George Washington Papers

Tobias Lear to Oliver Evans, 29 August 1791

Tobias Lear to Oliver Evans

Philadelphia August 29th 1791


The President has been informed by his manager at Mount Vernon that the work of his mill is in such a stage as not to admit of any delay in erecting your improvements without stopping the whole progress of the work, which at this time would be a serious inconvenience. The mill-wright who has been employed in repairing the President’s mill has been to view your improvements at the Ochoquan mills, and with the insight he has obtained from that view, aided by a plate of the improvements, he has no doubt of his being able to execute the work completely, and he has the character of being an excellent workman1—but, as the President is desirous of having it done in the most perfect manner without a hazard of its not answering the purpose fully, he wishes to know if you still hold your determination of going into that part of the Country as you mentioned your intention of doing so, and in case you should, and would go on immediately, he will give directions to the mill wright to wait your arrival before any thing is done to the improvements—But if you do not go immediately the President must give orders for the person now engaged to go on with the work himself, as the season will admit of no delay.2

Let me know whether you go to Virginia directly or not—that if you should a letter might be sent to you on Wednesday for mount Vernon.3 I am Sir, &ca

Tobias Lear


Millwright William Ball began repairing GW’s mill in May. See George Augustine Washington’s agreement of 16 April with Ball (DLC:GW). After observing Ball’s progress GW apparently decided to install the machinery designed by Oliver Evans. Tobias Lear entered into correspondence with Evans when GW returned to Philadelphia, and Evans replied in a missing letter of 28 July in which he discussed millers’ wages and other such matters (see Lear to Evans, 24 Feb. 1792 [DLC:GW]).

1The plate was probably that published in the Universal Asylum and Columbian Magazine in January 1791.

2Evans replied to Lear on 1 Sept. that either he or his brother Evan would go to Mount Vernon to oversee the work. GW sent Evans’s letter to Anthony Whitting on 4 Sept. with a license to erect Evans’s patented invention at the mill: “If Mr Evans or his brother, agreeably to the tenor of the enclosed letter, is not there by the time Mr Ball has compleated the other parts of the work, let him go on without; but with those parts first, as are mentioned in the letter. . . . This license after Mr Ball has seen it must be lodged with the Major.”

3Lear wrote to Oliver Evans on 4 Sept.: “In reply to your letter of the 1st instant, which has been duly received, the President directs me to inform you that having procured of Mr [Robert] Leslie a patent for erecting your improvements at his mills, he shall forward it this day to Mount Vernon with directions for the Mill Wright to proceed in the execution of the work—for it will admit of no further delay, the work of the mill being in that state as to make it necessary to erect the improvements now or lay them aside altogether. As the man who is now engaged in the President’s mill seems fully confident of his being able to execute the whole of the work in a proper manner the President thinks it would not be necessary for your brother to attend to it, which must be a considerable encrease of the Expence. As you mentioned when you were here that you intended to be in that part of Virginia about the time that the improvements would be erecting, the President wished in that case that you might be present when the works at his mill were executing—But he does not think it would be necessary for you to quit your own business, which you say is at this time very pressing, for the sole purpose of directing the execution of this piece of work” (DLC:GW). Evans’s response of 7 Sept. has not been found, but Lear wrote him on 9 Sept.: “In consequence of the representation made in your letter of the 7th instant, respecting the erecting of your improvements, the President wishes that your Brother may proceed to his mills in order to superintend those which are to be put up there, and he has this day sent directions to Mount Vernon for the mill wright who is now employed to govern his work accordingly—But if your brother was on his way to the President’s mill at the time of your writing he will undoubtedly get there before the President’s letter of to-day reaches Mount Vernon” (DLC:GW). When GW reached Mount Vernon on 20 Sept., he found Evan Evans at work at the mill (see GW to Lear, 23 September).

Index Entries