Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTERS TO WILLIAM PEARCE, 1794. 1 - The Writings of George Washington, vol. XIII (1794-1798)
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LETTERS TO WILLIAM PEARCE, 1794. 1 - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. XIII (1794-1798) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. XIII (1794-1798).
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LETTERS TO WILLIAM PEARCE, 1794.1
The reason why I preferred increasing the quantity of Corn ground in these fields is, that nothing might interrupt the manurings of one field, at each farm, every year with green manure; while the Cowpens, and dung from the farm yards would do the like to the poor parts of a second field, annually. By this means, and a judicious rotation, I am not without hope of bringing my land, in time, into a profitable state of cultivation; and unless some such practice as this prevails, my fields will be growing worse and worse every year until the crops will not defray the expence of the culture of them.
By the report of the week before last, it appeared that Stuart was plowing in No. 7; but as that field, according to the rotation which I have by me, was to remain this year in Pasture I could not account for it, otherwise than as a mistake in him, or a direction of mine which I had forgotten;—the reason however, of my mentioning the matter again, in this letter, is, that if that field is designed for oats and buck wheat, the part or such proportion thereof (as you like) which was designed for the latter, may go into corn in like manner as is allowed at the other farms; but if it has not been touched, nor intended to be touched this year, (and I again desire that you will not undertake more than you can execute well) then such part of No. 1 as you may deem proper: or you may do what Stuart suggested to me before I left home, namely, to plant all the good ground in both No. 1 and No. 3 with corn and sow all the broken and poor parts of them with buck wheat for manure. * * *
You may continue to eat of my meat, as the white people will take it after it goes from your table, until your family arrives, and afterwards also if it shall be found more convenient than to keep separate stocks, as I believe it will. I perceive Thomas Green draws fine flour from the mill, when the miller and others are content with middlings, and which I am sure is good enough for him. Does his agreement in this respect differ from others? * * * 26 January, 1794.
My intention, with respect to the repairs of my house in Alexandria and inclosing the lot, was, that every particle of the work, except putting it together, should be prepared at Mount Vernon, and carried thither by water; for sure I am if the whole was to be executed in town that four faithful workmen would do more there in one week than any four of mine would do in a month. I expected that Green, or some one that was a judge of work, would examine critically what was to be done, that the whole might be carried on in the manner I have just mentioned. This, as far as the dwelling house is concerned, has been done already, but not I believe with the accuracy that is necessary to prevent mistakes. * * *
I am so well satisfied of Thomas Green’s unfitness to look after my Carpenters, that nothing but the helpless situation in which you find his family, has prevailed on me to retain him till this time: but if you perceive more and more, as your opportunities encrease, that he is not to be entrusted, you had better be looking out in time to supply his place another year, if there should not be cause to turn him sooner off. * * *
I perceive my overseers are beginning to report the increase of lambs this year as they did last, by which I never know what they lose. Let them know it is my expectation, that every lamb that falls, and every one that dies in the week, and what are actually in being at the time, is to be precisely set down. It is from hence only I can form a judgment of their care and attention to them. According to their mode of rendering the account, I may, if an hundred lambs fall in a week, and fifty of them die, have an increase of 50 only in the report; and although this is true in fact, it is by no means a fair or satisfactory state of the case. * * * 16 February, 1794.
The insufferable neglects of my overseers in not plowing as they ought to have done in the fall, begins now to be manifest; for I perceive by the account given of the plowing, that I am driven to the alternative of putting my oats into ground not half plowed and prepared, and thereby little to expect from it;—or, in order to do this, be so late in sowing, as to hazard an entire loss of the crop, if the Spring is not very moist and dripping; for I have seldom succeeded with oats unless they were sown before the middle of March.
