Argus are upon me, and no slip

will pass unnoticed, that can be improved into a supposed partiality for

friends or relations."



And that in this policy he was consistent is shown by a letter of

Jefferson, who wrote to an office-seeking relative, "The public will never

be made to believe that an appointment of a relative is made on the ground

of merit alone, uninfluenced by family views; nor can they ever see with

approbation offices, the disposal of which they entrust to their

Presidents for public purposes, divided out as family property. Mr. Adams

degraded himself infinitely by his conduct on this subject, as Genl.

Washington had done himself the greatest honor. With two such examples to

proceed by, I should be doubly inexcusable to err."


There were many other more distant relatives with whom pleasant relations

were maintained, but enough has been said to indicate the intercourse.

Frequent were the house-parties at Mount Vernon, and how unstinted

hospitality was to kith and kin is shown by many entries in Washington's

diary, a single one of which will indicate the rest: "I set out for my

return home--at which I arrived a little after noon--And found my Brother

Jon Augustine his Wife; Daughter Milly, & Sons Bushrod & Corbin, & the

Wife of the first. Mr. Willm Washington & his Wife and 4 Children."


His will left bequests to forty-one of his own and his wife's relations.

"God left him childless that he might be the father of his country."










Writing to his London tailor for clothes, in 1763, Washington directed him

to "take measure of a gentleman who wares well-made cloaths of the

following size: to wit, 6 feet high and proportionably made--if anything

rather slender than thick, for a person of that highth, with pretty long

arms and thighs. You will take care to make the breeches longer than those

you sent me last, and I would have you keep the measure of the cloaths you

now make, by you, and if any alteration is required in my next it shall be

pointed out." About this time, too, he ordered "6 pr. Man's riding

Gloves--rather large than the middle size,"... and several dozen pairs of

stockings, "to be long, and tolerably large."


The earliest known description of Washington was written in 1760 by his

companion-in-arms and friend George Mercer, who attempted a "portraiture"

in the following words: "He may be described as being as straight as an

Indian, measuring six feet two inches in his stockings, and weighing 175

pounds when he took his seat in the House of Burgesses in 1759. His frame

is padded with well-developed muscles, indicating great strength. His

bones and joints are large, as are his feet and hands. He is wide

shouldered, but has not a deep or round chest; is neat waisted, but is

broad across the hips, and has rather long legs and arms. His head is well

shaped though not large, but is gracefully poised on a superb neck. A

large and straight rather than prominent nose; blue-gray penetrating eyes,

which are widely separated and overhung by a heavy brow. His face is long

rather than broad, with high round cheek bones, and terminates in a good

firm chin. He has a clear though rather a colorless pale skin, which burns

with the sun. A pleasing, benevolent, though a commanding countenance,

dark brown hair, which he wears in a cue. His mouth is large and generally

firmly closed, but which from time to time discloses some defective teeth.

His features are regular and placid, with all the muscles of his face

under perfect control, though flexible and expressive of deep feeling when

moved by emotion. In conversation he looks you full in the face, is

deliberate, deferential and engaging. His voice is agreeable rather than

strong. His demeanor at all times composed and dignified. His movements

and gestures are graceful, his walk majestic, and he is a splendid



Dr. James Thacher, writing in 1778, depicted him as "remarkably tall, full

six feet, erect and well proportioned. The strength and proportion of his

joints and muscles, appear to be commensurate with the pre-eminent powers

of his mind. The serenity of his countenance, and majestic gracefulness of

his deportment, impart a strong impression of that dignity and grandeur,

which are his peculiar characteristics, and no one can stand in his

presence without feeling the ascendancy of his mind, and associating with

his countenance the idea of wisdom, philanthropy, magnanimity and

patriotism. There is a fine symmetry in the features of his face,

indicative of a benign and dignified spirit. His nose is straight, and his

eye inclined to blue. He wears his hair in a becoming cue, and from his

forehead it is turned back and powdered in a manner which adds to the

military air of his appearance. He displays a native gravity, but devoid

of all appearance of ostentation." In this same year a friend wrote,

"General Washington is now in the forty-seventh year of his age; he is a

well-made man, rather large boned, and has a tolerably genteel address;

his features are manly and bold, his eyes of a bluish cast and very

lively; his hair a deep brown, his face rather long and marked with the

small-pox; his complexion sunburnt and without much color, and his

countenance sensible, composed and thoughtful; there is a remarkable air

of dignity about him, with a striking degree of gracefulness."


In 1789 Senator Maclay saw "him as he really is. In stature about six

feet, with an unexceptionable make, but lax appearance. His frame would

seem to want filling up. His motions rather slow than lively, though he

showed no signs of having suffered by gout or rheumatism. His complexion

pale, nay, almost cadaverous. His voice hollow and indistinct, owing, as I

believe, to artificial teeth before his upper jaw, which occasions a



From frequent opportunity of seeing Washington between 1794 and 1797,

William Sullivan described him as "over six feet in stature; of strong,

bony, muscular frame, without fullness of covering, well-formed and

straight. He was a man of most extraordinary strength. In his own house,

his action was calm, deliberate, and dignified, without pretension to

gracefulness, or peculiar manner, but merely natural, and such as one

would think it should be in such a man. When walking in the street, his

movement had not the soldierly air which might be expected. His habitual

motions had been formed, long before he took command of the American

Armies, in the wars of the interior and in the surveying of wilderness

lands, employments in which grace and elegance were not likely to be

acquired. At the age of sixty-five, time had done nothing towards bending

him out of his natural erectness. His deportment was invariably grave; it

was sobriety that stopped short of sadness."


The French officers and travellers supply other descriptions. The Abbé

Robin found him of "tall and noble stature, well proportioned, a fine,

cheerful, open countenance, a simple and modest carriage; and his whole

mien has something in it that interests the French, the Americans, and

even enemies themselves in his favor."


The Marquis de Chastellux wrote enthusiastically, "In speaking of this

perfect whole of which General Washington furnishes the idea, I have not

excluded exterior form. His stature is noble and lofty, he is well made,

and exactly proportionate; his physiognomy mild and agreeable, but such as

to render it impossible to speak particularly of any of his features, so

that in quitting him you have only the recollection of a fine face. He has

neither a grave nor a familiar face, his brow is sometimes marked with

thought, but never with inquietude; in inspiring respect he inspires

confidence, and his smile is always the smile of benevolence."


To this description, however, Brissot de Warville took exception, and

supplied his own picture by writing in 1791, "You have often heard me

blame M. Chastellux for putting too much sprightliness in the character he

has drawn of this general. To give pretensions to the portrait of a man

who has none is truly absurd. The General's goodness appears in his looks.

They have nothing of that brilliancy which his officers found in them when

he was at the head of his army; but in conversation they become animated.

He has no characteristic traits in his figure, and this has rendered it

always so difficult to describe it: there are few portraits which resemble

him. All his answers are pertinent; he shows the utmost reserve, and is

very diffident; but, at the same time, he is firm and unchangeable in

whatever he undertakes. His modesty must be very astonishing, especially

to a Frenchman."


British travellers have left a number of pen-portraits. An anonymous

writer in 1790 declared that in meeting him "it was not necessary to

announce his name, for his peculiar appearance, his firm forehead, Roman

nose, and a projection of the lower jaw, his height and figure, could not

be mistaken by any one who had seen a full-length picture of him, and yet

no picture accurately resembled him in the minute traits of his person.

His features, however, were so marked by prominent characteristics, which

appear in all likenesses of him, that a stranger could not be mistaken in

the man; he was remarkably dignified in his manners, and had an air

of benignity over his features which his visitant did not expect,

being rather prepared for sternness of countenance.... his smile was

extraordinarily attractive. It was observed to me that there was an

expression in Washington's face that no painter had succeeded in taking.

It struck me no man could be better formed for command. A stature of six

feet, a robust, but well-proportioned frame, calculated to sustain

fatigue, without that heaviness which generally attends great muscular

strength, and abates active exertion, displayed bodily power of no mean

standard. A light eye and full--the very eye of genius and reflection

rather than of blind passionate impulse. His nose appeared thick, and

though it befitted his other features, was too coarsely and strongly

formed to be the handsomest of its class. His mouth was like no other that

I ever saw; the lips firm and the under jaw seeming to grasp the upper

with force, as if its muscles were in full action when he sat still."


Two years later, an English diplomat wrote of him, "His person is tall and

sufficiently graceful; his face well formed, his complexion rather pale,

with a mild philosophic gravity in the expression of it In his air and

manner he displays much natural dignity; in his address he is cold,

reserved, and even phlegmatic, though without the least appearance of

haughtiness or ill-nature; it is the effect, I imagine, of constitutional

diffidence. That caution and circumspection which form so striking and

well known a feature in his military, and, indeed, in his political

character, is very strongly marked in his countenance, for his eyes retire

inward (do you understand me?) and have nothing of fire of animation or

openness in their expression."


Wansey, who visited Mount Vernon in 1795, portrayed "The President in his

person" as "tall and thin, but erect; rather of an engaging than a

dignified presence. He appears very thoughtful, is slow in delivering

himself, which occasions some to conclude him reserved, but it is rather,

I apprehend, the effect of much thinking and reflection, for there is

great appearance to me of affability and accommodation. He was at this

time in his sixty-third year ... but he has very little the appearance of

age, having been all his life long so exceeding temperate."


In 1797, Weld wrote, "his chest is full; and his limbs, though rather

slender, well shaped and muscular. His head is small, in which respect he

resembles the make of a great number of his countrymen. His eyes are of a

light grey colour; and in proportion to the length of his face, his nose

is long. Mr. Stewart, the eminent portrait painter, told me, that there

were features in his face totally different from what he ever observed in

that of any other human being; the sockets for the eyes, for instance, are

larger than what he ever met with before, and the upper part of the nose

broader. All his features, he observed, were indicative of the strongest

and most ungovernable passions, and had he been born in the forests, it

was his opinion that he would have been the fiercest man among the savage



Other and briefer descriptions contain a few phrases worth quoting. Samuel

Sterns said, "His countenance commonly carries the impression of a serious

cast;" Maclay, that "the President seemed to bear in his countenance a

settled aspect of melancholy;" and the Prince de Broglie wrote, "His

pensive eyes seem more attentive than sparkling, but their expression is

benevolent, noble and self-possessed." Silas Deane in 1775 said he had "a

very young look and an easy soldier-like air and gesture," and in the same

year Curwen mentioned his "fine figure" and "easy and agreeable address."

Nathaniel Lawrence noted in 1783 that "the General weighs commonly about

210 pounds." After death, Lear reports that "Doctor Dick measured the

body, which was as follows--In length 6 ft. 3-1/2 inches exact. Across the

shoulders 1.9. Across the elbows 2.1." The pleasantest description is

Jefferson's: "His person, you know, was fine, his stature exactly what one

would wish, his deportment easy, erect and noble."


How far the portraits of Washington conveyed his expression is open to

question. The quotation already given which said that no picture

accurately resembled him in the minute traits of his person is

worth noting. Furthermore, his expression varied much according to

circumstances, and the painter saw it only in repose. The first time he

was drawn, he wrote a friend, "Inclination having yielded to Importunity,

I am now contrary to all expectation under the hands of Mr. Peale; but in

so grave--so sullen a mood--and now and then under the influence of

Morpheus, when some critical strokes are making, that I fancy the skill of

this Gentleman's Pencil will be put to it, in describing to the World what

manner of man I am." This passiveness seems to have seized him at other

sittings, for in 1785 he wrote to a friend who asked him to be painted,

"_In for a penny, in for a Pound_, is an old adage. I am so hackneyed to

the touches of the painter's pencil that I am now altogether at their

beck; and sit 'like Patience on a monument,' whilst they are delineating

the lines of my face. It is a proof, among many others, of what habit and

custom can accomplish. At first I was as impatient at the request, and as

restive under the operation, as a colt is of the saddle. The next time I

submitted very reluctantly, but with less flouncing. Now, no dray-horse

moves more readily to his thills than I to the painter's chair." His aide,

Laurens, bears this out by writing of a miniature, "The defects of this

portrait are, that the visage is too long, and old age is too strongly

marked in it. He is not altogether mistaken, with respect to the languor

of the general's eye; for altho' his countenance when affected either by

joy or anger, is full of expression, yet when the muscles are in a state

of repose, his eye certainly wants animation."




One portrait which furnished Washington not a little amusement was an

engraving issued in London in 1775, when interest in the "rebel General"

was great. This likeness, it is needless to say, was entirely spurious,

and when Reed sent a copy to head-quarters, Washington wrote to him, "Mrs.

Washington desires I will thank you for the picture sent her. Mr.

Campbell, whom I never saw, to my knowledge, has made a very formidable

figure of the Commander-in-chief, giving him a sufficient portion of

terror in his countenance."


The physical strength mentioned by nearly every one who described

Washington is so undoubted that the traditions of his climbing the walls

of the Natural Bridge, throwing a stone across the Rappahannock at

Fredericksburg, and another into the Hudson from the top of the Palisades,

pass current more from the supposed muscular power of the man than from

any direct evidence. In addition to this, Washington in 1755 claimed to

have "one of the best of constitutions," and again he wrote, "for my own

part I can answer, I have a constitution hardy enough to encounter and

undergo the most severe trials."


This vigor was not the least reason of Washington's success. In the

retreat from Brooklyn, "for forty-eight hours preceeding that I had hardly

been off my horse," and between the 13th and the 19th of June of 1777 "I

was almost constantly on horseback." After the battle of Monmouth, as told

elsewhere, he passed the night on a blanket; the first night of the siege

of York "he slept under a mulberry tree, the root serving for a pillow,"

and another time he lay "all night in my Great Coat & Boots, in a birth

not long enough for me by the head, & much cramped." Besides the physical

strain there was a mental one. During the siege of Boston he wrote that

"The reflection on my situation and that of this army, produces many an

uneasy hour when all around me are wrapped in sleep." Humphreys relates

that at Newburg in 1783 a revolt of the whole army seemed imminent, and

"when General Washington rose from bed on the morning of the meeting, he

told the writer his anxiety had prevented him from sleeping one moment the

preceeding night." Washington observed, in a letter written after the

Revolution, "strange as it may seem, it is nevertheless true, that it was

not until lately I could get the better of my usual custom of ruminating

as soon as I awoke in the morning, on the business of the ensuing day; and

of my surprise at finding, after revolving many things in my mind that I

was no longer a public man, or had any thing to do with public



Despite his strength and constitution, Washington was frequently the

victim of illness. What diseases of childhood he suffered are not known,

but presumably measles was among them, for when his wife within the first

year of married life had an attack he cared for her without catching the

complaint. The first of his known illnesses was "Ague and Feaver, which I

had to an extremity" about 1748, or when he was sixteen.


In the sea voyage to Barbadoes in 1751, the seamen told Washington that

"they had never seen such weather before," and he says in his diary that

the sea "made the Ship rowl much and me very sick." While in the island,

he went to dine with a friend "with great reluctance, as the small-pox was

in his family." A fortnight later Washington "was strongly attacked with

the small Pox," which confined him for nearly a month, and, as already

noted, marked his face for life. Shortly after the return voyage he was

"taken with a violent pleurise, which ... reduced me very low."


During the Braddock march, "immediately upon our leaving the camp at

George's Creek, on the 14th, ... I was seized with violent fevers and

pains in my head, which continued without intermission 'till the 23d

following, when I was relieved, by the General's [Braddock] absolutely

ordering the physicians to give me Dr. James' powders (one of the most

excellent medicines in the world), for it gave me immediate ease, and

removed my fevers and other complaints in four days' time. My illness was

too violent to suffer me to ride; therefore I was indebted to a covered

wagon for some part of my transportation; but even in this I could not

continue far, for the jolting was so great, I was left upon the road with

a guard, and necessaries, to wait the arrival of Colonel Dunbar's

detachment which was two days' march behind us, the General giving me his

word of honor, that I should be brought up, before he reached the French

fort. This _promise_, and the doctor's _threats_, that, if I persevered

in my attempts to get on, in the condition I was, my life would be

endangered, determined me to halt for the above detachment." Immediately

upon his return from that campaign, he told a brother, "I am not able,

were I ever so willing, to meet you in town, for I assure you it is with

some difficulty, and with much fatigue, that I visit my plantations in the

Neck; so much has a sickness of five weeks' continuance reduced me."


On the frontier, towards the end of 1757, he was seized with a violent

attack of dysentery and fever, which compelled him to leave the army

and retire to Mount Vernon. Three months later he said, "I have never

been able to return to my command, ... my disorder at times returning

obstinately upon me, in spite of the efforts of all the sons of

Aesculapius, whom I have hitherto consulted. At certain periods I have

been reduced to great extremity, and have too much reason to apprehend

an approaching decay, being visited with several symptoms of such a

disease.... I am now under a strict regimen, and shall set out to-morrow

for Williamsburg to receive the advice of the best physician there. My

constitution is certainly greatly impaired, and ... nothing can retrieve

it, but the greatest care and the most circumspect conduct." It was in

this journey that he met his future wife, and either she or the doctor

cured him, for nothing more is heard of his approaching "decay."


In 1761 he was attacked with a disease which seems incidental to new

settlements, known in Virginia at that time as the "river fever," and a

hundred years later, farther west, as the "break-bone fever," and which,

in a far milder form, is to-day known as malaria. Hoping to cure it, he

went over the mountains to the Warm Springs, being "much overcome with the

fatigue of the ride and weather together. However, I think my fevers are a

good deal abated, although my pains grow rather worse, and my sleep

equally disturbed. What effect the waters may have upon me I can't say at

present, but I expect nothing from the air--this certainly must be

unwholesome. I purpose staying here a fortnight and longer if benefitted."

After writing this, a relapse brought him "very near my last gasp. The

indisposition ... increased upon me, and I fell into a very low and

dangerous state. I once thought the grim king would certainly master my

utmost efforts, and that I must sink, in spite of a noble struggle; but

thank God, I have now got the better of the disorder, and shall soon be

restored, I hope, to perfect health again."


During the Revolution, fortunately, he seems to have been wonderfully

exempt from illness, and not till his retirement to Mount Vernon did an

old enemy, the ague, reappear. In 1786 he said, in a letter, "I write to

you with a very aching head and disordered frame.... Saturday last, by an

imprudent act, I brought on an ague and fever on Sunday, which returned

with violence Tuesday and Thursday; and, if Dr. Craik's efforts are

ineffectual I shall have them again this day." His diary gives the

treatment: "Seized with an ague before 6 o'clock this morning after having

laboured under a fever all night--Sent for Dr. Craik who arrived just as

we were setting down to dinner; who, when he thought my fever sufficiently

abated gave me cathartick and directed the Bark to be applied in the

Morning. September 2. Kept close to the House to day, being my fit day in

course least any exposure might bring it on,--happily missed it September

14. At home all day repeating dozes of Bark of which I took 4 with an

interval of 2 hours between."


