George Washington: Farmer
Paul Leland Haworth
Part 1 out of 4
GEORGE WASHINGTON: FARMER
BEING AN ACCOUNT OF HIS HOME LIFE AND AGRICULTURAL ACTIVITIES
PAUL LELAND HAWORTH
Author of THE PATH OF GLORY, RECONSTRUCTION AND UNION,
AMERICA IN FERMENT, ETC.
WITH MANY ILLUSTRATIONS, FACSIMILIES OF PRIVATE PAPERS, AND A MAP OF
WASHINGTON'S ESTATE DRAWN BY HIMSELF
[Illustration: _By permission of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association_
Mount Vernon Stable Built in 1733 Showing also the Powell Coach]
"The aim of the farmers in this country (if they can be called farmers)
is, not to make the most they can from the land, which is or has been
cheap, but the most of the labour, which is dear; the consequence of
which has been, much ground has been _scratched_ over and none
cultivated or improved as it ought to have been: whereas a farmer in
England, where land is dear, and labour cheap, finds it his interest to
improve and cultivate highly, that he may reap large crops from a small
quantity of ground."
Washington to Arthur Young, December 5, 1791.
The story of George Washington's public career has been many times told
in books of varying worth, but there is one important aspect of his
private life that has never received the attention it deserves. The
present book is an attempt to supply this deficiency.
I desire to acknowledge gratefully the assistance I have received from
Messrs. Gaillard Hunt and John C. Fitzpatrick of the Library of
Congress, Mr. Hubert B. Fuller lately of Washington and now of
Cleveland, Colonel Harrison H. Dodge and other officials of the Mount
Vernon Association, and from the work of Paul Leicester Ford,
Worthington C. Ford and John M. Toner.
Above all, in common with my countrymen, I am indebted to heroic Ann
Pamelia Cunningham, to whose devoted labor, despite ill health and
manifold discouragements, the preservation of Mount Vernon is due. To
her we should be grateful for a shrine that has not its counterpart in
the world--a holy place that no man can visit without experiencing an
uplift of heart and soul that makes him a better American.
PAUL LELAND HAWORTH.
I A MAN IN LOVE WITH THE SOIL.
II BUILDING AN ESTATE.
III VIRGINIA AGRICULTURE IN WASHINGTON'S DAY.
IV WASHINGTON'S PROBLEM.
V THE STUDENT OF AGRICULTURE.
VI A FARMER'S RECORDS AND OTHER PAPERS.
VII AGRICULTURAL OPERATIONS AND EXPERIMENTS BEFORE THE REVOLUTION.
VIII CONSERVING THE SOIL.
IX THE STOCKMAN.
X THE HORTICULTURIST AND LANDSCAPE GARDENER.
XI WHITE SERVANTS AND OVERSEERS.
XII BLACK SLAVES.
XIII THE FARMER'S WIFE.
XIV A FARMER'S AMUSEMENTS.
XV A CRITICAL VISITOR AT MOUNT VERNON.
XVI PROFIT AND LOSS.
XVII ODDS AND ENDS.
XVIII THE VALE OF SUNSET.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Mount Vernon Stable, Built in 1733, Showing also the Powell Coach.
Mount Vernon, Showing Kitchen to the Left and Covered
Way Leading to It.
The Washington Family.
Driveway from the Lodge Gate.
The Porter's Lodge.
One of the Artificial Mounds. The Tree Upon It Was
Set Out by Mrs. Grover Cleveland.
The Seed House. Beyond Lay the Vegetable Garden.
The Mount Vernon Kitchen (restored).
Map of Mount Vernon Drawn by Washington and Sent
by Him to Arthur Young in 1793.
Gully on a Field of Union Farm, Showing Susceptibility to Erosion.
Looking Across Part of Dogue Run Farm to "Woodlawn,"
the Home of Nelly Custis Lewis.
First Page of Washington's Digest of Duhamel's Husbandry.
Dogue Run Below the Site of the Mill.
On the Road to the Mill and Pohick Church.
Part of Washington's Plan for His Sixteen-Sided Barn.
Bill of Lading for "Royal Gift".
Experimental Plot, with Servants' Quarters (restored)
West Front of Mansion House, Showing Bowling Green
and Part of Serpentine Drive.
First Page of the Diary for 1760.
Part of a Manager's Weekly Report.
The Butler's House and Magnolia Set Out by Washington
the Year of His Death.
Spinning House--Last Building to the Right.
Weekly Report on the Work of the Spinners.
The Flower Garden.
A Page from a Cash Memorandum Book.
One of Washington's Tavern Bills.
A MAN IN LOVE WITH THE SOIL
One December day in the year 1788 a Virginia gentleman sat before his
desk in his mansion beside the Potomac writing a letter. He was a man of
fifty-six, evidently tall and of strong figure, but with shoulders a
trifle stooped, enormously large hands and feet, sparse grayish-chestnut
hair, a countenance somewhat marred by lines of care and marks of
smallpox, withal benevolent and honest-looking--the kind of man to whom
one could intrust the inheritance of a child with the certainty that it
would be carefully administered and scrupulously accounted for to the
very last sixpence.
The letter was addressed to an Englishman, by name Arthur Young, the
foremost scientific farmer of his day, editor of the _Annals of
Agriculture_, author of many books, of which the best remembered is his
_Travels in France_ on the eve of the French Revolution, which is still
read by every student of that stirring era.
"The more I am acquainted with agricultural affairs," such were the
words that flowed from the writer's pen, "the better I am pleased with
them; insomuch, that I can no where find so great satisfaction as in
those innocent and useful pursuits. In indulging these feelings I am led
to reflect how much more delightful to an undebauched mind is the task
of making improvements on the earth than all the vain glory which can be
acquired from ravaging it, by the most uninterrupted career of
Thus wrote George Washington in the fulness of years, honors and
experience. Surely in this age of crimson mists we can echo his
correspondent that it was a "noble sentiment, which does honor to the
heart of this truly great man." Happy America to have had such a
philosopher as a father!
"I think with you that the life of a husbandman is the most delectable,"
he wrote on another occasion to the same friend. "It is honorable, it is
amusing, and, with judicious management, it is profitable. To see
plants rise from the earth and flourish by the superior skill and bounty
of the laborer fills a contemplative mind with ideas which are more easy
to be conceived than expressed."
The earliest Washington arms had blazoned upon it "3 Cinque foiles,"
which was the herald's way of saying that the bearer owned land and was
a farmer. When Washington made a book-plate he added to the old design
spears of wheat to indicate what he once called "the most favorite
amusement of my life." Evidently he had no fear of being-called a
"clodhopper" or a "hayseed!"
Nor was his enthusiasm for agriculture the evanescent enthusiasm of the
man who in middle age buys a farm as a plaything and tries for the first
time the costly experiment of cultivating the soil. He was born on a
plantation, was brought up in the country and until manhood he had never
even seen a town of five thousand people. First he was a surveyor, and
so careful and painstaking was he that his work still stands the test.
Later he became a soldier, and there is evidence to show that at first
he enjoyed the life and for a time had military ambitions. When
Braddock's expedition was preparing he chafed at the prospect of
inaction and welcomed the offer to join the general's staff, but the
bitter experiences of the next few years, when he had charge of the
herculean task of protecting the settlers upon the "cold and Barren
Frontiers ... from the cruel Incursions of a crafty Savage Enemy,"
destroyed his illusions about war. After the capture of Fort Duquesne
had freed Virginia from danger he resigned his commission, married and
made a home. Soon after he wrote to an English kinsman who had invited
him to visit London: "I am now I believe fixed at this seat with an
agreeable Consort for Life. And hope to find more happiness in
retirement than I ever experienced amidst a wide bustling world."
Thereafter he quitted the quiet life always with reluctance. Amid long
and trying years he constantly looked forward to the day when he could
lay down his burden and retire to the peace and freedom of Mount Vernon,
there to take up again the task of farming. As Commander-in-Chief of the
Armies of the Revolution and as first President of the Republic he gave
the best that was in him--and it was always good enough--but more from a
sense of duty than because of any real enthusiasm for the role of
either soldier or statesman. We can well believe that it was with
heartfelt satisfaction that soon after independence was at last assured
he wrote to his old comrade-in-arms the Marquis de Chastellux: "I am at
length become a private citizen on the banks of the Potomac, where under
my own vine and fig-tree free from the bustle of a camp and the
intrigues of a court, I shall view the busy world with calm
indifference, and with serenity of mind, which the soldier in pursuit of
glory, and the statesman of a name, have not leisure to enjoy."
Years before as a boy he had copied into a wonderful copy-book that is
still preserved in the Library of Congress some verses that set forth
pretty accurately his ideal of life--an ideal influenced, may we not
believe, in those impressionable years by these very lines. These are
the verses--one can not call them poetry--just as I copied them after
the clear boyish hand from the time-yellowed page:
These are the things, which once possess'd
Will make a life that's truly bless'd
A good Estate on healthy Soil,
Not Got by Vice nor yet by toil;
Round a warm Fire, a pleasant Joke,
With Chimney ever free from Smoke:
A strength entire, a Sparkling Bowl,
A quiet Wife, a quiet Soul,
A Mind, as well as body, whole
Prudent Simplicity, constant Friend,
A Diet which no art Commends;
A Merry Night without much Drinking
A happy Thought without much Thinking;
Each Night by Quiet Sleep made Short
A Will to be but what thou art:
Possess'd of these, all else defy
And neither wish nor fear to Die
These are things, which once Possess'd
Will make a life that's truly bless'd.
George Washington did not affect the role of a Cincinnatus; he took it
in all sincerity and simpleness of heart because he loved it.
Nor was he the type of farmer--of whom we have too many--content to
vegetate like a lower organism, making scarcely more mental effort than
one of his own potatoes, parsnips or pumpkins. As the pages that follow
will reveal, he was one of the first American experimental
agriculturists, always alert for better methods, willing to take any
amount of pains to find the best fertilizer, the best way to avoid
plant diseases, the best methods of cultivation, and he once declared
that he had little patience with those content to tread the ruts their
fathers trod. If he were alive to-day, we may be sure that he would be
an active worker in farmers' institutes, an eager visitor to
agricultural colleges, a reader of scientific reports and an
enthusiastic promoter of anything tending to better American farming and
BUILDING AN ESTATE
Augustine Washington was a planter who owned thousands of acres of land,
most of it unimproved, besides an interest in some small iron works, but
he had been twice married and at his death left two broods of children
to be provided for. George, a younger son--which implied a great deal in
those days of entail and primogeniture--received the farm on the
Rappahannock on which his father lived, amounting to two hundred and
eighty acres, a share of the land lying on Deep Run, three lots in
Frederick, a few negro slaves and a quarter of the residuary estate. He
was also given a reversionary interest in Mount Vernon, bequeathed to
his half-brother Lawrence. The total value of his inheritance was small,
and, as Virginia landed fortunes went, he was left poorly provided for.
