George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Tobias Lear, 15 May 1791

From Tobias Lear

Philadelphia May 15th 1791.


On thursday last I had the honor to receive your letter of the 21st of April from New burn; and at the same time a letter for Mrs Washington came under cover to me, which she informed me was dated at Wilmington. Yesterday we had the pleasure to see your arrival at Charleston announced in the papers.1

My letters must certainly have met with some interruption or you would have found at least one at Wilmington. Between Richmond & that place I did not calculate upon any reaching you; for the one dated the 5th of April reached you at Richmond, which place you left on the 13th. The next letter which I wrote was dated the 10th—left this place on the 11th—and ought, by the common progress of the mail, to have reached Wilmington on the 22d or 23d, which would have been a day or two before your arrival there. The dates of my letters since that time are April 15th—17th—24th—May 1st & 8th—all of which I flatter my self you will receive.

I am not surprized to learn that the horses are somewhat worn down. I rather wonder at their holding out so well—it is contrary to the opinion of almost every one who knows the nature of the travelling in that Country. Should you be so fortunate as to bring them all back it will be more than is expected. The mare which was bought of the Quaker a few days before you left this place—turns out to be a very good creature—She is high in flesh & spirits—and makes a very tolerable figure—she will be large—she is now higher than the largest of the Colts, and appears to grow every day.

On tuesday Mrs Washington proposes going over to Jersey for a few days—she makes her visit to Mrs Dickinson. It was thought best & cheapest, by Mrs Washington & myself, that she should hire a Coach, 4 horses & a driver for the trip—the whole of which is engaged of Mr Page for twenty four dollars the trip, he bearing all expences of horses & driver—(Daniel is to be the driver). This is cheaper than Mrs Washington could have gone in her own Coach, without taking into consideration any damage which it or the horses might sustain by the jaunt; for two horses must have been hired in addition to her own—and the expense of the whole & Jacob must have been borne for 4 or 5 days. Mrs Washington takes the children with her & Christopher & Oney. I shall have the honor to attend her on horse back.

Fraunces arrived here on Wednesday, and after signing his Articles of Agreement—going over the things in the house & signing an inventory thereof, entered upon the duties of his station. I think I have made the agreement as full, explicit & binding as any thing of the kind can be. In the Articles prohibiting the use of wine at his table—and obliging him to be particular in the discharge of his duty in the Kitchen & to perform the Cooking with Hercules—I have been peculiarly pointed. He readily assented to them all (except that respecting Hercules, upon which he made the following observation—“I must first learn Hercules’ abilities & readiness to do things, which if good, (as good as Mrs Read’s) will enable me to do the Cooking without any other professional assistance in the Kitchen; but this experiment cannot be made until the return of the President when there may be occasion for him to exert his talents”—)—and made the strongest professions of attachment to the family, & his full determination to conduct in such a manner as to leave no room for impeachment either on the score of extravagence or integrity. All these things I hope he will perform.2

The House-keeper who, I mentioned in a former letter, was engaged, came into the family on the same day. She has taken her stand also—and received into her charge those things which belong particularly to her department. Her proceedings thus far speak much in her favour, and I confess that I have formed a very excellent opinion of her abilities in this line.3 The greatest difficulty which she has to apprehend, is in bringing the Servants to bear that particular inspection into their conduct which is proper & which she says she is determined to do. The Servants in the family have been impressed with an idea that they are the best Servants that can be obtained—and in pursuing this idea they are likely to become the worst; for they conceive it an insult offered them to have their doings examined into or superintended; and another idea which they have taken up—and which I have laboured hard to do away, is, that the President’s should be considered rather as a public than a private family, and therefore that it would be lessening the dignity of it to observe those rules & that subordination which may be necessary in a private family. From whence this idea originated I cannot pretend to say. But certain I am that it is not consonant to your way of thinking on the subject.

Since your departure I have necessarily had a more immediate inspection of the Servants than I ever had before, and I have less cause to doubt the justness of those complaints which have heretofore been made of them, than I ever thought I should have. Nothing but the establishment of certain rules & a strict adherence to them, with the peremptory discharge of such as refused or neglected to attend to them, will reduce the family to that state of regularity & pleasantness as will make it a desireable one to live in. These ideas which I mention to have obtained are not confined to the men—the women are likewise infected with them. I shall not fail, with the assistance of Mrs Washington, to take such steps upon this new arrangement of the family as appear best calculated to produce order—and a proper understanding among them.

Vicar, the Cook, takes his discharge tomorrow. He requested it himself, from a determination, as he says, not to be under the immediate direction of Fraunces in the Kitchen as he understands will be the case if he was to continue.4

The enclosed papers will give a more particular account of the events of the week past—such as the death of Judge Hopkinson—the fires which took place on Sunday & on Monday night &c. The death of the District Judge is said to occasion much inconvenience to individuals who had suits depending & which must now be delayed until a new appointment takes place.5

I received the enclosed letter last week from Colo. Wadsworth, containing a proposal to purchase your young Jack. I have acknowledged the receipt of it and informed him that it should be transmitted to you.6

Mrs Lear begs her best respects may be made acceptable to you—and we are happy to say that our little boy has been inoculated & is now fast recovering from the Smallpox—he has had it pretty severely & at one period we had almost given him up—He has been baptized by the name of Benjamin Lincoln, in memory of the deceased son of General Lincoln, and as a testimony of the grateful remembrance in which I hold that friend who took me by the hand at a moment when I needed a friend, and through whose means I had the happiness of being made known to you.7 And as a proof of the high estimation in which I hold that happiness, I trust I shall never neglect an opportunity of shewing the sincere attachment & high respect with which I have the honor to be Sir, Your grateful, affectionate & very humble Servant

Tobias Lear.