With 1787 a new foe appeared in the form of "a rheumatic complaint which

has followed me more than six months, is frequently so bad that it is

sometimes with difficulty I can raise my hand to my head or turn myself in



During the Presidency Washington had several dangerous illnesses, but the

earliest one had a comic side. In his tour through New England in 1789, so

Sullivan states, "owing to some mismanagement in the reception ceremonials

at Cambridge, Washington was detained a long time, and the weather being

inclement, he took cold. For several days afterward a severe influenza

prevailed at Boston and its vicinity, and was called the _Washington

Influenza_." He himself writes of this attack: "Myself much disordered by

a cold, and inflammation in the left eye."


Six months later, in New York, he was "indisposed with a bad cold, and at

home all day writing letters on private business," and this was the

beginning of "a severe illness," which, according to McVickar, was "a case

of anthrax, so malignant as for several days to threaten mortification.

During this period Dr. Bard never quitted him. On one occasion, being left

alone with him, General Washington, looking steadily in his face, desired

his candid opinion as to the probable termination of his disease, adding,

with that placid firmness which marked his address, 'Do not flatter me

with vain hopes; I am not afraid to die, and therefore can bear the

worst!' Dr. Bard's answer, though it expressed hope, acknowledged his

apprehensions. The President replied, 'Whether to-night or twenty years

hence, makes no difference.'" It was of this that Maclay wrote, "Called to

see the President. Every eye full of tears. His life despaired of. Dr.

MacKnight told me he would trifle neither with his own character nor the

public expectation; his danger was imminent, and every reason to expect

that the event of his disorder would be unfortunate."


During his convalescence the President wrote to a correspondent, "I have

the pleasure to inform you, that my health is restored, but a feebleness

still hangs upon me, and I am much incommoded by the incision, which was

made in a very large and painful tumor on the protuberance of my thigh.

This prevents me from walking or sitting. However, the physicians assure

me that it has had a happy effect in removing my fever, and will tend very

much to the establishment of my general health; it is in a fair way of

healing, and time and patience only are wanting to remove this evil. I am

able to take exercise in my coach, by having it so contrived as to extend

myself the full length of it." He himself seems to have thought this

succession of illness due to the fatigues of office, for he said,--



"Public meetings, and a dinner once a week to as many as my table will

hold, with the references _to and from_ the different department of state

and _other_ communications with _all_ parts of the Union, are as much, if

not more, than I am able to undergo; for I have already had within less

than a year, two severe attacks, the last worst than the first. A third,

more than probable, will put me to sleep with my fathers. At what distance

this may be I know not. Within the last twelve months I have undergone

more and severer sickness, than thirty preceding years afflicted me with.

Put it all together I have abundant reason, however, to be thankful that I

am so well recovered; though I still feel the remains of the violent

affection of my lungs; the cough, pain in my breast, and shortness in

breathing not having entirely left me."



While at Mount Vernon in 1794, "an exertion to save myself and horse from

falling among the rocks at the Lower Falls of the Potomac (whither I went

on Sunday morning to see the canal and locks),... wrenched my back in

such a manner as to prevent my riding;" the "hurt" "confined me whilst I

was at Mount Vernon," and it was some time before he could "again ride

with ease and safety." In this same year Washington was operated on by Dr.

Tate for cancer,--the same disorder from which his mother had suffered.


After his retirement from office, in 1798, he "was seized with a fever, of

which I took little notice until I was obliged to call for the aid of

medicine; and with difficulty a remission thereof was so far effected as

to dose me all night on thursday with Bark--which having stopped it, and

weakness only remaining, will soon wear off as my appetite is returning;"

and to a correspondent he apologized for not sooner replying, and pleaded

"debilitated health, occasioned by the fever wch. deprived me of 20 lbs.

of the weight I had when you and I were at Troy Mills Scales, and rendered

writing irksome."


A glance at Washington's medical knowledge and opinions may not lack

interest. In the "Rules of civility" he had taken so to heart, the boy had

been taught that "In visiting the Sick, do not Presently play the

Physician if you be not Knowing therein," but plantation life trained

every man to a certain extent in physicking, and the yearly invoice sent

to London always ordered such drugs as were needed,--ipecacuanha, jalap,

Venice treacle, rhubarb, diacordium, etc., as well as medicines for horses

and dogs. In 1755 Washington received great benefit from one quack

medicine, "Dr. James's Powders;" he once bought a quantity of another,

"Godfrey's Cordial;" and at a later time Mrs. Washington tried a third,

"Annatipic Pills." More unenlightened still was a treatment prescribed for

Patsy Custis, when "Joshua Evans who came here last night, put a [metal]

ring on Patsey (for Fits)." A not much higher order of treatment was

Washington sending for Dr. Laurie to bleed his wife, and, as his diary

notes, the doctor "came here, I may add, drunk," so that a night's sleep

was necessary before the service could be rendered. When the small-pox was

raging in the Continental Army, even Washington's earnest request could

not get the Virginia Assembly to repeal a law which forbade inoculation,

and he had to urge his wife for over four years before he could bring her

to the point of submitting to the operation. One quality which implies

greatness is told by a visitor, who states that in his call "an allusion

was made to a serious fit of illness he had recently suffered; but he took

no notice of it" Custis notes that "his aversion to the use of medicine

was extreme; and, even when in great suffering, it was only by the

entreaties of his lady, and the respectful, yet beseeching look of his

oldest friend and companion in arms (Dr. James Craik) that he could be

prevailed upon to take the slightest preparation of medicine." In line

with this was his refusal to take anything for a cold, saying, "Let it go

as it came," though this good sense was apparently restricted to his own

colds, for Watson relates that in a visit to Mount Vernon "I was extremely

oppressed by a severe cold and excessive coughing, contracted by the

exposure of a harsh journey. He pressed me to use some remedies, but I

declined doing so. As usual, after retiring my coughing increased. When

some time had elapsed, the door of my room was gently opened, and, on

drawing my bed-curtains, to my utter astonishment, I beheld Washington

himself, standing at my bedside, with a bowl of hot tea in his hand."


The acute attacks of illness already touched upon by no means represent

all the physical debility and suffering of Washington's life. During the

Revolution his sight became poor, so that in 1778 he first put on glasses

for reading, and Cobb relates that in the officers' meeting in 1783, which

Washington attended In order to check an appeal to arms, "When the General

took his station at the desk or pulpit, which, you may recollect, was in

the Temple, he took out his written address from his coat pocket and then

addressed the officers in the following manner: 'Gentlemen, you will

permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray, but

almost blind, in the service of my country.' This little address, with the

mode and manner of delivering it, drew tears from [many] of the officers."


Nor did his hearing remain entirely good. Maclay noted, at one of the

President's dinners in 1789, that "he seemed in more good humor than I

ever saw him, though he was so deaf that I believe he heard little of the

conversation," and three years later the President is reported as saying

to Jefferson that he was "sensible, too, of a decay of his hearing,

perhaps his other faculties might fall off and he not be sensible of it."


Washington's teeth were even more troublesome. Mercer in 1760 alluded to

his showing, when his mouth was open, "some defective teeth," and as early

as 1754 one of his teeth was extracted. From this time toothache, usually

followed by the extraction of the guilty member, became almost of yearly

recurrence, and his diary reiterates, with verbal variations, "indisposed

with an aching tooth, and swelled and inflamed gum," while his ledger

contains many items typified by "To Dr. Watson drawing a tooth 5/." By

1789 he was using false teeth, and he lost his last tooth in 1795. At

first these substitutes were very badly fitted, and when Stuart painted

his famous picture he tried to remedy the malformation they gave the mouth

by padding under the lips with cotton. The result was to make bad worse,

and to give, in that otherwise fine portrait, a feature at once poor and

unlike Washington, and for this reason alone the Sharpless miniature,

which in all else approximates so closely to Stuart's masterpiece, is

preferable. In 1796 Washington was furnished with two sets of "sea-horse"

(_i.e._, hippopotamus) ivory teeth, and they were so much better fitted

that the distortion of the mouth ceased to be noticeable.


Washington's final illness began December 12, 1799, in a severe cold taken

by riding about his plantation while "rain, hail and snow" were "falling

alternately, with a cold wind." When he came in late in the afternoon,

Lear "observed to him that I was afraid that he had got wet, he said no

his great coat had kept him dry; but his neck appeared to be wet and the

snow was hanging on his hair." The next day he had a cold, "and complained

of having a sore throat," yet, though it was snowing, none the less he

"went out in the afternoon ... to mark some trees which were to be cut

down." "He had a hoarseness which increased in the evening; but he made

light of it as he would never take anything to carry off a cold, always

observing, 'let it go as it came.'" At two o'clock the following morning

he was seized with a severe ague, and as soon as the house was stirring he

sent for an overseer and ordered the man to bleed him, and about half a

pint of blood was taken from him. At this time he could "swallow nothing,"

"appeared to be distressed, convulsed and almost suffocated."


There can be scarcely a doubt that the treatment of his last illness by

the doctors was little short of murder. Although he had been bled once

already, after they took charge of the case they prescribed "two pretty

copious bleedings," and finally a third, "when about 32 ounces of blood

were drawn," or the equivalent of a quart. Of the three doctors, one

disapproved of this treatment, and a second wrote, only a few days after

Washington's death, to the third, "you must remember" Dr. Dick "was averse

to bleeding the General, and I have often thought that if we had acted

according to his suggestion when he said, 'he needs all his strength--

bleeding will diminish it,' and taken no more blood from him, our good

friend might have been alive now. But we were governed by the best light

we had; we thought we were right, and so we are justified."


Shortly after this last bleeding Washington seemed to have resigned

himself, for he gave some directions concerning his will, and said, "I

find I am going," and, "smiling," added, that, "as it was the debt which

we must all pay, he looked to the event with perfect resignation." From

this time on "he appeared to be in great pain and distress," and said,

"Doctor, I die hard, but I am not afraid to go. I believed from my first

attack that I should not survive it." A little later he said, "I feel

myself going. I thank you for your attention, you had better not take any

more trouble about me; but let me go off quietly." The last words he said

were, "'Tis well." "About ten minutes before he expired, his breathing

became much easier--he lay quietly--... and felt his own pulse.... The

general's hand fell from his wrist,... and he expired without a struggle

or a Sigh."










The father of Washington received his education at Appleby School in

England, and, true to his alma mater, he sent his two elder sons to the

same school. His death when George was eleven prevented this son from

having the same advantage, and such education as he had was obtained in

Virginia. His old friend, and later enemy, Rev. Jonathan Boucher, said

that "George, like most people thereabouts at that time, had no education

than reading, writing and accounts which he was taught by a convict

servant whom his father bought for a schoolmaster;" but Boucher managed to

include so many inaccuracies in his account of Washington, that even if

this statement were not certainly untruthful in several respects, it could

be dismissed as valueless.


Born at Wakefield, in Washington parish, Westmoreland, which had been the

home of the Washingtons from their earliest arrival in Virginia, George

was too young while the family continued there to attend the school which

had been founded in that parish by the gift of four hundred and forty

acres from some early patron of knowledge. When the boy was about three

years old, the family removed to "Washington," as Mount Vernon was called

before it was renamed, and dwelt there from 1735 till 1739, when, owing to

the burning of the homestead, another remove was made to an estate on the

Rappahannock, nearly opposite Fredericksburg.


Here it was that the earliest education of George was received, for in an

old volume of the Bishop of Exeter's Sermons his name is written, and on a

flyleaf a note in the handwriting of a relative who inherited the library

states that this "autograph of George Washington's name is believed to be

the earliest specimen of his handwriting, when he was probably not more

than eight or nine years old." During this period, too, there came into

his possession the "Young Man's Companion," an English _vade-mecum_ of

then enormous popularity, written "in a plain and easy stile," the title

states, "that a young Man may attain the same, without a Tutor." It would

be easier to say what this little book did not teach than to catalogue

what it did. How to read, write, and figure is but the introduction to the

larger part of the work, which taught one to write letters, wills, deeds,

and all legal forms, to measure, survey, and navigate, to build houses, to

make ink and cider, and to plant and graft, how to address letters to

people of quality, how to doctor the sick, and, finally, how to conduct

one's self in company. The evidence still exists of how carefully

Washington studied this book, in the form of copybooks, in which are

transcribed problem after problem and rule after rule, not to exclude the

famous Rules of civility, which biographers of Washington have asserted

were written by the boy himself. School-mates thought fit, after

Washington became famous, to remember his "industry and assiduity at

school as very remarkable," and the copies certainly bear out the

statement, but even these prove that the lad was as human as the man, for

scattered here and there among the logarithms, geometrical problems, and

legal forms are crude drawings of birds, faces, and other typical

school-boy attempts.


From this book, too, came two qualities which clung to him through life.

His handwriting, so easy, flowing, and legible, was modelled from the

engraved "copy" sheet, and certain forms of spelling were acquired here

that were never corrected, though not the common usage of his time. To the

end of his life, Washington wrote lie, lye; liar, lyar; ceiling, cieling;

oil, oyl; and blue, blew, as in his boyhood he had learned to do from this

book. Even in his carefully prepared will, "lye" was the form in which he

wrote the word. It must be acknowledged that, aside from these errors

which he had been taught, through his whole life Washington was a

non-conformist as regarded the King's English: struggle as he undoubtedly

did, the instinct of correct spelling was absent, and thus every now and

then a verbal slip appeared: extravagence, lettely (for lately), glew,

riffle (for rifle), latten (for Latin), immagine, winder, rief (for rife),

oppertunity, spirma citi, yellow oaker,--such are types of his lapses late

in life, while his earlier letters and journals are far more inaccurate.

It must be borne in mind, however, that of these latter we have only the

draughts, which were undoubtedly written carelessly, and the two letters

actually sent which are now known, and the text of his surveys before he

was twenty, are quite as well written as his later epistles.


[Illustration: _Easy Copies to Write by_. COPY OF PENMANSHIP BY WHICH



On the death of his father, Washington went to live with his brother

Augustine, in order, it is presumed, that he might take advantage of a

good school near Wakefield, kept by one Williams; but after a time he

returned to his mother's, and attended the school kept by the Rev. James

Marye, in Fredericksburg. It has been universally asserted by his

biographers that he studied no foreign language, but direct proof to the

contrary exists in a copy of Patrick's Latin translation of Homer, printed

in 1742, the fly-leaf of a copy of which bears, in a school-boy hand, the




"Hunc mihi quaeso (bone Vir) Libellum

Redde, si forsan tenues repertum

Ut Scias qui sum sine fraude Scriptum.


                           Est mihi nomen,

                                 Georgio Washington,

                                     George Washington,





It is thus evident that the reverend teacher gave Washington at least the

first elements of Latin, but it is equally clear that the boy, like most

others, forgot it with the greatest facility as soon as he ceased



The end of Washington's school-days left him, if a good "cipherer," a bad

speller, and a still worse grammarian, but, fortunately, the termination

of instruction did not by any means end his education. From that time

there is to be noted a steady improvement in both these failings.

Pickering stated that "when I first became acquainted with the General (in

1777) his writing was defective in grammar, and even spelling, owing to

the insufficiency of his early education; of which, however, he gradually

got the better in the subsequent years of his life, by the official

perusal of some excellent models, particularly those of Hamilton; by

writing with care and patient attention; and reading numerous, indeed

multitudes of letters to and from his friends and correspondents. This

obvious improvement was begun during the war." In 1785 a contemporary

noted that "the General is remarked for writing a most elegant letter,"

adding that, "like the famous Addison, his writing excells his speaking,"

and Jefferson said that "he wrote readily, rather diffusely, in an easy

and correct style. This he had acquired by conversation with the world,

for his education was merely reading, writing and common arithmetic, to

which he added surveying at a later day."


There can be no doubt that Washington felt his lack of education very

keenly as he came to act upon a larger sphere than as a Virginia planter.

"I am sensible," he wrote a friend, of his letters, "that the narrations

are just, and that truth and honesty will appear in my writings; of which,

therefore, I shall not be ashamed, though criticism may censure my style."

When his secretary suggested to him that he should write his own life, he

replied, "In a former letter I informed you, my dear Humphreys, that

if I had _talents_ for it, I have not leisure to turn my thoughts to

Commentaries. A consciousness of a defective education, and a certainty

of the want of time, unfit me for such an undertaking." On being pressed

by a French comrade-in-arms to pay France a visit, he declined, saying,

"Remember, my good friend, that I am unacquainted with your language, that

I am too far advanced in years to acquire a knowledge of it, and that, to

converse through the medium of an interpreter upon common occasions,

especially with the Ladies, must appear so extremely awkward, insipid, and

uncouth, that I can scarce bear it in idea."


In 1788, without previous warning, he was elected chancellor of William

and Mary College, a distinction by which he felt "honored and greatly

affected;" but "not knowing particularly what duties, or whether any

active services are immediately expected from the person holding the

office of chancellor, I have been greatly embarrassed in deciding upon the

public answer proper to be given.... My difficulties are briefly these. On

the one hand, nothing in this world could be farther from my heart,

than ... a refusal of the appointment ... provided its duties are not

incompatible with the mode of life to which I have entirely addicted

myself; and, on the other hand, I would not for any consideration

disappoint the just expectations of the convocation by accepting an office,

whose functions I previously knew ... I should be absolutely unable to



Perhaps the most touching proof of his own self-depreciation was something

he did when he had become conscious that his career would be written

about. Still in his possession were the letter-books in which he had kept

copies of his correspondence while in command of the Virginia regiment

between 1754 and 1759, and late in life he went through these volumes,

and, by interlining corrections, carefully built them into better literary

form. How this was done is shown here by a single facsimile.


With the appointment to command the Continental Army, a secretary was

secured, and in an absence of this assistant he complained to him that "my

business increases very fast, and my distresses for want of you along with

it. Mr. Harrison is the only gentleman of my family, that can afford me

the least assistance in writing. He and Mr. Moylan,... have heretofore

afforded me their aid; and ... they have really had a great deal of



Most of Washington's correspondence during the Revolution was written by

his aides. Pickering said,--



"As to the public letters bearing his signature, it is certain that he

could not have maintained so extensive a correspondence with his own pen,

even if he had possessed the ability and promptness of Hamilton.

That he would, sometimes with propriety, observe upon, correct, and add to

any draught submitted for his examination and signature, I have no doubt.

And yet I doubt whether many, if any, of the letters ... are his own

draught.... I have even reason to believe that not only the _composition_,

the _clothing of the ideas_, but the _ideas themselves_, originated

generally with the writers; that Hamilton and Harrison, in particular,

were scarcely in any degree his amanuenses. I remember, when at

head-quarters one day, at Valley Forge, Colonel Harrison came down

from the General's chamber, with his brows knit, and thus accosted me, 'I

wish to the Lord the General would give me the heads or some idea, of what

he would have me write.'"