Much of Washington's youth was spent with Lawrence at Mount Vernon, and
as an aside it may be remarked here that the main moulding influence in
his life was probably cast by this high-minded brother, who was a
soldier and man of the world. By the time he was sixteen the boy was on
the frontier helping Lord Thomas Fairfax to survey the princely domain
that belonged to his lordship, and received in payment therefor
sometimes as much as a doubloon a day. In 1748 he patented five hundred
fifty acres of wild land in Frederick County, "My Bullskin Plantation"
he usually called it, payment being made by surveying. In 1750 he had
funds sufficient to buy four hundred fifty-six acres of land of one
James McCracken, paying therefor one hundred twelve pounds. Two years
later for one hundred fifteen pounds he bought five hundred fifty-two
acres on the south fork of Bullskin Creek from Captain George Johnston.
In 1757 he acquired from a certain Darrell five hundred acres on Dogue
Run near Mount Vernon, paying three hundred fifty pounds.
It is evident, therefore, that very early he acquired the "land hunger"
to which most of the Virginians of his day were subject, as a heritage
from their English ancestry. In the England of that day, in fact, no
one except a churchman could hope to attain much of a position in the
world unless he was the owner of land, and until the passage of the
great Reform Bill in 1832 he could not even vote unless he held land
worth forty shillings a year. In Virginia likewise it was the landholder
who enjoyed distinction and consideration, who was sent to the House of
Burgesses and was bowed and scraped to as his coach bumped along over
the miserable roads. The movement to cities did not begin until after
the Industrial Revolution, and people still held the healthy notion that
the country was the proper place in which to live a normal human
In 1752 Lawrence Washington died. As already stated, he was the
proprietor by inheritance of Mount Vernon, then an estate of two
thousand five hundred acres which had been in the Washington family
since 1674, being a grant from Lord Culpeper. Lawrence had fought
against the Spaniards in the conflict sometimes known as the war of
Jenkins's Ear, and in the disastrous siege of Cartagena had served under
Admiral Vernon, after whom he later named his estate. He married Anne
Fairfax, daughter of Sir William Fairfax, and for her built on his
estate a new residence, containing eight rooms, four to each floor, with
a large chimney at each end.
[Illustration: Mount Vernon, Showing Kitchen to the Left and Covered
Way Leading to It]
[Illustration: _From a painting by T.P. Rossiter and L.R. Mignot_ The
Washington Family] Lawrence Washington was the father of four
children, but only an infant daughter, Sarah, survived him, and she died
soon after him. By the terms of his father's and Lawrence's wills George
Washington, after the death of this child, became the ultimate inheritor
of the Mount Vernon estate, but, contrary to the common idea, Anne
Fairfax Washington, who soon married George Lee, retained a life
interest. On December 17, 1754, however, the Lees executed a deed
granting said life interest to George Washington in consideration of an
annual payment during Anne Lee's lifetime of fifteen thousand pounds of
tobacco or the equivalent in current money. Mrs. Lee died in 1761 and
thereafter Washington owned the estate absolutely. That it was by no
means so valuable at that time as its size would indicate is shown by
the smallness of the, rent he paid, never more than four hundred
sixty-five dollars a year. Many eighty-acre farms rent for that much
to-day and even for more.
 From entries in Washington's account book we know that this
equivalent in 1755 was L93.15; during each of the next four years it was
L87.10, and for 1760 it was L81.5.
Up to 1759 Washington was so constantly engaged in fighting the French
and Indians that he had little time and opportunity to look after his
private affairs and in consequence they suffered. In 1757 he wrote from
the Shenandoah Valley to an English agent that he should have some
tobacco to sell, but could not say whether he did have or not. His pay
hardly sufficed for his personal expenses and on the disastrous Fort
Necessity and Braddock campaigns he lost his horses and baggage. Owing
to his absence from home, his affairs fell into great disorder from
which they were extricated by a fortunate stroke.
This stroke consisted in his marriage to Martha Custis, relict of the
wealthy Daniel Parke Custis. The story of his wooing the young widow has
been often told with many variations and fanciful embellishments, but of
a few facts we are certain. From a worldly point of view Mrs. Custis was
the most desirable woman in all Virginia, and the young officer, though
not as yet a victor in many battles, had fought gallantly, possessed the
confidence of the Colony and formed a shining exception to most of the
tidewater aristocracy who continued to hunt the fox and guzzle Madeira
while a cruel foe was harrying the western border. Matters moved
forward with the rapidity traditional in similar cases and in about
three weeks and before the Colonel left to join Forbes in the final
expedition against Fort Duquesne the little widow had been wooed and
won. After his return from that expedition Washington resigned his
commission and on the 6th of January, 1759, they were married at her
"White House" on York River and spent their honeymoon at her "Six
Chimney House" in Williamsburg.
The young groom and farmer--as he would now have styled himself--was at
this time not quite twenty-seven years old, six feet two inches high,
straight as an Indian and weighed about one hundred and seventy-five
pounds. His bones and joints were large, as were his hands and feet. He
was wide-shouldered but somewhat flat-chested, neat-waisted but broad
across the hips, with long arms and legs. His skin was rather pale and
colorless and easily burned by the sun, and his hair, a chestnut brown,
he usually wore in a queue. His mouth was large and generally firmly
closed and the teeth were already somewhat defective. His countenance as
a whole was pleasing, benevolent and commanding, and in conversation he
looked one full in the face and was deliberate, deferential and
engaging. His voice was agreeable rather than strong. His demeanor at
all times was composed and dignified, his movements and gestures
graceful, his walk majestic and he was a superb horseman.
 Adapted from a description written by his comrade-in-arms, George
The bride brought her husband a "little progeny" consisting of two
interesting stepchildren; also property worth about a hundred thousand
dollars, including many negro slaves, money on bond and stock in the
Bank of England. Soon we find him sending certificates of the marriage
to the English agents of the Custis estate and announcing to them that
the management of the whole would be in his hands.
The dower negroes were kept separate from those owned by himself, but
otherwise he seems to have made little distinction between his own and
Mrs. Washington's property, which was now, in fact, by Virginia law his
own. When Martha wanted money she applied to him for it. Now and then in
his cash memorandum books we come upon such entries as, "By Cash to Mrs.
Washington for Pocket Money L4." As a rule, if there were any purchases
to be made, she let George do it and, if we may judge from the long
list of tabby colored velvet gowns, silk hose, satin shoes, "Fashionable
Summer Cloaks & Hatts," and similar articles ordered from the English
agents she had no reason to complain that her husband was niggardly or a
poor provider. If her "Old Man"--for she sometimes called him
that--failed in anything she desired, tradition says that the little
lady was in the habit of taking hold of a button of his coat and hanging
on until he had promised to comply.
He managed the property of the two children with great care and
fidelity, keeping a scrupulous account in a "marble colour'd folio Book"
of every penny received or expended in their behalf and making a yearly
report to the general court of his stewardship. How minute this account
was is indicated by an entry in his cash memorandum book for August 21,
1772: "Charge Miss Custis with a hair Pin mended by C. Turner" one
shilling. Her death (of "Fitts") in 1773 added about ten thousand pounds
to Mrs. Washington's property, which meant to his own.
There can be no question that the fortune he acquired by the Custis
alliance proved of great advantage to him in his future career, for it
helped to make him independent as regards money considerations. He
might never have become the Father of His Country without it. Some of
his contemporaries, including jealous-hearted John Adams, seem to have
realized this, and tradition says that old David Burnes, the crusty
Scotsman who owned part of the land on which the Federal City was laid
out, once ventured to growl to the President: "Now what would ye ha'
been had ye not married the widow Custis?" But this was a narrow view of
the matter, for Washington was known throughout the Colonies before he
married the Custis pounds sterling and was a man of too much natural
ability not to have made a mark in later life, though possibly not so
high a one. Besides, as will be explained in detail later, much of the
Custis money was lost during the Revolution as a result of the
depreciation in the currency.
Following his marriage Washington added largely to his estate, both in
the neighborhood of Mount Vernon and elsewhere. In 1759 he bought of his
friend Bryan Fairfax two hundred and seventy-five acres on Difficult
Run, and about the same time from his neighbor, the celebrated George
Mason of Gunston Hall, he acquired one hundred acres next that already
bought of Darrell. Negotiations entered into with a certain Clifton for
the purchase of a tract of one thousand eight hundred six acres called
Brents was productive of much annoyance. Clifton agreed in February,
1760, to sell the ground for one thousand one hundred fifty pounds, but
later, "under pretence of his wife not consenting to acknowledge her
right of dower wanted to disengage himself ... and by his shuffling
behavior convinced me of his being the trifling body represented."
Washington heard presently that Clifton had sold the land to another
man for one thousand two hundred pounds, which fully "unravelled his
conduct ... and convinced me that he was nothing less than a thorough
paced rascal." Ultimately Washington acquired Brents, but had to pay
one thousand two hundred ten pounds for it.
During the next few years he acquired other tracts, notably the Posey
plantation just below Mount Vernon and later often called by him the
Ferry Farm. With it he acquired a ferry to the Maryland shore and a
fishery, both of which industries he continued.
By 1771 he paid quit rents upon an estate of five thousand five hundred
eighteen acres in Fairfax County; on two thousand four hundred
ninety-eight acres in Frederick County; on one thousand two hundred
fifty acres in King George; on two hundred forty in Hampshire; on two
hundred seventy-five in Loudoun; on two thousand six hundred eighty-two
in Loudoun Faquier--in all, twelve thousand four hundred sixty-three
acres. The quit rent was two shillings and sixpence per hundred acres
and amounted to L15.11.7.
In addition to these lands in the settled parts of Virginia he also had
claims to vast tracts in the unsettled West. For services in the French
and Indian War he was given twenty thousand acres of wild land beyond
the mountains--a cheap mode of reward, for the Ohio region was to all
intents and purposes more remote than Yukon is to-day. Many of his
fellow soldiers held their grants so lightly that he was able to buy
their claims for almost a song. The feeling that such grants were
comparatively worthless was increased by the fact that to become
effective they must be located and surveyed, while doubt existed as to
whether they would be respected owing to conflicting claims,
jurisdictions and proclamations.
[Illustration: The Porter's Lodge]
[Illustration: Driveway from the Lodge Gate]
Washington, however, had seen the land and knew it was good and he
had prophetic faith in the future of the West. He employed his old
comrade Captain William Crawford to locate and survey likely tracts not
only in what is now West Virginia and western Pennsylvania, but beyond
the Ohio River. Settlement in the latter region had been forbidden by
the King's proclamation of 1763, but Washington thought that this was
merely a temporary measure designed to quiet the Indians and was anxious
to have picked out in advance "some of the most valuable land in the
King's part." In other words he desired Crawford to act the part of a
"Sooner," in the language of more than a century later.
In this period a number of companies were scrambling for western lands,
and Washington, at one time or another, had an interest in what was
known as the Walpole Grant, the Mississippi Company, the Military
Company of Adventurers and the Dismal Swamp Company. This last company,
however, was interested in redeeming lands about Dismal Swamp in eastern
Virginia and it was the only one that succeeded. In 1799 he estimated
the value of his share in that company at twenty thousand dollars.
Washington took the lead in securing the rights of his old soldiers in
the French War, advancing money to pay expenses in behalf of the common
cause and using his influence in the proper quarters. In August, 1770,
he met many of his former officers at Captain Weedon's in
Fredericksburg, and after they had dined and had talked over old times,
they discussed the subject of their claims until sunset, and it was
decided that Washington should personally make a long and dangerous trip
to the western region.
