Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTERS TO ANTHONY WHITING, 1792. 1 - The Writings of George Washington, vol. XII (1790-1794)
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LETTERS TO ANTHONY WHITING, 1792. 1 - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. XII (1790-1794) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. XII (1790-1794).
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LETTERS TO ANTHONY WHITING, 1792.1
I would have the gardener also, with these people, if the autumn is a proper season for it, if not, without fail, in the Spring, plant cuttings of the weeping willow, yellow willow or Lombardy poplar, preferring the first and last mentioned, at a distance of a foot or 18 inches apart from the Smith’s shop, quite as the post and rail fence runs around both these inclosures;—and also the vine yard inclosure;—also that lately sown in Lucern from the ster-corary to the river fence; that by entwining them as they grow up I may have a substitute for the fences that are now there. To do this, is of the utmost importance to my interest; as it also is in a more essential degree, to supply by hedges of this, or some other kind all my other fences; as well the exterior ones as those which separate the different fields from one another. I have labored to effect this latter point for years. I have pressed it, and pressed it again, but, strange to tell! the season has either been suffered to pass away before it is set about; or it has either been set about improperly; or no care has been taken afterwards to preserve and nourish the young plants so as to fit them for the purpose they were intended. Let me therefore in the strongest terms possible, call your attention to this business, as one, than which nothing is nearer both to my interest and wishes; first, because it is indispensably necessary to save timber and labor; and secondly, because it is ornamental to the farm, and reputable to the farmer. * * *
Let the hands at the Mansion House grub well, and perfectly prepare the old clover lot at the Mansion House for whatever you may incline to put into it, preparatory for grass, with which it is to be laid down. When I say grub well, I mean that everything, which is not to remain as trees, should be taken up by the roots, so as that the plow may meet with no interruption, and the field lye perfectly smooth for the scythe. Let this, I earnestly request, be received as a general and positive direction; for I seriously assure you, that I had rather have one acre cleared in this manner, than four in the common mode; especially in all grounds designed for grass; and for the reasons which I have often mentioned to you. It is a great and very disagreeable eye-sore to me, as well as a real injury in the loss of labor and the crop (ultimately), and the destruction of scythes, to have foul meadows. * * *
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. I lost more negros last winter than I had done in 12 or 15 years before, put them altogether. If their disorders are not common, and the mode of treating them plain, simple and well understood, send for Doctor Craik in time. In the last stage of the complaint it is unavailing to do it. It is incurring an expense for nothing.
I shall now briefly say, that the trust I have reposed in you is great, and my confidence that you will faithfully discharge it, is commensurate thereto. I am persuaded of your abilities, industry and integrity; cautioning you only against undertaking more than you can execute well, under almost any circumstances, and against (but this I have no cause to suspect) being absent from your business; as the example, be it good or bad, will be followed by all those who look up to you. Keep every one in their places, and to their duty; relaxation from, or neglects in small matters, lead to like attempts in matters of greater magnitude, and are often trials in the under-overseers to see how far they durst go. * * * 14 October, 1792.
* * * It is not to be wondered at that the field No. 7 at the River Plantation should want a new post and rail fence, when it is seen what kind my people make (in spite of all I can do to prevent it); that is, posts when morticed that a strong man could break across his knee, and rails so long, and so weak, as to warp or be unable to bear the weight of a child in getting over them. This custom I hope you will get the better of. * * *
I suppose it was owing to the hurry and distress in which Mrs. Fanny Washington was at the time she left Mount Vernon that a little wine, &c., was not left out for extraordinary occasions; because I know it was intended—but not for sick negros, unless it might be in particular cases which rendered it indispensably necessary; for Dr. Craik never practiced anything of this kind when Mrs. Washington and myself were at home, or even suggested it as necessary. Nor was it my intention to leave it for the purpose of entertaining travellers, because there is a striking impropriety in travellers making use of it as a house of convenience, knowing, as they certainly must do, that neither my family nor the Major’s, is there; and when it is far removed from the post, or any other public road. And if people were led there by curiosity, as soon as that was satisfied, they would retire, without expecting, under the circumstances just mentioned, to be invited to lodge, dine, or spend their time there. However, as it may happen that characters to whom one would wish to shew civility, and others, that may have a line from me (as was the case the other day with the Hon’ble Judge Cushing) may call there, I shall, by a vessel which will leave this according to the master’s account on Thursday next, send you a little wine, tea and coffee, along with the iron, and some things which will accompany it.