After the Revolution, a visitor at Mount Vernon said, "It's astonishing

the packet of letters that daily comes for him from all parts of the

world, which employ him most of the morning to answer." A secretary was

employed, but not so much to do the actual writing as the copying and

filing, and at this time Washington complained "that my numerous

correspondencies are daily becoming irksome to me." Yet there can be

little question that he richly enjoyed writing when it was not for the

public eye. "It is not the letters of my friends which give me trouble,"

he wrote to one correspondent; to another he said, "I began with telling

you that I should not write a lengthy letter but the result has been to

contradict it;" and to a third, "when I look back to the length of this

letter, I am so much astonished and frightened at it myself that I

have not the courage to give it a careful reading for the purpose of

correction. You must, therefore, receive it with all its imperfections,

accompanied with this assurance, that, though there may be inaccuracies in

the letter, there is not a single defect in the friendship." Occasionally

there was, as here, an apology: "I am persuaded you will excuse this

scratch'd scrawl, when I assure you it is with difficulty I write at all,"

he ended a letter in 1777, and in 1792 of another said, "You must receive

it blotted and scratched as you find it for I have not time to copy it. It

is now ten o'clock at night, after my usual hour for retiring to rest, and

the mail will be closed early to-morrow morning."


To his overseer, who neglected to reply to some of his questions, he told

his method of writing, which is worth quoting:



"Whenever I set down to write you, I read your letter, or letters

carefully over, and as soon as I come to a part that requires to be

noticed, I make a short note on the cover of a letter or piece of waste

paper;--then read on the next, noting that in like manner;--and so on

until I have got through the whole letter and reports. Then in writing my

letter to you, as soon as I have finished what I have to say on one of

these notes I draw my pen through it and proceed to another and another

until the whole is done--crossing each as I go on, by which means if I am

called off twenty times whilst I am writing, I can never with these notes

before me finished or unfinished, omit anything I wanted to say; and

they serve me also, as I keep no copies of letters I wrote to you, as

Memorandums of what has been written if I should have occasion at any time

to refer to them."



Another indication of his own knowledge of defects is shown by his fear

about his public papers. When his Journal to the Ohio was printed by order

of the governor, in 1754, in the preface the young author said, "I think I

can do no less than apologize, in some Measure, for the numberless

imperfections of it. There intervened but one Day between my Arrival in

Williamsburg, and the Time for the Council's Meeting, for me to prepare

and transcribe, from the rough Minutes I had taken in my Travels, this

Journal; the writing of which only was sufficient to employ me closely the

whole Time, consequently admitted of no Leisure to consult of a new and

proper Form to offer it in, or to correct or amend the Diction of the

old." Boucher states that the publication, "in Virginia at least, drew on

him some ridicule."


This anxiety about his writings was shown all through life, and led

Washington to rely greatly on such of his friends as would assist him,

even to the point, so Reed thought, that he "sometimes adopted draughts of

writing when his own would have been better ... from an extreme diffidence

in himself," and Pickering said, in writing to an aide,--



"Although the General's private correspondence was doubtless, for the most

part, his own, and extremely acceptable to the persons addressed; yet, in

regard to whatever was destined to meet the public eye, he seems to have

been fearful to exhibit his own compositions, relying too much on the

judgment of his friends, and sometimes adopted draughts that were

exceptionable. Some parts of his private correspondence must have

essentially differed from other parts in the style of composition. You

mention your own aids to the General in this line. Now, if I had your

draughts before me, mingled with the General's to the same persons,

nothing would be more easy than to assign to each his own proper

offspring. You could neither restrain your _courser_, nor conceal your

imagery, nor express your ideas otherwise than in the language of a

scholar. The General's compositions would be perfectly plain and didactic,

and not always correct."



During the Presidency, scarcely anything of a public nature was penned by

Washington,--Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, and Randolph acting as his

draughtsmen. "We are approaching the first Monday in December by hasty

strides," he wrote to Jefferson. "I pray you, therefore, to revolve in

your mind such matters as may be proper for me to lay before Congress, not

only in your own department, (if any there be,) but such others of a

general nature, as may happen to occur to you, that I may be prepared to

open the session with such communication, as shall appear to merit

attention." Two years later he said to the same, "I pray you to note down

or rather to frame into paragraphs or sections, such matters as may occur

to you as fit and proper for general communication at the opening of the

next session of Congress, not only in the department of state, but on any

other subject applicable to the occasion, that I may in due time have

everything before me." To Hamilton he wrote in 1795, "Having desired the

late Secretary of State to note down every matter as it occurred, proper

either for the speech at the opening of the session, or for messages

afterwards, the inclosed paper contains everything I could extract from

that office. Aid me, I pray you, with your sentiments on these points, and

such others as may have occurred to you relative to my communications to



The best instance is furnished in the preparation of the Farewell Address.

First Madison was asked to prepare a draft, and from this Washington drew

up a paper, which he submitted to Hamilton and Jay, with the request that

"even if you should think it best to throw the whole into a different

form, let me request, notwithstanding, that my draught may be returned to

me (along with yours) with such amendments and corrections as to render it

as perfect as the formation is susceptible of; curtailed if too verbose;

and relieved of all tautology not necessary to enforce the ideas in the

original or quoted part. My wish is that the whole may appear in a plain

style, and be handed to the public in an honest, unaffected, simple part."

Accordingly, Hamilton prepared what was almost a new instrument in form,

though not in substance, which, after "several serious and attentive

readings," Washington wrote that he preferred "greatly to the other

draughts, being more copious on material points, more dignified on the

whole, and with less egotism; of course, less exposed to criticism,

and better calculated to meet the eye of discerning readers (foreigners

particularly, whose curiosity I have little doubt will lead them

to inspect it attentively, and to pronounce their opinions on the

performance)." The paper was then, according to Pickering, "put into the

hands of Wolcott, McHenry, and myself ... with a request that we would

examine it, and note any alterations and corrections which we should think

best. We did so; but our notes, as well as I recollect, were very few, and

regarded chiefly the grammar and composition." Finally, Washington revised

the whole, and it was then made public.


Confirmatory of this sense of imperfect cultivation are the pains he took

that his adopted son and grandson should be well educated. As already

noted, tutors for both were secured at the proper ages, and when Jack was

placed with the Rev. Mr. Boucher, Washington wrote: "In respect to the

kinds, & manner of his Studying I leave it wholely to your better

Judgment--had he begun, or rather pursued his study of the Greek Language,

I should have thought it no bad acquisition; but whether if he acquire

this now, he may not forego some useful branches of learning, is a matter

worthy of consideration. To be acquainted with the French Tongue is become

part of polite Education; and to a man who has the prospect of mixing in a

large Circle absolutely necessary. Without Arithmetick, the common affairs

of Life are not to be managed with success. The study of Geometry,

and the Mathematics (with due regard to the limites of it) is equally

advantageous. The principles of Philosophy Moral, Natural, &c. I should

think a very desirable knowledge for a Gentleman." So, too, he wrote to

Washington Custis, "I do not hear you mention anything of geography or

mathematics as parts of your study; both these are necessary branches of

useful knowledge. Nor ought you to let your knowledge of the Latin

language and grammatical rules escape you. And the French language is now

so universal, and so necessary with foreigners, or in a foreign country,

that I think you would be injudicious not to make yourself master of it."

It is worth noting in connection with this last sentence that Washington

used only a single French expression with any frequency, and that he

always wrote "faupas."


Quite as indicative of the value he put on education was the aid he gave

towards sending his young relatives and others to college, his annual

contribution to an orphan school, his subscriptions to academies, and his

wish for a national university. In 1795 he said,--



"It has always been a source of serious reflection and sincere regret with

me, that the youth of the United States should be sent to foreign

countries for the purpose of education.... For this reason I have greatly

wished to see a plan adopted, by which the arts, sciences, and

belles-lettres could be taught in their _fullest_ extent, thereby embracing

_all_ the advantages of European tuition, with the means of acquiring the

liberal knowledge, which is necessary to qualify our citizens for the

exigencies of public as well as private life; and (which with me is a

consideration of great magnitude) by assembling the youth from the

different parts of this rising republic, contributing from their

intercourse and interchange of information to the removal of prejudices,

which might perhaps sometimes arise from local circumstances."



In framing his Farewell Address, "revolving ... on the various matters it

contained and on the first expression of the advice or recommendation

which was given in it, I have regretted that another subject (which in my

estimation is of interesting concern to the well-being of this country)

was not touched upon also; I mean education generally, as one of the

surest means of enlightening and giving just ways of thinking to our

citizens, but particularly the establishment of a university; where the

youth from all parts of the United States might receive the polish of

erudition in the arts, sciences and belles-lettres." Eventually he reduced

this idea to a plea for the people to "promote, then, as an object of

primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge,"

because "in proportion as the structure of a government gives force

to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be

enlightened." By his will he left to the endowment of a university in the

District of Columbia the shares in the Potomac Company which had been

given him by the State of Virginia, but the clause was never carried into



It was in 1745 that Washington's school-days came to an end. His share of

his father's property being his mother's till he was twenty-one, a

livelihood had to be found, and so at about fourteen years of age the work

of life began. Like a true boy, the lad wanted to go to sea, despite his

uncle's warning "that I think he had better be put apprentice to a tinker;

for a common sailor before the mast has by no means the liberty of the

subject; for they will press him from a ship where he has fifty shillings

a month; and make him take twenty-three, and cut and slash, and use him

like a negro, or rather like a dog." His mother, however, would not

consent, and to this was due his becoming a surveyor.


From his "Young Man's Companion" Washington had already learned the use of

Gunter's rule and how it should be used in surveying, and to complete his

knowledge he seems to have taken lessons of the licensed surveyor of

Westmoreland County, James Genn, for transcripts of some of the surveys

drawn by Genn still exist in the handwriting of his pupil. This implied a

distinct and very valuable addition to his knowledge, and a large number

of his surveys still extant are marvels of neatness and careful drawing.

As a profession it was followed for only four years (1747-1751), but all

through life he often used his knowledge in measuring or platting his own

property. Far more important is the service it was to him in public life.

In 1755 he sent to Braddock's secretary a map of the "back country," and

to the governor of Virginia plans of two forts. During the Revolution it

helped him not merely in the study of maps, but also in the facility it

gave him to take in the topographical features of the country. Very

largely, too, was the selection of the admirable site for the capital due

to his supervising: all the plans for the city were submitted to him,

and nowhere do the good sense and balance of the man appear to better

advantage than in his correspondence with the Federal city commissioners.


In Washington's earliest account-book there is an item when he was sixteen

years old, "To cash pd ye Musick Master for my Entrance 3/9." It is

commonly said that he played the flute, but this is as great a libel on

him as any Tom Paine wrote, and though he often went to concerts, and

though fond of hearing his granddaughter Nelly play and sing, he never

was himself a performer, and the above entry probably refers to the

singing-master whom the boys and girls of that day made the excuse for

evening frolics.


Mention is made elsewhere of his taking lessons in the sword exercise from

Van Braam in these earlier years, and in 1756 he paid to Sergeant Wood,

fencing-master, the sum of £1.1.6. When he received the offer of a

position on Braddock's staff, he acknowledged, in accepting, that "I must

be ingenuous enough to confess, that I am not a little biassed by selfish

considerations. To explain, Sir, I wish earnestly to attain some knowledge

in the military profession, and, believing a more favorable opportunity

cannot offer, than to serve under a gentleman of General Braddock's

abilities and experience, it does ... not a little contribute to influence

my choice." Hamilton is quoted as saying that Washington "never read any

book upon the art of war but Sim's Military Guide," and an anonymous

author asserted that "he never read a book in the art of war of higher

value than Bland's Exercises." Certain it is that nearly all the military

knowledge he possessed was derived from practice rather than from books,

and though, late in life, he purchased a number of works on the subject,

it was after his army service was over.


One factor in Washington's education which must not go unnoticed was his

religious belief. When only two months old he was baptized, presumably by

the Rev. Lawrence De Butts, the clergyman of Washington parish. The

removal from that locality prevented any further religious influence from

this clergyman, and it probably first came from the Rev. Charles Green, of

Truro parish, who had received his appointment through the friendship of

Washington's father, and who later was on such friendly terms with

Washington that he doctored Mrs. Washington in an attack of the measles,

and caught and returned two of his parishioner's runaway slaves. As early

as 1724 the clergyman of the parish in which Mount Vernon was situated

reported that he catechised the youth of his congregation "in Lent and a

great part of the Summer," and George, as the son of one of his vestrymen,

undoubtedly received a due amount of questioning.


From 1748 till 1759 there was little church-going for the young surveyor

or soldier, but after his marriage and settling at Mount Vernon he was

elected vestryman in the two parishes of Truro and Fairfax, and from that

election he was quite active in church affairs. It may be worth noting

that in the elections of 1765 the new vestryman stood third in popularity

in the Truro church and fifth in that of Fairfax. He drew the plans for a

new church in Truro, and subscribed to its building, intending "to lay the

foundation of a family pew," but by a vote of the vestry it was decided

that there should be no private pews, and this breach of contract angered

Washington so greatly that he withdrew from the church in 1773. Sparks

quotes Madison to the effect that "there was a tradition that, when he

[Washington] belonged to the vestry of a church in his neighborhood, and

several little difficulties grew out of some division of the society, he

sometimes spoke with great force, animation, and eloquence on the topics

that came before them." After this withdrawal he bought a pew in Christ

Church in Alexandria (Fairfax parish), paying £36.10, which was the

largest price paid by any parishioner. To this church he was quite

liberal, subscribing several times towards repairs, etc.


The Rev. Lee Massey, who was rector at Pohick (Truro) Church before the

Revolution, is quoted by Bishop Meade as saying that



"I never knew so constant an attendant in church as Washington. And his

behavior in the house of God was ever so deeply reverential that it

produced the happiest effect on my congregation, and greatly assisted me

in my pulpit labors. No company ever withheld him from church. I have

often been at Mount Vernon on Sabbath morning, when his breakfast table

was filled with guests; but to him they furnished no pretext for

neglecting his God and losing the satisfaction of setting a good example.

For instead of staying at home, out of false complaisance to them, he used

constantly to invite them to accompany him."



This seems to have been written more with an eye to its influence on

others than to its strict accuracy. During the time Washington attended at

Pohick Church he was by no means a regular church-goer. His daily "where

and how my time is spent" enables us to know exactly how often he attended

church, and in the year 1760 he went just sixteen times, and in 1768 he

went fourteen, these years being fairly typical of the period 1760-1773.

During the Presidency a sense of duty made him attend St Paul's and Christ

churches while in New York and Philadelphia, but at Mount Vernon, when the

public eye was not upon him, he was no more regular than he had always

been, and in the last year of his life he wrote, "Six days do I labor, or,

in other words, take exercise and devote my time to various occupations in

Husbandry, and about my mansion. On the seventh, now called the first day,

for want of a place of Worship (within less than nine miles) such letters

as do not require immediate acknowledgment I give answers to.... But it

hath so happened, that on the two last Sundays--call them the first or the

seventh as you please, I have been unable to perform the latter duty on

account of visits from Strangers, with whom I could not use the freedom to

leave alone, or recommend to the care of each other, for their amusement."


What he said here was more or less typical of his whole life. Sunday was

always the day on which he wrote his private letters,--even prepared his

invoices,--and he wrote to one of his overseers that his letters should

be mailed so as to reach him Saturday, as by so doing they could be

answered the following day. Nor did he limit himself to this, for he

entertained company, closed land purchases, sold wheat, and, while a

Virginia planter, went foxhunting, on Sunday. It is to be noted, however,

that he considered the scruples of others as to the day. When he went

among his western tenants, rent-collecting, he entered in his diary that,

it "being Sunday and the People living on my Land _apparently_ very

religious, it was thought best to postpone going among them till

to-morrow," and in his journey through New England, because it was

"contrary to the law and disagreeable to the People of this State

(Connecticut) to travel on the Sabbath day--and my horses, after passing

through such intolerable roads, wanting rest, I stayed at Perkins' tavern

(which, by the bye, is not a good one) all day--and a meetinghouse being

within a few rods of the door, I attended the morning and evening

services, and heard very lame discourses from a Mr. Pond." It is of this

experience that tradition says the President started to travel, but was

promptly arrested by a Connecticut tithing-man. The story, however, lacks



There can be no doubt that religious intolerance was not a part of

Washington's character. In 1775, when the New England troops intended to

celebrate Guy Fawkes day, as usual, the General Orders declared that "as

the Commander in chief has been apprised of a design, formed for the

observance of that ridiculous and childish custom of burning the effigy of

the Pope, he cannot help expressing his surprise, that there should be

officers and soldiers in this army so void of common sense, as not to see

the impropriety of such a step." When trying to secure some servants, too,

he wrote that "if they are good workmen, they may be from Asia, Africa, or

Europe; they may be Mahometans, Jews, or Christians of any sect, or they

may be Atheists." When the bill taxing all the people of Virginia to

support the Episcopal Church (his own) was under discussion, he threw his

weight against it, as far as concerned the taxing of other sectaries, but




"Although no man's sentiments are more opposed to any kind of restraint

upon religious principles than mine are, yet I must confess, that I am not

amongst the number of those, who are so much alarmed at the thoughts of

making people pay towards the support of that which they profess, if

of the denomination, of Christians, or to declare themselves Jews,

Mahometans, or otherwise, and thereby obtain proper relief. As the matter

now stands, I wish an assessment had never been agitated, and as it has

gone so far, that the bill could die an easy death; because I think it

will be productive of more quiet to the State, than by enacting it into a

law, which in my opinion would be impolitic, admitting there is a decided

majority for it, to the disquiet of a respectable minority. In the former

case, the matter will soon subside; in the latter, it will rankle and

perhaps convulse the State."



Again in a letter he says,--



"Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are

caused by difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most

inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be deprecated. I was in

hopes, that the lightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present

age, would at least have reconciled _Christians_ of every denomination so

far, that we should never again see their religious disputes carried to

such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society."



And to Lafayette, alluding to the proceedings of the Assembly of Notables,

he wrote,--



"I am not less ardent in my wish, that you may succeed in your plan of

toleration in religious matters. Being no bigot myself, I am disposed to

indulge the professors of Christianity in the church with that road to

Heaven, which to them shall seem the most direct, plainest, easiest, and

least liable to exception."



