From Lund Washington
Mount Vernon Septmbr 2d 1778
Your Letter of the 15th Augst is at Hand, with respect to the Lands therein mentiond (Marshalls & Barrys) in my endeavours to Purchase them, I shall make use of every art in my power to prevent them from putg too great a price on them, & if in the Bargain I can prevail on them to take Negroes Value’d as they now sell, I will. I went over to Marshalls on Monday,1 with design to tell him I had recieved an answer from you—and in the course of our conversation endeavour to find out what he woud realy take for his Land, but first to give him to understand that you did not want it to live on as Custis did Alexanders, therefore he had no right to expect such a price for it—but he was gone from home & not to return for several Days again. you again say you wish to get quit of negroes, before the rect of this you will find that in a former Letter I have desired that you will tell me in plain terms, whether I shall sell your Negroes at Publick sale or not, & how many of them & indeed Who.2 I was sufficiently Hurt before from my own reflections, to know that you had for several years lost your Crops of Wheat, and that I had nothing to sell at the present High prices that wou’d enable me to purchase a favourate tract of Land for you, altho at such an uncommon price. but when I find you seemingly to Lament your inability to purchase and that from the above cause, (not makeg any thing from your estate,) I am more so, believe me nothing wou’d mortify me more than that those Lands shoud be sold to any other than your self. as to the last crop of wheat made, it is worse if Possible than any of the former, at the Ferry Plantation it is so totally destroyd that it cannot be sew’d, not one grain in a Hundred woud come up—I want to sew the Fields if for no other purpose, to serve as pasture in Winter for sheep, Calves, Colts &c.—there surely must be an End to the Fly,3 as there is to the Catterpilla, Locust, and many other insects, and if so, the wheat we sew may turn out well, yet I am not for dependg on it, but shall prepare at every place for a Tobacco Crop—I had some time past determine’d upon makeg Tobacco at Morrises & Davys, your last Letter puts me upon it at the other places, no great Crop may be expected, but all that can be done I believe will be done towards makeg as much as possible—altho we are seldom without rain three days together, and our mill swamp is over our shews almost every where in Water, yet are we Ditchg of it, and I am determined to keep on altho the people in the Ditch are up to their knees in mud & water when that is properly done I expect it will yield a very great Crop of Tobacco—this leads me to relate to you the Death of one of the most Valuable Slaves you Possessd Cooper James4—I had put the Coopers to assist Davy & his people in Ditchg the swamp—on saturday they had retired from the Ditch and were at there Dinners—Jim finishd his meal before the Rest, & went from them towards the mill Race which was within 50 yds of where they were setg. when they had finishd, they calld for Jim, but his not answerg made Ben:5 go the way he went to see where he was, he found Jims Breeches Layg by the Race, callg for him several times & his not answerg made them believe he was drownd in the Race, for by this time the Rest of the people had joind him, Davy excepted who it seems was at his House getg his Dinner, Ben immediately got in to the Race to search for him & by the Ac[coun]t given me had like to have been drownd also, the place is Deep & he went down several times before the others pulld him out—they then got a hookd pole & drag’d for him (Jim), by this time Davy returnd & wasted much time in the same fruitless attempt—he then Run off to inform me of what had hapne’d—I orderd him back as fast as Possible to Draw the gate in the Race that the water might run off thinkg perhaps he might be saved if found in time I soon followd my self so as to get there as soon as Davy, we were long before we coud get the gate drawn, a stone or some thing being got in to it in such a Manner as to prevent its moveg—but when accomplishd, I soon found Jim by makeg Davy & Jack go into the Pond & search for him—but our attempts to recover him were fruitless for he had been too long in the Water—coud they but have thought to draw the gate instead of wasteg time by dragg for him & then run[nin]g to me, by which 3 Hours at least was lost, perhaps he might have been saved, as I have heard of such things being done—or had they plunged immediately in to the water after him, but after the fright Ben got they were affraid all of them was to be drown’d—the conjecture is, the day being very warm, James went in the Race to Bathe himself, within about 20 feet from where he got in, the water is when the Race is full, (which was the case then) 7 or 8 feet deep & altho they all say Jim was well acquainted with that place, yet there he got drownd—to look at the place you woud think hardly possible, for the willows grow thick on the Bank hanging over the water, it appears to me the least exertion whatever wou’d save one, for the place where the water is deep is not more than Six feet wide & as the mill was not going, the Race gates down, there was no current to put him out of his way, it seems he coud not swim a stroke & was always remarkable fearful of water never venterg above his waiste. if you remember the Race crosses a Hollow in the old Field near the Mill near to the House Alton, formerly lived in, & ponds up some distance from the Race, to form the Bank where the Race crosses this Hollow, a Ditch was dug for the purpose of getg earth, & not that it was necessary to convey the water along there, it was that this Valuable slave lost his life.