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 really 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. * * * 28 October, 1792.
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, by my nephews George and Lawrence Washington, 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. For if this should happen under present circumstances, my affairs, in the absence of both the Major and myself, will be thrown into a disagreeable situation. 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 directions for the use of the sick, I desire you will make use of as your own personal occasions may require. * * *
It would be difficult for me, if I was ever so well disposed, to procure the full quantity of clover seed mentioned in your memorandum, as it is (from such information as I have received) both scarce and dear in these parts. But while I am on this subject, I beg that whatever you do sow (if covered at all) may be very slightly covered. Harrowing clover seed, in the vicinity of this city [Philadelphia], is quite disused, and I never saw better clover any where than is about it. Five or six pounds of seed, if they can depend upon its goodness, is all they allow to an acre, and in no case more than 10 lbs., or as many pints. I mention these things for your government; and that from experience they find no better season for sowing than towards the last of winter, or opening of the spring, on winter grain, leaving it to the snow or frosts to bury the seeds. * * *
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. Lame Peter, if no body else will, must teach her, and she must be brought to the house for that purpose.
Tell house Frank I expect he will lay up a more plentious store of the black common walnut than he usually does. Nor ought he to spend his time wholly in idleness. 4 November, 1792.
* * * I send you also, under cover with this letter, some seeds, which were given to me by an English farmer from the county of Essex, in England, lately arrived in this country to settle, and who appears to be a very sensible and judicious man, and a person of property. He also gave me a pamphlet upon the construction of the kind of plough, which he has used for many years; and the principles for putting the parts together, to make it work true and easy, which I will send to you so soon as I shall receive it from a gentlemen to whom I lent it. The plough is simple in its make. The oats, which he gave me as a sample, exceed very little, if any, what I have grown myself. They may, however, in the spring be put into the ground by single seeds, to try what can be made of them. The cattle cabbage may also be tried.
Mr. Lambert, the name of the farmer from whom I had these things, says that the land, on which he and his father before him have lived for fifty or sixty years, is a stiff white clay; and, being at a distance from any source of manure, besides that which is made on the farm, they have pursued a different mode of cropping from that which is usually followed in England; and by so doing, with the aid of the internal manure of the farm, they have brought their poor, stiff land, which originally did not yield them more than five or six bushels of wheat to the acre, and other grain in proportion, to produce very generally from twenty-five to thirty of wheat, and from forty to fifty of barley. Their method has been to keep the arable land always perfectly clean, and alternately in crop or fallow; that is, to take a corn crop from it one year, and have it under the plough in a naked fallow, by way of preparation for the next crop, the next year; beginning this fallow in the autumn, when the ground is dry, again in the spring, as soon as it becomes dry, and three or four times after, before seeding for wheat (if wheat is the crop); never ploughing it wet, which is the cause, he says, of its running. He seems to understand the principles as well as the practice of husbandry, being a sensible man, and inured for a number of years (I suppose he is sixty) to the labor and practice of it. He has travelled a good deal about this country, and is of opinion that our great error lies in not keeping our arable land clean, and free from weeds. I observed to him, that the people of this country are of opinion, that naked fallows under our hot sun are injurious. He will not by any means admit the principle or the fact; but ascribes the impoverished state of our lands and bad crops to the weeds which he everywhere sees, and which both exhaust and foul it. By constant ploughing, these, he says, are eradicated; and when the fields come to be laid in grass, which is sown, the hay will be pure and unmixed with any thing hurtful to it. * * *
Desire Thomas Green to date his reports. That of the week before last I send back for explanation of his measurement of the sawing. I fancy it will puzzle him to make out 508 feet in the twenty-four plank there set down; for, as plank, length and breadth only could be measured. This would amount to no more than 296 feet. As scantling, length and side and edge would be measured, and this would give only about 310 or 312 feet. If he goes on at this rate, he will, in appearance, amend their work, though it will not in reality be any better. But, admitting that the true admeasurement was 508 feet, this would make but a miserable quantity for the time they were about it. That these people (sawyers I mean) may have no pretence for such idleness, not only get them two saws, but let them be of the largest and best kind. * * *
How does your growing wheat look at this time? I hope no appearance of the Hessian fly is among it. On Patuxent, not far from you, I am told it is making such havoc amongst the growing wheat, as to render it necessary to sow over again. I am sorry to find No. 1, at French’s, turn out so poor a crop of wheat, and that the fields at Muddy Hole have yielded still worse. How much wheat at that place came off the lot by the overseer’s house?
