George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Tobias Lear, 26 September 1790

From Tobias Lear

New York September 26th 1790.


I have been duly honored with Your letters of the 17th & 20th of the present month. To such parts of which as have not been anticipated by my letter of the 17th, I shall now reply.

The Table Images had been packed up some days before your letter of the 17th came to hand; but precisely in the mode which you there recommended—viz. each Image in a separate box made amply large, with bran put in and shook down (not pressed) by degrees. The small Images wer put into two boxes, six in each (as they came) with bran as the others. If anything will preserve them I think it must be this mode of packing, and particular attention paid to their removal.1

I have entered into a very full discussion with Mr Hyde upon the subject of his and his wife’s continuance in the family;2 and have stated to him as particularly and minutely as I am able, everything which is expected from and dependent upon them. I have told him very candidly the idea that was formed of the expensiveness of the Table at which he presides, founded upon the high rate of his bills and the consumption of liquors. After laying these things plainly before him, I submitted it to his decision whether he and his wife would continue or not; informing him, at the same time, that no relaxation of duties hitherto performed, nor no increase of wages must be expected on their parts; unless, if you should bring one of your Cooks into the family, which you had suggested was probable, there might possibly be some assistance given by him or Vicar to Mrs Hyde in preparing the desert on entertaining days which she said was the heaviest duty she found to do;3 but even here she must not consider that she had a right to assistance; but if it could be given conveniently, she would undoubtedly receive it. After some consultation they agreed to continue in the family; and I shall draw up Articles accordingly for one year. Upon the subject of consumption of liquors, Mr Hyde appeared to be much affected when I told him it had far exceeded expectation & calculation, the latter founded in its fullest latitude upon the account of a week’s consumption which he had himself given in. He observed that tho’ he had been accurate in noting the quantity used in the week for which his account was made out; yet it oftener hapened that more was used per week than less; for the season of his keeping that account was when the weather was cold, and that the same company will drink more of the same liquor in warm than in cold weather—that there had been some instances—viz. the 4th of July and when the Indians were here, where a considerable quantity was consumed which did not come into the calculation—that wine was more frequently called for when company came in in the morning in summer than winter—and that the loss occasioned by drawing it daily out of the pipe is considerable and could not be brought into his account for the week. It is unnecessary for me to make a comment on these observations. You, Sir, will be able to judge of their weight. This stands calculation. On the 13th of March the first pipe of Mr Pintard’s wine was brouched; (Two pipes containing 219 Gallons, were then in the house.)—And a few days after you left this place, I had the remains of the second pipe drawn off into a smaller cask: there was 45 Galls. of it. This brings the whole consumption of Mad[eir]a to 174 Galls. since the 13th of March. Mr Hyde states the consumption of the table at 2 quarts per day for 6 days in the week, and 12 quarts on the entertaining day; which makes 6 Galls, per week. 24½ weeks from the 13th of march to the 31st of August at 6 Galls. per week will make 147 Galls.—45 Galls. remaining give 192 Galls. accounted for—27 Galls. therefore stand to the account of extra consumption, loss by drawing &ca. That there has been an extra consumption there is no doubt. But what the loss on a pipe in drawing daily may be I know not. Where excise is collected 20 per Cent is allowed for the loss on Liquors drawn off & retailed; but if one half of that quantity is allowed in this case, whole will be pretty well accounted for. A pipe of Tenerieff wine was bought on the 12th of March containing 101 Galls. @ 4/.—This has been used on Friday evenings—for cooking—and at Mr Hyde’s table. 30 Galls. of it now remains; but as I am not able to judge of the quantity necessary for cooking, it is not in my power to say whether the consumption of this has been improper or not. Mr Hyde says it is his wish to have the wine all drawn off into bottles, and a certain number delivered to him every week, for which he will make himself accountable at the end of each week; for it can easily be brought within the recollection of any one at your table how the wine has been consumed for one week, when it would not be particularly remembered what had been the consumption for months. He says he shall either totally relinquish the use of wine at the second table, or render in a weekly acct of what is used there. As to the consumption of other articles in the family, he says he should only decieve you and himself was he to pretend that he could do with less than he has, provided you continue the same numbers and style of living. It can always be known whether he decieves in the prices or not by inquiry at the market.

I have gone through a comparative examination of his accounts & I find nothing in them that can impeach his honesty. The difference between his & Frauncess I stated in a former letter.

