Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTERS TO WILLIAM PEARCE, 2 1793. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. XII (1790-1794)
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LETTERS TO WILLIAM PEARCE, 2 1793. - 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 WILLIAM PEARCE,2 1793.
* * * As I am never sparing (with proper œconomy) in furnishing my Farms with any and every kind of Tool and implement that is calculated to do good and neat work, I not only authorize you to bring the kind of plows you were speaking to me about, but any others, the utility of which you have proved from your own experience;—particularly a kind of hand rake which Mr. Stuart tells me are used on the Eastern shore of Maryland in lieu of Hoes for corn at a certain stage of its growth—and a scythe and cradle different from those used with us, and with which the grain is laid much better.—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 every thing trim, handsome, and thriving about them;—nor nothing hurts me more than to find them otherwise, and the tools and implements laying wherever they were last used, exposed to injuries from rain, sun, &c. * * * 6 October, 1793.
The paper enclosed with this letter will give you my ideas, generally, of the course of crops I wish to pursue.—I am sensible more might be made from the farms for a year or two—but my object is to recover the fields from the exhausted state into which they have fallen by oppressive crops, and to restore them (if possible by any means in my power) to health and vigor. But two ways will enable me to accomplish this.—The first is to cover them with as much manure as possible (winter and summer).—The 2d. a judicious succession of crops.
Manure cannot be had in the abundance the fields require; for this reason, and to open the land which is hard bound by frequent cultivation and want of proper dressings, I have introduced buck wheat in the plentiful manner you will perceive by the table, both as a manure, and as a substitute for Indian corn for horses, &c.; it being a great ameliorater of the soil.—How far the insufferable conduct of my overseers, or the difficulty of getting buck wheat and oats for seeds, will enable me to carry my plan into effect, I am unable at this moment to decide. You, possibly, will be better able to inform me some time hence. * * *
I have already said that the insufferable conduct of my overseers may be one mean of frustrating my plan for the next year.—I will now explain myself.—You will readily perceive by the rotation of crops I have adopted, that a great deal of Fall plowing is indispensible,—of this I informed every one of them, and pointed out the fields which were to be plowed at this season. So anxious was I, that this work should be set about early, that I made an attempt soon after you were at Mount Vernon in September, to begin it; and at several times afterwards repeated the operation in different fields at Dogue Run farm; but the ground being excessively hard and dry, I found that to persevere would only destroy my horses without effecting the object, in the manner it ought to be, and therefore I quit it; but left positive directions that it should recommence at every farm as soon as there should be rain to moisten the earth—and to stick constantly at it, except when the horses were employed in treading out wheat (which was a work I also desired might be accomplished as soon as possible). Instead of doing either of these, as I ordered, I find by the reports that McKoy1 has, now and then, plowed a few days only as if it were for amusement. That Stuart has but just begun to do it.—and that neither Crow2 nor Davy at Muddy Hole, had put a plow into the ground so late as the 7th of this month.—Can it be expected then, that frosts, snow and rain will permit me to do much of this kind of work before March or April? * * *
I am the more particular on this head for two reasons—first to let you see how little dependence there is on such men when left to themselves (for under Mr. Lewis it was very little better)—and 2dly, to show you the necessity of keeping these overseers strictly to their duty—that is—to keep them from running about, and to oblige them to remain constantly with their people;—and moreover, to see at what time they turn out of a morning—for I have strong suspicions that this, with some of them, is at a late hour, the consequence of which to the negros is not difficult to foretell.—All these overseers as you will perceive by their agreements, which I herewith send, are on standing wages; and this with men who are not actuated by the principles of honor or honesty, and not very regardful of their characters, leads naturally to endulgences—as their profits, whatever may be mine, are the same, whether they are at a horse race or on the farm—whether they are entertaining company (which I believe is too much the case) in their own houses, or are in the field with the negros.
Having given you these ideas, I shall now add, that if you find any one of them inattentive to the duties which by the articles of agreement they are bound to perform, or such others as may reasonably be enjoined, admonish them in a calm, but firm manner of the consequences.—If this proves ineffectual, discharge them, at any season of the year without scruple or hesitation, and do not pay them a copper, putting the non-compliance with their agreement in bar.