In ploughing fields No. 3 and No. 4, Dogue Run, let them be so begun as that the rows when planted may run north and south, or as nearly so as the situation of the fields will admit.
In making your weekly reports, instead of referring to the preceding week or weeks, for the state of your stock of different kinds, enumerate the number of each. I shall have it in my power then to see at one view the precise state of it without resorting to old accounts. And let me entreat, that you will examine them yourself, frequently, as a check upon the overseers; without which, rather than be themselves at the trouble of counting them, they will make you that kind of general report. * * *
P. S. In clearing the wood, mark a road by an easy and graduated ascent from the marsh or low ground, up the hollow which leads into the lot beyond the fallen chestnut, about midway of the lot; and leave the trees standing thick on both sides of it, for a shade to it. On the west side of this hollow, if I recollect rightly, there was an old road formerly, but not laid out agreeably to the directions here given. It would look well, and perhaps might be convenient, if there was a road on both sides of this hollow, notwithstanding the hill-side on the east is steep. At any rate, trees where the road would go, if made, might be left for future decision, as they might also be along the side of the low land at the foot of the hill quite from the wharf to the gate by Richard’s house. If that meadow should ever be thoroughly reclaimed, and in good grass, a walk along the edge of it would be an agreeable thing; and leaving trees for this purpose may not be amiss, as they may at any time be removed, although time only can restore them if taken away in the first instance. And this would be a good general rule for you to observe in other parts of the same ground; as, if too thick, they can always be thinned; but, if too thin, there is no remedy but time to retrieve the error. 11 November, 1792.
Your letter of the 9th came to my hands last night, and though I am much hurried will briefly observe that I had rather repair my seins and fish myself, than hire the landing with the negros. If a good price could be obtained for the landing without the negros, and an express prohibition of wagons coming thither, I should like and would prefer that. But at any rate repair and keep the seins dry and out of the way of mice, that you may have an alternative. In the meanwhile give it out, and make it as public as you can, that the landing alone, or landing and boat (with the prohibition above) is to be rented; but that the person renting it is to furnish me with a certain quantity of shad and herring, to be specified in the early part of the season. Or if the boat is reserved, I could easily catch what fish I should want at the landing by Bishop’s house, which used to be, and no doubt still is, a good fishery. * * * 14 November, 1792.
* * * As you think (as I do also) that the new part of the old clover lot at the Mansion House had better be in potatoes, perhaps it would be well to apply those you have to this purpose; and instead of cultivating field No. 4 at Dogue Run in this article, let it lay over, and in lieu thereof, fallow (with buckwheat for manure) No. 1. at that place, for wheat. This is the rotation I had marked out for that plantation before you suggested potatoes for No. 4 next year. By this alteration the last mentioned field will, as was intended, come into corn in 1794; succeeding No. 3, which will be in that article next year, and succeeded by No. 5 the year following, that is in 1795, and so on, bringing them all on with corn, in the order of their numbers. And this, considering you have not a sufficiency of potatoes for both purposes (and I find it too expensive, and too much unlike a farmer to be always upon the purchase of my seeds), and that by the double dressing with green manure may be got in fine order for wheat, if you can prepare and sow it with buckwheat early in the Spring, to be plowed in before harvest, when seed enough is ripe to bring forward a second crop for plowing in timously for wheat seeding. I feel more inclination for the adoption of this plan than I do for planting No. 4. at Dogue Run with the potatoes you have, especially as the quantity on hand are inadequate to the demands of that field, and because they are at the Mansion House in readiness for the other purpose. * * *
I am very willing, nay desirous, that part of the vineyard inclosure should be appropriated to raising any and all kind of plants fit for hedging, or to repair hedges. Those of the most valuable and scarcer kind of plants for this purpose may receive nourishment in my little garden, as the firze, for instance. But I am of opinion that all such hedges as are to be raised from the seed, for instance, cedar, honey locust, white thorn, sycamore, &c. &c., had better be sown in places where they are to remain, having the ground well prepared previous to the reception of it, and well attended to afterwards, for I have been very unsuccessful in all my transplantation. * * *