In October he set out with his old friend Doctor James Craik and three
servants, including the ubiquitous Billy Lee, and on the way increased
the party. They followed the old Braddock Road to Pittsburgh, then a
village of about twenty log cabins, visiting en route some tracts of
land that Crawford had selected. At Pittsburgh they obtained a large
dugout, and with Crawford, two Indians and several borderers, floated
down the Ohio, picking out and marking rich bottom lands and having
great sport hunting and fishing.
The region in which they traveled was then little known and was
unsettled by white men. Daniel Boone had made his first hunting trip
into "the dark and bloody ground of Kaintuckee" only the year before,
and scattered along the banks of the Ohio stood the wigwam villages of
the aboriginal lords of the land. At one such village Washington met a
chief who had accompanied him on his memorable winter journey in 1753 to
warn out the French, and elsewhere talked with Indians who had shot at
him in the battle of the Monongahela and now expressed a belief that he
must be invulnerable. At the Mingo Town they saw a war party of three
score painted Iroquois on their way to fight the far distant Catawbas.
Between the Indians and the white men peace nominally reigned, but
rumors were flying of impending uprisings, and the Red Man's smouldering
hate was soon to burst into the flame known as Lord Dunmore's War. Once
the party was alarmed by a report that the Indians had killed two white
men, but they breathed easier on learning that the sole basis of the
story was that a trader had tried to swim his horse across the Ohio and
had been drowned. In spite of uncertainties, the voyagers continued to
the Great Kanawha and paddled about fourteen miles up that stream. Near
its mouth Washington located two large tracts for himself and military
comrades and after interesting hunting experiences and inspecting some
enormous sycamores--concerning which matters more hereafter--the party
turned back, and Washington reached home after an absence of nine weeks.
Two of Washington's western tracts are of special interest. One had been
selected by Crawford in 1767 and was "a fine piece of land on a stream
called Chartiers Creek" in the present Washington County, southwest of
Pittsburgh. Crawford surveyed the tract and marked it by blazed trees,
built four cabins and cleared a patch of ground, as an improvement,
about each. Later Washington, casting round for some one from whom to
obtain a military title with which to cover the tract, bought out the
claim of his financially embarrassed old neighbor Captain John Posey to
three thousand acres, paying L11.11.3, or about two cents per acre.
Crawford, now a deputy surveyor of the region, soon after resurveyed two
thousand eight hundred thirteen acres and forwarded the "return" to
Washington, with the result that in 1774 Governor Dunmore of Virginia
granted a patent for the land.
In the meantime, however, six squatters built a cabin upon the tract and
cleared two or three acres, but Crawford paid them five pounds for their
improvements and induced them to move on. To keep off other interlopers
he placed a man on the land, but in 1773 a party of rambunctious
Scotch-Irishmen appeared on the scene, drove the keeper away, built a
cabin so close in front of his door that he could not get back in, and
continued to hold the land until after the Revolution.
By that time Crawford himself was dead--having suffered the most
terrible of all deaths--that of an Indian captive burnt at the stake.
The other tract whose history it is worth our while to follow consisted
of twelve hundred acres on the Youghiogheny River, likewise not far from
Pittsburgh. It bore seams of coal, which Washington examined in 1770 and
thought "to be of the very best kind, burning freely and abundance of
it." In the spring of 1773 he sent out a certain Gilbert Simpson, with
whom he had formed a sort of partnership, to look after this land, and
each furnished some laborers, Washington a "fellow" and a "wench."
Simpson managed to clear some ground and get in six acres of corn, but
his wife disliked life on the borderland and made him so uncomfortable
with her complaints that he decided to throw up the venture. However, he
changed his mind, and after a trip back East returned and, on a site
noticed by the owner on his visit, built a grist mill on a small stream
now called Washington's Run that empties into the Youghiogheny. This was
one of the first mills erected west of the Alleghany Mountains and is
still standing, though more or less rebuilt. The millstones were dug out
of quarries in the neighborhood and the work of building the mill was
done amid considerable danger from the Indians, who had begun what is
known as Dunmore's War. Simpson's cabin and the slave quarters stood
near what is now Plant No. 2 of the Washington Coal and Coke Company.
The tract of land contains valuable seams of coal and with some
contiguous territory is valued at upward of twenty million dollars.
Washington had large ideas for the development of these western lands.
At one time he considered attempting to import Palatine Germans to
settle there, but after careful investigation decided that the plan was
impracticable. In 1774 he bought four men convicts, four indented
servants, and a man and his wife for four years and sent them and some
carpenters out to help Simpson build the mill and otherwise improve the
lands. Next year he sent out another party, but Indian troubles and
later the Revolution united with the natural difficulties of the
country to put a stop to progress. Some of the servants were sold and
others ran away, but Simpson stayed on in charge, though without making
any financial settlement with his patron till 1784.
At the close of the Revolution Washington wrote to President John
Witherspoon of Princeton College that he had in the western country
patents under signature of Lord Dunmore "for about 30,000 acres, and
surveys for about 10,000 more, patents for which were suspended by the
disputes with Great Britain, which soon followed the return of the
warrants to the land office. Ten thousand acres of the above thirty lie
upon the Ohio; the rest on the Great Kenhawa, a river nearly as large,
and quite as easy in its navigation, as the former, The whole of it is
rich bottom land, beautifully situated on these rivers, and abounding
plenteously in fish, wild-fowl, and game of all kinds."
He could have obtained vast land grants for his Revolutionary services,
but he stuck by his announced intention of receiving only compensation
for his expenses. He continued, however, to be greatly interested in the
western country and was one of the first Americans to foresee the
importance of that region to the young Republic, predicting that it
would become populated more rapidly than any one could believe and
faster than any similar region ever had been settled. He was extremely
anxious to develop better methods of communication with the West and in
1783 made a trip up the Mohawk River to the famous Oneida or Great
Carrying Place to view the possibilities of waterway development in that
region--the future course of the Erie Canal. Soon after he wrote to his
friend the Chevalier de Chastellux: "I could not help taking a more
extensive view of the vast inland navigation of these United States and
could not but be struck by the immense extent and importance of it, and
of the goodness of that Providence which has dealt its favors to us with
so profuse a hand. Would to God we may have wisdom enough to improve
them. I shall not rest contented till I have explored the Western
Country, and traversed those lines or great part of them, which have
given bounds to a new empire."
In partnership with George Clinton he bought, in 1784, a tract of six
thousand acres on the Mohawk, paying for his share, including interest,
one thousand eight hundred seventy-five pounds. In 1793 he sold
two-thirds of his half for three thousand four hundred pounds and in his
will valued the thousand acres that remained at six thousand dollars.
This was a speculation pure and simple, as he was never in the region in
which the land lay but once.
On December 23, 1783, in an ever memorable scene, Washington resigned
his commission as Commander of the Continental Army and rode off from
Annapolis to Mount Vernon to keep Christmas there for the first time
since 1774. The next eight months he was busily engaged in making
repairs and improvements about his home estate, but on September first,
having two days before said good-by to Lafayette, who had been visiting
him, he set off on horseback to inspect his western lands and to obtain
information requisite to a scheme he had for improving the "Inland
Navigation of the Potomac" and connecting its head waters by canal with
those of the Ohio. The first object was rendered imperative by the
settlement of squatters on part of his richest land, some of which was
even being offered for sale by unscrupulous land agents.
With him went again his old friend Doctor Craik. Their equipage
consisted of three servants and six horses, three of which last carried
the baggage, including a marquee, some camp utensils, a few medicines,
"hooks and lines," Madeira, port wine and cherry bounce. Stopping at
night and for meals at taverns or the homes of relatives or friends,
they passed up the picturesque Potomac Valley, meeting many friends
along the way, among them the celebrated General Daniel Morgan, with
whom Washington talked over the waterways project. At "Happy Retreat,"
the home of Charles Washington in the fertile Shenandoah Valley, beyond
the Blue Ridge, Washington met and transacted business with tenants who
lived on his lands in that region. On September fifth he reached Bath,
the present Berkeley Springs, where he owned two thousand acres of land
and two lots. Here fifteen years before he had come with his family in
the hope that the water would benefit poor "Patey" Custis, and here he
met "the ingenious Mr. Rumney" who showed him the model of a boat to be
propelled by steam.
At Bath the party was joined by Doctor Craik's son William and by the
General's nephew, Bushrod Washington. Twelve miles to the west
Washington turned aside from the main party to visit a tract of two
hundred forty acres that he owned on the Virginia side of the Potomac.
He found it "exceedingly Rich, & must be very valuable--the lower end of
the Land is rich white oak in places springey ... the upper part is ...
covered with Walnut of considerable size many of them." He "got a snack"
at the home of a Mr. McCracken and left with that gentleman the terms
upon which he would let the land, then rode onward and rejoined
The cavalcade passed on to Fort Cumberland. There Washington left the
main party to follow with the baggage and hurried on ahead along
Braddock's old road in order to fill an appointment to be at Gilbert
Simpson's by the fifteenth. Passing through the dark tangle of Laurel
known as the Shades of Death, he came on September twelfth to the
opening among the mountains--the Great Meadows--where in 1754 in his
rude little fort of logs, aptly named Fort Necessity, he had fought the
French and had been conquered by them. He owned the spot now, for in
1770 Crawford had bought it for him for "30 Pistols," Thirty years
before, as an enthusiastic youth, he had called it a "charming field for
an encounter"; now he spoke of it as "capable of being turned to great
advantage ... a very good stand for a Tavern--much Hay may be cut here
When the ground is laid down in grass & the upland, East of the Meadow,
is good for grain."
 Doubtless he meant pistoles, coins, not weapons.
Not a word about the spot's old associations!
The same day he pushed on through the mountains, meeting "numbers of
Persons & Pack horses going in with Ginseng; & for Salt & other articles
at the Markets below," and near nightfall reached on the Youghiogheny
River the tract on which Gilbert Simpson, his agent, lived. He found the
land poorer than he had expected and the buildings that had been erected
indifferent, while the mill was in such bad condition that "little Rent,
or good is to be expected from the present aspect of her," He was, in
fact, unable to find a renter for the mill and let the land, twelve
hundred acres, now worth millions, for only five hundred bushels
The land had cost him far more than he had received from it. Simpson had
not proved a man of much energy and even had he been otherwise
conditions in the region would have prevented him from accomplishing
much in a financial way, for there was little or no market for farm
produce near at hand and the cost of transportation over the mountains
was prohibitive. During the Revolution, however, Simpson had in some way
or other got hold of some paper currency and a few months before had
turned over the worthless bills to Washington. A century later the
package was sold at auction, and the band, which was still unbroken,
bore upon it in Washington's hand: "Given by Gilbt. Simpson, 19
At Simpson's Washington was met by a delegation from the squatters on
his holdings on Miller's Run or Chartiers Creek, "and after much
conversation & attempts in them to discover all the flaws they could in
my Deed &c." they announced that they would give a definite answer as to
what they would do when Washington reached the land in dispute.