But this was not the only accident that befell us that Day, Carpenter James by a stroke from his Broad axe has given himself such a wound a cross the ankle & heel, that I expect it will be several Months before he will be well enough to do any thing in his way again.6
I Re[ceive]d from Captn Lewis £200 for the Phaeton which was the price agreed for before it was diliverd. Congress haveg permited the People of Boston to import some Flour for their own Consumption,7 afforded me an opportunity of sellg the Flour I made last year, 236 Barrels, when the warm weather came on it was emptied in the loft & has been frequently turn’d since, yet it was a little sour but from the scarcity of Flour, and the great want, of the Bostonians, I got what I askd for it 30/ pr C.—the Amt of sales upwards of £700. part of the Wheat that made the above Flour I purchased at a Dollar pr Bushel. the Wheat was Bad & the Flour is nothing More than Common.
Whoever has wheat to sell this year will I expect not take less than 10 or 12/ pr Bushel for it, but even at that price if it can be got a Miller may make great profit for Flour will sell very high, 40 pr C. I make no doubt may be got—you are never fond of Speculating therefore I expect will be agnst purchasing & unwilling to give a certainty for an uncertainty. if so I will endeavour to manufacture for those who will, they giveg so much pr C. Bushels, or pr Bushel, as may be agreed on let me know Your sentiments upon the above.
Wm Roberts & myself have had some talk about his continuing here longer—he like most others, says his wages will not purchase him cloaths—& I, in return tell him his services are not adequate to his wages, this he says is not his fault, for if we wou’d supply the Mill with Wheat the Profits woud afford wages to the Miller—I gave him to understand that I woud not encrease his Wages, nor did I believe you woud. I cannot tell what it is he expects, for I had before intinded in this Letter to write to you respectg him, therefore was determined to come to no agreement whatever with him until I had given you a state of the matter, & you had determined therein what you woud do. I told him I shoud refer the Matter wholy to you in this Letter—he sd he woud right to you, & a few days past gave me the Inclosed for you.8
Roberts has Faults—he is fond of Drinkg too much & when in Liquor is apt to be ill natured, and at times neglects his Duty by being absent & drinkg. altho an excellent worckman yet he seldom lays his Hands on any thing more than the immediate & absolutely necessary repairs of the mill, there are many things that he might do that is not done, they are put off from time to time until the year is expired, & then they are mention’d, as necessary to be done next year, & made use of as an argument why it wou’d be more to your advantage to employ him than another, because few millers are millrights & can do what he can, He is fond of Horse swaping, & new objects generally draw the attention more than the old, consequently his time is taken up in that way when he might be doing some thing or other of more service to you He has now two or three mares which he has pickd up this summer by chafferg one way or other, I believe by what he said to me, he wants to winter two of them at your expence, & be permitted to let them run in your pastures & to raise Colts from them.
Roberts is very clever provided the mill was always kept in Wheat, I believe there are few millers so good as he is, he is Active & industrious & keeps every thing in order—but we have had little done by him since you left us—except what little Flour we have made he has made one new Water wheel & done some other repairs in the Mill, has assisted in makeg & repairg the Tumbling Dams at Piny & Dogue Run, made a gate & Dam in the Race Frequently attended the mendg the Race &c.,9 indeed I shoud do him injustice not to say that he is not only very clever in all such repairs, but very ready to attend the mendg them. whether his perfections or imperfections predominate I cannot say, I leave you to determine, and say whether you will employ him or provide another, for I suppose one must be had. I am of opinion if Roberts & you part he will repent it, & be anxious after one years experience to come again shoud you want him on your own terms—he now lives comfortable and well at no expence for provisions except a few Luxuries—he raises great Quantitys of Fowls, rather more than he consumes these he sells altho contrary to his agreement, for by that he was to raise for his own consumption only10—but he says it is very Hard after takeg the pains his wife does that they shoud not be permitted to dispose of the overplus, for the purpose of getg sugar, Coffee &c.
you perhaps may expect me to give my opinion with respect to keepg Roberts—If a Miller cou’d be got of a more Happy disposition than Roberts (for he is a strange temperd man) for less wages, (I think his too high) it certainly woud be preferable, for a Millers being a Millright, Cooper, or any thing, if he does not worck at these things when not employd in the Mill, signifys nothing—shoud you think of partg with him, woud it not be well for you to write to some of your Pensylvania acquaintance to look out for a miller for you. you ask if pens will not do to cure Tobacco in, I answer yes, But it takes as much Timber to make them as to make Houses, & at Best they are but a makeshift, for often with driveg Rains the Tobacco gets weather Beaten & Hurt, but they must be your only Chance, for you have not nails nor time to Build Houses—I am sorry, very sorry that the French Admiral was oblige to go in pursuit of Lord Howe, before the conquest of Rhode Island was accomplishd, But I hope all will End well & that Rhode Iland is before this taken, & all the men on it Prisoners, that Lord Howe has got a Drubg & that the time is approachg fast when I shall hear you are in new york, with Clinton & the Detestable Johnstone your prisoners, I hate that man for his attempt to Bribe men who I hope will for ever be above corruption.11 I have not Lost altogether the £300 which I told you the Pork woud bring that I Lost—I had it clean’d & smoakd and have sold it in Bacon to the amt of (with two of the Barrels one of Beef the other Porck) £195.7.6—the remainder altho it will not sell the negroes are fond off—still I look upon the loss to be £104.12.6—for as to its being eat is nothing to the purpose.