I perceive by the last report that 8 sheep are missing, but that it is not known whether taken from Dogue Run, or the Ferry, or French’s. This confirms what I observed to you, in my last, or one of my last letters, viz, that the overseers know very little of what relates to their own stock, giving in the number from old reports instead of from actual weekly counting; by which means half my stock may be stolen, or eaten, before they are missed:—whereas a weekly, or even a more frequent count of the sheep, and inspection of the hogs (articles most likely to be depredated upon) would prevent, or if not prevent, enable them to pursue while the scent was hot, those atrocious villainies, and either bring them to light or so alarm the perpetrators of them, as to make them less frequent. As the overseers, I believe, conduct matters, a sheep or hog or two, may every week be taken without suspicion of it for months. An enquiry then comes too late; and I shall have to submit to one robbery after another, until I shall have nothing left to be robbed of. * * *
It is now, I believe, ten or 12 months ago, since I desired that ten or 12 shoats might be put into a stye, as soon as they were weaned, and well fed; to see what they could be brought to at a year old (keeping an exact account of the expence), but whether it was ever done, or what the result of it was, I know not. I wish however that directions of this kind may be always duly attended [to]. Few things will bear delay, but those of experiment worst of all; as it defeats the ascertaining of facts which might be of infinite importance, as in this very instance; for as the case now is, I am raising hogs to a certain age for others, not for myself. Whereas, if this method would succeed, a stye by a house could not be robbed, and fewer sows would raise more hogs, and I believe at infinite less expence. I am your friend and well wisher. 25 November, 1792.
* * * You were perfectly right in discharging Jones.1 He always appeared to me to be incapable of the management of a plantation from his want of capacity; but for his insolent and wilful neglects, there can be no excuse; and he would meet with no more than his deserts if he was made to pay for the damage my wheat fields have sustained: for he had sufficient warning from myself, before I left home, to guard him against this evil. It is to such inattention, and want of exertion, together with the opportunities that are given to my negros, that robberies have got to the height they are. If some of the nights in which these overseers are frolicking at the expense of my business and to the destruction of my horses, were spent in watching the barns, visiting the negro quarters at unexpected hours, waylaying the roads, or contriving some device by which the receivers of stolen goods might be entrapped, and the facts proved upon them, it would be no more than the performance of a duty which I have a right to expect for the wages they draw from me; and it would redound much more to their own credit and reputation as good and faithful overseers than running about. * * *
That you may never forget directions that are given, it would be well to extract them from my letters, and place them in a pocket memorandum book, that they may be easily and frequently resorted to; without this, they may when a letter is laid by go out of your mind, to my disappointment. And I would have nothing left undone which is required to be done, without being informed of it, and the reasons assigned, that I may judge of their weight. * * *
In one of my last letters, I think I desired (I know I intended to do it) that you would, after you had finally designated the Mansion House gang, keep them steadily at work at that place, suffering them on no occasion (unless very immergent ones) to be sent to any of the plantations to work. For besides loosing much time in marching and countermarching, it weakens the exertion, and destroys the ambition of the different overseers to excel one another in the good condition of their respective plantations, when by extraneous force they are relieved from difficulties which, more than probable, their own idleness has been the cause of. I can conceive nothing except ditching (which is a kind of trade) that the hands of every plantation are not competent to, and should be made to execute. * * *
Perhaps you may not know that if the Thursday post (which leaves Alexandria before day) is missed, no letter if sent to the office even half an hour afterwards, will reach this place before Tuesday afternoon. Tuesday’s post from that place reaches this on Thursdays, Thursday’s comes in on Saturdays, and Saturday’s not till Tuesdays, on account of Sundays intervening. You will see by this the necessity of sending up your reports in time always on Wednesdays. It is more convenient for me to receive them on Saturdays than any other day, because between that and the departure of the post on Monday, which gets into Alexandria on Wednesday, I can write with less interruption than at any other time. 2 December, 1792.