1Neither GW’s letter to his wife nor the letter to Tobias Lear covering it has been found. Lear probably was referring to the account printed in the Federal Gazette and Philadelphia Daily Advertiser, 14 May 1791.

2For Herculas (Hercules), a Mount Vernon slave GW took with him to Philadelphia in November 1790 to serve as cook, see GW to Lear, 17 Sept. 1790, n.2, and 12 April 1791.

3For the new housekeeper, Ann Emerson, see Lear to GW, 1 May 1791 and note 2.

4John Vicar had served as cook to the presidential household since May 1790. See Lear to Daniel Grant, 28 Feb. 1790, n.3.

5On Sunday afternoon, 8 May 1791, a fire in David Kennedy’s house at 329 High Street was extinguished after causing considerable property damage. Ten to twenty houses and shops were destroyed the night of 9 May by a fire that spread from a livery stable on Dock Street. See General Advertiser and Political, Commercial and Literary Journal (Philadelphia), 10, 11 May, and Gazette of the United States (Philadelphia), 10, 11 May. For references to Francis Hopkinson’s death, see General Advertiser and Political, Commercial and Literary Journal, 10 May, and Gazette of the United States, 11 May.

6The enclosed letter and proposal have not been found, but on 15 May Lear wrote Jeremiah Wads worth: “I have the pleasure to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 1st instant, communicating a proposal from Messrs Whetman & Perkins to purchase the President’s young Jack, and to inform you that I have transmitted the same to the President” (CtHi: Jeremiah Wads worth Papers). On 13 July Lear wrote to Wadsworth: “the President now directs me to inform you, that it is not his intention to part with his young Jack, the offspring of the Spanish Jack and the Maltese Jenny; but that, in case a very handsome offer should be made, he would (tho previous to your Application the matter had not been contemplated) dispose of his large Spanish Jack. The President has bred almost entirely from this Jack, and the Mules which have descended from him are large-boned, stout, and perfectly well tempered. He means, however, to breed next season from the Maltese Jacks—after which the young Jack (now three years old) which promises to be very large, will be old enough to take up, or assist in the business, as shall be judged best—and this is the reason of his inclining to part with the Spanish Jack in preference to the young one. But it must be understood that it is not a small price which will induce the President to dispose of this Animal. The manner in which he came to the President, proving him to be of the first quality—his size (upwards of fifteen hands high, and his form indicating strength and firmness almost beyond conception)—his age, being now about nine years old, which is said to be far short of their prime for the business for which they are wanted—and the vast advantage which must accrue to the owner of such a creature, especially in a Country where mules are raised for exportation, and Jacks of all kinds much in demand, are circumstances which will have their weight with the President in his expectation for him; and the same things will undoubtedly be well considerd by the Purchaser. You will be so good, my dear Sir, as to communicate this to the persons who proposed purchasing the young Jack; and if they incline to come forward with such an Offer in Cash as may be thought adequate to such an Animal, they must do it immediately; for when the President was to the Southward he was much pressed to send this Jack there for a Season, and so strong was the importunity on this head that he engaged to send him to Colo. Washington of South Carolina the ensuing fall, unless prevented by some circumstance which he did not know of at that time. If, therefore, such a proposition should not come forward in the course of two months as will induce the President to dispose of him, he will be sent to Carolina agreeable to promise. It is but right it should be known that this Jack is slow in covering, and must have a she-Ass to stimulate him to the performance of the duty expected from him” (CtHi: Jeremiah Wadsworth Papers; the editors wish to thank Reference Librarian Kelly Nolin for her assistance with this document). Whetman and Perkins in August made an offer of £500 Virginia currency for “the young Jack” (Lear to Perkins, 18 Aug. 1791, DLC:GW), but GW never closed the deal with Perkins. For reference to Royal Gift, Knight of Malta, and GW’s other Mount Vernon jacks, jennies, and mules, see George Augustine Washington to GW, 16 July 1790, n.4, and J. H. Powell, General Washington and the Jack As. . . (Cranbury, N.J., 1969), 176–90.

7Martha reported on 5 June to Fanny Bassett Washington that Benjamin Lincoln Lear “has got quite well, and grows finely” (Fields, Papers of Martha Washington, description begins Joseph E. Fields, ed. “Worthy Partner”: The Papers of Martha Washington. Westport, Conn., and London, 1994. description ends 232). His father wrote to Benjamin Lincoln on 8 April 1791 that “The formalities of Christening have not yet taken place; but will in a few days when my son shall have the name of Benjamin Lincoln given to him, as well to express, in some degree, the grateful remembrance in which I hold that name—as to impress it upon the mind of the boy that he must imitate the virtues of him who has borne and of him who bears the name” (MHi: Benjamin Lincoln Papers). Benjamin Lincoln’s son Benjamin had died on 18 Jan. 1788 at the age of thirty-one (see Lincoln to GW, 20 Jan. 1788; Massachusetts Centinel [Boston], 23 Jan. 1788; Mattern, Benjamin Lincoln, description begins David B. Mattern. Benjamin Lincoln and the American Revolution. Columbia, S.C., 1995. description ends 179). For the introduction of Lear to GW by Benjamin Lincoln, Sr., and Jr., see Lincoln to GW, 4 Jan. 1786 and note 1.

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