Tobias Lear to Oliver Evans
Philadelphia, Jany 26th 1792.
The President presuming from your general acquaintance with Mills and Millers, that you will be able to give him the best information of the annual sum for which he can obtain a first rate Miller, that is, one capable of taking charge of a merchant mill, for his mill in Virginia, in addition to the perquisites which he allows to his present miller, and which will be here stated, has directed me to write to you for that purpose.
The present miller has provided for him a good and convenient dwelling house, within a few yards of the mill, with a Garden adjoining, sufficiently large to raise such vegetables and garden roots as are necessary for his family—and other accommodations suited to such a dwelling—he is furnished with a Cow and keeping for the same—he receives 5,00 wt of Pork per annum—is permitted to keep as many dunghill fowls as he may have occasion for in his family (but is not allowed to raise any for sale)—and has his wood found him and brought to his door. There is moreover a smart young negro man who acts as an Assistant in the mill. in which business he has been employed for several years, and of course may be calculated upon as understanding the common and ordinary business of a mill.
The present miller by his agreement (which would also be expected from any other) is to superintend a Cooper’s shop, which is within a few rods of the mill, where two negro men and a boy are kept at work, and to work at the business himself when he is not actually engaged in the mill, he is likewise to do any small repairs to the mill which may be necessary, such as putting in cogs &c. and such things as do not require the aid of a professed Mill-wright. The duties at this mill are far from being heavy; for from the month of April to the month of November there is scarcely water enough to grind for the President’s own people—and at other times there is not always work enough to keep her employed. But a miller who may be engaged must not calculate from these circumstances, upon being idle any part of his time; for it is the Presidents intention, if practicable, to turn such streams into his Mill-Race as will keep her going at all times—and if that should not be done, the Coopers business will give employment to an industrious man. As to the situation of the Mill &c. your brother, who was there last fall, can give the best information.
Upon this view of the matter, the President wishes you to let him know for what annual sum, in addition to the before mentioned perquisites, he could be able to obtain such a miller as is before mentioned: and likewise to inform him of the wages and perquisites (if any) that are given to such a person at the Brandy Wine and other noted Mills.
The President will be thankful for this information as soon as it can be obtained, in order that he may be able therefrom to make arrangements with respect to his mill immediately. If you know of any complete Miller that can be obtained about the last of may next—you will be so good as to let the President know his name, abode—and other qualities; the first of June being the day when the year for which his miller is engaged, expires, he must determine three months before that time whether he shall engage him for another year, or get a new one. A married Man with a small family would be preferred to a single one, as his inducements to be absent would be less.1
For the background to this letter, see Tobias Lear to Oliver Evans, 29 Aug. 1791.
1. Evans’s reply to Lear of 28 Jan. 1792 has not been found. In it he apparently recommended a man named Robinson as a suitable miller for GW’s mill, as evidenced by Lear’s response to Evans of 5 Feb.: “By the post of friday I received your letter of the 28th ultimo, and thank you, in behalf of the President, for the information you have been so good as to obtain and communicate respecting a Miller. The President has no wish to part with his present Miller, if he should incline to continue where he is upon reasonable terms; but as the Work done at the Mill will not allow of extravagant wages, the President is desirous of ascertaining the annual sum for which he can obtain a first rate Miller (who at the same time shall be a man of strict integrity—of sobriety and industry) in addition to the perquisites mentioned in my former letter. When this is known, if his present Miller will not continue for the same sum, he shall have no hesitation in parting with him. I have, therefore, Sir, to beg the further favor of you to learn from the Mr Robinson mentioned in your letter—or any other person possessing the necessary qualifications, the annual sum for which he would engage to take charge of, and conduct the Presidents Mill, in addition to the perquisites before mentioned to you—and let me receive information thereof as soon as you can. After this information is received, the President will be able to determine whether he shall continue his present Miller, or take another, as soon as he can write to Mount Vernon, and receive an answer from thence. It may be necessary to observe here, that the Miller who has charge of the Presidents Mill, must be a man of strict integrity, and one in whom a confidence can be placed to conduct the business of the Mill, without being constantly looked after; for so numerous are the avocations of whoever superintends the President’s affairs, during his absence from home, that they can only pay a general attention to the Mill—and of course much must depend, in that case, on the honesty of the Miller, as well as on his ability to manage the business committed to his charge. A Miller, tho’ engaged for the year, may receive his wages as they become due, by the month or quarter, as he pleases. You observe in your letter, that ‘Gentlemen from the southward offer higher wages than are given at the Brandy-Wine Mills, & that there are frequent instances where those who go for the sake of the wages, return for their health’. I am happy in being able to inform you, in reply to this, that, reasoning from the past, a person need be under no apprehension of unhealthiness at the President’s Mill; for since the time of its being built in the year 1770, to the present day, there have been but two Millers engaged there—and they have both, with their families, enjoyed as much health as any persons or families in any place whatever. The first Miller, whose name was Roberts, was employed there from the building of the Mill, ’till the year 1785. He was perhaps, one of the first millers in this Country; but being incorrigibly addicted to drunkenness, the President was obliged to part with him on that account, after having endured with him, in consideration of his extraordy ability as a Miller, ’till his conduct, from drunkenness, was no longer tolerable. After his dismission, the man who is now there was engaged; and, as I observed before, neither of them suffered in themselves or families any more inconvenience from sickness, than what is incident to a family in any situation whatever” (DLC:GW).
Evans’s reply to Lear of 20 Feb. has also not been found. Lear again wrote Evans on 24 Feb.: “I have been favoured with your letter of the 20th instant, and have communicated the same to the President, who observes, that the wages which Mr Robinson demands is higher than he expected from your letter to me of the 28th of July. in which you state the wages of a first rate miller at the Brandy wine mills to be from £5.10 to £6 pr month, without any perquisites, and the duties heavy. Mr R. demands 75£ per year in addition to perquisites—almost sufficient to support a family. However, as I mentioned to you in my last letter, that the President did not wish to part with his present miller, if he should incline to continue on reasonable terms, and my principal object in writing to you was to know the terms upon which he could obtain a Miller, in case he should be under the necessity of getting a new one, the President can not give a decided answer to Mr R. until he knows the intention of his present Miller, for which purpose he has written to Virginia, and will probably receive an answer from thence towards the last of this, or in the beginning of next month; and as soon as he hears from thence, I will give you immediate information of his determination. The dry weather continuing till the setting in of the frost has prevented the President’s mill from giving a fair trial to your improvements, little or no work having been done there since they were erected. This puts it out of the President’s power to give at present a certificate of their utility from experiment” (DLC:GW).