* * * Put long litter against the cellar windows; Frank knows how, and should be made to do it, as well as the other things; otherwise he will be ruined by idleness. And can Lucy find sufficient employment in the kitchen? It was expected her leizure hours, of which, I conceive, she must have very many from cooking, would be employed in knitting, of which both Peter and Sarah do too little. I expected Sinah was one of those who would have been sent to one of the plantations; whether she remains at the Mansion House or not, it is my desire that when Kitty is unable to attend the dairy alone, that Anna may be the assistant. The other, besides idling away half the day under that pretence, never failed, I am well convinced, to take a pretty ample toll of both milk and butter.
I hope the overseer you have got from Boggess’s will answer your expectations; but I have no opinion of any recommendation from that person;—and besides, a stayed, elderly man, for such an important plantation as Dogue Run would have been to be preferred to a young one, although the latter should be a married man. But I am sensible any one would be better than Jones, and that the season was too for advanced to look for many to chuse from. * * *
I do not know what quantity of wheat is yet to go to the mill, but wish it may not fall short of your expectation of 5,000 bushels in the whole, for market. It appears to me that the miller must have been very inattentive to his duty to have manufactured only 102 barrels of flour, besides 15 barrels of middlings and 19 of ship stuff, out of 2,387½ bushels of wheat, which has been delivered into the mill. I wish he may not have forgot what is usual for all millers to do, and what I am sure he must have done himself, and that is to grind of nights, as well as days, when the water and seasons will admit. A little time more and the frosts will stop the mill, and in a little time after the frosts are over, the droughts will stop it, and my grain will remain unground. He has, it must be acknowledged, a fine time of it. Whether he works at night or not, I hope particular charge will be given him respecting fire. The loss of the mill, and its contents, would be too heavy for me to support; and I find the accident of fires is already begun—the loss sustained by which and how it happened at the house kennels, ought to have been more particularly detailed than by the simple mention of it in the report, as if it was a thing of course. * * *
You ask directions from me respecting your conduct in the building of my poor nephew, Major Geo. A. Washington’s house. From every account we receive, his disorder is at a crisis, and must soon (if that is not the case already) change for the better, or terminate in his speedy dissolution: and as the latter is most likely to happen, I think you had better not (until further orders) procure any more scantling, especially such as must be cut to waste. It may be proper for Gunner to continue throwing up brick earth, and for the Major’s two men to be preparing plank for the floors, because these (especially the latter) cannot be lost. A very few weeks (before the end of the ensuing holidays) will enable him or his friends to decide more accurately on the measures necessary to be pursued. 9 December, 1792.
If (or whenever) you can obtain a good price for the middlings or ship-stuff in Alexandria, I would have you sell them to raise cash for such purposes as indispensably call for it; but I earnestly exhort you to buy nothing you can either make within yourselves, or can do well without. The practice of running to stores, &c., for everything that is wanting, or thought to be wanting, is the most ruinous custom that can be adopted, and has proved the destruction of many a man before he was aware of the pernicious consequences. There is no proverb in the whole catalogue of them more true than that a penny saved is a penny got. I well know that many things must be bought, such for instance as you have enumerated in your letter; but I know also that expedients may be hit upon, and things (though perhaps not quite so handsome) done within ourselves, that would ease the expences of any estate very considerably. * * *
I observed to you in my last, that I thought the miller was very negligent and inattentive to his duty in not having more wheat manufactured than what appeared by the report of the preceding week;—and I now desire you will let him know that I am by no means well pleased at the delay. I fear he makes so large a portion of flour superfine, as to endanger, or at least to impoverish the fine. This will not be good policy for either kind. And I perceive he makes the wheat weigh only 58 lbs. per bushel. I wish you would, now and then, see a load tried. 58 is less than I have heard of any wheats weighing this year. Tell Davenport1 it is my desire that he would immediately try with 100 bushels of wheat (carefully measured, and as it is received at the mill), what quantity of superfine, fine, middlings, shipstuff, and bran, will come from it. This 100 bushels of wheat (after it is measured and weighed) is to pass as usual through the mill screen and fan. My object you will readily perceive is to compare the prices of the wheat before and after it is manufactured, together, that I may be enabled to form a precise judgment of the value of each. He must therefore be very careful that no mistake is made, and the experiment such as he can be responsible for. It is for this reason I have directed the wheat to be measured and weighed before it goes through the mill operations for cleaning. A similar experiment to this was made last year, but I want another, and to have it done without delay and with great exactness.