What Washington believed has been a source of much dispute. Jefferson

states "that Gouverneur Morris, who pretended to be in his secrets, and

believed himself to be so, has often told me that General Washington

believed no more of that system than he himself did," and Morris, it is

scarcely necessary to state, was an atheist. The same authority quotes

Rush, to the effect that "when the clergy addressed General Washington on

his departure from the government, it was observed in their consultation,

that he had never, on any occasion, said a word to the public which showed

a belief in the Christian religion, and they thought they should so pen

their address, as to force him at length to declare publicly whether he

was a Christian or not They did so. But, he observed, the old fox was too

cunning for them. He answered every article of their address particularly

except that, which he passed over without notice."


Whatever his belief, in all public ways Washington threw his influence in

favor of religion, and kept what he really believed a secret, and in only

one thing did he disclose his real thoughts. It is asserted that before

the Revolution he partook of the sacrament, but this is only affirmed by

hearsay, and better evidence contradicts it. After that war he did not, it

is certain. Nelly Custis states that on "communion Sundays he left the

church with me, after the blessing, and returned home, and we sent the

carriage back for my grandmother." And the assistant minister of Christ

Church in Philadelphia states that--



"Observing that on Sacrament Sundays, Gen'l Washington, immediately after

the Desk and Pulpit services, went out with the greater part of the

congregation, always leaving Mrs. Washington with the communicants, she

_invariably_ being one, I considered it my duty, in a sermon on Public

Worship, to state the unhappy tendency of _example_, particularly those in

elevated stations, who invariably turned their backs upon the celebration

of the Lord's Supper. I acknowledge the remark was intended for the

President, as such, he received it. A few days after, in conversation

with, I believe, a Senator of the U.S. he told me he had dined the day

before with the President, who in the course of the conversation at the

table, said, that on the preceding Sunday, he had received a very just

reproof from the pulpit, for always leaving the church before the

administration of the Sacrament; that he honored the preacher for his

integrity and candour; that he had never considered the influence of his

example; that he would never again give cause for the repetition of the

reproof; and that, as he had never been a communicant, were he to become

one then, it would be imputed to an ostentatious display of religious zeal

arising altogether from his elevated station. Accordingly he afterwards

never came on the morning of Sacrament Sunday, tho' at other times, a

constant attendant in the morning."



Nelly Custis, too, tells us that Washington always "stood during the

devotional part of the service," and Bishop White states that "his

behavior was always serious and attentive; but, as your letter seems to

intend an inquiry on the point of kneeling during the service, I owe it to

the truth to declare, that I never saw him in the said attitude." Probably

his true position is described by Madison, who is quoted as saying that he

did "not suppose that Washington had ever attended to the arguments for

Christianity, and for the different systems of religion, or in fact that

he had formed definite opinions on the subject. But he took these things

as he found them existing, and was constant in his observances of worship

according to the received forms of the Episcopal Church, in which he was

brought up."


If there was proof needed that it is mind and not education which pushes a

man to the front, it is to be found in the case of Washington. Despite his

want of education, he had, so Bell states, "an excellent understanding."

Patrick Henry is quoted as saying of the members of the Congress of 1774--

the body of which Adams claimed that "every man in it is a great man, an

orator, a critic, a statesman"--that "if you speak of solid information

and sound judgment Colonel Washington is unquestionably the greatest man

on the floor;" while Jefferson asserted that "his mind was great and

powerful, without being of the very first order; his penetration strong,

though not so acute as that of a Newton, Bacon, or Locke; and as far as he

saw, no judgment was ever sounder. It was slow in operation, being little

aided by invention or imagination, but sure in conclusion."










The book from which Washington derived almost the whole of his education

warned its readers,--



"Young Men have ever more a special care That Womanish Allurements prove

not a snare;"



but, however carefully the lad studied the rest, this particular

admonition took little root in his mind. There can be no doubt that

Washington during the whole of his life had a soft heart for women, and

especially for good-looking ones, and both in his personal intercourse and

in his letters he shows himself very much more at ease with them than in

his relations with his own sex. Late in life, when the strong passions of

his earlier years were under better control, he was able to write,--



"Love is said to be an involuntary passion, and it is, therefore,

contended that it cannot be resisted. This is true in part only, for like

all things else, when nourished and supplied plentifully with aliment, it

is rapid in its progress; but let these be withdrawn and it may be stifled

in its birth or much stinted in its growth. For example, a woman (the same

may be said of the other sex) all beautiful and accomplished will, while

her hand and heart are undisposed of, turn the heads and set the circle in

which she moves on fire. Let her marry, and what is the consequence? The

madness _ceases_ and all is quiet again. Why? not because there is any

diminution in the charms of the lady, but because there is an end of hope.

Hence it follows, that love may and therefore ought to be under the

guidance of reason, for although we cannot avoid first impressions, we may

assuredly place them under guard."



To write thus in one's sixty-sixth year and to practise one's theory in

youth were, however, very different undertakings. Even while discussing

love so philosophically, the writer had to acknowledge that "in the

composition of the human frame, there is a good deal of inflammable

matter," and few have had better cause to know it. When he saw in the

premature engagement of his ward, Jack Custis, the one advantage that it

would "in a great measure avoid those little flirtations with other young

ladies that may, by dividing the attention, contribute not a little to

divide the affection," it is easy to think of him as looking back to his

own boyhood, and remembering, it is to be hoped with a smile, the

sufferings he owed to pretty faces and neatly turned ankles.


While still a school-boy, Washington was one day caught "romping with one

of the largest girls," and very quickly more serious likings followed. As

early as 1748, when only sixteen years of age, his heart was so engaged

that while at Lord Fairfax's and enjoying the society of Mary Cary he

poured out his feelings to his youthful correspondents "Dear Robin" and

"Dear John" and "Dear Sally" as follows:



"My place of Residence is at present at His Lordships where I might was my

heart disengag'd pass my time very pleasantly as theres a very agreeable

Young Lady Lives in the same house (Colo George Fairfax's Wife's Sister)

but as thats only adding Fuel to fire it makes me the more uneasy for by

often and unavoidably being in Company with her revives my former Passion

for your Low Land Beauty whereas was I to live more retired from young

Women I might in some measure eliviate my sorrows by burying that chast

and troublesome Passion in the grave of oblivion or etarnall forgetfulness

for as I am very well assured thats the only antidote or remedy that I

shall be releivd by or only recess that can administer any cure or help to

me as I am well convinced was I ever to attempt any thing I should only

get a denial which would be only adding grief to uneasiness."



"Was my affections disengaged I might perhaps form some pleasure in the

conversation of an agreeable Young Lady as theres one now Lives in the

same house with me but as that is only nourishment to my former affecn for

by often seeing her brings the other into my remembrance whereas perhaps

was she not often & (unavoidably) presenting herself to my view I might in

some measure aliviate my sorrows by burying the other in the grave of

Oblivion I am well convinced my heart stands in defiance of all others but

only she thats given it cause enough to dread a second assault and from a

different Quarter tho' I well know let it have as many attacks as it will

from others they cant be more fierce than it has been."



"I Pass the time of[f] much more agreeabler than what I imagined I should

as there's a very agrewable Young Lady lives in the same house where I

reside (Colo George Fairfax's Wife's Sister) that in a great Measure

cheats my thoughts altogether from your Parts I could wish to be with you

down there with all my heart but as it is a thing almost Impractakable

shall rest myself where I am with hopes of shortly having some Minutes of

your transactions in your Parts which will be very welcomely receiv'd."



Who this "Low Land Beauty" was has been the source of much speculation,

but the question is still unsolved, every suggested damsel--Lucy Grymes,

Mary Bland, Betsy Fauntleroy, _et al._--being either impossible or the

evidence wholly inadequate. But in the same journal which contains the

draughts of these letters is a motto poem--



"Twas Perfect Love before

But Now I do adore"--



followed by the words "Young M.A. his W[ife?]," and as it was a fashion

of the time to couple the initials of one's well-beloved with such

sentiments, a slight clue is possibly furnished. Nor was this the only

rhyme that his emotions led to his inscribing in his journal: and he

confided to it the following:



"Oh Ye Gods why should my Poor Resistless Heart

  Stand to oppose thy might and Power

At Last surrender to cupids feather'd Dart

  And now lays Bleeding every Hour

For her that's Pityless of my grief and Woes

  And will not on me Pity take

He sleep amongst my most inveterate Foes

  And with gladness never wish to wake

In deluding sleepings let my Eyelids close

  That in an enraptured Dream I may

In a soft lulling sleep and gentle repose

  Possess those joys denied by Day."



However woe-begone the young lover was, he does not seem to have been

wholly lost to others of the sex, and at this same time he was able to

indite an acrostic to another charmer, which, if incomplete, nevertheless

proves that there was a "midland" beauty as well, the lady being

presumptively some member of the family of Alexanders, who had a

plantation near Mount Vernon.



"From your bright sparkling Eyes I was undone;

Rays, you have; more transperent than the Sun.

Amidst its glory in the rising Day

None can you equal in your bright array;

Constant in your calm and unspotted Mind;

Equal to all, but will to none Prove kind,

So knowing, seldom one so Young, you'l Find.


Ah! woe's me, that I should Love and conceal

Long have I wish'd, but never dare reveal,

Even though severely Loves Pains I feel;

Xerxes that great, was't free from Cupids Dart,

And all the greatest Heroes, felt the smart."



When visiting Barbadoes, in 1751, Washington noted in his journal his

meeting a Miss Roberts, "an agreeable young lady," and later he went with

her to see some fireworks on Guy Fawkes day. Apparently, however, the

ladies of that island made little impression on him, for he further noted,

"The Ladys Generally are very agreeable but by ill custom or w[ha]t effect

the Negro style." This sudden insensibility is explained by a letter he

wrote to William Fauntleroy a few weeks after his return to Virginia:



"Sir: I should have been down long before this, but my business in

Frederick detained me somewhat longer than I expected, and immediately

upon my return from thence I was taken with a violent Pleurise, but

purpose as soon as I recover my strength, to wait on Miss Betsy, in hopes

of a revocation of the former cruel sentence, and see if I can meet with

any alteration in my favor. I have enclosed a letter to her, which should

be much obliged to you for the delivery of it. I have nothing to add but

my best respects to your good lady and family, and that I am, Sir, Your

most ob't humble serv't."



Because of this letter it has been positively asserted that Betsy

Fauntleroy was the Low-Land Beauty of the earlier time; but as Washington

wrote of his love for the latter in 1748, when Betsy was only eleven, the

absurdity of the claim is obvious.


In 1753, while on his mission to deliver the governor's letter to the

French, one duty which fell to the young soldier was a visit to royalty,

in the person of Queen Aliquippa, an Indian majesty who had "expressed

great Concern" that she had formerly been slighted. Washington records

that "I made her a Present of a Match-coat and a Bottle of Rum; which

latter was thought much the best Present of the Two," and thus (externally

and internally) restored warmth to her majesty's feelings.


When returned from his first campaign, and resting at Mount Vernon, the

time seems to have been beguiled by some charmer, for one of Washington's

officers and intimates writes from Williamsburg, "I imagine you By this

time plung'd in the midst of delight heaven can afford & enchanted By

Charmes even Stranger to the Ciprian Dame," and a footnote by the same

hand only excites further curiosity concerning this latter personage by

indefinitely naming her as "Mrs. Neil."


With whatever heart-affairs the winter was passed, with the spring the

young man's fancy turned not to love, but again to war, and only when the

defeat of Braddock brought Washington back to Mount Vernon to recover from

the fatigues of that campaign was his intercourse with the gentler sex

resumed. Now, however, he was not merely a good-looking young fellow, but

was a hero who had had horses shot from under him and had stood firm when

scarlet-coated men had run away. No longer did he have to sue for the

favor of the fair ones, and Fairfax wrote him that "if a Satterday Nights

Rest cannot be sufficient to enable your coming hither to-morrow, the

Lady's will try to get Horses to equip our Chair or attempt their strength

on Foot to Salute you, so desirous are they with loving Speed to have an

occular Demonstration of your being the same Identical Gent--that lately

departed to defend his Country's Cause." Furthermore, to this letter was

appended the following:



"DEAR SIR,--After thanking Heaven for your safe return I must accuse you

of great unkindness in refusing us the pleasure of seeing you this night.

I do assure you nothing but our being satisfied that our company would be

disagreeable should prevent us from trying if our Legs would not carry us

to Mount Vernon this night, but if you will not come to us to-morrow

morning very early we shall be at Mount Vernon.







Nor is this the only feminine postscript of this time, for in the

postscript of a letter from Archibald Cary, a leading Virginian, he is

told that "Mrs. Cary & Miss Randolph joyn in wishing you that sort of

Glory which will most Indear you to the Fair Sex."


In 1756 Washington had occasion to journey on military business to Boston,

and both in coming and in going he tarried in New York, passing ten days

in his first visit and about a week on his return. This time was spent

with a Virginian friend, Beverly Robinson, who had had the good luck to

marry Susannah Philipse, a daughter of Frederick Philipse, one of the

largest landed proprietors of the colony of New York. Here he met the

sister, Mary Philipse, then a girl of twenty-five, and, short as was the

time, it was sufficient to engage his heart. To this interest no doubt are

due the entries in his accounts of sundry pounds spent "for treating

Ladies," and for the large tailors' bills then incurred. But neither

treats nor clothes won the lady, who declined his proposals, and gave her

heart two years later to Lieutenant-Colonel Roger Morris. A curious sequel

to this disappointment was the accident that made the Roger Morris house

Washington's head-quarters in 1776, both Morris and his wife being

fugitive Tories. Again Washington was a chance visitor in 1790, when, as

part of a picnic, he "dined on a dinner provided by Mr. Marriner at the

House lately Colo. Roger Morris, but confiscated and in the occupation of

a common Farmer."


[Illustration: MARY PHILIPSE]


It has been asserted that Washington loved the wife of his friend George

William Fairfax, but the evidence has not been produced. On the contrary,

though the two corresponded, it was in a purely platonic fashion, very

different from the strain of lovers, and that the correspondence implied

nothing is to be found in the fact that he and Sally Carlyle (another

Fairfax daughter) also wrote each other quite as frequently and on

the same friendly footing; indeed, Washington evidently classed them

in the same category, when he stated that "I have wrote to my two

female correspondents." Thus the claim seems due, like many another of

Washington's mythical love-affairs, rather to the desire of descendants to

link their family "to a star" than to more substantial basis. Washington

did, indeed, write to Sally Fairfax from the frontier, "I should think our

time more agreeably spent, believe me, in playing a part in Cato, with the

company you mention, and myself doubly happy in being the Juba to such a

Marcia, as you must make," but private theatricals then no more than now

implied "passionate love." What is more, Mrs. Fairfax was at this very

time teasing him about another woman, and to her hints Washington




"If you allow that any honor can be derived from my opposition ... you

destroy the merit of it entirely in me by attributing my anxiety to the

animating prospect of possessing Mrs. Custis, when--I need not tell you,

guess yourself. Should not my own Honor and country's welfare be the

excitement? 'Tis true I profess myself a votary of love. I acknowledge

that a lady is in the case, and further I confess that this lady is known

to you. Yes, Madame, as well as she is to one who is too sensible of her

charms to deny the Power whose influence he feels and must ever submit to.

I feel the force of her amiable beauties in the recollection of a thousand

tender passages that I could wish to obliterate, till I am bid to revive

them. But experience, alas! sadly reminds me how impossible this is, and

evinces an opinion which I have long entertained that there is a Destiny

which has the control of our actions, not to be resisted by the strongest

efforts of Human Nature. You have drawn me, dear Madame, or rather I have

drawn myself, into an honest confession of a simple Fact. Misconstrue not

my meaning; doubt it not, nor expose it. The world has no business to know

the object of my Love, declared in this manner to you, when I want to

conceal it. One thing above all things in this world I wish to know, and

only one person of your acquaintance can solve me that, or guess my




The love-affair thus alluded to had begun in March, 1758, when ill health

had taken Washington to Williamsburg to consult physicians, thinking,

indeed, of himself as a doomed man. In this trip he met Mrs. Martha

(Dandridge) Custis, widow of Daniel Parke Custis, one of the wealthiest

planters of the colony. She was at this time twenty-six years of age, or

Washington's senior by nine months, and had been a widow but seven, yet in

spite of this fact, and of his own expected "decay," he pressed his

love-making with an impetuosity akin to that with which he had urged his

suit of Miss Philipse, and (widows being proverbial) with better success.

The invalid had left Mount Vernon on March 5, and by April 1 he was back

at Fort Loudon, an engaged man, having as well so far recovered his health

as to be able to join his command. Early in May he ordered a ring from

Philadelphia, at a cost of £2.16.0; soon after receiving it he found

that army affairs once more called him down to Williamsburg, and, as

love-making is generally considered a military duty, the excuse was

sufficient. But sterner duties on the frontier were awaiting him, and very

quickly he was back there and writing to his _fiancée_,--



"We have begun our march for the Ohio. A courier is starting for

Williamsburg, and I embrace the opportunity to send a few words to one

whose life is now inseparable from mine. Since that happy hour when we

made our pledges to each other, my thoughts have been continually going to

you as another Self. That an all-powerful Providence may keep us both in

safety is the prayer of your ever faithful and affectionate friend."



Five months after this letter was written, Washington was able to date

another from Fort Duquesne, and, the fall of that post putting an end to

his military service, only four weeks later he was back in Williamsburg,

and on January 6, 1759, he was married.


Very little is really known of his wife, beyond the facts that she was

petite, over-fond, hot-tempered, obstinate, and a poor speller. In 1778

she was described as "a sociable, pretty kind of woman," and she seems to

have been but little more. One who knew her well described her as "not

possessing much sense, though a perfect lady and remarkably well

calculated for her position," and confirmatory of this is the opinion of

an English traveller that "there was nothing remarkable in the person of

the lady of the President; she was matronly and kind, with perfect good

breeding." None the less she satisfied Washington; even after the

proverbial six months were over he refused to wander from Mount Vernon,

writing that "I am now, I believe, fixed at this seat with an agreeable

Consort for life," and in 1783 he spoke of her as the "partner of all my

Domestic enjoyments."


John Adams, in one of his recurrent moods of bitterness and jealousy

towards Washington, demanded, "Would Washington have ever been commander

of the revolutionary army or president of the United States if he had not

married the rich widow of Mr. Custis?" To ask such a question is to

overlook the fact that Washington's colonial military fame was entirely

achieved before his marriage. It is not to be denied that the match was a

good one from a worldly point of view, Mrs. Washington's third of the

Custis property equalling "fifteen thousand acres of land, a good part of

it adjoining the city of Williamsburg; several lots in the said city;

between two and three hundred negroes; and about eight or ten thousand

pounds upon bond," estimated at the time as about twenty thousand pounds

in all, which was further increased on the death of Patsy Custis in 1773

by a half of her fortune, which added ten thousand pounds to the sum.