It did not occur to me in time, to advise running the rollers over your grass grounds, and even the wheat, after the frost had come fairly out of the earth; nothing would have recovered both more. The roots (even of that which had been thrown entirely out) would have been pressed in such a manner to the earth as to have shot forth fibers to restore the plant. Now, I presume, it is too late. * * *
Mr. Smith has, I believe, been furnished with fish from my landing, and if he will give as much as another, ought to have the preference;—but before you positively engage, enquire what the other fisheries are disposed to sell at. 4/ per thousand for Herrings, and 10/ per hundred for shad, is very low. I am, at this moment, paying 6 / a piece for every shad I buy. I am entirely against any waggons coming to my landing; but there is one thing which Mr. Smith, or any other with whom you engage, must perfectly understand, if they agree to take all (over what I want for my own use), that is, when the glut of fish runs, he must be provided to take every one I do not want, or have them thrown on his hands: the truth of the case is, that in the height of the fishery, they are not prepared to cure, or otherwise to dispose of them, as fast as they could be caught; of course the seins slacken in their work, or the fish lye and spoil, when that is the only time I can make anything by the sein; for small hauls will hardly pay the ware and tare of the sein and the hire of the hands. Your account of the deficiency of sein rope would have surprised me if it had not been of a piece with the rest of the conduct which has waisted everything I had, almost. Whatever is necessary must be got, and I shall depend upon your care and attention, now to guard me against destruction of my property, while it is entrusted to your management.
Secure a sufficiency of fish for the use of my own people from the first that comes, otherwise they may be left in the lurch, as has been the case heretofore, by depending on what is called the glut. * * * 23 March, 1794.
I have no doubt but that the late capture of our vessels by the British cruisers, followed by the embargo which has been laid on the shipping in our ports, would naturally occasion a temporary fall in the article of provisions; yet, as there are the same mouths to feed as before, as the demand consequently will be as great, and as the crops in other parts of the world will not be increased by these means, I have no doubt at all, but that, as soon as the present impediments are removed the prices of flour will rise to what it has been (at least); for which reason hold mine up to the prices mentioned in my last; and if they are offered, make a provisory agreement, to be ratified, or not, by me. * * *
The imposition with respect to the garden seeds is very unjustifiable; ’tis infinitely worse than simple robbery, for there you lose your money only; but when it is given for bad seed you lose your money, your labor in preparing for the reception of them, and a whole season. * * * 6 April, 1794.
I wish you had discharged Green without any ceremony, when you found him drinking and idling his time away; as to any reliance on his promise to amend, there can be no sort of dependance; for it has been found that he is growing worse and worse. The consequence of which is, that he dare not find fault with those who are entrusted to his care, lest they should retort, and disclose his rascally conduct; by which means work that the same number of hands would perform in a week, takes mine a month. Nothing but compassion for his helpless family, has hitherto induced me to keep him a moment in my service (so bad in 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.
I never could get an account of the corn made on my estate last year, consequently can form no idea of the quantity now on hand, nor of the prospect there is of its carrying me through the year. At any rate it should be used with great care, but if it is likely to run short, as much parsimony should be observed as can comport with the absolute calls for it, on the farms, as I know not where to get more; and should find it inconvenient to pay for it if I did. * * * 4 May, 1794.
Whether you will depend upon the first or second crop of clover for seed, will be left to yourself; but I desire (if it be practicable) that of this, of buck wheat, timothy, and in short of every other seed which you may have occasion for next year, may be saved; as the cost of these things in the markets of this city falls too heavy upon me besides being bad very often. I also request you will be particularly careful in saving seeds from the several kinds of grass, which, from time to time, have been sown in (what is called) the Vineyard, and other places, for the purpose of experiments; or because they were given to me as curiosities, or for the real value of them. And I hope you have been, and will be attentive to such as I have sent you myself. Is that which I forwarded to you some time ago (directing it to be sown in some part of one of the meadows) come up well? It was given to me for a grass of more value than timothy. If so, all the seed that can ought to be raised from it; the same of St. Foin; which my gardener neglected last year until the seed was almost lost. If cattle or horses will eat the fancy grass in its green state, or made into hay, it certainly must be very valuable, as it grows rank, stands thick on the ground, does not require strong land, and will remain forever on it. Save what seed you can from this. Some grows in the vineyard inclosure, and some I believe in the little garden by the salt house. Several other grasses, of valuable sorts, which had been given to me, were sown in this place and the vine yard; but like most other things on my estate, have been lost for want of attention hitherto, but I hope your care will guard me against such neglects in future.