He drew near the neighborhood on the following Saturday, but the next
day "Being Sunday, and the People living on my Land, _apparently_ very
religious, it was thought best to postpone going among them till
to-morrow." On Monday, in company with several persons including the
high sheriff, Captain Van Swearingen, or "Indian Van," captain of one of
the companies in Morgan's famous rifle corps, he proceeded to the land
and found that, of two thousand eight hundred thirteen acres, three
hundred sixty-three were under cultivation and forty more were in
meadow. On the land stood twelve cabins and nine barns claimed by
fourteen different persons, most or all of whom were doughty
Washington was humane enough to see that they had something to urge in
their behalf and offered to sell them the whole tract at twenty-five
shillings an acre, or to take them as tenants, but they stubbornly
refused his offers and after much wrangling announced their intention to
stand suit. Ejectment proceedings were accordingly brought by
Washington's attorney, Thomas Smith of Carlisle. The case was tried in
1786 before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and resulted in
In 1796 Washington sold the tract to a certain Matthew Richey for twelve
thousand dollars, of which three thousand one hundred eighty dollars was
to be paid in cash and the rest in three annual instalments. Richey died
in 1798, and Washington's heirs had difficulties in their attempts to
collect the remainder.
Leaving these legal matters to be disposed of by lawyers, Washington
turned back without visiting his Kanawha or Ohio lands, and on October
fourth reached Mount Vernon, having traveled on horseback about six
hundred eighty miles. One result of his trip was the formation of the
Potomac Company, but this is a subject that lies without the scope of
[Illustration: The Seed House, Beyond Lay the Vegetable Garden]
[Illustration: One of the Artificial Mounds. The Tree upon It was Set
out by Mrs. Grover Cleveland.]
From that time onward he bought occasional tracts of lands in various
parts of the country or acquired them in discharge of debts. By the
death of his mother he acquired her land on Accokeek Creek in Stafford
County, near where his father had operated an iron furnace.
Washington's landed estate as listed in his will amounted to about sixty
thousand two hundred two acres, besides lots in Washington, Alexandria,
Winchester, Bath, Manchester, Edinburgh and Richmond. Nine thousand two
hundred twenty-seven acres, including Mount Vernon and a tract on Four
Mile Run, he specifically bequeathed to individuals, as he did some of
the lots. The remaining lots and fifty thousand nine hundred
seventy-five acres (some of which land was already conditionally sold)
he directed to be disposed of, together with his live stock, government
bonds and shares held by him in the Potomac Company, the Dismal Swamp
Company, the James River Company and the banks of Columbia and
Alexandria--the whole value of which he conservatively estimated at five
hundred and thirty thousand dollars. The value of the property he
specifically bequeathed, with his slaves, which he directed should be
freed, can only be guessed at, but can hardly have been short of two
hundred and twenty thousand dollars more. In other words, he died
possessed of property worth three-quarters of a million and was the
richest man in America.
Not all of the land that he listed in his will proved of benefit to his
heirs. The title to three thousand fifty-one acres lying on the Little
Miami River in what is now Ohio and valued by him at fifteen thousand
two hundred fifty-five dollars proved defective. In 1790 a law, signed
by himself, had passed Congress requiring the recording of such
locations with the federal Secretary of State. Washington's locations
and surveys of this Ohio land had already been recorded in the Virginia
land office, and with a carelessness unusual in him he neglected to
comply with the statute. After his death certain persons took advantage
of the defect and seized the lands, and his executors failed to embrace
another opportunity given them to perfect the title, with the result
that the lands were lost.
The matter rested until a few years ago when some descendants of the
heirs set their heads together and one of them, Robert E. Lee, Jr.,
procured his appointment in 1907 by the court of Fairfax County as
administrator _de bonis non_ of Washington's estate. It was, of course,
impossible to regain the lands--which lie not far from Cincinnati and
are worth vast sums--so the movers in the matter had recourse to that
last resort of such claimants--Congress--and, with the modesty usually
shown by claimants, asked that body to reimburse the heirs in the sum of
three hundred and five thousand one hundred dollars--that is, one
hundred dollars per acre--with interest from the date of petition.
Thus far Congress has not seen fit to comply, nor does there seem to be
any good reason why it should do so. The land cost Washington a mere
bagatelle, it was lost through the neglect of himself and his executors,
and not one of the persons who would benefit by such a subsidy from the
public funds is his lineal descendant. As a mere matter of public policy
and common sense it may well be doubted whether any claim upon
government, no matter how just in itself, should be reimbursed beyond
the third generation. The heirs urge in extenuation of the claim that
Washington refused to accept any compensation for his Revolutionary
services, but it is answered that it is hardly seemly for his grand
nephews and grand nieces many times removed to beg for something that
the Father of His Country himself rejected. One wonders whether the
claimants would dare to press their claims in the presence of their
great Kinsman himself!
VIRGINIA AGRICULTURE IN WASHINGTON'S DAY
The Virginia of George Washington's youth and early manhood was an
imperial domain reaching from Atlantic tidewater through a thousand
leagues of forests, prairies and mountains "west and northwest" to the
South Sea. Only a narrow fringe along the eastern coast was settled by
white men; the remainder was a terra incognita into which Knights of the
Golden Horseshoe and Indian traders had penetrated a short distance,
bringing back stories of endless stretches of wolf-haunted woodland, of
shaggy-fronted wild oxen, of saline swamps in which reposed the whitened
bones of prehistoric monsters, of fierce savage tribes whose boast was
of the number of scalps that swung in the smoke of their wigwams. Even
as late as 1750 the fertile Shenandoah Valley beyond the Blue Ridge
formed the extreme frontier, while in general the "fall line," where the
drop from the foothills to the coastal plain stops navigation, marked
the limit of settlement.
At the time that Washington began to farm in earnest eastern Virginia
had, however, been settled for one hundred fifty-two years. Yet the
population was almost wholly rural. Williamsburg, the capital, was
hardly more than a country village, and Norfolk, the metropolis,
probably did not contain more than five thousand inhabitants. The
population generally was so scattered that, as has been remarked, a man
could not see his neighbor without a telescope or be heard by him
without firing a gun.
A large part of the settled land was divided up into great estates,
though there were many small farms. Some of these estates had been
acquired for little or nothing by Cavalier favorites of the colonial
governors. A few were perfectly enormous in size, and this was
particularly the rule on the "Northern Neck," the region in which Mount
Vernon was situated. The holding of Lord Thomas Fairfax, the early
friend and patron of Washington, embraced more than a score of modern
counties and contained upward of five million acres. The grant had been
made by Fairfax's grandfather, Lord Culpeper, the coproprietor and
Governor of Virginia.
The Virginia plantation of 1760 was much more sufficient unto itself
than was the same plantation of the next century when methods of
communication had improved, articles from the outside world were easier
to obtain, and invention was beginning to become "the mother of
necessity." Many of the large plantations, in fact, bore no small
resemblance to medieval manors. There was the planter himself residing
with his family in the mansion, which corresponded to the manor house,
and lording it over a crowd of white and black dependents, corresponding
to serfs. The servants, both white and black, dwelt somewhat apart in
the quarters, rude log huts for the most part, but probably as
comfortable as those of the Saxon churls of the time of the
Plantagenets. The planter's ownership over the persons of his dependents
was, however, much more absolute than was that of the Norman lord, for
on the manors the serfs could not be sold off the land, a restriction
that did not apply in Virginia either to black slaves or indentured
servants. On the manor, furthermore, the serf had his own bits of
ground, for which he paid rent in kind, money or service, and the
holdings passed from father to son; on the plantation the slave worked
under an overseer on his master's crops only and had nothing that he
could call his own--not even his wife or children. In the matter of the
organization of industries there was a closer resemblance. The planter
generally raised the staple articles of food for his family and slaves,
as did the lord, and a large proportion of the other articles used or
consumed were manufactured on the place. A son of George Mason,
Washington's close friend and neighbor, has left us the following
description of industry at Gunston Hall:
"My father had among his slaves carpenters, coopers, sawyers,
blacksmiths, tanners, curriers, shoemakers, spinners, weavers, and
knitters, and even a distiller. His woods furnished timber and plank for
the carpenters and coopers, and charcoal for the blacksmith; his cattle
killed for his own consumption and for sale, supplied skins for the
tanners, curriers, and shoemakers; and his sheep gave wool and his
fields produced cotton and flax for the weavers and spinners, and his
own orchards fruit for the distillers. His carpenters and sawyers built
and kept in repair all the dwelling-houses, barns, stables, ploughs,
harrows, gates, etc., on the plantations, and the outhouses of the
house. His coopers made the hogsheads the tobacco was prized in, and
the tight casks to hold the cider and other liquors. The tanners and
curriers, with the proper vats, etc., tanned and dressed the skins as
well for upper as for lower leather to the full amount of the
consumption of the estate, and the shoemakers made them into shoes for
the negroes. A professed shoemaker was hired for three or four months in
the year to come and make up the shoes for the white part of the family.
The blacksmiths did all the iron work required by the establishment, as
making and repairing ploughs, harrows, teeth, chains, bolts, etc. The
spinners, weavers, and knitters made all the coarse cloths and stockings
used by the negroes, and some of fine texture worn by the white family,
nearly all worn by the children of it. The distiller made every fall a
good deal of apple, peach, and persimmon brandy. The art of distilling
from grain was not then among us, and but few public distilleries. All
these operations were carried on at the home house, and their results
distributed as occasion required to the different plantations. Moreover,
all the beeves and hogs for consumption or sale were driven up and
slaughtered there at the proper seasons, and whatever was to be
preserved was salted and packed away for distribution."
Nevertheless the plantation drew upon the outside world for many
articles, especially luxuries, and the owner had to find the wherewithal
to make payment. The almost universal answer to this problem
was--tobacco. It was not an ideal answer, and historians have scolded
the departed planters vigorously for doing the sum in that way, yet the
planters were victims of circumstances. They had no gold or silver mines
from which to draw bullion that could be coined into cash; the fur trade
was of little importance compared with that farther north; the Europe of
that day raised sufficient meat and grain for its own use, and besides
these articles were bulky and costly to transport. But Europe did have a
strong craving for the weed and, almost of necessity, Virginians set
themselves to satisfying it. They could hardly be expected to do
otherwise when a pound of tobacco would often bring in England more than
a bushel of wheat, while it cost only a sixtieth part as much to send it
thither. It is estimated that prior to the Revolution Virginia often
sent out annually as much as ninety-six thousand hogsheads of tobacco.
Tobacco took the place of money, and debts, taxes and even ministers'
salaries were paid in it.
The disadvantages of tobacco culture are well known. Of all crops it is
perhaps the most exhausting to the soil, nor was a large part of
Virginia particularly fertile to begin with. Much land was speedily
ruined, but nothing was so cheap and plentiful in that day as land, so
the planter light-heartedly cleared more and let the old revert to the
wilderness. Any one who travels through the long settled parts of
Virginia to-day will see many such old fields upon which large forest
trees are now growing and can find there, if he will search closely
enough, signs of the old tobacco ridges. Only heroic measures and the
expenditure of large sums for fertilizer could make such worn-out land
again productive. Washington himself described the character of the
agriculture in words that can not be improved upon:
"A piece of land is cut down, and left under constant cultivation, first
in tobacco, and then in Indian corn (two very exhausting plants), until
it will yield scarcely anything; a second piece is cleared, and treated
in the same manner; then a third and so on, until probably there is but
little more to clear. When this happens, the owner finds himself reduced
to the choice of one of three things--either to recover the land which
he has ruined, to accomplish which, he has perhaps neither the skill,
the industry, nor the means; or to retire beyond the mountains; or to
substitute quantity for quality in order to raise something. The latter
has been generally adopted, and, with the assistance of horses, he
scratches over much ground, and seeds it, to very little purpose."