Nevertheless the advantage was fairly equal, for Mrs. Custis's lawyer had

written before her marriage of the impossibility of her managing the

property, advising that she "employ a trusty steward, and as the estate is

large and very extensive, it is Mr. Wallers and my own opinion, that you

had better not engage any but a very able man, though he should require

large wages." Of the management of this property, to which, indeed, she

was unequal, Washington entirely relieved her, taking charge also of her

children's share and acting for their interests with the same care with

which he managed the part he was more directly concerned in.


He further saved her much of the detail of ordering her own clothing, and

we find him sending for "A Salmon-colored Tabby of the enclosed pattern,

with satin flowers, to be made in a sack," "1 Cap, Handkerchief, Tucker

and Ruffles, to be made of Brussels lace or point, proper to wear with the

above negligee, to cost £20," "1 pair black, and 1 pair white Satin Shoes,

of the smallest," and "1 black mask." Again he writes his London agent,

"Mrs. Washington sends home a green sack to get cleaned, or fresh dyed of

the same color; made up into a handsome sack again, would be her choice;

but if the cloth won't afford that, then to be thrown into a genteel Night

Gown." At another time he wants a pair of clogs, and when the wrong kind

are sent he writes that "she intended to have leathern Gloshoes." When she

was asked to present a pair of colors to a company, he attended to every

detail of obtaining the flag, and when "Mrs. Washington ... perceived the

Tomb of her Father ... to be much out of Sorts" he wrote to get a workman

to repair it. The care of the Mount Vernon household proving beyond his

wife's ability, a housekeeper was very quickly engaged, and when one who

filled this position was on the point of leaving, Washington wrote his

agent to find another without the least delay, for the vacancy would

"throw a great additional weight on Mrs. Washington;" again, writing in

another domestic difficulty, "Your aunt's distresses for want of a good

housekeeper are such as to render the wages demanded by Mrs. Forbes

(though unusually high) of no consideration." Her letters of form, which

required better orthography than she was mistress of, he draughted for

her, pen-weary though he was.


It has already been shown how he fathered her "little progeny," as he once

called them. Mrs. Washington was a worrying mother, as is shown by a

letter to her sister, speaking of a visit in which "I carried my little

patt with me and left Jacky at home for a trial to see how well I could

stay without him though we were gon but wone fortnight I was quite

impatient to get home. If I at aney time heard the doggs barke or a noise

out, I thought thair was a person sent for me. I often fancied he was sick

or some accident had happened to him so that I think it is impossible

for me to leave him as long as Mr. Washington must stay when he comes

down." To spare her anxiety, therefore, when the time came for "Jacky" to

be inoculated, Washington "withheld from her the information ... &

purpose, if possible, to keep her in total ignorance ... till I hear of

his return, or perfect recovery;... she having often wished that Jack

wou'd take & go through the disorder without her knowing of it, that she

might escape those Tortures which suspense wd throw her into." And on the

death of Patsy he wrote, "This sudden and unexpected blow, I scarce need

add has almost reduced my poor Wife to the lowest ebb of Misery; which is

encreas'd by the absence of her son."


When Washington left Mount Vernon, in May, 1775, to attend the Continental

Congress, he did not foresee his appointment as commander-in-chief, and as

soon as it occurred he wrote his wife,--



"I am now set down to write to you on a subject, which fills me with

inexpressible concern, and this concern is greatly aggravated and

increased, when I reflect upon the uneasiness I know it will give you. It

has been determined in Congress, that the whole army raised for the

defence of the American cause shall be put under my care, and that it is

necessary for me to proceed immediately to Boston to take upon me the

command of it.


"You may believe me, my dear Patsey, when I assure you, in the most solemn

manner, that, so far from seeking this appointment, I have used every

endeavor in my power to avoid it, not only from my unwillingness to part

with you and the family, but from a consciousness of its being a trust too

great for my capacity, and that I should enjoy more real happiness in one

month with you at home, than I have the most distant prospect of finding

abroad, if my stay were to be seven times seven years.... I shall feel no

pain from the toil or danger of the campaign; my unhappiness will flow

from the uneasiness I know you will feel from being left alone."



To prevent this loneliness as far as possible, he wrote at the same time

to different members of the two families as follows:



"My great concern upon this occasion is, the thought of leaving your

mother under the uneasiness which I fear this affair will throw her into;

I therefore hope, expect, and indeed have no doubt, of your using every

means in your power to keep up her spirits, by doing everything in your

power to promote her quiet. I have, I must confess, very uneasy feelings

on her account, but as it has been a kind of unavoidable necessity which

has led me into this appointment, I shall more readily hope that success

will attend it and crown our meetings with happiness."



"I entreat you and Mrs. Bassett if possible to visit at Mt. Vernon, as

also my wife's other friends. I could wish you to take her down, as I have

no expectation of returning till winter & feel great uneasiness at her

lonesome situation."



"I shall hope that my friends will visit and endeavor to keep up the

spirits of my wife, as much as they can, as my departure will, I know, be

a cutting stroke upon her; and on this account alone I have many very

disagreeable sensations. I hope you and my sister, (although the distance

is great), will find as much leisure this summer as to spend a little time

at Mount Vernon."



When, six months later, the war at Boston settled into a mere siege,

Washington wrote that "seeing no prospect of returning to my family and

friends this winter, I have sent an invitation to Mrs. Washington to come

to me," adding, "I have laid a state of difficulties, however, which must

attend the journey before her, and left it to her own choice." His wife

replied in the affirmative, and one of Washington's aides presently wrote

concerning some prize goods to the effect that "There are limes, lemons

and oranges on board, which, being perishable, you must sell immediately.

The General will want some of each, as well of the sweetmeats and pickles

that are on board, as his lady will be here to-day or to-morrow. You will

please to pick up such things on board as you think will be acceptable to

her, and send them as soon as possible; he does not mean to receive

anything without payment."


Lodged at head-quarters, then the Craigie house in Cambridge, the

discomforts of war were reduced to a minimum, but none the less it was a

trying time to Mrs. Washington, who complained that she could not get used

to the distant cannonading, and she marvelled that those about her paid so

little heed to it. With the opening of the campaign in the following

summer she returned to Mount Vernon, but when the army was safely in

winter quarters at Valley Forge she once more journeyed northward, a trip

alluded to by Washington in a letter to Jack, as follows: "Your Mamma is

not yet arrived, but ... expected every hour. [My aide] Meade set off

yesterday (as soon as I got notice of her intention) to meet her. We are

in a dreary kind of place, and uncomfortably provided." And of this

reunion Mrs. Washington wrote, "I came to this place, some time about the

first of February where I found the General very well,... in camp in what

is called the great valley on the Banks of the Schuylkill. Officers and

men are chiefly in Hutts, which they say is tolerably comfortable; the

army are as healthy as can be well expected in general. The General's

apartment is very small; he has had a log cabin built to dine in, which

has made our quarters much more tolerable than they were at first"


Such "winterings" became the regular custom, and brief references in

various letters serve to illustrate them. Thus, in 1779, Washington

informed a friend that "Mrs. Washington, according to custom marched home

when the campaign was about to open;" in July, 1782, he noted that his

wife "sets out this day for Mount Vernon," and later in the same year he

wrote, "as I despair of seeing my home this Winter, I have sent for Mrs.

Washington;" and finally, in a letter he draughted for his wife, he made

her describe herself as "a kind of perambulator, during eight or nine

years of the war."


Another pleasant glimpse during these stormy years is the couple, during a

brief stay in Philadelphia, being entertained almost to death, described

as follows by Franklin's daughter in a letter to her father: "I have

lately been several times abroad with the General and Mrs. Washington. He

always inquires after you in the most affectionate manner, and speaks of

you highly. We danced at Mrs. Powell's your birthday, or night I should

say, in company together, and he told me it was the anniversary of his

marriage; it was just twenty years that night" Again there was junketing

in Philadelphia after the surrender at Yorktown, and one bit of this is

shadowed in a line from Washington to Robert Morris, telling the latter

that "Mrs. Washington, myself and family, will have the honor of dining

with you in the way proposed, to-morrow, being Christmas day."


With the retirement to Mount Vernon at the close of the war, little more

companionship was obtained, for, as already stated, Washington could only

describe his home henceforth as a "well resorted tavern," and two years

after his return he entered in his diary, "Dined with only Mrs. Washington

which I believe is the first instance of it since my retirement from

public life."


Even this was only a furlough, for in six years they were both in public

life again. Mrs. Washington was inclined to sulk over the necessary

restraints of official life, writing to a friend, "Mrs. Sins will give you

a better account of the fashions than I can--I live a very dull life hear

and know nothing that passes in the town--I never goe to any public

place--indeed I think I am more like a State prisoner than anything else;

there is certain bounds set for me which I must not depart from--and as I

cannot doe as I like, I am obstinate and stay at home a great deal."






None the less she did her duties well, and in these "Lady Washington" was

more at home, for, according to Thacher, she combined "in an uncommon

degree, great dignity of manner with most pleasing affability," though

possessing "no striking marks of beauty," and there is no doubt that she

lightened Washington's shoulders of social demands materially. At the

receptions of Mrs. Washington, which were held every Friday evening, so a

contemporary states, "the President did not consider himself as visited.

On these occasions he appeared as a private gentleman, with neither hat

nor sword, conversing without restraint."


From other formal society Mrs. Washington also saved her husband, for a

visitor on New Year's tells of her setting "'the General' (by which title

she always designated her husband)" at liberty: "Mrs. Washington had stood

by his side as the visitors arrived and were presented, and when the clock

in the hall was heard striking nine, she advanced and with a complacent

smile said, 'The General always retires at nine, and I usually precede

him,' upon which all arose, made their parting salutations, and withdrew."

Nor was it only from the fatigues of formal entertaining that the wife

saved her husband, Washington writing in 1793, "We remain in Philadelphia

until the 10th instant. It was my wish to have continued there longer; but

as Mrs. Washington was unwilling to leave me surrounded by the malignant

fever which prevailed, I could not think of hazarding her, and the

Children any longer by _my_ continuance in the City, the house in which we

live being in a manner blockaded by the disorder, and was becoming every

day more and more fatal; I therefore came off with them."


Finally from these "scenes more busy, tho' not more happy, than the

tranquil enjoyment of rural life," they returned to Mount Vernon, hoping

that in the latter their "days will close." Not quite three years of this

life brought an end to their forty years of married life. On the night

that Washington's illness first became serious his secretary narrates that

"Between 2 and 3 o'clk on Saturday morning he [Washington] awoke Mrs.

Washington & told her he was very unwell, and had had an ague.

She ... would have got up to call a servant; but he would not permit her

lest she should take cold." As a consequence of this care for her, her

husband lay for nearly four hours in a chill in a cold bedroom before

receiving any attention, or before even a fire was lighted. When death

came, she said, "Tis well--All is now over--I have no more trials to pass

through--I shall soon follow him." In his will he left "to my dearly

beloved wife" the use of his whole property, and named her an executrix.


As a man's views of matrimony are more or less colored by his personal

experience, what Washington had to say on the institution is of interest.

As concerned himself he wrote to his nephew, "If Mrs. Washington should

survive me, there is a moral certainty of my dying without issue: and

should I be the longest liver, the matter in my opinion, is hardly less

certain; for while I retain the faculty of reasoning, I shall never marry

a girl; and it is not probable that I should have children by a woman of

an age suitable to my own, should I be disposed to enter into a second

marriage." And in a less personal sense he wrote to Chastellux,--



"In reading your very friendly and acceptable letter,... I was, as you

may well suppose, not less delighted than surprised to meet the plain

American words, 'my wife.' A wife! Well, my dear Marquis, I can hardly

refrain from smiling to find you are caught at last. I saw, by the

eulogium you often made on the happiness of domestic life in America, that

you had swallowed the bait, and that you would as surely be taken, one day

or another, as that you were a philosopher and a soldier. So your day has

at length come. I am glad of it, with all my heart and soul. It is quite

good enough for you. Now you are well served for coming to fight in favor

of the American rebels, all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, by catching

that terrible contagion--domestic felicity--which same, like the small pox

or the plague, a man can have only once in his life; because it commonly

lasts him (at least with us in America--I don't know how you manage these

matters in France) for his whole life time. And yet after all the

maledictions you so richly merit on the subject, the worst wish which I

can find in my heart to make against Madame de Chastellux and yourself is,

that you may neither of you ever get the better of this same domestic

felicity during the entire course of your mortal existence."



Furthermore, he wrote to an old friend, whose wife stubbornly refused to

sign a deed, "I think, any Gentleman, possessed of but a very moderate

degree of influence with his wife, might, in the course of five or six

years (for I think it is at least that time) have prevailed upon her to do

an act of justice, in fulfiling his Bargains and complying with his

wishes, if he had been really in earnest in requesting the matter of her;

especially, as the inducement which you thought would have a powerful

operation on Mrs. Alexander, namely the birth of a child, has been

doubled, and tripled."


However well Washington thought of "the honorable state," he was

no match-maker, and when asked to give advice to the widow of Jack Custis,

replied, "I never did, nor do I believe I ever shall, give advice to a

woman, who is setting out on a matrimonial voyage; first, because I never

could advise one to marry without her own consent; and, secondly because I

know it is to no purpose to advise her to refrain, when she has obtained

it. A woman very rarely asks an opinion or requires advice on such an

occasion, till her resolution is formed; and then it is with the hope and

expectation of obtaining a sanction, not that she means to be governed by

your disapprobation, that she applies. In a word the plain English of the

application may be summed up in these words: 'I wish you to think as I do;

but, if unhappily you differ from me in opinion, my heart, I must confess,

is fixed, and I have gone too far now to retract.'" Again he wrote:



"It has ever been a maxim with me through life, neither to promote nor to

prevent a matrimonial connection, unless there should be something

indispensably requiring interference in the latter. I have always

considered marriage as the most interesting event of one's life, the

foundation of happiness or misery. To be instrumental therefore in

bringing two people together, who are indifferent to each other, and may

soon become objects of disgust; or to prevent a union, which is prompted

by the affections of the mind, is what I never could reconcile with

reason, and therefore neither directly nor indirectly have I ever said a

word to Fanny or George, upon the subject of their intended connection."



The question whether Washington was a faithful husband might well be left

to the facts already given, were it not that stories of his immorality are

bandied about in clubs, a well-known clergyman has vouched for their

truth, and a United States senator has given further currency to them by

claiming special knowledge on the subject. Since such are the facts, it

seems best to consider the question and show what evidence there actually

is for these stories, that at least the pretended "letters," etc., which

are always being cited, and are never produced, may no longer have

credence put in them, and the true basis for all the stories may be known

and valued at its worth.


In the year 1776 there was printed in London a small pamphlet entitled

"Minutes of the Trial and Examination of Certain Persons in the Province

of New York," which purported to be the records of the examination of the

conspirators of the "Hickey plot" (to murder Washington) before a

committee of the Provincial Congress of New York. The manuscript of this

was claimed in the preface to have been "discovered (on the late capture

of New York by the British troops) among the papers of a person who

appears to have been secretary to the committee." As part of the evidence

the following was printed:



"William Cooper, soldier, sworn.



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


"Cooper. Being there the 21st of May, I heard John Clayford inform the

company, that Mary Gibbons was thoroughly in their interest, and that the

whole would be safe. I learnt from enquiry that Mary Gibbons was a girl

from New Jersey, of whom General Washington was very fond, that he

maintained her genteelly at a house near Mr. Skinner's,--at the North

River; that he came there very often late at night in disguise; he learnt

also that this woman was very intimate with Clayford, and made him

presents, and told him of what General Washington said.


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


"Cooper. Yes; that he was the day before with Judith, so he called her,

and that she told him, Washington had often said he wished his hands were

clear of the dirty New-Englanders, and words to that effect.


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


"Cooper. Mr. Clayford said he could easily be seized and put on board a

boat, and carried off, as his female friend had promised she would assist:

but all present thought it would be hazardous."



"William Savage, sworn.


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

any thing of this nature?


"Savage. I did, and nearly as the last evidence has declared; the society

in general refused to be concerned in it, and thought it a mad scheme.


"Mr. Abeel. Pray, Mr. Savage, have not you heard nothing of an information

that was to be given to Governor Tryon?


"Savage. Yes; papers and letters were at different times shewn to the

society, which were taken out of General Washington's pockets by Mrs.

Gibbons, and given (as she pretended some occasion of going out) to Mr.

Clayford, who always copied them, and they were put into his pockets




The authenticity of this pamphlet thus becomes of importance, and over

this little time need be spent. The committee named in it differs from the

committee really named by the Provincial Congress, and the proceedings

nowhere implicate the men actually proved guilty. In other words, the

whole publication is a clumsy Tory forgery, put forward with the same idle

story of "captured papers" employed in the "spurious letters" of

Washington, and sent forth from the same press (J. Bew) from which that

forgery and several others issued.


The source from which the English fabricator drew this scandal is

fortunately known. In 1775 a letter to Washington from his friend Benjamin

Harrison was intercepted by the British, and at once printed broadcast in

the newspapers. In this the writer gossips to Washington "to amuse you and

unbend your minds from the cares of war," as follows: "As I was in the

pleasing task of writing to you, a little noise occasioned me to turn my

head around, and who should appear but pretty little Kate, the

Washer-woman's daughter over the way, clean, trim and as rosy as the

morning. I snatched the golden, glorious opportunity, and, but for the

cursed antidote to love, Sukey, I had fitted her for my general against his

return. We were obliged to part, but not till we had contrived to meet

again: if she keeps the appointment, I shall relish a week's longer stay."

From this originated the stories of Washington's infidelity as already

given, and also a coarser version of the same, printed in 1776 in a Tory

farce entitled "The Battle of Brooklyn."


Jonathan Boucher, who knew Washington well before the Revolution, yet who,

as a loyalist, wrote in no friendly spirit of him, asserted that "in his

moral character, he is regular." A man who disliked him far more, General

Charles Lee, in the excess of his hatred, charged Washington in 1778 with

immorality,--a rather amusing impeachment, since at the very time Lee was

flaunting the evidence of his own incontinence without apparent shame,--and

a mutual friend of the accused and accuser, Joseph Reed, whose service on

Washington's staff enabled him to speak wittingly, advised that Lee

"forbear any Reflections upon the Commander in Chief, of whom for the

first time I have heard Slander on his private Character, viz., great

cruelty to his Slaves in Virginia & Immorality of Life, tho' they

acknowledge so very secret that it is difficult to detect. To me who have

had so good opportunities to know the Purity of the latter & equally

believing the Falsehood of the former from the known excellence of his

disposition, it appears so nearly bordering upon frenzy, that I can pity

the wretches rather than despise them."