I presume you are well enough acquainted with clover to know how it is to be managed; both for seed and hay. Last year none of the first (or very little) was saved; and of the latter, that is hay, none was made good, and a great deal of it was entirely spoiled. It ought to be well cured before stacking, but not much stirred; especially in the sun, or it will lose the leaf. Let there be a hollow in the middle of each stack (by way of ventulater) occasioned by drawing a basket, or stuffed bag through the middle, whilst the stack is making. * * *
In what state of forwardness is the drilled wheat, when compared with the common wheat? from the character and description of it, it ought to be ripe for cutting by the 8th or 10th of June. You will have been told, or will have discovered, that there are two kinds of wheat in drills, at the Union farm. One is a double headed sort, whether of much value or not I am unable to say; nor do I know whether it ripens sooner or later than the common kind. Take care of the seeds of both, and cautiously guard against their mixing in the seed loft. As there will not be much of the double headed wheat, it might be well (in order to prevent this) to put it into tight casks, and head it up securely. The early wheat I set great value on, as it is an acquisition, in the farming line, of great magnitude in many points of view. * * *
I find by the 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 a 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. * * *
As Congress have determined that the Embargo shall not be renewed, I expect the price of flour will be at least as high as it has been in Alexandria. In this city it has already risen to 50/ for superfine and 46/6 for fine. * * * 18 May, 1794.
I learn with concern from your letter of the 18th instant, that your crops are still laboring under a drought, and most of them very much injured. At disappointments and losses which are the effects of providential acts, I never repine, because I am sure the alwise disposer of events knows better than we do, what is best for us, or what we deserve. * * * 25 May, 1794.
The deception with respect to the potatoes (210 instead of 418 bushels) 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 shop keepers, who support themselves by this kind of traffick. * * * 1 June, 1794.
If lambs of any kind have been sold from my flocks of sheep, it has not only been done without my consent, but expressly contrary to my orders. And sure I am, the money for which they were sold never found its way into my pockets; nor is there credit for it in any accounts I have seen. So far has it been from my practice, or policy to sell off the forward ewe lambs, that, in order to prevent it, I would not suffer any lambs to be disposed of at all, unless it was the very latest runts. My plan, while it was in my power to attend to these matters myself was, to be sparing of the lambs even for my own table, and never to kill the females; to keep the ewe lambs (especially the latter ones) from the rams the first year—to separate the rams from the ewes at shearing time (to be returned at a proper season)—and, at shearing time also, to cull over, and remove to a pasture by themselves, all the sheep above a certain age, and all such as appeared to be upon the decline, that, after receiving the summer’s run, and such aid as could otherwise be afforded them, they might be disposed of to the butchers, reserving enough for the use of the family. If lambs have been disposed of contrary to this plan, it has been done by the knavery of those who have availed themselves of the opportunity my absence has afforded them, to do it. It might be well therefore for you to enquire by whom lambs have been sold; and as you will see by the written agreements with my overseers that they are not allowed to sell even a fowl, to charge them in explicit terms, not to depart from it. The granting them this indulgence was for their comfort on the farm; but they have no right to raise anything thereon, of any sort, or kind whatsoever, for sale. If therefore, as the practice of this sort is contrary to agreement, they presume to sell one thing, they may and will be suspected of selling every thing they can do with impunity. This reminds me of what has often been in my intention to write about, and that is Mr. Stuart’s selling butter. He is, I well remember, allowed a certain part of the butter that is made on the farm, [and] of course is entitled to the butter or the value of it; but to avoid suspicion he had better, both on his own account and mine, after taking out what he uses in his own family (and what he ought to account for) send all that is made besides to the Mansion house; and, as it will go from thence to market, let him be allowed for his proportion the price it sells at. Besides avoiding suspicion and evil reports, another good will be derived from this practice, and that is, that it will supercede the necessity of his wife’s, or any other person’s, running to Alexandria to dispose of this article, or to enquire into the price of it. That Mr. Stuart’s conduct in this business has not escaped censure you will see by the enclosed; but as I never entertained an unfavorable opinion of him, and always a very bad one of Green, I never