In my letter of the 17th, I mentioned the proposal of Mr Macombe, which so far as relates to the house is better than expectation; for a tenant could hardly be found for this house on any terms; and should the exchange be made with Mr Macombe, it is not probable that £100 could be obtained for the one which he occupies till the first of may, as the rent of houses in this street has fallen at least one half. I do not think I shall be able to obtain £30 for the buildings. Indeed I see no prospects of any offer for them. I have not advertised them for sale; but I have mentioned their being so to all who appeared to me most likely to want them, and they say they would hardly accept them to take them away, so small is the demand for any thing of this kind. I have been fortunate enough to let my house in King Street for £25 to the first of may.4

Dingwell has not called upon me since your departure, and it seems not worth while to send for him. If he makes his appearance again, I will give him the sum which you mentioned.5

I informed you in my letter of the 17th that Colo. Biddle had written to me that the largest Packet could be obtained for eighty dollars to take a freight from this place to Philadelphia; and on the 20th I mentioned my having requested him to engage her for me. On friday I received a letter from Colo. Biddle informing me that he had made a considerable mistake in his former letter; and that 160 dollars would be the price of the vessel instead of 80 as he had first told me.6 I enclose his two letters to me on the subject, that you may see the grounds on which I gave you the information in my letter of the 17th.7 Before I received Colo. Biddle’s last letter I had made inquiries here respecting the terms on which a vessel could be engaged, and was uniformly informed that if I could get one of that size and in every respect well fitted for the business for 150 dollars it would not be an extravagant price; for the lowest terms upon which they carried goods on freight in ever so large quantities, unless one person took the whole vessel was 6d. New Yk Curry per foot, and at 40 feet per ton, the rate of measurement, a vessel of 79½ tons would amount to much more than 160 dollars. I therefore flattered myself that I had made an extraordinary good bargain. But when I received Colo. Biddle’s letter of the 22d I was not so well pleased with the prospect, and entered upon fresh inquiries, which terminated rather worse than the first; for those employed in the trade knowing that there would be a demand for vessels in the course of a few weeks, had determined to hold up their’s at a higher rate than they at first demanded; and I could not have obtained a Packet here of 60 tons for 160 dollars. Those who are not employed in this trade will go for less; but taking the season of the year, and every circumstance into consideration, it did not appear so safe to engage one who is not so well acquainted with the coast, and especially as her cargo will be very valuable. The difference of Insurance on goods shipped in the Packets & those shipped in other vessels is one half per Cent—it being done for one per Cent in the former & 1½ in the latter. I therefore wrote to Colo. Biddle8 to engage Captn Albertson’s Packet9 at 160 dollars for the trip, provided she arrives here and is ready to receive her cargo by monday the 4th of October. Should she not be here by that time I shall get the most suitable vessel I can then find. I have desired Colo. Biddle to make a written agreement with the owner upon this condition. I fixed upon the 4th of Octr for beginning to load the vessel as that will, in all probability get the Furniture to Philadelphia by the 10th or 12th of the month, which is as soon as I imagine the house will be ready, according to a letter I received from Mr Morris of the 19th.10 We shall be able to load the vessel in two days, and as soon as she sails I shall set out for Philadelphia with Mrs Lear.

A French Packet arrived a few days ago by which there are certain accounts of the safety of the vessel in which your wines were shipped from Bordeaux;11 but she was very much injured by bad weather and it is feared that the wines are almost destroyed, as her cargo has been found to be much damaged. Neither the Captain of this Packet nor the merchant here can give any particular account of the wines, which to me appears strange, and I shall make further inquiry into the matter. Mr Fenwick, who was apprized of the circumstances of the shipment &ca, when he was here, will undoubtedly take the necessary steps in the business in France.

Nothing further occurs at this time,12 I have therefore only to add the best respects of Mrs Lear & myself and to assure you that I am, with the highest respect and most sincere attachment, Sir, Your obliged & very humble Servt13

Tobias Lear


1For the French figurines acquired in Paris for GW by Gouverneur Morris, see Morris to GW, 24 Jan. 1790 and note 2.

3John Vicar of Baltimore had joined the president’s household as cook in May 1790 (see Lear to Daniel Grant, 28 Feb. 1790, n.3).

4Lear had been renting a house at 60 King Street (New York City Directory, description begins The New-York Directory, and Register, for the Year 1790. New York, 1790. description ends 1790, 60).