Washington was too much of a man, however, to have his marriage lessen his

liking for other women; and Yeates repeats that "Mr. Washington once told

me, on a charge which I once made against the President at his own Table,

that the admiration he warmly professed for Mrs. Hartley, was a Proof of

his Homage to the worthy Part of the Sex, and highly respectful to his

Wife." Every now and then there is an allusion in his letters which shows

his appreciation of beauty, as when he wrote to General Schuyler, "Your

fair daughter, for whose visit Mrs. Washington and myself are greatly

obliged," and again, to one of his aides, "The fair hand, to whom your

letter ... was committed presented it safe."


His diary, in the notes of the balls and assemblies which he attended,

usually had a word for the sex, as exampled in: "at which there were

between 60 & 70 well dressed ladies;" "at which there was about 100 well

dressed and handsome ladies;" "at which were 256 elegantly dressed

ladies;" "where there was a select Company of ladies;" "where (it is said)

there were upwards of 100 ladies; their appearance was elegant, and many

of them very handsome;" "at wch. there were about 400 ladies the number

and appearance of wch. exceeded anything of the kind I have ever seen;"

"where there were about 75 well dressed, and many of them very handsome

ladies--among whom (as was also the case at the Salem and Boston

assemblies) were a greater proportion with much blacker hair than are

usually seen in the Southern States."


At his wife's receptions, as already said, Washington did not view himself

as host, and "conversed without restraint, generally with women, who

rarely had other opportunity of seeing him," which perhaps accounts for

the statement of another eye-witness that Washington "looked very much

more at ease than at his own official levees." Sullivan adds that "the

young ladies used to throng around him, and engaged him in conversation.

There were some of the well-remembered belles of the day who imagined

themselves to be favorites with him. As these were the only opportunities

which they had of conversing with him, they were disposed to use them." In

his Southern trip of 1791 Washington noted, with evident pleasure, that he

"was visited about 2 o'clock, by a great number of the most respectable

ladies of Charleston--the first honor of the kind I had ever experienced

and it was flattering as it was singular." And that this attention was not

merely the respect due to a great man is shown in the letter of a

Virginian woman, who wrote to her correspondent in 1777, that when

"General Washington throws off the Hero and takes up the chatty agreeable

Companion--he can be down right impudent sometimes--such impudence, Fanny,

as you and I like."


Another feminine compliment paid him was a highly laudatory poem which was

enclosed to him, with a letter begging forgiveness, to which he playfully




"You apply to me, my dear Madam, for absolution as tho' I was your father

Confessor; and as tho' you had committed a crime, great in itself, yet of

the venial class. You have reason good--for I find myself strangely

disposed to be a very indulgent ghostly adviser on this occasion; and,

notwithstanding 'you are the most offending Soul alive' (that is, if it is

a crime to write elegant Poetry,) yet if you will come and dine with me on

Thursday, and go thro' the proper course of penitence which shall be

prescribed I will strive hard to assist you in expiating these poetical

trespasses on this side of purgatory. Nay more, if it rests with me

to direct your future lucubrations, I shall certainly urge you to a

repetition of the same conduct, on purpose to shew what an admirable knack

you have at confession and reformation; and so without more hesitation, I

shall venture to command the muse, not to be restrained by ill-grounded

timidity, but to go on and prosper. You see, Madam, when once the woman

has tempted us, and we have tasted the forbidden fruit, there is no such

thing as checking our appetites, whatever the consequences may be. You

will, I dare say, recognize our being the genuine Descendants of those who

are reputed to be our great Progenitors."



Nor was Washington open only to beauty and flattery. From the rude

frontier in 1756 he wrote, "The supplicating tears of the women,... melt

me into such deadly sorrow, that I solemnly declare, if I know my own

mind, I could offer myself a willing sacrifice to the butchering enemy,

provided that would contribute to the people's ease." And in 1776 he said,

"When I consider that the city of New York will in all human probability

very soon be the scene of a bloody conflict, I cannot but view the great

numbers of women, children, and infirm persons remaining in it, with the

most melancholy concern. When the men-of-war passed up the river, the

shrieks and cries of these poor creatures running every way with their

children, were truly distressing.... Can no method be devised for their



Nevertheless, though liked by and liking the fair sex, Washington was

human, and after experience concluded that "I never again will have two

women in my house when I am there myself."










The earliest known Washington coat of arms had blazoned upon it "3 Cinque

foiles," which was the herald's way of saying that the bearer was a

landholder and cultivator, and when Washington had a book-plate made for

himself he added to the conventional design of the arms spears of wheat

and other plants, as an indication of his favorite labor. During his

career he acted several parts, but in none did he find such pleasure as in

farming, and late in life he said, "I think with you, that the life of a

husbandman of all others is the most delectable. It is honorable, it is

amusing, and, with judicious management, it is profitable. To see plants

rise from the earth and flourish by the superior skill and bounty of the

laborer fills a contemplative mind with ideas which are more easy to be

conceived than expressed." "Agriculture has ever been the most favorite

amusement of my life," he wrote after the Revolution, and he informed

another correspondent that "the more I am acquainted with agricultural

affairs, the better pleased I am with them; insomuch, that I can no where

find so great satisfaction as in those innocent and useful pursuits: In

indulging these feelings, I am led to reflect how much more delightful to

an undebauched mind is the task of making improvements on the earth, than

all the vain glory which can be acquired from ravaging it, by the most

uninterrupted career of conquests." A visitor to Mount Vernon in 1785

states that his host's "greatest pride is, to be thought the first farmer

in America. He is quite a Cincinnatus."


Undoubtedly a part of this liking flowed from his strong affection for

Mount Vernon. Such was his feeling for the place that he never seems to

have been entirely happy away from it, and over and over again, during his

various and enforced absences, he "sighs" or "pants" for his "own vine and

fig tree." In writing to an English correspondent, he shows his feeling

for the place by saying, "No estate in United America, is more pleasantly

situated than this. It lies in a high, dry and healthy country, three

hundred miles by water from the sea, and, as you will see by the plan, on

one of the finest rivers in the world."


The history of the Mount Vernon estate begins in 1674, when Lord Culpepper

conveyed to Nicholas Spencer and Lieutenant-Colonel John Washington five

thousand acres of land "scytuate Lying and being within the said terrytory

in the County of Stafford in the ffreshes of the Pottomocke River

and ... bounded betwixt two Creeks." Colonel John's half was bequeathed to

his son Lawrence, and by Lawrence's will it was left to his daughter

Mildred. She sold it to the father of George, who by his will left it to

his son Lawrence, with a reversion to George should Lawrence die without

issue. The original house was built about 1740, and the place was named

Mount Vernon by Lawrence, in honor of Admiral Vernon, under whom he had

served at Carthagena. After the death of Lawrence, the estate of

twenty-five hundred acres came under Washington's management, and from 1754

it was his home, as it had been practically even in his brother's life.


Twice Washington materially enlarged the house at Mount Vernon, the first

time in 1760 and the second in 1785, and a visitor reports, what his host

must have told him, that "its a pity he did not build a new one at

once, for it has cost him nearly as much to repair his old one." These

alterations consisted in the addition of a banquet-hall at one end (by far

the finest room in the house), and a library and dining-room at the other,

with the addition of an entire story to the whole.


The grounds, too, were very much improved. A fine approach, or bowling

green, was laid out, a "botanical garden," a "shrubbery," and greenhouses

were added, and in every way possible the place was improved. A deer

paddock was laid out and stocked, gifts of Chinese pheasants and geese,

French partridges, and guinea-pigs were sent him, and were gratefully

acknowledged, and from all the world over came curious, useful, or

beautiful plants.


The original tract did not satisfy the ambition of the farmer, and from

the time he came into the possession of Mount Vernon he was a persistent

purchaser of lands adjoining the property. In 1760 he bargained with one

Clifton for "a tract called Brents," of eighteen hundred and six acres,

but after the agreement was closed the seller, "under pretence of his wife

not consenting to acknowledge her right of dower wanted to disengage

himself ... and by his shuffling behavior convinced me of his being the

trifling body represented." Presently Washington heard that Clifton had

sold his lands to another for twelve hundred pounds, which "fully

unravelled his conduct ... and convinced me that he was nothing less than

a thorough pac'd rascall." Meeting the "rascall" at a court, "much

discourse," Washington states, "happened between him and I concerning his

ungenerous treatment of me, the whole turning to little account, 'tis not

worth reciting." After much more friction, the land was finally sold at

public auction, and "I bought it for £1210 Sterling, [and] under many

threats and disadvantages paid the money."






In 1778, when some other land was offered, Washington wrote to his agent,

"I have premised these things to shew my inability, not my unwillingness

to purchase the Lands in my own Neck at (almost) any price--& this I am

very desirous of doing if it could be accomplished by any means in my

power, in ye way of Barter for other Land--for Negroes ... or in short--for

any thing else ... but for money I cannot, I want the means." Again, in

1782, he wrote, "Inform Mr. Dulany,... that I look upon £2000 to be a

great price for his land; that my wishes to obtain it do not proceed from

its intrinsic value, but from the motives I have candidly assigned in my

other letter. That to indulge this fancy, (for in truth there is more

fancy than judgment in it) I have submitted, or am willing to submit, to

the disadvantage of borrowing as large a sum as I think this Land is

worth, in order to come at it"


By thus purchasing whenever an opportunity occurred, the property was

increased from the twenty-five hundred acres which had come into

Washington's possession by inheritance to an estate exceeding eight

thousand acres, of which over thirty-two hundred were actually under

cultivation during the latter part of its owner's life.


To manage so vast a tract, the property was subdivided into several

tracts, called "Mansion House Farm," "River Farm," "Union Farm," "Muddy

Hole Farm," and "Dogue Run Farm," each having an overseer to manage it,

and each being operated as a separate plantation, though a general

overseer controlled the whole, and each farm derived common benefit from

the property as a whole. "On Saturday in the afternoon, every week,

reports are made by all his overseers, and registered in books kept for

the purpose," and these accounts were so schemed as to show how every

negro's and laborer's time had been employed during the whole week, what

crops had been planted or gathered, what increase or loss of stock had

occurred, and every other detail of farm-work. During Washington's

absences from Mount Vernon his chief overseer sent him these reports, as

well as wrote himself, and weekly the manager received in return long

letters of instruction, sometimes to the length of sixteen pages, which

showed most wonderful familiarity with every acre of the estate and the

character of every laborer, and are little short of marvellous when

account is taken of the pressure of public affairs that rested upon their

writer as he framed them.


When Washington became a farmer, but one system of agriculture, so far as

Virginia was concerned, existed, which he described long after as follows:



"A piece of land is cut down, and kept under constant cultivation, first

in tobacco, and then in Indian corn (two very exhausting plants), until it

will yield scarcely any thing; a second piece is cleared, and treated in

the same manner; then a third and so on, until probably there is but

little more to clear. When this happens, the owner finds himself reduced

to the choice of one of three things--either to recover the land which he

has ruined, to accomplish which, he has perhaps neither the skill, the

industry, nor the means; or to retire beyond the mountains; or to

substitute quantity for quality, in order to raise something. The latter

has been generally adopted, and, with the assistance of horses, he

scratches over much ground, and seeds it, to very little purpose."



Knowing no better, Washington adopted this one-crop system, even to the

extent of buying corn and hogs to feed his hands. Though following in the

beaten track, he experimented in different kinds of tobacco, so that, "by

comparing then the loss of the one with the extra price of the other, I

shall be able to determine which is the best to pursue." The largest crop

he ever seems to have produced, "being all sweet-scented and neatly

managed," was one hundred and fifteen hogsheads, which averaged in sale

twelve pounds each.


From a very early time Washington had been a careful student of such books

on agriculture as he could obtain, even preparing lengthy abstracts of

them, and the knowledge he thus obtained, combined with his own practical

experience, soon convinced him that the Virginian system was wrong. "I

never ride on my plantations," he wrote, "without seeing something which

makes me regret having continued so long in the ruinous mode of farming,

which we are in," and he soon "discontinued the growth of tobacco myself;

[and] except at a plantation or two upon York River, I make no more of

that article than barely serves to furnish me with goods."


From this time (1765) "the whole of my force [was] in a manner confined to

the growth of wheat and manufacturing of it into flour," and before long

he boasted that "the wheat from some of my plantations, by one pair of

steelyards, will weigh upwards of sixty pounds,... and better wheat than

I now have I do not expect to make." After the Revolution he claimed that

"no wheat that has ever yet fallen under my observation exceeds the wheat

which some years ago I cultivated extensively but which, from inattention

during my absence of almost nine years from home, has got so mixed or

degenerated as scarcely to retain any of its original characteristics

properly." In 1768 he was able to sell over nineteen hundred bushels, and

how greatly his product was increased after this is shown by the fact that

in this same year he sowed four hundred and ninety bushels.


Still further study and experimentation led him to conclude that "my

countrymen are too much used to corn blades and corn shucks; and have too

little knowledge of the profit of grass lands," and after his final

home-coming to Mount Vernon, he said, "I have had it in contemplation ever

since I returned home to turn my farms to grazing principally, as fast as

I can cover the fields sufficiently with grass. Labor and of course

expence will be considerably diminished by this change, the nett profit as

great and my attention less divided, whilst the fields will be improving."

That this was only an abandonment of a "one crop" system is shown by the

fact that in 1792 he grew over five thousand bushels of wheat, valued at

four shillings the bushel, and in 1799 he said, "as a farmer, wheat and

flour are my principal concerns." And though, in abandoning the growth of

tobacco, Washington also tried "to grow as little Indian corn as may be,"

yet in 1795 his crop was over sixteen hundred barrels, and the quantity

needed for his own negroes and stock is shown in a year when his crop

failed, which "obliged me to purchase upwards of eight hundred barrels of



In connection with this change of system, Washington became an early

convert to the rotation of crops, and drew up elaborate tables sometimes

covering periods of five years, so that the quantity of each crop should

not vary, yet by which his fields should have constant change. This system

naturally very much diversified the product of his estate, and flax, hay,

clover, buckwheat, turnips, and potatoes became large crops. The scale on

which this was done is shown by the facts that in one year he sowed

twenty-seven bushels of flaxseed and planted over three hundred bushels of



Early and late Washington preached to his overseers the value of

fertilization; in one case, when looking for a new overseer, he said the

man must be, "above all, Midas like, one who can convert everything he

touches into manure, as the first transmutation towards gold;--in a word

one who can bring worn out and gullied Lands into good tilth in the

shortest time." Equally emphatic was his urging of constant ploughing and

grubbing, and he even invented a deep soil plough, which he used till he

found a better one in the English Rotheran plough, which he promptly

imported, as he did all other improved farming tools and machinery of

which he could learn. To save his woodlands, and for appearance's sake, he

insisted on live fences, though he had to acknowledge that "no hedge,

alone, will, I am persuaded, do for an outer inclosure, where _two_ or

four footed hogs find it convenient to open passage." In all things he was

an experimentalist, carefully trying different kinds of tobacco and wheat,

various kinds of plants for hedges, and various kinds of manure for

fertilizers; he had tests made to see whether he could sell his wheat to

best advantage in the grain or when made into flour, and he bred from

selected horses, cattle, and sheep. "In short I shall begrudge no

reasonable expence that will contribute to the improvement and neatness of

my Farms;--for nothing pleases me better than to see them in good order,

and everything trim, handsome, and thriving about them."


The magnitude of the charge of such an estate can be better understood

when the condition of a Virginia plantation is realized. Before the

Revolution practically everything the plantation could not produce was

ordered yearly from Great Britain, and after the annual delivery

of the invoices the estate could look for little outside help. Nor did

this change rapidly after the Revolution, and during the period of

Washington's management almost everything was bought in yearly supplies.

This system compelled each plantation to be a little world unto itself;

indeed, the three hundred souls on the Mount Vernon estate went far to

make it a distinct and self-supporting community, and one of Washington's

standing orders to his overseers was to "buy nothing you can make within

yourselves." Thus the planting and gathering of the crops were but a small

part of the work to be done.


A corps of workmen--some negroes, some indentured servants, and some hired

laborers--were kept on the estate. A blacksmith-shop occupied some, doing

not merely the work of the plantation, but whatever business was brought

to them from outside; and a wood-burner kept them and the mansion-house

supplied with charcoal. A gang of carpenters were kept busy, and their

spare time was utilized in framing houses to be put up in Alexandria, or

in the "Federal city," as Washington was called before the death of its

namesake. A brick-maker, too, was kept constantly employed, and masons

utilized the product of his labor. The gardener's gang had charge of the

kitchen-garden, and set out thousands of grape-vines, fruit-trees, and



A water-mill, with its staff, not merely ground meal for the hands, but

produced a fine flour that commanded extra price in the market In 1786

Washington asserted that his flour was "equal, I believe, in quality to

any made in this country," and the Mount Vernon brand was of such value

that some money was made by buying outside wheat and grinding it into

flour. The coopers of the estate made the barrels in which it was packed,

and Washington's schooner carried it to market.


The estate had its own shoemaker, and in time a staff of weavers was

trained. Before this was obtained, in 1760, though with only a modicum of

the force he presently had, Washington ordered from London "450 ells of

Osnabrig, 4 pieces of Brown Wools, 350 yards of Kendall Cotton, and 100

yards of Dutch blanket." By 1768 he was manufacturing the chief part of

his requirements, for in that year his weavers produced eight hundred and

fifteen and three-quarter yards of linen, three hundred and sixty-five and

one-quarter yards of woollen, one hundred and forty-four yards of linsey,

and forty yards of cotton, or a total of thirteen hundred and sixty-five

and one-half yards, one man and five negro girls having been employed.

When once the looms were well organized an infinite variety of cloths was

produced, the accounts mentioning "striped woollen, woolen plaided, cotton

striped, linen, wool-birdseye, cotton filled with wool, linsey, M.'s &

O.'s, cotton-India dimity, cotton jump stripe, linen filled with tow,

cotton striped with silk, Roman M., Janes twilled, huccabac, broadcloth,

counterpain, birdseye diaper, Kirsey wool, barragon, fustian, bed-ticking,

herring-box, and shalloon."


One of the most important features of the estate was its fishery, for the

catch, salted down, largely served in place of meat for the negroes' food.

Of this advantage Washington wrote, "This river,... is well supplied with

various kinds of fish at all seasons of the year; and, in the spring, with

the greatest profusion of shad, herrings, bass, carp, perch, sturgeon, &c.

Several valuable fisheries appertain to the estate; the whole shore, in

short, is one entire fishery." Whenever there was a run of fish, the seine

was drawn, chiefly for herring and shad, and in good years this not merely

amply supplied the home requirements, but allowed of sales; four or five

shillings the thousand for herring and ten shillings the hundred for shad

were the average prices, and sales of as high as eighty-five thousand

herring were made in a single year.