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. He must have left the fire in a very unjustifiable situation or have been a fine time absent from it, for such an accident to have happened before it was too late to have extinguished it. I wish you to inform him, that I sustain injury enough by their idleness; they need not add to it by their carelessness. * * *
I am not less concerned to find that I am forever sustaining loss in my stock, of sheep (particularly). I not only approve of your killing those dogs which have been the occasion of the late loss, and of thinning the plantations of others, but give it as a positive order, that after saying what dog, or dogs, shall remain, if any negro presumes under any pretence whatsoever, to preserve, or bring one into the family, that he shall be severely punished, and the dog hanged. I was obliged to adopt this practice whilst I resided at home, and from the same motives, that is, for the preservation of my sheep and hogs; but I observed when I was at home last, that a new set of dogs was rearing up, and I intended to have spoke about them; but one thing or another always prevented it. It is not for any good purpose negros raise, or keep dogs, but to aid them in their night robberies; for it is astonishing to see the command under which their dogs are. I would no more allow the overseers than I would the negros to keep dogs. One, or at most two on a plantation is enough. The pretences for keeping more will be various and urgent, but I will not allow more than the above notwithstanding.
I hope your new overseer will turn out well. His age (although he now has, or soon may have, a wife) is much against him, for a large concern, in my estimation; but the season made it almost Hobson’s choice—him or none. I have engaged an elderly man1 who may probably be with you on Sunday next, to look after the home house gang. He is an Irishman, and not long from that country. According to his own, and the account given of him by others, he is well practiced in both farming and grazing. He is old enough to be steady, and to have had much experience in both these branches; though old, and clumsy withall, he promises that activity shall not be wanting, nor obedience to any directions you may give him. I have agreed to allow him seventy dollars for the ensuing year, and have told him that further encouragement, either in an augmentation of wages, or removal to a better place, will depend altogether upon his own conduct and good behavior. If he is such a man as is represented he may be useful to me, having it is said a perfect knowledge in horses and stock of all kinds. * * * I have informed Mr. Butler (that is his name) that sobriety, industry and honesty are such indispensable qualifications in my eyes, that he will remain but a short time with me, if he is found deficient of either, and I request you, not only in his case, but with all the other overseers likewise, to pass over no faults without noticing and admonishing them against the commission of the like or similar ones; for in this as in everything else, it is easier to prevent evils than to apply remedies after they have happened. One fault overlooked begets another, that a third, and so on; whereas a check in the first instance might prevent a repetition, or at any rate cause circumspection. * * * 16 December, 1792.
By Mr. James Butler, who left this city on Friday last, I wrote you a few lines, enclosing the agreement I had entered into with him. I request that the Smith’s book may be put into his hands, and a regular account taken every night of what they have done in the day; and that he will see they do as much as they ought. Let an account be raised in that book, or some other, for each plantation, and everything done for it as regularly charged to it as if it had been done for one of the neighbors, who was to pay therefore. A practice of this sort answers two purposes: first, to see that the smiths do their duty; and secondly, as a check upon the plantations who ought to account for what is received from thence, as well as for everything else that is furnished them in the course of the year, as soon as it shall have expired.
It is my desire also that Mr. Butler will pay some attention to the conduct of the gardener and the hands who are at work with him; so far as to see that they are not idle. For though I will not charge them with idleness, I cannot forbear saying, and I wish you to tell the gardener so (provided you shall think there is cause for it) that the matters entrusted to him appear to me to progress amazingly slow. * * * If it is found that the hands with the gardener are not usefully (I mean industriously) employed, I shall withdraw them; as I did not give them to him for parade, to be idle, or to keep him in idleness. * * *
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 by fair or foul means; and they had better make choice of the first, for their own reputation, and for the sake of peace and quietness. Otherwise they will be sent to the several plantations, and be placed as common laborers under the overseers thereat. Their work ought to be well examined or it will be most shamefully executed, whether little or much of it be done, and it is said, the same attention ought to be given to Peter (and I suppose to Sarah likewise,) or the stockings will be knit too small for those for whom they are intended; such being the idleness and deceit of those people. 23 December, 1792.