mentioned the report to the former, although, when the latter gave the information, I told him to commit what he had to say to writing,—charging him at the same time to say nothing that he could not prove, as he might bring himself into a scrape if he did. I have no doubt of Mrs. Stuart’s having furnished butter for McKnight’s tavern, and if the quantity bears any proportion to what is asserted in the paper, that it has been fraudulently done. The account, I presume, is exaggerated, otherwise instead of being content with one fourth (which, if my memory serves me, is the part allowed him) he must have taken three fourths of it at least. But be the report true or false, it still shews the necessity of the measure I have advised; in the first case, to guard me against such impositions; and in the second, to secure his own character against suspicion and calumny. * * *
Mr. O’Neil, from Chester County in this State, will be at Mt. Vernon by the time, or soon after this letter will have reached you. He has a great opinion of a freestone quarry near my limekiln, but a little up the Branch called Hell hole; and I have authorised him to open it at his own expence; but have told him that if you have a hand or two that could be spared, and he would allow the same for them by the day, or month, that he gives to others, I had no objection to your doing it. I am to be at no expence or trouble with him, and he has assured me that the hands he takes from hence with him shall be sober, honest and well-behaved. If Tom Davis and Neuclus could be spared from necessary work, they had best go; for numbers will add nothing to the despatch of my work, whilst it is under the immediate inspection and direction of Thomas Green; who, it appears indispensably necessary to me, should be superceded the moment you can get a good workman in whom confidence can be placed, to overlook them; for the manner in which my carpenters idle away their time, is beyond all forbearance. Twelve carpenters in this city would have built every house which is on my lot in Alexandria (from the foundation) in less time than mine were employed in the few repairs they received; but from the habits of idleness which they have contracted, and the bad examples of Green, nothing better I am sure is to be expected from them while they are under his management. 8 June, 1794.
I either misunderstood Peter, or he told me that several of the mules which are returned in the Mansion House report, and which I did not intend should be used without previously communicating the matter to me, has actually been put to the plough; although no longer ago than last October I supplied every Farm with a complete set of plow beasts (horses or mules). If the mules are to be taken in this manner, I shall never raise them to be of any value—for to take them at two or three years old and work them until they can hardly walk alone, is ruining of them to all intents and purposes, and I desire a stop may be put to the practice. Especially as I see no prospect of keeping up my stock of them, notwithstanding the immense expence I have run myself to in providing mares for the purpose of breeding them. From Peter also, I was told (but this might be by way of excuse for his own neglect in not attending properly to them in the covering season) that almost all the mares had slunk their foals;—and he mentioned an instance of this happening to a valuable mare sent from the Mansion house to Dogue run, and rid by McKoy into the forest, doing it the night he quitted her back. My hurry the morning I left home (for it was just before that I received this information upon enquiring what prospect I had for colts this year) prevented my mentioning the matter to you. Night rides and treading wheat will forever deprive me of foals. But a few years ago I bought, and sent from Lancaster and other places in this State, &c., 27 large mares for the sole purpose of breeding mules—never intending that one of them should be put to work—having in the year 1789 before I left home for New York, compleatly stocked all my farms with work horses, and left many mares besides for breeding. Since that period (not more than five years) it has taken all the surplus of the old stock, just mentioned—the 27 mares bought for breeding, and for no other purpose, and all the mules (for at that time there was not one in use) to supply the deficiencies which have been occasioned by the rascally treatment I have experienced from my overseers; and the want of attention in my managers, during my absence from home since the period of 1789 above mentioned. This I know does not apply to you, and it is only mentioned to shew in what manner I have been abused, and how necessary it is that you guard me against the like in future. * * *
I hear with concern, but not unexpectedly, of the illness of your eldest daughter. That she could not without a change for the better survive the indisposition with which she has been afflicted long, was the opinion of all who saw her; and, in a degree, I presume must have been your own. So far then you must be prepared for the unfortunate event; and tho’ nature, at so awful a trial, must shrink for a time, reason and reflection will produce resignation to a degree, against which there is no control.