The tobacco industry was not only ruinous to the soil, but it was badly
organized from a financial standpoint. Three courses were open to the
planter who had tobacco. He might sell it to some local mercantile
house, but these were not numerous nor as a rule conveniently situated
to the general run of planters. He might deposit it in a tobacco
warehouse, receiving in return a receipt, which he could sell if he saw
fit and could find a purchaser. Or he could send his tobacco direct to
an English agent to be sold.
If a great planter and particularly if situated upon navigable water,
this last was the course he was apt to follow. He would have his own
wharf to which once or twice a year a ship would come bringing the
supplies he had ordered months before and taking away the great staple.
If brought from a distance, the tobacco was rarely hauled to the wharf
in wagons--the roads were too wretched for that--instead it was packed
in a great cylindrical hogshead through which an iron or wooden axle was
put. Horses or oxen were then hitched to the axle and the hogshead was
rolled to its destination.
By the ship that took away his tobacco the planter sent to the English
factor a list of the goods he would require for the next year. It was an
unsatisfactory way of doing business, for time and distance conspired to
put the planter at the factor's mercy. The planter was not only unlikely
to obtain a fair price for his product, but he had to pay excessive
prices for poor goods and besides could never be certain that his order
would be properly filled.
Washington's experiences with his English agents were probably fairly
typical. Near the close of 1759 he complained that Thomas Knox of
Bristol had failed to send him various things ordered, such as half a
dozen scythes and stones, curry combs and brushes, weeding and grubbing
hoes, and axes, and that now he must buy them in America at exorbitant
prices. Not long afterward he wrote again: "I have received my goods
from the Recovery, and cant help again complaining of the little care
taken in the purchase: Besides leaving out half and the most material
half too! of the Articles I sent for, I find the Sein is without Leads,
corks and Ropes which renders it useless--the crate of stone ware don't
contain a third of the Pieces I am charged with, and only two things
broken, and everything very high Charged."
In September of the same year he ordered, among other things, busts of
Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Charles XII of Sweden, Frederick the
Great, Prince Eugene and the Duke of Marlborough; also of two wild
beasts. The order was "filled" by sending him a group showing Aeneas
bearing his father from Troy, two groups with two statues of Bacchus and
Flora, two ornamental vases and two "Lyons."
"It is needless for me to particularise the sorts, quality, or taste I
woud choose to have them in unless it is observd," he wrote a year later
to Robert Gary & Company of London apropos of some articles with which
he was dissatisfied, "and you may believe me when I tell you that
instead of getting things good and fashionable in their several kind,
we often have articles sent us that coud only have been used by our
Forefathers in the days of yore--'Tis a custom, I have some reason to
believe, with many Shop keepers, and Tradesmen in London when they know
Goods are bespoke for Transportation to palm sometimes old, and
sometimes very slight and indifferent goods upon us taking care at the
same time to advance 10, 15, or perhaps 20 pr. Ct. upon them."
To his London shoemaker he wrote, November 30, 1759, that the last two
pairs of dog leather pumps scarce lasted twice as many days. To his
tailor he complained on another occasion of exorbitant prices. "I shall
only refer you generally to the Bills you have sent me, particularly for
a Pompadour Suit forwarded last July amounting to L16.3.6 without
embroidery, Lace or Binding--not a close fine cloth neither--and only a
gold Button that woud not stand the least Wear."
Another time he mentions that his clothes fit poorly, which is not
strange considering that measurements had to be sent three thousand
miles and there, was no opportunity to try the garments on with a view
to alterations. We may safely conclude, therefore, that however elegant
Virginia society of that day may have been in other respects, it was
not distinguished for well fitting clothes!
Most Virginia planters got in debt to their agents, and Washington was
no exception to the rule. When his agents, Robert Gary & Company, called
his attention to the fact, he wrote them, that they seemed in a bit of a
hurry considering the extent of past dealings with each other.
"Mischance rather than Misconduct hath been the cause of it," he
asserted, explaining that he had made large purchases of land, that
crops had been poor for three seasons and prices bad. He preferred to
let the debt stand, but if the agents insisted upon payment now he would
find means to discharge the obligation.
Not all planters could speak so confidently of their ability to find
means to discharge a debt, for the truth is that the profits of tobacco
culture were by no means so large as has often been supposed. A recent
writer speaks of huge incomes of twenty thousand to eighty thousand
pounds a year and asserts that "the ordinary planter could count on an
income of from L3,000 to L6,000." The first figures are altogether
fabulous, "paper profits" of the same sort that can be obtained by
calculating profits upon the geometrical increase of geese as
illustrated in a well known story. Even the last mentioned sums were
realized only under the most favorable conditions and by a few planters.
Much of the time the price of the staple was low and the costs of
transportation and insurance, especially in time of war, were
considerable. Washington himself had a consignment of tobacco captured
by the French.
The planters were by no means so prosperous as is often supposed and
neither was their life so splendid as has often been pictured. Writers
seem to have entered into a sort of conspiracy to mislead us concerning
it. The tendency is one to which Southern writers are particularly prone
in all that concerns their section. If they speak of a lawyer, he is
always a profound student of the law; of a soldier, he is the bravest
tenderest knight that ever trod shoe leather; of a lady, she is the most
beautiful that ever graced a drawing-room.
The old Virginia life had its color and charm, though its color and
charm lay in large part in things concerning which the writers have
little or nothing to say. It is true that a few planters had their
gorgeous coaches, yet Martha Washington remembered when there was only
one coach in the whole of Virginia, and throughout her life the roads
were so wretched that those who traveled over them in vehicles ran in
imminent danger of being overturned, with possible dislocation of limbs
and disjointing of necks. Virginians had their liveried servants,
mahogany furniture, silver plate, silks and satins; an examination of
the old account books proves that they often had these and many other
expensive things, along with their Madeira and port wine. But the same
books show that the planter was chronically in debt and that bankruptcy
was common, while accounts left by travelers reveal the fact that many
of the mansion houses were shabby and run down, with rotting roofs,
ramshackle doors, broken windows into which old hats or other garments
had been thrust to keep the wind away. In a word, a traveler could find
to-day more elegance in a back county of Arkansas than then existed in
The tobacco industry was a culture that required much labor. In the
spring a pile of brush was burned and on the spot thus fertilized and
made friable the seed were sowed. In due course the ground was prepared
and the young plants were transplanted into rows. Later they must be
repeatedly plowed, hoed and otherwise cultivated and looked after and
finally the leaves must be cut or gathered and carried to the dry
house to be dried. One man could care for only two or three acres, hence
large scale cultivation required many hands--result, the importation of
vast numbers of indentured servants and black slaves, with the blighting
effects always consequent upon the presence of a servile class in a
[Illustration: _By permission of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association_
The Mount Vernon Kitchen (restored)]
Although tobacco was the great staple, some of the Virginia planters had
begun before the Revolution to raise considerable crops of wheat, and
most of them from the beginning cultivated Indian corn. From the wheat
they made flour and bread for themselves, and with the corn they fed
their hogs and horses and from it also made meal for the use of their
slaves. In the culture of neither crop were they much advanced beyond
the Egyptians of the times of the Pyramids. The wheat was reaped with
sickles or cradles and either flailed out or else trampled out by cattle
and horses, usually on a dirt floor in the open air. Washington
estimated in 1791 that the average crop of wheat amounted to only eight
or ten bushels per acre, and the yield of corn was also poor.
So much emphasis was laid upon tobacco that many planters failed to
produce food enough. Some raised none at all, with the result that
often both men and animals were poorly fed, and at best the cost of food
and forage exhausted most of the profits. A somewhat similar condition
exists in the South to-day with regard to cotton.
Almost no attention was paid to conserving the soil by rotation of
crops, and even those few planters who attempted anything of the sort
followed the old plan of allowing fields to lie in a naked fallow and to
grow up in noxious weeds instead of raising a cover crop such as clover.
Washington wrote in 1782: "My countrymen are too much used to corn
blades and corn shucks; and have too little knowledge of the profit of
grass land." And again in 1787:
"The general custom has been, first to raise a crop of Indian corn
(maize) which, according to the mode of cultivation, is a good
preparation for wheat; then a crop of wheat; after which the ground is
respited (except for weeds, and every trash that can contribute to its
foulness) for about eighteen months; and so on, alternately, without any
dressing, till the land is exhausted; when it is turned out, without
being sown with grass-seeds, or reeds, or any method taken to restore
it; and another piece is ruined in the same manner. No more cattle is
raised than can be supported by lowland meadows, swamps &c. and the
tops and blades of Indian corn; as very few persons have attended to
growing grasses, and connecting cattle with their crops. The Indian corn
is the chief support of the labourers and their horses."
As for the use of fertilizer, very little was attempted, for, as
Jefferson explained, "we can buy an acre of new land cheaper than we can
manure an old one." It was this cheapness of land that made it almost
impossible for the Virginians to break away from their ruinous
system--ruinous, not necessarily to themselves, but to future
generations. Conservation was then a doctrine that was little preached.
Posterity could take care of itself. Only a few persons like Washington
realized their duty to the future.
In the matter of stock as well as in pure agriculture the Virginians
were backward. They showed to best advantage in the matter of horses.
Virginia gentlemen were fond of horses, and some owned fine animals and
cared for them carefully. A Randolph of Tuckahoe is said to have had a
favorite dapple-gray named "Shakespeare" for whom he built a special
stable with a sort of recess next the stall in which the groom slept.
Generally speaking, however, even among the aristocracy the horses were
not so good nor so well cared for as in the next century.
Among the small farmers and poorer people the horses were apt to be
scrubs, often mere bags of bones. A scientific English agriculturist
named Parkinson, who came over in 1798, tells us that the American
horses generally "leap well; they are accustomed to leap from the time
of foaling; as it is not at all uncommon, if the mare foal in the night,
for some part of the family to ride the mare, with the foal following
her, from eighteen to twenty miles next day, it not being customary to
walk much. I think that is the cause of the American horse having a sort
of amble: the foal from its weak state, goes pacing after the dam, and
retains that motion all its life. The same is the case with respect to
leaping: there being in many places no gates, the snake or worm-fence
(which is one rail laid on the end of another) is taken down to let the
mare pass through, and the foal follow: but, as it is usual to leave two
or three rails untaken down, which the mare leaps over, the foal,
unwilling to be left behind, follows her; so that, by the time it is one
week old, it has learned to leap three feet high; and progressively, as
it grows older, it leaps higher, till at a year old, it will leap its
Sheep raising was not attempted to any great extent, partly because of
the ravages of wolves and dogs and partly because the sheep is a
perverse animal that often seems to prefer dying to keeping alive and
requires skilled care to be made profitable. The breeds were various and
often were degenerated. Travelers saw Holland or rat-tailed sheep, West
Indian sheep with scant wool and much resembling goats, also a few
Spanish sheep, but none would have won encomiums from a scientific
English breeder. The merino had not yet been introduced. Good breeds of
sheep were difficult to obtain, for both the English and Spanish
governments forbade the exportation of such animals and they could be
obtained only by smuggling them out.