In 1795, when the United States passed an excise law, distilling became

particularly profitable, and a still was set up on the plantation. In

this whiskey was made from "Rye chiefly and Indian corn in a certain

proportion," and this not merely used much of the estate's product of

those two grains, but quantities were purchased from elsewhere. In 1798

the profit from the distillery was three hundred and forty-four pounds

twelve shillings and seven and three-quarter pence, with a stock carried

over of seven hundred and fifty-five and one-quarter gallons; but this was

the most successful year. Cider, too, was made in large quantities.


A stud stable was from an early time maintained, and the Virginia papers

regularly advertised that the stud horse "Samson," "Magnolia," "Leonidas,"

"Traveller," or whatever the reigning stallion of the moment might be,

would "cover" mares at Mount Vernon, with pasturage and a guarantee of

foal, if their owners so elected. During the Revolution Washington bought

twenty-seven of the army mares that had been "worn-down so as to render it

beneficial to the public to have them sold," not even objecting to those

"low in flesh or even crippled," because "I have many large Farms and am

improving a good deal of Land into Meadow and Pasture, which cannot fail

of being profited by a number of Brood Mares." In addition to the stud,

there were, in 1793, fifty-four draught horses on the estate.


A unique feature of this stud was the possession of two jackasses, of

which the history was curious. At that time there was a law in Spain

(where the best breed was to be found) which forbade the exportation of

asses, but the king, hearing of Washington's wish to possess a jack,

sent him one of the finest obtainable as a present, which was promptly

christened "Royal Gift." The sea-voyage and the change of climate,

however, so affected him that for a time he proved of little value

to his owner, except as a source of amusement, for Washington wrote

Lafayette, "The Jack I have already received from Spain in appearance is

fine, but his late Royal master, tho' past his grand climacteric cannot be

less moved by female allurements than he is; or when prompted, can proceed

with more deliberation and majestic solemnity to the work of procreation."

This reluctance to play his part Washington concluded was a sign of

aristocracy, and he wrote a nephew, "If Royal Gift will administer, he

shall be at the service of your Mares, but at present he seems too full of

Royalty, to have anything to do with a plebeian Race," and to Fitzhugh he

said, "particular attention shall be paid to the mares which your servant

brought, and when my Jack is in the humor, they shall derive all the

benefit of his labor, for labor it appears to be. At present tho' young,

he follows what may be supposed to be the example of his late Royal

Master, who can not, tho' past his grand climacteric, perform seldomer or

with more majestic solemnity than he does. However I am not without hope

that when he becomes a little better acquainted with republican enjoyment,

he will amend his manners, and fall into a better and more expeditious

mode of doing business." This fortunately proved to be the case, and his

master not merely secured such mules as he needed for his own use, but

gained from him considerable profit by covering mares in the neighborhood.

He even sent him on a tour through the South, and Royal Gift passed a

whole winter in Charleston, South Carolina, with a resulting profit of six

hundred and seventy-eight dollars to his owner. In 1799 there were on the

estate "2 Covering Jacks & 3 young ones, 10 she asses, 42 working mules

and 15 younger ones."


Of cattle there were in 1793 a total of three hundred and seventeen head,

including "a sufficiency of oxen broke to the yoke," and a dairy was

operated separate from the farms, and some butter was made, but Washington

had occasion to say, "It is hoped, and will be expected, that more

effectual measures will be pursued to make butter another year; for it is

almost beyond belief, that from 101 cows actually reported on a late

enumeration of the cattle, that I am obliged to _buy butter_ for the use

of my family."


Sheep were an unusual adjunct of a Virginia plantation, and of his flock

Washington wrote, "From the beginning of the year 1784 when I returned

from the army, until shearing time of 1788, I improved the breed of my

sheep so much by buying and selecting the best formed and most promising

Rams, and putting them to my best ewes, by keeping them always well culled

and clean, and by other attentions, that they averaged me ... rather over

than under five pounds of washed wool each." In another letter he said,

"I ... was proud in being able to produce perhaps the largest mutton and

the greatest quantity of wool from my sheep that could be produced. But I

was not satisfied with this; and contemplated further improvements both in

the flesh and wool by the introduction of other breeds, which I should by

this time have carried into effect, had I been permitted to pursue my

favorite occupation." In 1789, however, "I was again called from home, and

have not had it in my power since to pay any attention to my farms. The

consequence of which is, that my sheep at the last shearing, yielded me not

more than 2-1/2" pounds. In 1793 he had six hundred and thirty-four in his

flock, from which he obtained fourteen hundred and-fifty-seven pounds of

fleece. Of hogs he had "many," but "as these run pretty much at large in

the woodland, the number is uncertain." In 1799 his manager valued his

entire live-stock at seven thousand pounds.


A separate account was kept of each farm, and of many of these separate

departments, and whenever there was a surplus of any product an account

was opened to cover it. Thus in various years there are accounts raised

dealing with cattle, hay, flour, flax, cord-wood, shoats, fish, whiskey,

pork, etc., and his secretary, Shaw, told a visitor that the "books were

as regular as any merchant whatever." It is proper to note, however, that

sometimes they would not balance, and twice at least Washington could only

force one, by entering "By cash supposed to be paid away & not credited

_£_17.6.2," and "By cash lost, stolen or paid away without charging

_£_143.15.2." All these accounts were tabulated at the end of the year

and the net results obtained. Those for a single year are here given:





_Dr. gained._


Dogue Run Farm.      397.11.02

Union Farm .....     529.10.11-1/2

River Farm .....     234. 4.11

Smith's Shop....      34.12.09 1/2

Distillery .....      83.13.01

Jacks ..........      56.01

Traveller (studhorse)  9.17

Shoemaker.......      28.17.01

Fishery ........     165.12.0-3/4

Dairy ..........      30.12.03


_Cr. lost._


Mansion House...     466.18.02-1/2

Muddy Hole Farm       60.01.03-1/2

Spinning .......      51.02.0

Hire of head

   overseer ....     140.00.0


By Clear gain on

 the Estate. _£_898.16.4-1/4



A pretty poor showing for an estate and negroes which had certainly cost

him over fifty thousand dollars, and on which there was livestock which at

the lowest estimation was worth fifteen thousand dollars more. It is not

strange that in 1793 Washington attempted to find tenants for all but the

Mansion farm. This he reserved for my "own residence, occupation and

amusement," as Washington held that "idleness is disreputable," and in

1798 he told his chief overseer he did not choose to "discontinue my rides

or become a cipher on my own estate."


When at Mount Vernon, as this indicated, Washington rode daily about his

estate, and he has left a pleasant description of his life immediately

after retiring from the Presidency: "I begin my diurnal course with the

sun;... if my hirelings are not in their places at that time I send them

messages expressive of my sorrow for their indisposition;... having put

these wheels in motion, I examine the state of things further; and the

more they are probed, the deeper I find the wounds are which my buildings

have sustained by my absence and neglect of eight years; by the time

I have accomplished these matters, breakfast (a little after seven

o'clock)... is ready;... this being over, I mount my horse and ride round

my farms, which employs me until it is time to dress for dinner." A

visitor at this time is authority for the statement that the master "often

works with his men himself--strips off his coat and labors like a common

man. The General has a great turn for mechanics. It's astonishing with

what niceness he directs everything in the building way, condescending

even to measure the things himself, that all may be perfectly uniform."


This personal attention Washington was able to give only with very serious

interruptions. From 1754 till 1759 he was most of the time on the

frontier; for nearly nine years his Revolutionary service separated him

absolutely from his property; and during the two terms of his Presidency

he had only brief and infrequent visits. Just one-half of his forty-six

years' occupancy of Mount Vernon was given to public service.


The result was that in 1757 he wrote, "I am so little acquainted with the

business relative to my private affairs that I can scarce give you any

information concerning it," and this was hardly less true of the whole

period of his absences. In 1775 he engaged overseers to manage his various

estates in his absence "upon shares," but during the whole war the

plantations barely supported themselves, even with depletion of stock and

fertility, and he was able to draw nothing from them. One overseer, and a

confederate, he wrote, "I believe, divided the profits of my Estate on the

York River, tolerably betwn. them, for the devil of any thing do I get."

Well might he advise knowingly that "I have no doubt myself but that

middling land under a man's own eyes, is more profitable than rich land at

a distance." "No Virginia Estate (except a very few under the best of

management) can stand simple Interest," he declared, and went even further

when he wrote, "the nature of a Virginia Estate being such, that without

close application, it never fails bringing the proprietors in Debt

annually." "To speak within bounds," he said, "ten thousand pounds will

not compensate the losses I might have avoided by being at home, &

attending a little to my own concerns" during the Revolution.


Fortunately for the farmer, the Mount Vernon estate was but a small part

of his property. His father had left him a plantation of two hundred and

eighty acres on the Rappahannock, "one Moiety of my Land lying on Deep

Run," three lots in Frederick "with all the houses and Appurtenances

thereto belonging," and one quarter of the residuary estate. While

surveying for Lord Fairfax in 1748, as part of his compensation Washington

patented a tract of five hundred and fifty acres in Frederick County,

which he always spoke of as "My Bull-skin plantation."


As a military bounty in the French and Indian War the governor of Virginia

issued a proclamation granting Western lands to the soldiers, and under

this Washington not merely secured fifteen thousand acres in his own

right, but by buying the claims of some of his fellow officers doubled

that quantity. A further tract was also obtained under the kindred

proclamation of 1763, "5000 Acres of Land in my own right, & by purchase

from Captn. Roots, Posey, & some other officers, I obtained rights to

several thousand more." In 1786, after sales, he had over thirty thousand

acres, which he then offered to sell at thirty thousand guineas, and in

1799, when still more had been sold, his inventory valued the holdings at

nearly three hundred thousand dollars.


In addition, Washington was a partner in several great land

speculations,--the Ohio Company, the Walpole Grant, the Mississippi

Company, the Military Company of Adventures, and the Dismal Swamp Company;

but all these ventures except the last collapsed at the beginning of the

Revolution and proved valueless. His interest in the Dismal Swamp Company

he held at the time of his death, and it was valued in the inventory at

twenty thousand dollars.


The properties that came to him from his brother Lawrence and with his

wife have already been described. It may be worth noting that with the

widow of Lawrence there was a dispute over the will, but apparently it was

never carried into the courts, and that owing to the great depreciation of

paper money during the Revolution the Custis personal property was

materially lessened, for "I am now receiving a shilling in the pound in

discharge of Bonds which ought to have been paid me, & would have been

realized before I left Virginia, but for my indulgences to the debtors,"

Washington wrote, and in 1778 he said, "by the comparitive worth of money,

six or seven thousand pounds which I have in Bonds upon Interest is now

reduced to as many hundreds because I can get no more for a thousand at

this day than a hundred would have fetched when I left Virginia, Bonds,

debts, Rents, &c. undergoing no change while the currency is depreciating

in value and for ought I know may in a little time be totally sunk."

Indeed, in 1781 he complained "that I have totally neglected all my

private concerns, which are declining every day, and may, possibly, end in

capital losses, if not absolute ruin, before I am at liberty to look after



In 1784 he became partner with George Clinton in some land purchases in

the State of New York with the expectation of buying the "mineral springs

at Saratoga; and ... the Oriskany tract, on which Fort Schuyler stands."

In this they were disappointed, but six thousand acres in the Mohawk

valley were obtained "amazingly cheap." Washington's share cost him,

including interest, eighteen hundred and seventy-five pounds, and in 1793

two-thirds of the land had been sold for three thousand four hundred

pounds, and in his inventory of 1799 Washington valued what he still held

of the property at six thousand dollars.


In 1790, having inside information that the capital was to be removed from

New York to Philadelphia, Washington tried to purchase a farm near that

city, foreseeing a speedy rise in value. In this apparently he did not

succeed. Later he purchased lots in the new Federal city, and built houses

on two of them. He also had town lots in Williamsburg, Alexandria,

Winchester, and Bath. In addition to all this property there were many

smaller holdings. Much was sold or traded, yet when he died, besides his

wife's real estate and the Mount Vernon property, he possessed fifty-one

thousand three hundred and ninety-five acres, exclusive of town property.

A contemporary said "that General Washington is, perhaps, the greatest

landholder in America."


All these lands, except Mount Vernon, were, so far as possible, rented,

but the net income was not large. Rent agents were employed to look after

the tenants, but low rents, war, paper money, a shifting population, and

Washington's dislike of lawsuits all tended to reduce the receipts, and

the landlord did not get simple interest on his investments. Thus, in 1799

he complains of slow payments from tenants in Washington and Lafayette

Counties (Pennsylvania). Instead of an expected six thousand dollars, due

June 1, but seventeen hundred dollars were received.


Income, however, had not been his object in loading himself with such a

vast property, as Washington believed that he was certain to become

rich. "For proof of" the rise of land, he wrote in 1767, "only look to

Frederick, [county] and see what fortunes were made by the ... first

taking up of those lands. Nay, how the greatest estates we have in this

colony were made. Was it not by taking up and purchasing at very low rates

the rich back lands, which were thought nothing of in those days, but are

now the most valuable land we possess?"


In this he was correct, but in the mean time he was more or less

land-poor. To a friend in 1763 he wrote that the stocking and repairing of

his plantations "and other matters ... swallowed up before I well knew

where I was, all the moneys I got by marriage, nay more, brought me in

debt" In 1775, replying to a request for a loan, he declared that "so far

am I from having £200 to lend ... I would gladly borrow that sum myself

for a few months." When offered land adjoining Mount Vernon for three

thousand pounds in 1778, he could only reply that it was "a sum I have

little chance, if I had inclination, to pay; & therefore would not engage

it, as I am resolved not to incumber myself with Debt." In 1782, to secure

a much desired tract he was forced to borrow two thousand pounds York

currency at the rate of seven per cent.


In 1788, "the total loss of my crop last year by the drought" "with

necessary demands for cash" "have caused me much perplexity and given me

more uneasiness than I ever experienced before from want of money," and a

year later, just before setting out to be inaugurated, he tried to borrow

five hundred pounds "to discharge what I owe" and to pay the expenses of

the journey to New York, but was "unable to obtain more than half of it,

(though it was not much I required), and this at an advanced interest with

other rigid conditions," though at this time "could I get in one fourth

part of what is due me on Bonds" "without the intervention of suits" there

would have been ample funds. In 1795 the President said, "my friends

entertain a very erroneous idea of my particular resources, when they set

me down for a money lender, or one who (now) has a command of it. You may

believe me when I assert that the bonds which were due to me before the

Revolution, were discharged during the progress of it--with a few

exceptions in depreciated paper (in some instances as low as a shilling in

the pound). That such has been the management of the Estate, for many

years past, especially since my absence from home, now six years, as

scarcely to support itself. That my public allowance (whatever the world

may think of it) is inadequate to the expence of living in this City; to

such an extravagant height has the necessaries as well as the conveniences

of life arisen. And, moreover that to keep myself out of debt; I have

found it expedient now and then to sell Lands, or something else to effect

this purpose."






As these extensive land ventures bespoke a national characteristic, so a

liking for other forms of speculation was innate in the great American.

During the Revolution he tried to secure an interest in a privateer. One

of his favorite flyers was chances in lotteries and raffles, which, if now

found only in association with church fairs, were then not merely

respectable, but even fashionable. In 1760 five pounds and ten shillings

were invested in one lottery. Five pounds purchased five tickets in

Strother's lottery in 1763. Three years later six pounds were risked in

the York lottery and produced prizes to the extent of sixteen pounds.

Fifty pounds were put into Colonel Byrd's lottery in 1769, and drew a

half-acre lot in the town of Manchester, but out of this Washington was

defrauded. In 1791 John Potts was paid four pounds and four shillings "in

part for 20 Lottery tickets in the Alexa. street Lottery at 6/ each, 14

Dollrs. the Bal. was discharged by 2.3 Lotr prizes." Twenty tickets of

Peregrine and Fitzhugh's lottery cost one hundred and eighty-eight dollars

in 1794. And these are but samples of innumerable instances. So, too, in

raffles, the entries are constant,--"for glasses 20/," "for a Necklace

£1.," "by profit & loss in two chances in raffling for Encyclopadia

Britannica, which I did not win £1.4," two tickets were taken in the

raffle of Mrs. Dawson's coach, as were chances for a pair of silver

buckles, for a watch, and for a gun; such and many others were smaller

ventures Washington took.


There were other sources of income or loss besides. Before the Revolution

he had a good sized holding of Bank of England stock, and an annuity in

the funds, besides considerable property on bond, the larger part of

which, as already noted, was liquidated in depreciated paper money. This

paper money was for the most part put into United States securities, and

eventually the "at least £10,000 Virginia money" proved to be worth six

thousand two hundred and forty-six dollars in government six per cents and

three per cents. A great believer in the Potomac Canal Company, Washington

invested twenty-four hundred pounds sterling in the stock, which produced

no income, and in time showed a heavy shrinkage. Another and smaller loss

was an investment in the James River Canal Company. Stock holdings in the

Bank of Columbia and in the Bank of Alexandria proved profitable



None the less Washington was a successful businessman. Though his property

rarely produced a net income, and though he served the public with

practically no profit (except as regards bounty lands), and thus was

compelled frequently to dip into his capital to pay current expenses, yet,

from being a surveyor only too glad to earn a doubloon (seven dollars and

forty cents) a day, he grew steadily in wealth, and when he died his

property, exclusive of his wife's and the Mount Vernon estate, was valued

at five hundred and thirty thousand dollars. This made him one of the

wealthiest Americans of his time, and it is to be questioned if a fortune

was ever more honestly acquired or more thoroughly deserved.










In his "rules of civility" Washington enjoined that "those of high Degree

ought to treat" "Artificers & Persons of low Degree" "with affibility &

Courtesie, without Arrogancy," and it was a needed lesson to every young

Virginian, for, as Jefferson wrote, "the whole commerce between master and

slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most

insulting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the



Augustine Washington's will left to his son George "Ten negro Slaves,"

with an additional share of those "not herein particularly Devised," but

all to remain in the possession of Mary Washington until the boy was

twenty-one years of age. With his taking possession of the Mount Vernon

estate in his twenty-second year eighteen more came under Washington's

direction. In 1754 he bought a "fellow" for £40.5, another (Jack) for

£52.5, and a negro woman (Clio) for £50. In 1756 he purchased of the

governor a negro woman and child for £60, and two years later a fellow

(Gregory) for £60.9. In the following year (the year of his marriage) he

bought largely: a negro (Will) for £50; another for £60; nine for £406, an

average of £45; and a woman (Hannah) and child, £80. In 1762 he added to

the number by purchasing seven of Lee Massey for £300 (an average of £43),

and two of Colonel Fielding Lewis at £115, or £57.10 apiece. From the

estate of Francis Hobbs he bought, in 1764, Ben, £72; Lewis, £36.10; and

Sarah, £20. Another fellow, bought of Sarah Alexander, cost him £76; and a

negro (Judy) and child, sold by Garvin Corbin, £63. In 1768 Mary Lee sold

him two mulattoes (Will and Frank) for £61.15 and £50, respectively; and

two boys (negroes), Adam and Frank, for £19 apiece. Five more were

purchased in 1772, and after that no more were bought. In 1760 Washington

paid tithes on forty-nine slaves, five years later on seventy-eight, in

1770 on eighty-seven, and in 1774 on one hundred and thirty-five; besides

which must be included the "dower slaves" of his wife. Soon after this

there was an overplus, and Washington in 1778 offered to barter for some

land "Negroes, of whom I every day long more to get clear of," and even

before this he had learned the economic fact that except on the richest of

soils slaves "only add to the Expence."