It is but justice to acknowledge to you, that so far as I was able, from the hurt which confined me whilst I was at Mount Vernon, to look into my business, I was well satisfied with your conduct, and I am persuaded I shall have no cause to complain of it in future. Good judgment and experimental knowledge properly exerted never can, when accompanied with integrity and zeal, go wrong. These qualifications you have the character of possessing, and I place confidence therein. My favorite objects, as I have often repeated to you, are to recover my land from the gullied and exhausted state into which it has been unfortunately thrown for some years back—To lay down all the low and swampy lands to grass, and be it little or much, to do it well—To have clover lots sufficient for soiling work horses and cattle, and for other purposes—To substitute as fast as possible hedges and live fences in place of dead ones, and of anything that will make them—To be attentive to my stock of all species and descriptions, taking care to improve and increase them to the full extent of your pasturage, beyond which, although you might raise food for their winter support, it would be folly to go—And lastly, to look as much as possible into the little, as well as ye greater concerns of ye farms; for more is wasted and lost from an omission in not doing the first than any one is aware of, when they examine the aggregate amount of trifles—To improve also every thing into manure that will make it—is among the considerations to be attended to. 13 July, 1794.
Remember to give John a dollar the last day of every month, provided he behaves well—letting him know that it is on that express condition he is to receive it. And if a suit of cloaths of tolerable good cloth, made to his own taste, will keep him in good humor, let him be indulged with them. If by his conduct he merits these things, I shall not begrudge them to him. * * * 20 July, 1794.
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 very bad example for others—none of whom would work if by pretexts they can avoid it. 27 July, 1794.
If your corn ground has got foul by the rains which have fallen, or even if they are not perfectly clean, I had rather, although it will inevitably delay your seeding, put off sowing wheat—or any thing else indeed—until it is clean, bright and in good order for the reception of them:—for I never found anything but disappointed hopes from a contrary practice;—which has long decided me in an opinion that to aim at the cultivation of more ground than one can, under almost any circumstances, master completely is not the certain way to make sure, or even large crops; but an infallible one to destroy the land. I have long been convinced moreover, that if the same labor, and expense of manure, &c., (which is the common mode of management in Virginia) was bestowed of 50 acres of land, that is now scattered over 100, that the former would be more profitable and productive to the owner. What I would be understood to mean by this, is that a field not more than half prepared for a crop, the crop not more than half tilled, and the ground but indifferently manured, will not produce as much as the half of it would, if these were bestowed in full proportion to the requirements of the land. If one’s means is equal to the accomplishment of the whole there can be no doubt, in that case, but that the whole will double the half. All I mean to express is, that whatever is attempted, should be well executed as it respects crops, and as it respects meadows and other improvements, to complete and make good as one goes. It was not my intention to apply what I have here said to the state in which you have described your corn ground to be under from so much rain, or to any particular case; but as general observations which I am persuaded will hold good in all cases. An essential object with every farmer ought to be the destruction of weeds. His arable and pasture grounds should produce nothing but grain, pulse, if he raises them, vegitables of different sorts, according to his designs, and grasses. Nothing then but deep and frequent plowing, hoeing and hand weeding, can eradicate weeds, and such other trash as foul and exhaust the fields, and diminish the crops: and these, neither in season, in quantity, or quality can be given, if more is undertaken than the force and means are competent to. I am glad to hear that the young timothy is beginning to shew itself in the new meadows. It is an ardent wish of mine to have the whole well covered with grass, free from sprouts and weeds, and smooth for the scythe. * * *
It seems to me to be indispensably necessary that some person should be engaged in place of Thomas Green, to look after my carpenters; for in the manner they conduct [themselves] under his superintendency, it would be for my interest to set them free, rather than give them victuals and cloaths. James, by the reports, has been 9 days I perceive in plaining the floors of the house in town; Neuclus (besides what was done to it before) six days’ paving, and sanding the cellar which a man in Philadelphia would have done in less than as many hours; Davis, eight or nine days’ papering, and so on:—whilst Green himself, and the others, appear determined (as it would seem to me) to make the new house at Union farm a standing job for the summer, as the chimney and underpinning will more than probably be for Davis the same time. When this last work is done, that is, underpinning the house, it must be remembered that air holes is left in it, to prevent the sleepers from rotting.
