George Washington Papers

Tobias Lear to William Shotwell, 21 November 1791

Tobias Lear to William Shotwell

Philadelphia, 21 Nov. 1791. “The President wants to purchase about one thousand wt of clover, and six or seven bushels of Timothy-Seed, and wishes you to let him know what they can be bought for now with you. If the seeds are obtained by the month of February next, it will be soon enough for the President’s purpose; but he must depend upon them at that time, if he should determine to have them from N. York, which will depend on the price they bear there. You will, therefore, let me know, as soon as you can, after receiving this letter, whether they can be had now, and the price, and likewise whether it would be best to wait until the month of february for a lower price, or a more plentiful supply.”1


On the recommendation of Henry Lee, GW first purchased imported grass seeds from the firm of Lawrence Embree and William Shotwell (1762–1840) of New York in December 1787. After Embree’s death the Quaker ironmonger continued the business, not always to GW’s satisfaction, under the name of William Shotwell & Company (GW to Embree & Shotwell, 3 Dec. 1787, n.2, GW to Shotwell, 7 April 1789; Crane, Elizabeth Drinker Diary, description begins Elaine Forman Crane et al., eds. The Diary of Elizabeth Drinker. 3 vols. Boston, 1991. description ends 3:2212; see also Gottesman, Arts and Crafts in New York, description begins Rita Susswein Gottesman. The Arts and Crafts in New York: Advertisements and News Items from New York City Newspapers. 3 vols. New York, 1938-65. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vols. 69, 81–82. description ends 2:257).

1Shotwell apparently informed Lear on 22 Nov. that the price of clover seed was 1/6 per pound and that of timothy, from 17 to 18s. per bushel. Lear requested him on 25 Nov. immediately to obtain for GW 400 pounds of clover seed and seven bushels of timothy, which were to be sent addressed to George Augustine Washington at Mount Vernon to the care of William Wilson in Alexandria, Va., if any vessels should be sailing from New York before the Potomac closed. Otherwise, Shotwell was to ship them to Philadelphia, as a vessel was sailing from there to Alexandria in ten or fifteen days (DLC:GW). Shotwell apparently informed Lear on 1 Dec. that he had procured the timothy seed, but that the price of clover had increased. Lear wrote him on 6 Dec. that GW consequently had decided to purchase only 200 pounds of it, which should be shipped to Philadelphia with the timothy, if possible (DLC:GW).

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