In 1792 Arthur Young expressed astonishment when told that wolves and
dogs were a serious impediment to sheep raising in America, yet this was
undoubtedly the case. The rich had their foxhounds, while every poor
white and many negroes had from one to half a dozen curs--all of which
canines were likely to enjoy the sport of sheep killing. Mr. Richard
Peters, a well informed farmer of Pennsylvania, said that wherever the
country was much broken wolves were to be found and bred prodigiously.
"I lay not long ago at the foot of South Mountain, in York county, in
this State, in a country very thickly settled, at the house of a Justice
of the Peace. Through the night I was kept awake by what I conceived to
be a jubilee of dogs, assembled to bay the moon. But I was told in the
morning, that what disturbed me, was _only_ the common howling of
wolves, which nobody there regarded. When I entered the _Hall of
Justice_, I found the 'Squire giving judgment for the reward on two wolf
whelps a countryman had taken from the bitch. The _judgment-seat_ was
shaken with the intelligence, that the wolf was coming--_not to give
bail_--but to devote herself or rescue her offspring. The animal was
punished for this _daring contempt_, committed in the face of the court,
and was shot within a hundred yards of the tribunal."
Virginians had not yet learned the merits of grass and pasture, and
their cattle, being compelled to browse on twigs and weeds, were often
thin and poor. Many ranged through the woods and it was so difficult to
get them up that sometimes they would not be milked for two or three
days. Often they gave no more than a quart of milk a day and were
probably no better in appearance than the historian Lecky tells us were
the wretched beasts then to be found in the Scottish Highlands.
Hogs received even less care than cattle and ran half wild in the woods
like their successors, the famous Southern razor-backs of to-day, being
fed only a short period before they were to be transformed into pork.
"The real American hog is what is termed the wood-hog: they are long in
the leg, narrow on the back, short in the body, flat on the sides, with
a long snout, very rough in their hair, in make more like a fish called
a perch than anything I can describe. You may as well think of stopping
a crow as those hogs. They will go a distance from a fence, take a run,
and leap through the rails, three or four feet from the ground, turning
themselves sidewise. These hogs suffer such hardships as no other animal
could endure. It is customary to keep them in the woods all winter, as
there is no thrashing or fold-yards; and they must live on the roots of
trees, or something of that sort, but they are poor beyond any creature
that I ever saw. That is probably the cause why American pork is so
fine. They are something like forest-sheep. I am not certain, with
American keeping and treatment, if they be not the best: for I never saw
an animal live without food, except this; and I am pretty sure they
nearly do that. When they are fed, the flesh may well be sweet: it is
all young, though the pig be ten years old."
"The aim of the farmers in this country (if they can be called
farmers)," wrote Washington to Arthur Young in 1791, "is, not to make
the most they can from the land, which is or has been cheap, but the
most of the labour, which is dear; the consequence of which has been,
much ground has been _scratched_ over and none cultivated or improved as
it ought to have been: whereas a farmer in England, where land is dear,
and labour cheap, finds it his interest to improve and cultivate highly,
that he may reap large crops from a small quantity of ground."
No clearer statement of the differences between American and European
agriculture has ever been formulated. Down to our own day the object of
the American farmer has continued to be the same--to secure the largest
return from the expenditure of a given amount of labor. But we are on
the threshold of a revolution, the outcome of which means intensive
cultivation and the realization of the largest possible return from a
given amount of land.
That Washington saw the distinction so clearly is of itself sufficient
proof that he pondered long and deeply upon agricultural problems.
"No estate in United America," wrote Washington to Arthur Young in 1793,
"is more pleasantly situated than this. It lies in a high, dry, and
healthy country, 300 miles by water from the sea, and, as you will see
by the plan, on one of the finest rivers in the world. Its margin is
washed by more than ten miles of tide water; from the beds of which and
the innumerable coves, inlets, and small marshes, with which it abounds,
an inexhaustible fund of mud may be drawn as a manure, either to be used
separately or in a compost....
"The soil of the tract of which I am speaking is a good loam, more
inclined, however, to clay than sand. From use, and I might add, abuse,
it is become more and more consolidated, and of course heavier
"This river, which encompasses the land the distance above mentioned, is
well supplied with various kinds of fish at all seasons of the year;
and, in the spring, with great profusion of shad, herring, bass, carp,
perch, sturgeon, etc. Several fisheries appertain to the estate; the
whole shore, in short, is one entire fishery."
The Mount Vernon estate, amounting in the end to over eight thousand
acres, was, with the exception of a few outlying tracts, subdivided into
five farms, namely, the Mansion House Farm, the Union Farm, the Dogue
Run Farm, Muddy Hole Farm and the River Farm.
On the Mansion House Farm stood the owner's residence, quarters for the
negroes and other servants engaged upon that particular estate, and
other buildings. The land in general was badly broken and poor in
quality; much of it was still in woodland.
The River Farm lay farthest up the Potomac, being separated from the
others by the stream known as Little Hunting Creek. Visitors to Mount
Vernon to-day, traveling by trolley, cross this farm and stream. It
contained more tillable ground than any other, about twelve hundred
acres. In 1793 it had an "overlooker's" house of one large and two small
rooms below and one or two rooms above, quarters for fifty or sixty
negroes, a large barn and stables gone much to decay.
Muddy Hole Farm lay across Little Hunting Creek from the River Farm and
back of the Mansion House Farm and had no frontal upon the Potomac. It
contained four hundred seventy-six acres of tillable soil and had in
1793 a small overlooker's house, "covering for about 30 negroes, and a
tolerable good barn, with stables for the work-horses."
Union Farm lay just below the Mansion House Farm and contained nine
hundred twenty-eight acres of arable land and meadow. In 1793 it had, in
Washington's words, "a newly erected brick barn, equal, perhaps, to any
in America, and for conveniences of all sorts, particularly for
sheltering and feeding horses, cattle, &c. scarcely to be exceeded any
where." A new house of four rooms was building, and there were quarters
for fifty odd negroes. On this farm was the old Posey fishery and ferry
Dogue Run Farm, of six hundred fifty acres, lay back of Union Farm and
upon it in 1793 stood the grist mill and later a distillery and the
famous sixteen-sided "new circular barn, now finishing on a new
construction; well calculated, it is conceived, for getting grain out
of the straw more expeditiously than the usual mode of threshing." It
had a two-room overseer's house, covering for forty odd negroes, and
sheds sufficient for thirty work horses and oxen. Washington considered
it much the best of all his farms. It was this farm that he bequeathed
to Nelly Custis and her husband, Lawrence Lewis, and upon it they
erected "Woodlawn," which is shown in the photograph herewith
Not long since I rambled on foot over the old estate and had an
opportunity to compare the reality, or what remains of it, with
Washington's description. I left the Mansion House, often visited
before, and strolled down the long winding drive that runs between the
stunted evergreens and oaks through the old lodge gate and passed from
the domain, kept trim and parklike by the Association, out upon the
unkempt and vastly greater part of the old Mount Vernon.
It was early morning, about the hour when in the long past the master of
the estate used to ride out on his tour of inspection. The day was one
of those delicious days in early autumn when earth and sky and air and
all things in nature seem kindly allied to help the heart of man leap up
in gladness and to enable him to understand how there came to be a poet
called Wordsworth. Meadow-larks were singing in the grass, and once in
an old hedgerow over-grown with sweet-smelling wild honeysuckle I saw a
covey of young quails. These hedgerows of locust and cedar are broken
now, but along the old road to the mill and Pohick Church and between
fields the scattered trees and now and then a bordering ditch are
evidences of the old owner's handiwork.
Then and later I visited all the farms, the site of the old mill, of
which only a few stones remain, the mill stream, the fishery and old
ferry landing. I walked across the gullied fields and examined the soil,
I noted the scanty crops they bear to-day and gained a clearer idea of
what Washington's problem had been than I could have done from a
library of books.
Truly the estate is "pleasantly situated," though even to-day it seems
out of the world and out of the way. One must go far to find so
satisfying a view as that from the old Mansion House porch across the
mile of shining water to the Maryland hills' crowned with trees
glorified by the Midas-touch of frost. The land does lie "high" and
"dry," but we must take exception to the word "healthy." In the summer
and fall the tidal marshes breed a variety of mosquito capable of biting
through armor plate and of infecting the devil himself with malaria. In
the General's day, when screens were unknown, a large part of the
population, both white and black, suffered every August and September
from chills and fever. The master himself was not exempt and once we
find him chronicling that he went a-hunting and caught a fox and
What he says as regards the fisheries is all quite true and in general
they seem to have been very productive. Herring and shad were the chief
fish caught and when the run came the seine was carried well out into
the river in a boat and then hauled up on the shelving beach either by
hand or with a windlass operated by horse-power. There were warehouses
and vats for curing the fish, a cooper shop and buildings for sheltering
the men. The fish were salted down for the use of the family and the
slaves, and what surplus remained was sold. Now and then the landing and
outfit was rented out for a money consideration, but this usually
happened only when the owner was away from home.
At the old Posey fishery on Union Farm the industry is still carried on,
though gasoline engines have been substituted for the horse-operated
winch used in drawing the seines. Lately the industry has ceased to be
very productive, and an old man in charge told me that it is because
fishermen down the river and in Chesapeake Bay are so active that
comparatively few fish manage to get up so far.
The Mount Vernon estate in the old days lacked only one quality
necessary to make it extremely productive, namely, rich soil! Only
ignorance of what good land really is, or an owner's blind pride in his
own estate, can justify the phrase "a good loam." On most of the estate
the soil is thin, varying in color from a light gray to a yellow red,
with below a red clay hardpan almost impervious to water. To an observer
brought up on a farm of the rich Middle West, Mount Vernon, except for a
few scattered fields, seems extremely poor land. For farming purposes
most of it would be high at thirty dollars an acre. Much of it is so
broken by steep hills and deep ravines as scarcely to be tillable at
all. Those tracts which are cultivated are very susceptible to erosion.
Deep gullies are quickly worn on the hillsides and slopes. At one time
such a gully on Union Farm extended almost completely across a large
field and was deep enough to hide a horse, but Washington filled it up
with trees, stumps, stones, old rails, brush and dirt, so that scarcely
a trace of it was left. In places one comes upon old fields that have
been allowed to revert to broom sedge, scrub oak and scrub pine. One is
astonished at the amount that has never been cleared at all. Only by the
most careful husbandry could such an estate be kept productive. It never
could be made to yield bumper crops.
The situation confronting "Farmer Washington" was this: He had a great
abundance of land, but most of it on his home estate was mediocre in
quality. Some of that lying at a distance was more fertile, but much of
it was uncleared and that on the Ohio was hopelessly distant from a
market. With the exception of Mount Vernon even those plantations in
Virginia east of the Blue Ridge could not be looked after in person. He
must either rent them, trust them to a manager, or allow them to lie
idle. Even the Mount Vernon land was distant from a good market, and the
cost of transportation was so great that he must produce for selling
purposes articles of little bulk compared with value. Finally, he had an
increasing number of slaves for whom food and clothing must be provided.
His answer to the problem of a money crop was for some years the old
Virginia answer--tobacco. His far western lands he left for the most
part untenanted. Those plantations in settled regions but remote from
his home he generally rented for a share of the crop or for cash. The
staple articles that he produced to feed the slaves were pork and corn,
eked out by herring from the fishery.