It may not be amiss to say beforehand, that no trifling character (unless he means to tread in the footsteps of Green) will do for an overlooker of these workmen. Besides the usual requisites of skill, honesty, sobriety and industry, be must be a man of temper, firmness and resolution,—for it is not to be expected that men who have been in the habits of such extreme idleness so long, probably of a great deal of villainy, can be recovered from it without prudent management, and much resolution, properly tempered. * * * 3 August, 1794.
When I was at home, an application was made to me by Kate at Muddy hole (through her husband, Will) to serve the negro women (as a Grany) on my estate; intimating that she was full as well qualified for this purpose as those into whose hands it was entrusted; and to whom I was paying twelve or £15 a year; and why she should not be so, I know not; but wish you to cause some enquiry to be made into this matter, and commit this business to her, if thereupon you shall be satisfied of her qualifications. This service, formerly, was always performed by a negro woman belonging to the estate—but latterly, until now, none seemed disposed to undertake it. * * * 17 August, 1794.
The land Mr. Gunnel speaks of, lyes in Loudoun County, although it is within 18 or 20 miles of Alexandria. But if the facts which he relates with respect to the trespass thereon can be clearly proved, request Col. Simms, of Alexandria, or any other who practices in Loudoun court, and is well recommended to you, to bring suit against them: for it is really shameful to be treated in the manner I am by people who take such liberties with my timber and wood during my absence—under a supposition they may do it with impunity.
You may inform Mr. Pierce Bailey that my selling, or not selling that tract, depends upon getting the terms of my asking complied with. These are fifteen hundred pounds (Virginia currency)—five hundred of which to be paid down, and interest on the other two thirds until discharged—the credit to be agreed on, which may be 3, four, or more years; provided the land and a bond is given as security for payment of the principal; and some unquestionable surety for the regular discharge of the interest on the day it becomes due. Mr. Gill of Alexandria came up to my price, but we differed with respect to the interest. There is about 300 acres of it, with two good mill seats on it—one wholly mine, the other on Difficult run, which divides my land from others. There is also a good deal of meadow land on the tract.
I have no objection to your putting up the still which is at Mount Vernon, if any advantage from it can be derived under the tax, which is laid upon it. * * * 31 August, 1794.