In 1791 he had one hundred and fifteen "hands" on the Mount Vernon estate,

besides house servants, and De Warville, describing his estate in the same

year, speaks of his having three hundred negroes. At this time Washington

declared that "I never mean (unless some particular circumstance compel me

to it) to possess another slave by purchase," but this intention was

broken, for "The running off of my cook has been a most inconvenient thing

to this family, and what rendered it more disagreeable, is that I had

resolved never to become the Master of another slave by purchase, but this

resolution I fear I must break. I have endeavored to hire, black or white,

but am not yet supplied."


A few more slaves were taken in payment of a debt, but it was from

necessity rather than choice, for at this very time Washington had decided

that "it is demonstratively clear, that on this Estate (Mount Vernon) I

have more working negros by a full moiety, than can be employed to any

advantage in the farming system, and I shall never turn Planter thereon.

To sell the overplus I cannot, because I am principled against this kind

of traffic in the human species. To hire them out, is almost as bad,

because they could not be disposed of in families to any advantage, and to

disperse the families I have an aversion. What then is to be done?

Something must or I shall be ruined; for all the money (in addition to

what I raise by crops, and rents) that have been _received_ for Lands,

sold within the last four years, to the amount of Fifty thousand dollars,

has scarcely been able to keep me afloat." And writing of one set he said,

"it would be for my interest to set them free, rather than give them

victuals and cloaths."


The loss by runaways was not apparently large. In October, 1760, his

ledger contains an item of seven shillings "To the Printing Office ... for

Advertising a run-a-way Negro." In 1761 he pays his clergyman, Rev. Mr.

Green, "for taking up one of my Runaway Negroes £4." In 1766 rewards are

paid for the "taking up" of "Negro Tom" and "Negro Bett." The "taking up

of Harry when Runaway" in 1771 cost £1.16. When the British invaded

Virginia in 1781, a number escaped or were carried away by the enemy. By

the treaty of peace these should have been returned, and their owner

wrote, "Some of my own slaves, and those of Mr. Lund Washington who lives

at my house may probably be in New York, but I am unable to give you their

description--their names being so easily changed, will be fruitless to

give you. If by chance you should come at the knowledge of any of them, I

will be much obliged by your securing them, so that I may obtain them



In 1796 a girl absconded to New England, and Washington made inquiries of

a friend as to the possibility of recovering her, adding, "however well

disposed I might be to a gradual abolition, or even to an entire

emancipation of that description of people (if the latter was in itself

practicable) at this moment, it would neither be politic nor just to

reward unfaithfulness with a premature preference, and thereby discontent

beforehand the minds of all her fellow servants, who, by their steady

attachment, are far more deserving than herself of favor," and at this

time Washington wrote to a relative, "I am sorry to hear of the loss of

your servant; but it is my opinion these elopements will be much more,

before they are less frequent; and that the persons making them should

never be retained--if they are recovered, as they are sure to contaminate

and discontent others."


Another source of loss was sickness, which, in spite of all Washington

could do, made constant inroads on the numbers. A doctor to care for them

was engaged by the year, and in the contracts with his overseers clauses

were always inserted that each was "to take all necessary and proper care

of the Negroes committed to his management using them with proper humanity

and descretion," or that "he will take all necessary and proper care of

the negroes committed to his management, treating them with humanity and

tenderness when sick, and preventing them when well, from running about

and visiting without his consent; as also forbid strange negroes

frequenting their quarters without lawful excuses for so doing."


Furthermore, in writing to his manager, while absent from Mount Vernon,

Washington reiterated that "although it is last mentioned it is foremost

in my thoughts, to desire you will be particularly attentive to my negros

in their sickness; and to order every overseer _positively_ to be so

likewise; for I am sorry to observe that the generality of them view these

poor creatures in scarcely any other light than they do a draught horse or

ox; neglecting them as much when they are unable to work; instead of

comforting and nursing them when they lye on a sick bed." And in another

letter he added, "When I recommended care of, and attention to my negros

in sickness, it was that the first stage of, and the whole progress

through the disorders with which they might be seized (if more than a

slight indisposition) should be closely watched, and timely applications

and remedies be administered; especially in the pleurisies, and all

inflammatory disorders accompanied with pain, when a few days' neglect, or

want of bleeding might render the ailment incurable. In such cases

sweeten'd teas, broths and (according to the nature of the complaint, and

the doctor's prescription) sometimes a little wine, may be necessary to

nourish and restore the patient; and these I am perfectly willing to

allow, when it is requisite. My fear is, as I expressed to you in a former

letter, that the under overseers are so unfeeling, in short viewing the

negros in no other light than as a better kind of cattle, the moment they

cease to work, they cease their care of them."


At Mount Vernon his care for the slaves was more personal. At a time when

the small-pox was rife in Virginia he instructed his overseer "what to do

if the Small pox should come amongst them," and when he "received letters

from Winchester, informing me that the Small pox had got among my quarters

in Frederick; [I] determin'd ... to leave town as soon as possible, and

proceed up to them.... After taking the Doctors directions in regard to my

people ... I set out for my quarters about 12 oclock, time enough to go

over them and found every thing in the utmost confusion, disorder and

backwardness.... Got Blankets and every other requisite from Winchester,

and settl'd things on the best footing I cou'd, ... Val Crawford agreeing

if any of those at the upper quarter got it, to have them remov'd into my

room and the Nurse sent for."


Other sickness was equally attended to, as the following entries in his

diary show: "visited my Plantations and found two negroes sick ... ordered

them to be blooded;" "found that lightening had struck my quarters and

near 10 Negroes in it, some very bad but with letting blood they

recover'd;" "ordered Lucy down to the House to be Physikd," and "found the

new negro Cupid, ill of a pleurisy at Dogue Run Quarter and had him brot

home in a cart for better care of him.... Cupid extremely Ill all this day

and at night when I went to bed I thought him within a few hours of

breathing his last."


This matter of sickness, however, had another phase, which caused

Washington much irritation at times when he could not personally look into

the cases, but heard of them through the reports of his overseers. Thus,

he complained on one occasion, "I find by reports that Sam is, in a

manner, always returned sick; Doll at the Ferry, and several of the

spinners very frequently so, for a week at a stretch; and ditcher Charles

often laid up with lameness. I never wish my people to work when they are

really sick, or unfit for it; on the contrary, that all necessary care

should be taken of them when they are so; but if you do not examine into

their complaints, they will lay by when no more ails them, than all those

who stick to their business, and are not complaining from the fatigue and

drowsiness which they feel as the effect of night walking and other

practices which unfit them for the duties of the day." And again he asked,

"Is there anything particular in the cases of Ruth, Hannah and Pegg, that

they have been returned sick for several weeks together? Ruth I know is

extremely deceitful; she has been aiming for some time past to get into

the house, exempt from work; but if they are not made to do what their age

and strength will enable them, it will be a bad example for others--none

of whom would work if by pretexts they can avoid it"


Other causes than running away and death depleted the stock. One negro was

taken by the State for some crime and executed, an allowance of sixty-nine

pounds being made to his master. In 1766 an unruly negro was shipped to

the West Indies (as was then the custom), Washington writing the captain

of the vessel,--



"With this letter comes a negro (Tom) which I beg the favor of you to sell

in any of the islands you may go to, for whatever he will fetch, and bring

me in return for him

   "One hhd of best molasses

   "One ditto of best rum

   "One barrel of lymes, if good and cheap

   "One pot of tamarinds, containing about 10 lbs.

   "Two small ditto of mixed sweetmeats, about 5 lbs. each.

And the residue, much or little, in good old spirits. That this fellow is

both a rogue and a runaway (tho' he was by no means remarkable for the

former, and never practised the latter till of late) I shall not pretend

to deny. But that he is exceeding healthy, strong, and good at the hoe,

the whole neighborhood can testify, and particularly Mr. Johnson and his

son, who have both had him under them as foreman of the gang; which gives

me reason to hope he may with your good management sell well, if kept

clean and trim'd up a little when offered for sale."



Another "misbehaving fellow" was shipped off in 1791, and was sold for

"one pipe and Quarter Cask of wine from the West Indies." Sometimes only

the threat of such riddance was used, as when an overseer complained of

one slave, and his master replied, "I am very sorry that so likely a

fellow as Matilda's Ben should addict himself to such courses as he is

pursuing. If he should be guilty of any atrocious crime, that would effect

his life, he might be given up to the civil authority for trial; but for

such offences as most of his color are guilty of, you had better try

further correction, accompanied with admonition and advice. The two latter

sometimes succeed where the first has failed. He, his father and mother

(who I dare say are his receivers) may be told in explicit language, that

if a stop is not put to his rogueries and other villainies, by fair means

and shortly, that I will ship him off (as I did Wagoner Jack) for the West

Indies, where he will have no opportunity of playing such pranks as he is

at present engaged in."


It is interesting to note, in connection with this conclusion, that

"admonition and advice" were able to do what "correction" sometimes failed

to achieve, that there is not a single order to whip, and that the above

case, and that which follows, are the only known cases where punishment

was approved. "The correction you gave Ben, for his assault on Sambo, was

just and proper. It is my earnest desire that quarrels may be stopped or

punishment of both parties follow, unless it shall appear _clearly_,

that one only is to blame, and the other forced into [a quarrel] from

self-defence." In one other instance Washington wrote, "If Isaac had his

deserts he would receive a severe punishment for the house, tools and

seasoned stuff, which has been burned by his carelessness." But instead of

ordering the "deserts" he continued, "I wish you to inform him, that I

sustain injury enough by their idleness; they need not add to it by their



This is the more remarkable, because his slaves gave him constant

annoyance by their wastefulness and sloth and dishonesty. Thus, "Paris has

grown to be so lazy and self-willed" that his master does not know what to

with him; "Doll at the Ferry must be taught to knit, and _made_ to do a

sufficient day's work of it--otherwise (if suffered to be idle) many more

will walk in her steps"; "it is observed by the weekly reports, that the

sewers make only six shirts a week, and the last week Carolina (without

being sick) made only five. Mrs. Washington says their usual task was to

make nine with shoulder straps and good sewing. Tell them therefore from

me, that what _has_ been done, _shall_ be done"; "none I think call louder

for [attention] than the smiths, who, from a variety of instances which

fell within my own observation whilst I was at home, I take to be two very

idle fellows. A daily account (which ought to be regularly) taken of their

work, would alone go a great way towards checking their idleness." And the

overseer was told to watch closely "the people who are at work with the

gardener, some of whom I know to be as lazy and deceitful as any in the

world (Sam particularly)."


Furthermore, the overseers were warned to "endeavor to make the Servants

and Negroes take care of their cloathes;" to give them "a weekly

allowance of Meat ... because the annual one is not taken care of but

either profusely used or stolen"; and to note "the delivery to and the

application of nails by the carpenters,... [for] I cannot conceive how it

is possible that 6000 twelve penny nails could be used in the corn house

at River Plantation; but of one thing I have no great doubt, and that is,

if they can be applied to other uses, or converted into cash, rum or other

things there will be no scruple in doing it."


When robbed of some potatoes, Washington complained that "the

deception ... is of a piece with other practices of a similar kind by which

I have suffered hitherto; and may serve to evince to you, in strong colors,

first how little confidence can be placed in any one round you; and

secondly the necessity of an accurate inspection into these things

yourself,--for to be plain, Alexandria is such a recepticle for every thing

that can be filched from the right owners, by either blacks or whites; and

I have such an opinion of my negros (two or three only excepted), and not

much better of some of the whites, that I am perfectly sure not a single

thing that can be disposed of at any price, at that place, that will not,

and is not stolen, where it is possible; and carried thither to some of the

underlying keepers, who support themselves by this kind of traffick." He

dared not leave wine unlocked, even for the use of his guests, "because

the knowledge I have of my servants is such, as to believe, that if

opportunities are given them, they will take off two glasses of wine for

every one that is drank by such visitors, and tell you they were used by

them." And when he had some work to do requiring very ordinary qualities,

he had to confess that "I know not a negro among all mine, whose capacity,

integrity and attention could be relied on for such a trust as this."


Whatever his opinion of his slaves, Washington was a kind master. In one

case he wrote a letter for one of them when the "fellow" was parted from

his wife in the service of his master, and at another time he enclosed

letters to a wife and to James's "del Toboso," for two of his servants, to

save them postage. In reference to their rations he wrote, "whether this

addition ... is sufficient, I will not undertake to decide;--but in most

explicit language I desire they may have plenty; for I will not have my

feelings hurt with complaints of this sort, nor lye under the imputation

of starving my negros, and thereby driving them to the necessity of

thieving to supply the deficiency. To prevent waste or embezzlement is the

only inducement to allowancing of them at all--for if, instead of a peck

they could eat a bushel of meal a week fairly, and required it, I would

not withhold or begrudge it them." At Christmas-time there are entries in

his ledger for whiskey or rum for "the negroes," and towards the end of

his life he ordered the overseer, "although others are getting out of the

practice of using spirits at Harvest, yet, as my people have always been

accustomed to it, a hogshead of Rum must be purchased; but I request at

the same time, that it may be used sparingly."


A greater kindness of his was, in 1787, when he very much desired a negro

mason offered for sale, yet directed his agent that "if he has a family,

with which he is to be sold; or from whom he would reluctantly part, I

decline the purchase; his feelings I would not be the means of hurting in

the latter case, nor _at any rate_ be incumbered with the former."


The kindness thus indicated bore fruit in a real attachment of the slaves

for their master. In Humphreys's poem on Washington the poet alluded to

the negroes at Mount Vernon in the lines,--



"Where that foul stain of manhood, slavery, flow'd

Through Afric's sons transmitted in the blood;

Hereditary slaves his kindness shar'd,

For manumission by degrees prepar'd:

Return'd from war, I saw them round him press,

And all their speechless glee by artless signs express."



And in a foot-note the writer added, "The interesting scene of his return

home, at which the author was present, is described exactly as it



A single one of these slaves deserves further notice. His body-servant

"Billy" was purchased by Washington in 1768 for sixty-eight pounds and

fifteen shillings, and was his constant companion during the war, even

riding after his master at reviews; and this servant was so associated

with the General that it was alleged in the preface to the "forged

letters" that they had been captured by the British from "Billy," "an old

servant of General Washington's." When Savage painted his well-known

"family group," this was the one slave included in the picture. In 1784

Washington told his Philadelphia agent that "The mulatto fellow, William,

who has been with me all the war, is attached (married he says) to one of

his own color, a free woman, who during the war, was also of my family.

She has been in an infirm condition for some time, and I had conceived

that the connexion between them had ceased; but I am mistaken it seems;

they are both applying to get her here, and tho' I never wished to see her

more, I cannot refuse his request (if it can be complied with on

reasonable terms) as he has served me faithfully for many years. After

premising this much, I have to beg the favor of you to procure her a

passage to Alexandria."






When acting as chain-bearer in 1785, while Washington was surveying a

tract of land, William fell and broke his knee-pan, "which put a stop to

my surveying; and with much difficulty I was able to get him to Abington,

being obliged to get a sled to carry him on, as he could neither walk,

stand or ride." From this injury Lee never quite recovered, yet he started

to accompany his master to New York in 1789, only to give out on the road.

He was left at Philadelphia, and Lear wrote to Washington's agent that

"The President will thank you to propose it to Will to return to Mount

Vernon when he can be removed for he cannot be of any service here, and

perhaps will require a person to attend upon him constantly. If he should

incline to return to Mount Vernon, you will be so kind as to have him sent

in the first Vessel that sails for Alexandria after he can be moved with

safety--but if he is still anxious to come on here the President would

gratify him, altho' he will be troublesome--He has been an old and

faithful Servant, this is enough for the President to gratify him in every

reasonable wish."


By his will Washington gave Lee his "immediate freedom or if he should

prefer it (on account of the accidents which have befallen him and which

have rendered him incapable of walking or of any active employment) to

remain in the situation he now is, it shall be optional in him to do so--

In either case however I allow him an annuity of thirty dollars during his

natural life which shall be independent of the victuals and _cloaths_ he

has been accustomed to receive; if he _chuses_ the last alternative, but

in full with his freedom, if he prefers the first, and this I give him as

a testimony of my sense of his attachment to me and for his faithful

services during the Revolutionary War."


Two small incidents connected with Washington's last illness are worth

noting. The afternoon before the night he was taken ill, although he had

himself been superintending his affairs on horseback in the storm most of

the day, yet when his secretary "carried some letters to him to frank,

intending to send them to the Post Office in the evening," Lear tells us

"he franked the letters; but said the weather was too bad to send a

servant up to the office that evening." Lear continues, "The General's

servant, Christopher, attended his bed side & in the room, when he was

sitting up, through his whole illness.... In the [last] afternoon the

General observing that Christopher had been standing by his bed side for a

long time--made a motion for him to sit in a chair which stood by the bed



A clause in Washington's will directed that



"Upon the decease of my wife it is my will and desire that all the

slaves which I hold in _my own right_ shall receive their freedom--To

emancipate them during her life, would, tho' earnestly wished by me, be

attended with such insuperable difficulties, on account of their

intermixture of marriages with the Dower negroes as to excite the most

painful sensations--if not disagreeable consequences from the latter,

while both descriptions are in the occupancy of the same proprietor, it

not being in my power under the tenure by which the dower Negroes are held

to manumit them--And whereas among those who will receive freedom

according to this devise there may be some who from old age, or bodily

infirmities & others who on account of their infancy, that will be unable

to support themselves, it is my will and desire that all who come under

the first and second description shall be comfortably cloathed and fed by

my heirs while they live and that such of the latter description as have

no parents living, or if living are unable or unwilling to provide for

them, shall be bound by the Court until they shall arrive at the age of

twenty five years.... The negroes thus bound are (by their masters and

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 £4.0.0." "The Chambermaid

£1.2.6." When the wife of his old steward, Fraunces, came to need, he gave

her "for Charity £1.17.6." 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



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 £1.;" "By a begging woman /5;" "By Cash gave for the

Sufferers at Boston by fire £12;" "By a wounded soldier 10/;" "Alexandria

Academy, support of a teacher of Orphan children £50;" "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