I fear I shall not be able to get any worckman to Asist Lanphier, if so the coverd ways will not get done12—our people are sickly many of them having Agues & Fever—we have so much wet weather that we are over run with grass Weeds &c.—never was there in my remembrance in the Month of August such Pasturage but whether it will Fatten Cattle &c.—or not is by some a doubt—it raind all yesterday & looks likely enough to do the same to day.
I shall conclude this long Epistle by assureg you that I always have been, and still am anxious to do every think in my power for your interest, & shall most Heartily set about prepareg for to make a Crop of Tobacco next year—we have neither apples nor Peaches this year—I am done with makeg any more Experiments of the Corn stalk for it will not quit cost. Am your sincere Friend & affectionate Hbl. servt
I Rob’d your Trunk of this Quire of paper at the time I did, which was about ten days past there was not to be got in alexandria without it was in ⟨mutilated⟩ of other goods by whole sale ⟨mutilated⟩.
ALS, ViMtvL Below the postscript of this letter, GW wrote, “Clear Swamp at Morris’s.”
1. The previous Monday was 31 August.
2. This letter has not been identified.
3. The “Fly” was probably a reference to the “Fly-Weevil” or moth described in Landon Carter’s “Observations concerning the Fly-Weevil, that destroys the wheat, with some useful discoveries and conclusions, concerning the propagation and progress of that pernicious insect, and the methods to be used to prevent the destruction of the grain by it,” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Held at Philadelphia for Promoting Useful Knowledge, 1 (1769–71), 205–17.
4. Cooper James may have been the James who appears as a tradesman on GW’s tithable lists of June 1773 and 1774. That man was probably purchased from Robert Washington in April 1773 ( Papers, Colonial Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series. 10 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1983–95. description ends , 9:224, 238, 10:137).
5. Ben, who was a slave at GW’s Mill farm by 1773, became the miller by 1786 and remained in that capacity until GW’s death (Memorandum List of Tithables, c.9 June 1773, Papers, Colonial Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series. 10 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1983–95. description ends , 9:238; Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 4:279; Washington’s Slave List, [June 1799], Papers, Retirement Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series. 4 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1998–99. description ends , 4:527–42).
6. Carpenter James (born c.1759), owned by GW, appears on his 1786 slave list at the home plantation and on his 1799 slave list at the Muddy Hole farm ( Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 4:278; Papers, Retirement Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series. 4 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1998–99. description ends , 4:528). He may have been the boy James whom GW purchased from Thomas Moore in 1770 (see Ledger A description begins Manuscript Ledger Book 1, 1750-72, in George Washington Papers, Library of Congress. description ends , 204). In 1796 GW wrote of James: “He is a very worthless fellow; indeed I have sometimes suspected that he cuts himself on purpose to lay up. for something or another of this sort is constantly happening to him—In Harvest, he is sure to get a cut in the beginning of it, so as to lay him up during the continuance of it” (GW to William Pearce, 20 March 1796, DLC:GW; see also Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 5:3).
7. Lund Washington may have been referring to Congress’s resolution of 14 Jan. 1778, which directed the Massachusetts board of war to purchase 15,000 barrels of flour from the middle or southern department to fill eastern magazines ( JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 10:48–49).
8. The enclosed letter has not been found.
9. In the spring of 1770 GW began construction of a new mill on the west bank of Dogue Run near where the road from Gum Spring to Colchester crossed that creek. To supply water to the new mill, which was larger than and downstream of his old mill, he constructed two dams, one on Dogue Run a short distance above where it is joined by Piney Branch and the second on Piney Branch a few hundred yards above its mouth. The mill race, which was west of Dogue Run, connected the two dams and then continued roughly parallel to Dogue Run until it reached the new mill about two miles below (see Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 2:218, 222).
10. For William Roberts’s agreement to work as GW’s miller, 13 Oct. 1770, see Papers, Colonial Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series. 10 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1983–95. description ends , 8:395–96.
11. For the charge that British commissioner George Johnstone had attempted to bribe congressmen Joseph Reed and Robert Morris to support the British peace proposals, see Henry Laurens to GW, 13 Aug., n.6.