From his accounts we find that in 1759 he made thirty-four thousand one
hundred sixty pounds of tobacco; the next year sixty-five thousand
thirty-seven pounds; in 1763, eighty-nine thousand seventy-nine pounds,
which appears to have been his banner tobacco crop. In 1765 the quantity
fell to forty-one thousand seven hundred ninety-nine pounds; in 1771, to
twenty-nine thousand nine hundred eighty-six pounds, and in 1773 to only
about five thousand pounds. Thereafter his crop of the weed was
negligible, though we still find occasional references to it even as
late as 1794, when he states that he has twenty-five hogsheads in the
warehouses of Alexandria, where he has held it for five or six years
because of low prices.
[Illustration: Looking across part of Dogue Run Farm to "Woodlawn," the
Home of Nelly Custis Lewis]
[Illustration: Gully on a Field of Union Farm, Showing Susceptibility to
He tried to raise a good quality and seems to have concentrated on
what he calls the "sweet scented" variety, but for some reason, perhaps
because his soil was not capable of producing the best, he obtained
lower prices than did some of the other Virginia planters, and grumbled
at his agents accordingly.
He early realized the ruinous effects of tobacco on his land and sought
to free himself from its clutches by turning to the production of wheat
and flour for the West India market. Ultimately he was so prejudiced
against the weed that in 1789 we find him in a contract with a tenant
named Gray, to whom he leased a tract of land for ten pounds,
stipulating that Gray should make no more tobacco than he needed for
"chewing and smoaking in his own family."
Late in life he decided that his land was not congenial to corn, in
which he was undoubtedly right, for the average yield was only about
fifteen bushels per acre. In the corn country farmers now often produce
a hundred. He continued to raise corn only because it was essential for
his negroes and hogs. In 1798 he contracted with William A. Washington
to supply him with five hundred barrels annually to eke out his own
crop. Even this quantity did not prove sufficient, for we find him next
year trying to engage one hundred barrels more.
Before this time his main concern had come to be to conserve his soil
and he had turned his attention largely to grass and live stock. Of
these matters more hereafter.
THE STUDENT OF AGRICULTURE
Washington took great pains to inform himself concerning any subject in
which he was interested and hardly was he settled down to serious
farming before he was ordering from England "the best System now extant
of Agriculture," Shortly afterward he expressed a desire for a book
"lately published, done by various hands, but chiefly collected from the
papers of Mr. Hale. If this is known to be the best, pray send it, but
not if any other is in high esteem." Another time he inquires for a
small piece in octavo, "a new system of Agriculture, or a speedy way to
Among his papers are preserved long and detailed notes laboriously taken
from such works as Tull's _Horse-Hoeing Husbandry_, Duhamel's _A
Practical Treatise of Husbandry, The Farmer's Compleat Guide,_ Home's
_The Gentleman Farmer_, and volumes of Young's _Annals of Agriculture_.
The abstracts from the _Annals_ were taken after the Revolution and
probably before he became President, for the first volume did not appear
until 1784. From the handwriting it is evident that the digests of
Tull's and Duhamel's books were made before the Revolution and probably
about 1760. In the midst of the notes on chapter eight of the _Compleat
Guide_ there are evidences of a long hiatus in time--Mr. Fitzpatrick of
the manuscript division of the Library of Congress thinks perhaps as
much as eight or ten years. A vivid imagination can readily conceive
Washington's laying aside the task for the more important one of
vindicating the liberties of his countrymen and taking it up again only
when he had sheathed the sword. But all we can say is that for some
reason he dropped the work for a considerable time, the evidence being
that the later handwriting differs perceptibly from that which
As most of Washington's agricultural ideas were drawn from these books,
it is worth while for us to examine them. I have not been able to put my
hands on Washington's own copies, but in the library of the Department
of Agriculture I have examined the works of Tull, Duhamel and Young.
Tull's _Horse-Hoeing Husbandry_ was an epoch-making book in the history
of English agriculture. It was first published in 1731 and the third
edition, the one I have seen and probably the one that Washington
possessed, appeared in 1751. Possibly it was the small piece in octavo,
"a new system of Agriculture, or a speedy way to grow rich" concerning
which he wrote to his agent. It deals with a great variety of subjects,
such as of roots and leaves, of food of plants, of pasture, of plants,
of weeds, of turnips, of wheat, of smut, of blight, of St. Foin, of
lucerne, of ridges, of plows, of drill boxes, but its one great thesis
was the careful cultivation by plowing of such annuals as potatoes,
turnips, and wheat, crops which hitherto had been tended by hand or left
to fight their battle unaided after having once been planted.
Duhamel's book was the work of a Frenchman whose last name was Monceau.
It was based in part upon Tull's book, but contained many reflections
suggested by French experience as well as some additions made by the
English translator. The English translation appeared in 1759, the year
of Washington's marriage. It dealt with almost every aspect of
agriculture and stock raising, advocated horse-hoeing, had much to say
in favor of turnips, lucerne, clover and such crops, and contained
plates and descriptions of various plows, drills and other kinds of
implements. It also contained a detailed table of weather observations
for a considerable time, which may have given Washington the idea of
keeping his meteorological records.
Young's _Annals_ was an elaborate agricultural periodical not unlike in
some respects publications of this sort to-day except for its lack of
advertising. It contains records of a great variety of experiments in
both agriculture and stock raising, pictures and descriptions of plows,
machines for rooting up trees, and other implements and machines, plans
for the rotation of crops, and articles and essays by experimental
farmers of the day. Among its contributors were men of much eminence,
and we come upon articles by Mr. William Pitt on storing turnips, Mr.
William Pitt on deep plowing; George III himself contributed under the
pen name of "Ralph Robinson." The man who should follow its directions
even to-day would not in most matters go far wrong.
As one looks over these publications he realizes that the scientific
farmers of that day were discussing many problems and subjects that
still interest those of the present. The language is occasionally
quaint, but the principles set down are less often wrong than might be
supposed. To be sure, Tull denied that different plants require
different sorts of food and, notes Washington, "gives many unanswerable
Reasons to prove it," but he combats the notion that the soil ever
causes wheat to degenerate into rye. This he declares "as ridiculous as
it would be to say that an horse by feeding in a certain pasture will
degenerate into a Bull." And yet it is not difficult to discover farmers
to-day who will stubbornly argue that "wheat makes cheat." Tull also
advocated the idea that manure should be put on green and plowed under
in order to obtain anything like its full benefit, as well as many other
sound ideas that are still disregarded by many American farmers.
Washington eagerly studied the works that have been mentioned, and much
of his time when at Mount Vernon was devoted to experiments designed to
ascertain to what extent the principles that were sound in England could
be successfully applied in an American environment.
A FARMER'S RECORDS AND OTHER PAPERS
Washington was the most methodical man that ever lived. He had a place
for everything and insisted that everything should be kept in its place.
There was nothing haphazard about his methods of business. He kept exact
accounts of financial dealings.
His habit of setting things down on paper was one that developed early.
He kept a journal of his surveying experiences beyond the Blue Ridge in
1748, another of his trip to Barbadoes with his brother Lawrence in
1751-52, another of his trip to Fort Le Boeuf to warn out the French,
and yet another of his Fort Necessity campaign. The words are often
misspelled, many expressions are ungrammatical, but the handwriting is
good and the judgments expressed, even those set down when he was only
sixteen, are the mature judgments of a man.
A year after his marriage he began a formal diary, which he continued
until June 19, 1775, the time of his appointment to command the army of
the Revolution. He called it his _Diary_ and later _Where, & how my time
is Spent_. In it he entered the happenings of the day, his agricultural
and other experiments, a record of his guests and also a detailed
account of the weather.
His attention to this last matter was most particular. Often when away
from home he would have a record kept and on his return would
incorporate it into his book. Exactly what advantages he expected to
derive therefrom are not apparent, though I presume that he hoped to
draw conclusions as to the best time for planting crops. In reading it I
was many times reminded of a Cleveland octogenarian who for fifty-seven
years kept a record twice a day of the thermometer and barometer. Near
the end of his life he brought the big ledgers to the Western Reserve
Historical Society, and I happened to be present on the occasion. "You
have studied the subject for a long time," I said to him. "Are there any
conclusions you have been able to reach as a result of your
investigation?" He thought a minute and passed a wrinkled hand across a
wrinkled brow. "Nothing but this," he made answer, "that Cleveland
weather is only constant in its inconstancy."
We would gladly exchange some of these meteorological details for
further information about Washington's own personal doings and feelings.
Of the latter the diaries reveal little. Washington was an objective
man, above all in his papers. He sets down what happens and says little
about causes, motives or mental impressions. When on his way to Yorktown
to capture Cornwallis he visited his home for the first time in six
weary years, yet merely recorded: "I reached my own Seat at Mount Vernon
(distant 120 Miles from the Hd. of Elk) where I staid till the 12th."
Not a word of the emotions which that visit must have roused!
For almost six years after 1775 there is a gap in the diary, though for
some months of 1780 he sets down the weather. On May I, 1781, he begins
a new record, which he calls a _Journal_, and he expresses regret that
he has not had time to keep one all the time. The subjects now
considered are almost wholly military and the entries reveal a different
man from that of 1775. The grammar is better, the vocabulary larger, the
tone more elevated, the man himself is bigger and broader with an
infinitely wider viewpoint.
From November 5, 1781, for more than three years there is another
blank, except for the journal of his trip to his western lands already
referred to. But on January 1, 1785, he begins a new _Diary_ and
thenceforward continues it, with short intermissions, until the day of
his last ride over his estate.
A few of the diaries and journals have been lost, but most are still in
existence. Some are in the Congressional Library and there also is the
Toner transcript of these records. The transcript makes thirty-seven
large volumes. The diary is one of the main sources from which the
material for this book is drawn.
The original of the record of events for 1760 is a small book, perhaps
eight or ten inches long by four inches wide and much yellowed by age.
Part of the first entry stands thus:
"January 1, Tuesday
"Visited my Plantations and received an Instance of Mr. French's great
Love of Money in disappointing me of some Pork because the price had
risen to 22.6 after he had engaged to let me have it at 20 s."
On his return from his winter ride he found Mrs. Washington "broke out
with the Meazles." Next day he states with evident disgust that he has
taken the pork on French's own terms.
The weather record for 1760 was kept on blank pages of _The Virginia
Almanac_, a compendium that contains directions for making "Indico," for
curing bloody flux, for making "Physick as pleasant as a Dish of
Chocolate," for making a striking sun-dial, also "A Receipt to keep
one's self warm a whole Winter with a single Billet of Wood." To do this
last "Take a Billet of Wood of a competent Size, fling it out of the
Garret-Window into the Yard, run down Stairs as hard as ever you can
drive; and when you have got it, run up again with it at the same
Measure of Speed; and thus keep throwing down, and fetching up, till the
Exercise shall have sufficiently heated you. This renew as often as
Occasion shall require. _Probatum est_."
This receipt would seem worth preserving in this day of dear fuel. As
Washington had great abundance of wood and plenty of negroes to cut it,
he probably did not try the experiment--at least such a conclusion is
what writers on historical method would call "a safe inference."
[Illustration: First Page of Washington's Digest of Duhamel's Husbandry]
There is in the almanac a rhyme ridiculing physicians and above the
March calendar are printed the touching verses:
"Thus of all Joy and happiness bereft,
And with the Charge of Ten poor Children left:
A greater Grief no Woman sure can know,
Who,--with Ten Children--who will have me now."