There cannot, in my opinion, be the smallest occasion for opening the new road, which under different circumstances than those which exist at present, was ordered by the Court at my particular request. Nor would it be, if opened, of the least benefit to any one except Mr. Thomson Mason, and very little to him, as he has the free use of all the roads (though with gates to them) that he ever travelled before that order was obtained. It is to be observed that, when I applied for, and the court granted that road, the design was to relieve me from a great hardship, without doing any injury to the public; for at that time the Ferry called Posey’s (where Crow lives) was a public one—of course, the road from the Gumspring to it, and from my mill to it, were public roads; and by the laws of Virginia gates were forbid on them. This prevented me from enclosing my land, as the expence of lanes on both sides those roads would have been too heavy for the advantage which would have resulted. Under this view of the case, and because very few who passed the ferry travelled the Alexandria road, I was led to form the plan of having but one public road through my Mount Vernon tract, which would have been from my mill, by the barn on Union farm, along the string of fence that divides the upper from the lower fields, until it came to the gate on the hill, by a lane, that distance. All, in that case, who would have crossed the ferry going to, or returning from Maryland, would pass the mill; at which place, if going down the country, they would take the road to Colchester; if going towards the Mountains or Alexandria, they would have to pass by Mr. Lund Washington’s. This was the real situation of things when the Court, on my petition, was pleased to afford me the relief I asked, by permitting me to stop up the old, and to open new public roads. But the thing has now taken an entire new shape; for finding after this permission was obtained that the Ferry had become so unproductive as not even to furnish the boats which were required, I petitioned the Assembly to discontinue it by law, as it was established by law; hence the roads to it, I presume, ceased to be public;—and the new ones unnecessary—at least for the present—as the old ones (with the difference of gates only) serve all the purposes they ever did. Upon this representation, which I am sure is a candid and just one, I persuade myself that the court will not compel me to open the road you say you have been required to do, when no person, half as much as myself, would be benefitted by it. In fact, with my force, the thing is impracticable this fall; for the greater part of two miles, from the levelness of the ground, and water (knee deep at times) standing thereon, would require a high causeway to render it passable in the winter. If this was done, I should derive more benefit from it than any other person, for there would be no pretext then for passing through my farms, and leaving the gates open for my own stock to get out and others in. These sentiments may be communicated to the Court, if the order with which you are served is positive—and to Mr. Mason, who I am confident is not disposed to run me to such an expence at this season, for so trifling (if any) an advantage to himself. 28 September, 1794.
The demand for workmen at the federal city is such, and their wages consequently so high, that if Donaldson,1 as an overlooker, should prove incompetent, I know not how, or where you will get supplied. If he understands what he professes to have been bred to, and is sober and industrious, he may prove a very useful man to me, although he is unfit to have the care of my carpenters. But what have you done with him, if Green’s family still occupy the house? By my agreement with him, he is entitled to the use of that house, and Garden, and may consider it as a breach of contract to be deprived of it. What then is to be done with the other family? I cannot bear the thought of adding to the distress I know they must be in, by turning them adrift; and it would be as disagreeable to let them come into that part of the Green house adjoining the shoemaker’s room;—their habits are not good;—and to mix them among the negros would be attended with many evils as it respected themselves, and no good as it respected me. 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. Donaldson and family will get disgusted by living among the negros, if he is still in the Green house. * * * 2 November, 1794.
Speaking of gentlemen’s servants it calls to my mind, that in a letter from Mrs. Fanny Washington to Mrs. Washington (her aunt) she mentions, that since I left Mount Vernon she has given out four dozen and eight bottles of wine. Whether they are used, or not, she does not say; but I am led by it to observe, that it is not my intention that it should be given to every one who may incline to make a convenience of the house in travelling, or who may be induced to visit it from motives of curiosity. There are but three descriptions of people to whom I think it ought to be given: first, my particular and intimate acquaintance, in case business should call them there, such for instance as Doctor Craik. 2dly, some of the most respectable foreigners who may, perchance, be in Alexandria or the federal city; and be either brought down, or introduced by letter, from some of my particular acquaintance as before mentioned; or thirdly, to persons of some distinction (such as members of Congress, &c.) who may be travelling through the country from North to South, or from South to North; to the first of which, I should not fail to give letters, where I conceive them entitled. Unless some caution of this sort governs, I should be run to an expence as improper, as it would be considerable;—for the duty upon Madeira wine makes it one of the most expensive liquors that is now used, while my stock of it is small, and old wine (of which that is) is not to be had upon any terms: for which reason, and for the limited purposes already mentioned, I had rather you would provide claret, or other wine on which the duty is not so high, than to use my Madeira, unless it be on very extraordinary occasions.