6The letter, dated 22 Sept. 1790, that Lear received from Clement Biddle on 24 Sept. 1790 was Biddle’s reply to Lear’s 19 Sept. 1790 letter (for which, see n.10 below). Biddle’s 22 Sept. 1790 letter reads: “I find I have committed a considerable Mistake in acquainting you of the terms of freight of Capt: Albersons vessel—she is 79½ Tonns burthen, he says has loaded 800 barrels of flour & the freight he first asked was at the rate of a quarter dollar per barrel but reduced it to the rate of 18d. New Currency, as a rate of computation, but by mistake I reckon’d it at 80 Dollars & wrote you accordingly—The rate of 160 Dollars which is the price for the Trip I think is reasonable & as low as I can find such sized vessels have hired at—the Vessel will leave this about Sunday and will be ready at New York about the time you mention and the Captain will bring you a Letter from me that you may have a choice of taking the Vessel or if I have your answer by Saturday in next tuesdays post, I can agree with the Owner (Capt. Alberson) here & he will come to New York in person—he agrees to load in the hold & on Deck and to bring the Servants they finding their own provision & will enter into a written agreement, The Error in the sum must have been my own. . . . As Mr Morris is not yet removed it will be improper to lay in wood until he does when I shall attend to it.

“The Committee talked of painting the house but some rooms may not require it & the furniture may be stowed in them but I shall in three or four days be able to inform you more exactly of this—a great number of workmen are ready & hasten the Alterations” (DLC:GW).

7Only one of the two enclosed Biddle letters fitting Lear’s description has been found. Dated Philadelphia, 14 Sept. 1790, it reads: “I have before me your favour of the 9th inst:—Mr Morris is now removing out of his house & one of the Committee informs me that in addition to other repairs the house is to be painted inside and out that it cannot possibly be ready before the 10th of next month but as soon as it is empty & the tradesmen at work I will enquire & inform you their Opinion—every dispatch possible is making use of.

“I have seen Capt. Alberson an old careful Coaster who owns two of the packets between this & New York—one of them is now at New York & can be heard of at Mr Wm Bradfords store on the wharff where she lays—the other is now here & may sail in a week for New York & is much the largest in the Trade being 79½ Tonns measurement & carries about 800 barrels—the Owner of this vessel says he will take Eighty Dollars (at first he asked 200 Dolls.) for the whole vessel from New York to this place & this I conceive to be a reasonable freight for so large a vessel—for the other he will take a freight in proportion to the Size. Captain Watson also has a good Sloop in the Trade & I beleive is now at New York & there are so many employed in the Trade that they will offer low to get a whole freight.

“The papers are forwarded to mount Vernon—I had a few lines from the President at Baltimore dated on Thursday.

“As soon as Mr Morris removes I will lay in some wood & will inform you in time to send me the money” (DLC:GW).

8Lear’s 24 Sept. 1790 reply to Biddle reads: “I have been duly favored with your letter of the 22d. Before I had received your letter of the 14th Inst. I made inquiry of the only Coaster between this place and Philada that was then in New York, to know at what rate he would take a freight for me to Philada—and he demanded 150 dollars for his vessel, about 75 tons. When I received the information which you was so good as to send me, I thought 80 dollars remarkably low. But the error accounts for it. From every thing I can learn, it appears probable that I shall not be able to get a vessel of the size of Captn Albertsons for less than 160 dollars, I will, therefore, be much obliged to you to engage her at that rate. We shall have many things to carry on deck, and I shall find provisions for the Servants who will go in the Cabin, which (by the way) is undoubtedly included in the agreement; for there are many things which are necessary to be put there.

“If the vessel sails from Phila. on Sunday next, she will, in all probability, be here by the first of October. But as she may be detained much beyond that period, either by not sailing so soon as is expected—by being long on her passage, or delay after she gets here; I shall, in that case, be subjected to a very great inconvenience; and should therefore chuse to fix a day for the vessel to take in her cargo, beyond which, if she was not here & ready, I would not consider myself obliged to wait for her; for there will undoubtedly be many ready to engage whenever we are prepared for them. The latest day I should be inclined to fix on would be monday the 4th of October; and if it should be sooner than that it would be more agreeable, as we shall be in perfect readiness by the first. I will, therefore, thank you, my dear Sir, to engage Captn Albertson largest vessel upon those conditions. If she is not ready to receive her cargo by the 4th of October, I shall not feel myself obliged to take her after that time; but will be left at liberty to engage any one I please. I think it might be best to have an agreemt in writing just expressi⟨ve⟩ of the sense of the parties” (PHi: Washington-Biddle Correspondence).