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.—Pass by no faults or neglects (especially at first) for overlooking one only serves to generate another, and it is more than probable that some of them (one in particular) will try, at first, what lengths he may go.—A steady and firm conduct, with an inquisitive inspection into, and a proper arrangement of everything on your part, will, though it may give more trouble at first, save a great deal in the end—and you may rest assured that in everything that is just and proper to be done on your part, [you] shall meet with the fullest support on mine. Nothing will contribute more to effect these desirable purposes than a good example. Unhappily this was not set (from what I have learnt lately) by Mr. Whiting, who, it is said, drank freely—kept bad company at my house and in Alexandria—and was a very debauched person. Wherever this is the case, it is not easy for a man to throw the first stone for fear of having it returned to him;—and this I take to be the true cause why Mr. Whiting did not look more scrupulously into the conduct of the overseers, and more minutely into the smaller matters belonging to the Farms—which though individually may be trifling, are not found so in the aggregate; for there is no adage more true than an old Scotch one, that “many mickles make a muckle.”
I have had but little opportunity of forming a correct opinion of my white overseers, but such observations as I have made I will give.
Stuart appears to me to understand the business of a farm very well, and seems attentive to it. He is I believe a sober man, and according to his own account a very honest one. As I never found him (at the hours I usually visited the farm) absent from some part or another of his people, I presume he is industrious, and seldom from home. He is talkative, has a high opinion of his own skill and management, and seems to live in peace and harmony with the negros who are confided to his care. He speaks extremely well of them, and I have never heard any complaint of him. His work, however, has been behind hand all the year, owing he says, and as I believe, to his having too much plowing to do, and the last omission, of not plowing when he knew my motives for wishing it, has been extremely reprehensible. But upon the whole, if he stirs early and works late, I have no other fault to find than the one I have just mentioned. His talkativeness and vanity may be humored.
Crow is an active man, and not deficient in judgment. If kept strictly to his duty would, in many respects, make a good overseer. But I am much mistaken in his character, if he is not fond of visiting, and receiving visits. This, of course, withdraws his attention from his business, and leaves his people too much to themselves; which produces idleness, or slight work on the one side, and flogging on the other—the last of which besides the dissatisfaction which it creates, has, in one or two instances been productive of serious consequences. I am not clear either that he gives that due attention to his plow horses and other stock, which is necessary, although he is very fond of riding the former—not only to Alexandria, &c., but about the farm, which I did not forbid, as his house was very inconvenient to the scene of his business.
McKoy appears to me to be a sickly, slothful and stupid fellow. He had many more hands than were necessary merely for his crop, and though not 70 acres of corn to cultivate, did nothing else. In short, to level a little dirt that was taken out of the meadow ditch below his house seems to have composed the principal part of his fall work; altho’ no finer season could have happened for preparing the second lot of the mill swamp for the purpose of laying it to grass. If more exertion does not appear in him when he gets into better health, he will be found an unfit person to overlook so important a farm, especially as I have my doubts also of his care and attention to the horses, &c.
As to Butler, you will soon be a judge whether he will be of use to you or not. He may mean well, and for ought I know to the contrary, may in some things have judgment; but I am persuaded he has no more authority over the negros he is placed, than an old woman would have; and is as unable to get a proper day’s work done by them as she would, unless led to it by their own inclination, which I know is not the case.
Davy at Muddy Hole carries on his business as well as the white overseers, and with more quietness than any of them. With proper directions he will do very well; and probably give you less trouble than any of them, except in attending to the care of his stock, of which I fear he is negligent; as there are deaths too frequent among them.
Thomas Green (overlooker of the carpenters) will, I am persuaded, require your closest attention, without which I believe it will be impossible to get any work done by my negro carpenters. In the first place, because it has not been in my power, when I am away from home, to keep either him or them to any settled work; but they will be flying from one trifling thing to another, with no other design, I believe, than to have the better opportunity to be idle, or to be employed on their own business; and, in the next place, because, although authority is given to him, he is too much upon a level with the negros to exert it; from which cause, if no other, every one works, or not, as they please, and carve out such jobs as they like. 18 December, 1793.
[2 ]Pearce had served as overseer for Mr. Ringgold, in Maryland (page 306, ante), and early in October agreed to assume the direction of Washington’s estate, at an annual salary of one hundred guineas.
[1 ]Henry McKoy.
[2 ]Hiland Crow, overseer of the Union Farm (Ferry and French’s).