George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Tobias Lear, 21 September 1792

To Tobias Lear

Mount Vernon Sepr 21st 1792

Dear Sir,

I have written but one letter to you since I came to this place1—I was on the point of writing a second when yours of the 5th of August came to my hands informing me of your intention to leave Portsmouth about the first of this month, and expectation of reaching Philadelphia (if no unforeseen delays happened) the 20th. This information arrested my intention, as it was uncertain at what place to direct to you—or, that the letter would reach your hands before it re-verberated back to that City.2

I feel myself much obliged by the information contained in your letters of the 21st of July and 5th of August; but as I expect soon to see you I shall only take notice of that part of it which respects a tutor for a few boys, and my ardent wish that you may have been able to succeed in your expectation of getting one. I am more & more persuaded of the utility of the measure; & that without it, the loss to Washington will be irreparable.3

I have nothing agreeable of a domestic nature to relate, and I go not abroad to Collect information of any other kind. Poor George! He is, I believe not far from that place, from whence no traveller returns. He is but the shadow of what he was; he has not been out of his room & scarcely from his bed these six weeks. At times he has intervals of ease which flatter a little, but I have little hope of his surviving the Winter. This adds not a little to my distress & perplexity on a subject you are already acquainted with—but no more of this—at least for the present.4

My family, and this part of the Country are more sickly than they have been since the recollection of the oldest of us; first with the flux (but that did not prevail in my family) and next with intermittant & remittant fevers. all the whites of it, however, have kept up, except William, whose fever is by an act of his own imprudence.5

Not knowing what delays you may have met with on the Road, I have directed Mr Francis in a letter of this date, to engage Mr Page’s Coach to be here, to accomodate our journey to Philadelphia; for which place I expect to set out the 8th though I may not arrive in that City before the 13th or 14th of Oct.—The Stage however is to be at this place on the 7th at Night. If you should be in Philadelphia by the time this letter reaches it, I shall rely on your usual punctuality & exertion to effect this. If the Carriage should not be here before the 8th the case will not be altered, as I do not expect Mrs Washington will leave this place before the 9th—The Sale may require my remaining in George-Town one day.6

If this letter should find you in Philadelphia, let me know the result of your application to Mr Page by the first Post after it is received.7 Our united and best wishes are offered for yourself Mrs Lear & the Child and with sincere & Affectionate regard I am always Your friend

Go: Washington

P.S. If Mr Page cannot send his Carriage some other equally convenient[,] if to be had[,] must be sent for our accomodation as it is thereon we depend.


2GW and Lear left Philadelphia in mid-July (see Lear to Knox, 10 July, and Lear to GW, 15 July). GW and his family returned to Mount Vernon for the summer, while Lear, his wife Mary, and his one-year-old son, Benjamin Lincoln Lear, visited family and friends in Lear’s hometown of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Both men and their families returned to Philadelphia in October, Lear on 7 Oct. and GW on 13 Oct. (see Lear to GW, 7 Oct., and GW to Anthony Whitting, 14 Oct. 1792).

3For background on GW’s earlier displeasure with the academic progress of Martha Washington’s grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, at the academy of the College of Philadelphia, see Lear to GW, 3 April 1791, and note 2. For Lear’s success in finding a tutor, see Lear to GW, 7 Oct. 1792.

4Because of George Augustine Washington’s illness, GW needed to arrange for someone else to take on the duties of Mount Vernon manager. Anthony Whitting, overseer of the Ferry and French’s farms since 1790, gradually assumed more and more of the manager’s duties. The “subject” with which Lear was familiar was whether GW should accept a second term as president. Lear used his trip to Portsmouth to survey public opinion about the new government and to determine if there was support for GW to serve a second term (see Lear to GW, 21 July and 5 August).

5William Osborne, GW’s valet de chambre, recovered sufficiently from his illness to accompany GW on the trip to Philadelphia. A relapse while on the road forced Osborne to delay his journey, and he arrived in Philadelphia a few days after the rest of GW’s party (see Decatur, Private Affairs of George Washington, description begins Stephen Decatur, Jr. Private Affairs of George Washington: From the Records and Accounts of Tobias Lear, Esquire, his Secretary. Boston, 1933. description ends 183, 291). The administration of quinine for William’s fever suggests that he had malaria (see GW to Lear, 1 Oct. 1792).

6GW’s letter to Samuel Fraunces, steward of his Philadelphia household, has not been found. GW hired a coach from Stephen Page of Philadelphia for the trip to Philadelphia, paying $7 per day for the use of coach, driver, and horses (16 Oct. 1792, Cash Memorandum Book H description begins Cash Memorandum Book H. Manuscript in Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven. description ends ). As planned, GW left Mount Vernon on 8 Oct., and he stopped in Georgetown to attend the sale of lots in the Federal City before proceeding to Philadelphia (see GW to Betty Washington Lewis, 7 Oct., and Broadside: Sale of Lots in the Federal City, 8 October).

7Lear replied on 7 Oct., the day that he returned to Philadelphia.

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