George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Heth, 3 May 1789

From William Heth

Mount Vernon 3d May 1789


I had the honor of presenting yesterday forenoon, your letter to Mrs Washington, together with the package committed to my care; and was happy to find her, & the family well.

It is with pleasure I inform you, that I have made such particular & pointed arrangements with the Proprietors of the Stages, as leaves me no reason to doubt, of Mrs Washingtons being extremely well accommodated on her Journey to New-York1—Indeed—I flatter myself, that she will experience no other inconvenience from not having her own Coachman & Horses, than will naturally arise, from female apprehensions, on being drove by Strange coachmen, with Strange Horses. On this subject, I have assured her—as I trust, she will not have any thing to fear—For having agreed, that such coachmen as I might point out, should be employd on this occasion, she will—if Van Horn & Co. should not deceive me—be drove by very decent, attentive, sober & orderly men, most excellent drivers, with very good horses. I took the liberty also, to fix upon the terms, and as scrupulously as if I was to pay the expence myself—leaving further compensation to Mrs Washingtons report of their attention, & any extra services which may be renderd. This I did, for two reasons—the one, to prevent any attempts towards an imposition, after the Journey should be performed; and the other, to excite an ambition to execute their contract in the best manner possible. The terms are as follow—From George Town to Susquehanna 24 Dlrs—to be paid to Mr Van Horn. From thence to Phila. the same, to be paid to Mr Kerlin—and the Same from Philadelphia to New-York—to be paid to Mr Mercereau. The roads being worse on this side of Phila. than the other, was taken into consideration, which together with some peculiar inconvenience to the proprietors, was the reason why the terms were made equal.

Hoping you will pardon me, for thus interrupting you with a detail of the manner in which I have executed your commands—permit me to wish you a happy meeting with Mrs Washington, and to pray sincerely, that you may both live long so. I have the honor to be, with the utmost respect & affection Yr Obedt Servant

Will. Heth

ALS, ViMtvL.

1Mrs. Washington left Mount Vernon for New York in the mid-afternoon of 16 May. George Augustine Washington arranged for the party to be under the supervision of Gabriel Van Horne, who not only ran a post line from Philadelphia to Alexandria and operated several taverns on the road but also rented horses and arranged for private trips. Van Horne noted on 12 May 1789 that the “State of the Roads, between Potomack, and Susquehannah Require our most Skilfull Drivers; And to Aid the Safe Conveyance Of Mrs Washington, I shall do Myself the Honour, of Attending her thro’ this Unimprovd; and most difficult part of the Jorneys” (DLC:GW). For GW’s words of appreciation, see his letter to Van Horne of 31 May 1789. Mrs. Washington was accompanied by her two youngest grandchildren, George Washington Parke Custis and Eleanor (Nelly) Parke Custis, who were to live with the president and Mrs. Washington in New York, and by GW’s nephew Robert Lewis, who after escorting Mrs. Washington to New York was to take up his secretarial duties with the president (see GW to Betty Lewis, 15 Mar., Robert Lewis to GW, 18 and 28 Mar., and GW to Lewis, 24 Mar. 1789). According to Robert Lewis’s journal Mrs. Washington took an emotional farewell of Mount Vernon. “The servants of the House, and a number of the field negros made there appearance—to take leave of their mistress—numbers of these poor wretches seemed greatly agitated, much affected—My Aunt equally so” (Robert Lewis’s Journal, 13–20 May 1789, ViMtvL). After remaining the night in Alexandria, the party proceeded to Baltimore where Mrs. Washington visited Margaret Tilghman Carroll, the widow of Charles Carroll the “barrister” (c.1732 –1783) and the sister-in-law of GW’s wartime aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman. Mrs. Carroll lived at a plantation near Baltimore. In the afternoon James McHenry and his wife entertained the party, “Fire-Works were discharged before and after Supper, and she was serenaded by an excellent Band of Music, conducted by Gentlemen of the Town” (Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser, 22 May 1789). The detailed account of the trip as far as Baltimore in Robert Lewis’s journal indicates that the ceremonies and show of adulation that greeted Mrs. Washington on her trip north were almost as elaborate as those accorded the president several weeks before. She evidently charmed the hordes of well-wishers along her route. In Philadelphia, where she stayed with the Washingtons’ old friends Robert Morris and his wife for several days, the Pennsylvania, and Daily Advertiser observed that the “present occasion recalled the remembrance of those interesting scenes, in which, by her presence, she contributed to relieve the cares of our beloved Chief, and to soothe the anxious moments of his military concern—gratitude marked the recollection, and every countenance bespoke the feelings of affectionate respect” (26 May 1789). Mrs. Washington left her own description of the journey north from Philadelphia in a letter to Frances Bassett Washington, 8 June 1789: “I set out on Munday with Mrs Moriss and her two Daughters,—and was met on Wednesday morning by the President Mr Morris and Colo H [David Humphreys] at Elizabethtown point with the fine Barge you have seen so much said of in the papers with the same oars men that carried the P. to New York—dear little Washington [George Washington Parke Custis] seemed to be lost in a mase at the great parade that was made for us all the way we come—The Governor of the state [George Clinton] meet me as soon as we landed, and led me up to the House, the paper will tell you how I was complimented on my landing,—I thank god the Prdt is very well, and the Gentlemen with him are all very well,—the House he is in is a very good one and is handsomely furnished all new for the General—I have been so much engaged since I came hear . . . I have not had one half hour to myself since the day of my arrival . . .” (Decatur, Private Affairs of George Washington, description begins Stephen Decatur, Jr. Private Affairs of George Washington: From the Records and Accounts of Tobias Lear, Esquire, his Secretary. Boston, 1933. description ends 20–21). For a newspaper account of her arrival in New York, see the Gazette of the United States, 30 May 1789. Settled into the presidential mansion, Mrs. Washington evoked almost universal approbation as first lady. Most Americans would have agreed with Abigail Adams, who found “her manners are modest and unassuming, dignified and femenine, not the Tincture of ha’ture about her” (Mitchell, New Letters of Abigail Adams, description begins Stewart Mitchell, ed. New Letters of Abigail Adams, 1788–1801. Boston, 1947. description ends 13). She herself found her new life less to her liking. “I lead a very dull life here,” she wrote to her sister, “and know nothing that passes in the town. I never goe to any publick place,—indeed I think I am more like a state prisoner than anything else, there is certain bounds set for me which I must not depart from—and as I cannot do as I like I am obstinate and stay at home a great deal” (Decatur, Private Affairs of George Washington, description begins Stephen Decatur, Jr. Private Affairs of George Washington: From the Records and Accounts of Tobias Lear, Esquire, his Secretary. Boston, 1933. description ends 46).

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