* * * Amongst which, none I think call louder for it [particular 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 regularly to be) taken of their work, would alone go a great way toward checking their idleness; but, besides this, being always about the house (except at haymaking and harvest) and not far from them he might have a pretty constant eye both to them, and to 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). My horses too, (in the management of which he [Butler] professes to have some skill) might derive much benefit from a careful attention to them; not only to those which work, but to the young ones, and to the breeding mares:—for I have long suspected that Peter under pretence of riding about the plantations to look after the mares, mules, &c., is in pursuit of other objects; either of traffic or amusement, more advancive of his own pleasures than my benefit. It is not otherwise to be conceived that with the number of mares I have, five and twenty of which were bought for the express purpose of breeding, though now considerably reduced from that purpose alone, should produce not more than six or eights colts a year. This I say will hardly be believed by any person who has ever been in a similar practice. The evil stands much in need of a remedy. * * *
All such work as you have enumerated, I think is the duty of every overseer to render; and if he [Butler] is a man of an industrious turn, he will do it, whether he is compelled by articles or not. On the other hand, if he is of an indolent cast (such as Jones was,) all the articles in the world would not enforce the measure longer than he himself was under the observation of an overlooker: and probably to avoid working himself, (the negros knowing it to be his duty to do so, by agreement) he would suffer them to be idle, to bribe them against a discovery of his own idleness. For these reasons I have always had doubts (where there is a large gang of hands to overlook) of the propriety of attempting to compell by articles an overseer to do more work than his own inclination would naturally prompt him to do voluntarily. Indeed, where there are a number of hands, his time probably would be better employed in seeing them well engaged than in working himself, especially if all are not within his full view at the time. * * *
You speak of the quantity of lime which it has taken to repair the overseer’s house in the Neck. It is occasioned in a great measure by the profuse use of it by Davis,1 and the unnecessary strength which he gives to the mortar, in which he ought to be corrected. Of stone lime, and the lime made from oyster shells, the quantity differs, but the proportion of each are well ascertained for different kinds of work. For here again, mortar is made stronger or weaker according to the nature of it. Rules for all these might easily be obtained, and observed. Another bad practice which he is in, ought to be corrected; and that is, laying his mortar too thick in the joints. This hurts the look of a building, rather diminishes than adds to the strength of it, and consumes much lime.
If, as you suppose is the case, the miller spends more time than he ought to do in his dwelling house, it is justice due to me, to inform him of it; and to add, that if the practice is continued your duty will require that I should be informed of it. The slow progress made by him in manufacturing my wheat in such an open and mild fall and winter as we have had is, if there was water, the strongest evidence that can be given of his indolence, and the bad use he has made of so favorable a season. * * * 30 December, 1792.
[1 ]Formerly manager for General Cadwalader. In 1790 he agreed to serve as overseer to two of Washington’s farms, known as the Ferry and French’s, for an annual salary of forty guineas, with certain allowances of produce and the use of a boy or girl to cook for him.
[1 ]Henry Jones, overseer of the Dogue Run plantation. He agreed not to absent himself from said plantation without permission; to obey all orders and directions; to be particularly attentive to the stock of every kind, and “in a particular manner will attend to the plow horses and working oxen, to see that their allowance is given them in due season and without embezzlement or waste. . . . That he will discourage company from resorting to the plantation, unless it may be his relatives now and then, and will prevent all gunning and fowling within his inclosures. . . . That he will provide in due season meal for the negros, and see it regularly delivered to them, and also that they have (if butter is made) the butter milk after the milk is churned; and when occasion requires it for sick persons or negro children, that they moreover have sweet milk given them. That he will be very careful of the negros in sickness . . . and to sum up the whole, that he will act the part of a sober and industrious man.” He received for this thirty pounds Virginia currency a year, and certain farm produce.
[1 ]Joseph Davenport, the miller.
[1 ]James Butler.
[1 ]Thomas Davis.