Also there are some other verses, very broad and "not quite the proper
thing," as Kipling has it. But it must not be inferred that Washington
approved of them.
Washington also kept cash memorandum books, general account books, mill
books and a special book in which he recorded his accounts with the
estate of the Custis children. These old books, written in his neat
legible hand, are not only one of our chief sources of information
concerning his agricultural and financial affairs, but contain many
sidelights upon historical events. It is extremely interesting, for
example, to discover in one of the account books that in 1775 at Mount
Vernon he lent General Charles Lee--of Monmouth fame--L15, and "to Ditto
lent him on the Road from Phila to Cambridge at different times" L9.12
more, a total of L24.12. In later years Lee intrigued against Washington
and said many spiteful things about him, but he never returned the loan.
The account stood until 1786, when it was settled by Alexander White,
In the Cash Memorandum books we can trace Washington's military
preparations at the beginning of the Revolution. Thus on June 2, 1775,
being then at Philadelphia, he enters: "By Expences bringing my Horses
from Baltimore," L2.5. Next day he pays thirty pounds for "Cartouch
Boxes &c. for Prince Wm. Comp." June 6, "By Covering my Holsters,"
L0.7.6; "By a Cersingle," L0.7.6; "By 5 Books--Military," L1.12.0. He
was preparing for Gage and Howe and Cornwallis and whether the knowledge
contained in the books was of value or not he somehow managed for eight
years to hold his opponents at bay and ultimately to win. At Cambridge,
July tenth, he spends three shillings and four pence for a "Ribbon to
distinguish myself," that is to show his position as commander; also
L1.2.6 for "a pair of Breeches for Will," his colored body servant.
A vast number of papers bear witness to his interest in agriculture and
with these we are particularly concerned. He preserved most of the
letters written to him and many of these deal with farming matters.
During part of his career he had a copying press and kept copies of his
own important letters, while many of the originals have been preserved,
though widely scattered. When away from home he required his manager to
send him elaborate weekly reports containing a meteorological table of
each day's weather, the work done on each farm, what each person did,
who was sick, losses and increases in stock, and other matters of
interest. Scores of these reports are still in existence and are
invaluable. He himself wrote--generally on Sunday--lengthy weekly
letters of inquiry, direction, admonition and reproof, and if the
manager failed in the minutest matter to give an account of some phase
of the farm work, he would be sure to hear of it in the proprietor's
Washington's correspondence on agricultural matters with Arthur Young
and Sir John Sinclair, eminent English agriculturists, was collected
soon after his death in a volume that is now rare. In it are a number of
letters written by other American farmers, including Thomas Jefferson,
relative to agriculture in their localities. These letters were the
result of inquiries made of Washington by Young in 1791. In order to
obtain the facts desired Washington sent out a circular letter to some
of the most intelligent farmers in the Middle States, and the replies
form perhaps our best source of information regarding agricultural
conditions in that period.
Because of this service and of his general interest in agricultural
matters Washington was elected a foreign honorary member of the English
Board of Agriculture and received a diploma, which is still preserved
among his papers.
Some of Washington's other agricultural papers have been printed in one
form and another, but a great number, and some the most interesting, can
still be consulted only in manuscript.
Washington bequeathed his books and papers, along with his Mansion
House, to his nephew, Bushrod Washington, an associate justice of the
Federal Supreme Court. Judge Washington failed to appreciate fully the
seriousness of the obligation thus incurred and instead of safeguarding
the papers with the utmost jealousy gave many, including volumes of the
diary, to visitors and friends who expressed a desire to possess
mementoes of the illustrious patriot. In particular he permitted
Reverend William Buel Sprague, who had been a tutor in the family of
Nelly Custis Lewis, to take about fifteen hundred papers on condition
that he leave copies in their places. The judge also intrusted a
considerable portion to the historian Jared Sparks, who issued the first
considerable edition of Washington's writings. Sparks likewise was
guilty of giving away souvenirs.
Bushrod Washington died in 1829 and left the papers and letter books for
the most part to his nephew John Corbin Washington. In 1834 the nation
purchased of this gentleman the papers of a public character, paying
twenty-five thousand dollars. The owner reserved the private papers,
including invoices, ciphering book, rules of civility, etc., but in 1849
sold these also to the same purchaser for twenty thousand dollars. The
papers were kept for many years in the Department of State, but in the
administration of Theodore Roosevelt most of them were transferred to
the Library of Congress, where they could be better cared for and would
be more accessible.
Bushrod Washington gave to another nephew, John Augustine Washington,
the books and relics in the dining-room of the Mansion House. In course
of time these were scattered, some being bought for the Boston
Athenaeum, which has decidedly the larger part of Washington's library;
others were purchased by the state of New York, and yet others were
exhibited at the Centennial Exposition and were later sold at auction.
Among the relics bought by New York was a sword wrongly said to have
been sent to the General by Frederick the Great.
One hundred and twenty-seven of his letters, mostly to William Pearce,
his manager at Mount Vernon during a portion of his presidency, were
bought from the heirs of Pearce by the celebrated Edward Everett and now
belong to the Long Island Historical Society. These have been published.
His correspondence with Tobias Lear, for many years his private
secretary, are now in the collection of Thomas K. Bixby, a wealthy
bibliophile of St. Louis. These also have been published. The one
greatest repository of papers is the Library of Congress. Furthermore,
through the unwearying activities of J. M. Toner, who devoted years to
the work, the Library also has authenticated copies of many papers of
which it does not possess the originals.
All told, according to Mr. Gaillard Hunt, who has them in charge, the
Washington manuscripts in the Library of Congress is the largest
collection of papers of one person in the world. The collection contains
about eighteen thousand papers in his own hand, press copies, or drafts
in the writing of his secretaries, and many times that number of others.
As yet all except a small part are merely arranged in chronological
order, but soon it is to be sumptuously bound in royal purple levant.
The color, after all, is fitting, for he was a King and he reigns still
in the hearts of his countrymen.
Benjamin Franklin knew the great men of earth of his time, the princes
and kings of blood royal. Near the close of his life he wrote in his
will: "My fine crabtree walking-stick with a gold head, curiously
wrought in the form of a cap of Liberty, I give to my friend, and the
friend of mankind, General Washington. If it was a sceptre, he has
merited it, and would become it."
And thus Thackeray, who knew the true from the false, the dross from
pure gold: "Which was the most splendid spectacle ever witnessed, the
opening feast of Prince George in London or the resignation of
Washington? Which is the noble character for ages to admire--yon fribble
dancing in lace and spangles, or yonder hero who sheathes his sword
after a life of spotless honor, a purity unreproached, a courage
indomitable, and a consummate victory? Which of these is the true
gentleman? What is it to be a gentleman? Is it to have lofty aims, to
lead a pure life, to keep your honor virgin; to have the esteem of your
fellow-citizens, and the love of your fireside; to bear good fortune
meekly; to suffer evil with constancy; and through evil or good to
maintain truth always? Show me the happy man whose life exhibits these
qualities, and him will we salute as gentleman, whatever his rank may
be; show me the prince who possesses them, and he may be sure of our
love and loyalty."
'Tis often distance only that lends enchantment, but it is Washington's
proud pre-eminence that he can bear the microscope. Having read
thousands of his letters and papers dealing with almost every
conceivable subject in the range of human affairs, I yet feel inclined,
nay compelled, to bear witness to the greatness of his heart, soul and
understanding. He was human. He had his faults. He made his mistakes.
But I would not detract a line from any eulogium of him ever uttered.
Words have never yet been penned that do him justice.
AGRICULTURAL OPERATIONS AND EXPERIMENTS BEFORE THE REVOLUTION
A detailed account of all of Washington's agricultural experiments would
require several hundred pages and would be tedious reading. All that I
shall attempt to do is to give some examples and point the way for any
enthusiast to the mass of his agricultural papers in the Library of
Congress and elsewhere.
At the outset it should be stated that he worked under extremely
different conditions from those of to-day. Any American farmer of the
present who has a problem in his head can have it solved by writing to
the nearest government experiment station, a good farm paper, an
agricultural college, the department of agriculture, or in some favored
districts by consulting the local county "agent." Washington had no such
recourse. There was not an agricultural college or agricultural paper in
the whole country; the department of agriculture was not created until
near the end of the next century; county "agents" were as unthought of
as automobiles or electric lights; there was not a scientific farmer in
America; even the Philadelphia Society for the Promotion of Agriculture
was not founded until 1785. In his later years our Farmer could and did
write to such foreign specialists as Arthur Young and Sir John Sinclair,
but they were Englishmen unfamiliar with American soils and climate and
could rarely give a weighty answer propounded to them by an American. If
Washington wished to know a thing about practical farming, he usually
had to find it out for himself.
This state of affairs accounts for his performing some experiments that
seem absurd. Thus in the fall of 1764 we find him sowing "a few Oats to
see if they would stand the winter." Any country boy of to-day could
tell him that ordinary oats sown under such conditions in the latitude
of Mount Vernon would winter kill too badly to be of much use, but
Washington could not know it till he had tried.
In another category was his experiment in March, 1760, with lucerne.
Lucerne is alfalfa. It will probably be news to most readers that
alfalfa--the wonderful forage crop of the West, the producer of more
gold than all the mines of the Klondike--was in use so long ago, for the
impression is pretty general that it is comparatively new; the fact is
that it is older than the Christian era and that the name alfalfa comes
from the Arabic and means "the best crop." Evidently our Farmer had been
reading on the subject, for in his diary he quotes what "Tull speaking
of lucerne, says." He tried out the plant on this and several other
occasions and had a considerable field of it in 1798. His success was
not large with it at any time, for the Mount Vernon soil was not
naturally suited to alfalfa, which thrives best in a dry and pervious
subsoil containing plenty of lime, but the experiment was certainly
In this same year, 1760, we find him sowing clover, rye, grass, hope,
trefoil, timothy, spelt, which was a species of wheat, and various other
grasses and vegetables, most of them to all intents and purposes unknown
to the Virginia agriculture of that day.
He also recorded an interesting experiment with fertilizer. April 14,
1760, he writes in his diary:
"Mixed my composts in a box with the apartments in the following
manner, viz. No. 1 is three pecks of earth brought from below the hill
out of the 46 acre field without any mixture. In No. 2 is two pecks of
sand earth and one of marle taken out of the said field, which marle
seemed a little inclined to sand. 3 has 2 pecks of sd. earth and 1 of
"4 has a peck of Horse Dung
"5 has mud taken out of the creek
"6 has cow dung
"7 has marle from the Gulleys on the hillside, wch. seem'd to be purer
than the other
"8 sheep dung
"9 Black mould from the Gulleys on the hill side, wch. seem'd to be
purer than the other
"10 Clay got just below the garden
"All mixed with the same quantity and sort of earth in the most
effective manner by reducing the whole to a tolerable degree of fineness
and rubbing them well together on a cloth. In each of these divisions
were planted three grains of wheat, 3 of oats, and as many of barley,
all of equal distances in Rows and of equal depth done by a machine made
for the purpose. The wheat rows are next the numbered side, the oats in
the middle, and the barley on the side next the upper part of the
Garden. Two or three hours after sowing in this manner, and about an
hour before sunset I watered them all equally alike with water that had
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