Lear’s correspondence with Biddle concerning Albertson’s packet was hardly completed, however. Biddle wrote to him again on 27 Sept. 1790: “I have your Favour of 24th but before it Came to hand by Capt Albertson had Sailed, (last Thursday) in his Sloop for New York and I gave him a letter for you. from the last Conversation I had with him I have no Doubt he will take 150 Do. for the Trip and he is a Careful Judicious Coaster: with an Excellent vessel—It may not be amiss to make a written Memorandum that he hires ‘the whole of his Vessel in the Hold and Cabbin and upon Deck (except the Necessary accommodations for Officers & Crew & Storage of vessel Stores & Materials for the voyage) to load with Goods & to accommodate Passengers except their Provisions for the voyage from New York to Philadelphia for the Sum of 150 Do. to be paid on Delivery of the Goods & passengers in Philada’—This will guard against Misunderstanding & I have put down the Form as it is in my Line—there is little Doubt but he will be in New York by the 2d or 3d of October in Case of accident another vessel Capt. Bird has offered who is a good vessel & Captain & sailed yesterday & expects to be in New York by the 2nd or 3d of October and will go at a Rate in proportion to his size—Capt. Albertson may be found at Mr Bradfords or a wharff not far from the Coffee House. I observed yesterday that Mr Morris was busily employed in moving the Day before & I suppose will be out of the House To day or Tomorrow when I shall loose no time in laying in Wood” (PHi: Clement Biddle Letter Book; for Lear’s reply to Biddle’s 27 September letter, see Lear to Biddle, 3 Oct. 1790).

9The packet may have belonged to either Rickloff Albertson or William Abertson (see Heads of Families [Pennsylvania], description begins Heads of Families at the First Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1790: Pennsylvania. 1908. Reprint. Baltimore, 1970. description ends 212).

10Morris’s letter to Lear has not been found, but Lear paraphrased it in a letter he wrote to Biddle on 19 Sept., the same day he received it: “I have been informed by Mr Morris that by the first of next month I may have the furniture removed; as by that time there will be rooms ready to receive it; and it can be properly distributed when the alterations are completed.” Lear also discussed packet arrangements for the impending move: “I thank you, my dear Sir, for the information you have been so good as to obtain, and give me respecting the Packets. I think eighty dollars, which is about one dollar per ton, for the largest packet, is reasonable. And I must further encroach on your goodness, in requesting you to engage her to take a freight to Philadelphia at that price. She must be here certainly by the first of October; and if one or two days sooner it might be better. She can come to a warf within a few Rods of the house, and shall have her loading as fast as it will be possible to stow it away. As there are many things that must be handled with care in stowing &ca.

I shall let some of our own people be on board to assist therein, as they know the Boxes containing the delicate articles. She may, if the weather permits, be loaded in two days, if she can be stowed in that time. We shall have everything in perfect readiness, and all the furniture that is liable to be injured packed in cases. There will be many things which may go on deck; and we shall send all our Servants in her (4 men and 4 or 5 women). If you engage this vessel I think it might be well to have some written agreement with the owner, lest any circumstance should occur to occasion a misunderstanding in the matter. I believe it will hardly be necessary to engage two Packets; for upon the best Judgement I can form, it appears probable that the Packet which carries 800 bbls, must take all, or nearly all our things. If any should remain they can be sent by some other vessel. Should you not be able to get the largest, then I would wish the next in size and goodness might be taken” (PHi: Washington-Biddle Correspondence).

12Lear wrote again to GW four days later, and GW acknowledged that letter on 10 Oct. 1790. Lear’s 30 Sept. 1790 letter noted: “Nothing particular has occurred since I had the honor to write to you on the 26th Inst.

“We are now in complete readiness for shipping the furniture; and the vessel which is to take it on board is on her passage from Philadelphia. We shall undoubtedly leave this place in the course of next week, which will enable us to reach Philadelphia as soon as, by a letter which I received from Mr Morris of the 25th, the house will be ready for our reception” (DLC:GW).

13GW acknowledged Lear’s 26 Sept. 1790 letter on 10 Oct. 1790.

Index Entries