I have no objection to any sober, or orderly person’s gratifying their curiosity in viewing the buildings, gardens, &c., about Mt. Vernon; but it is only to such persons as I have described that I ought to be run to any expence on account of these visits of curiosity, beyond common civility and hospitality. No gentleman who has a proper respect for his own character (except relations and intimates) would use the house in my absence for the sake of conveniency (as it is far removed from the public roads), unless invited to do so by me or some friend; nor do I suppose any of this description would go there without a personal, or written introduction.
I have been thus particular, that you may have a full view of my ideas on this subject, and conform to them; and 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,—without such a watch over them as the other business you are employed in, would not allow you to employ. * * * 23 November, 1794.
By mistake, the sum of £300 was omitted in the charges against my bond to Mr. Lund Washington; as you have discovered in the above letter. By my mode of settling the bonded account, he will be £7, 10, 8 in my debt, and by the mode he proposes, I shall be £51, 12, 11 in his debt. Which of these is the mode by which a court of law, or equity, would settle it, I neither know, nor shall try; all that I can say on the subject, I have already said in my letter to him, viz., that Mr. John Mercer settled my account with his father’s and brother’s estate by charging me interest on all his payments; and when I objected thereto, he said it was the method by which the Chancellor in Virginia settled matters of a like nature; which was confirmed by Mr. Randolph, who was well acquainted with the practice of that court. However, as I am determined to have no dispute on the subject, Mr. Washington may settle it by which account he pleases (both are enclosed), or by striking a medium between the two methods, as shall be most agreeable to his own ideas of justice. Take up my bond, and after tareing my name from it, send it to me;—Let all the accounts between him and me be finally closed, and unless there is an absolute occasion for it, do not run me to the expence of smiths’ work there, or elsewhere, in future.
After you have discharged this account, and such others as are known to be due, from me, place the surplus of the money in the bank of Alexandria, and give me the amount of the sum. But on second thoughts, there will be your own wages, the wages of the overseers, &c., which will be due in a very little time. Let all be paid, for I never like to be in debt to any one, or have any money in my possession that another has a right to call for. * * * 7 December, 1794.
I approve your idea of clearing up the wood between the fence and the road, and letting it lay over to another year; but quere, would it not be better, instead of cleaning the ground thoroughly, and exposing the earth to the rays of the summer’s sun, to have it well grubbed, and lye with all the brush on it until the proper period arrives for breaking it up for corn? In many places, this is the universal practice; and in the opinion of some, (especially in the Northern and Eastern States) an indispensable one. They have two ways of doing this.—The one is, by letting the brush lye on the ground until the leaves, and small twigs have fallen, and are beginning to rot; which, when plowed in, occasions putrefaction and fermentation, and of course more product, after these have happened. The other is, to let the brush lye (not in heaps by piling it up, but as it is cut off) until the spring—and then set fire to it; which spreading over the whole surface, equally warms the earth, while the ashes serve as manure. Which of these is the best, or whether either of them are better than to expose the soil to the sun (as it is of a cold and sour nature) deserves consideration. * * * 14 December, 1794.
The whole amount of the corn crop I perceive is 1639 barrels. I perceive also by the reports of last week, and I believe it has been as much for several weeks preceeding, your weekly consumption of this article is 22 barrels to the stock, and about 14 to the negros; amounting together to 36 barrels, which multiplied by 52, the number of weeks in a year makes 1872, and is 233 barrels more than is made. How far this extraordinary consumption has been occasioned by the hogs which have been fatting, and how far it is capable of reduction, it is more than I am able at this distance to determine. It would, if continued, be using considerably more than ever was expended on the estate; for which reason, as I observed in one of my late letters to you, at the same time that I wish nothing to be starved thereon, I would have the corn, and indeed every thing else, administered with the utmost œconomy; for hard indeed will it be upon me, if I can make no more from my estate, wheat alone excepted, than is consumed thereon; and from the produce of that article, overseers’ wages and every thing that is bought, is to be paid for. * * * 21 December, 1794.
[1 ]In continuation of Vol. XII., page 401.
[1 ]James Donaldson.