George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Arthur Young, 12 December 1793

To Arthur Young

Philadelphia 12th Decembr 1793


I wrote to you three months ago, or more, by my late secretary and friend, Mr Lear;1 but as his departure from this Country for Great Britain, was delayed longer than he or I expected, it is at least probable that that letter will not have reached your hands at a much earlier period than the one I am now writing.

At the time it was written, the thoughts which I am now about to disclose to you were not even in embryo; and whether, in the opinion of others, there be impropriety, or not, in communicating the object which has given birth to them, is not for me to decide. My own mind reproaches me with none, but if yours should view the subject differently, burn this letter and the draught which accompanies it, and the whole matter will be consigned to oblivion.

All my landed property East of the Apalachian Mountains is under Rent, except the Estate called Mount Vernon. This, hitherto, I have kept in my own hands; but from my present situation; from my advanced time of my life; from a wish to live free from care, and as much at my ease as possible during the remainder of it; & from other causes which are not necessary to detail, I have, latterly, entertained serious thoughts of letting this estate also—reserving the mansion house farm for my own residence—occupation—and amusement in agriculture—provided I can obtain what in my own judgment, and in the opinion of others whom I have consulted the low Rent which I shall mention hereafter—& provided also I can settle it with good farmers.

The quantity of ploughable land (including meadows)—the relative situation of the farms to one another; and the division of these farms into seperate inclosures; with the quantity & situation of the Woodland appertaining to the tract, will be better delineated by the sketch herewith sent (which is made from actual surveys, subject nevertheless to revision & correction) than by a volume of words.2

No estate in United America is more pleasantly situated than this—It lyes in a high, dry & healthy country, 300 miles by water from the Sea—and, as you will see by the plan, on one of the finest Rivers in the world. Its margin is washed by more than ten miles of tidewater; from the bed of which, and the enumerable coves, inlets & small marshes with which it abounds, an inexhaustable fund of rich mud may be drawn as a manure; either to be used seperately, or in a compost, according to the Judgment of the farmer. It is situated in a latitude between the extremes of heat & cold, and is the same distance by land & water, with good roads & the best navigation (to &) from the Federal City, Alexandria & George town; distant from the first twelve, from the second nine, and from the last sixteen miles. The federal City in the year 1800, will become the seat of the general Goverment of the United States. It is increasing fast in buildings, and rising into consequence; and will, I have no doubt, from the advantages given to it by nature, and its proximity to a rich interior country and the western territory, become the emporium of the United States.

The Soil of the tract I am speaking, is a good loam, more inclined however to Clay than sand. From use, and I might add abuse, it is become more & more consolidated, and of course heavier to work. The greater part is a greyish clay—some part is a dark mould—a very little is inclined to sand—and scarcely any to stone. A husbandmans wish would not lay the farms more level than they are, and yet some of the fields (but in no great degree) are washed into gullies, from which all of them have not, as yet, been recovered.

This River, which encompasses the land the distance abovementioned, is well supplied with various kinds of fish at all seasons of the year; and in the Spring with the greatest profusion of Shad, Herring, Bass, Carp, Perch, Sturgeon &ca. Several valuable fisheries appertain to the estate; the whole shore in short is one entire fishery.

There are, as you will perceive by the plan, four farms besides that at the Mansion house: these four contain 3260 acres of cultivable land—to which some hundreds more, adjoining, as may be seen, might be added, if a greater quantity should be required—but as they were never designed for, so neither can it be said they are calculated to suit tenants of either the first, or of the lower class; because those who have strength & resources proportioned to farms of from 500 to 1200 acres3 (which these contain) would hardly be contented to live in such houses as are there on—and if they were to be divided and subdivided, so as to accomodate tenants of small means—say from 50 to one or 200 acres, there would be none; except on the lots which might happen to include the present dwelling houses of my Overlookers (called Bailiffs with you), Barns, & Negro Cabins. Nor would I chuse to have the woodland (already too much pillaged of its timber) ransacked for the purpose of building many more. The soil, howevr, is excellent for Bricks, or for Mud walls; and to the buildings of such houses there wd be no limitation, nor to that of thatch for the cover of them. The towns already mentioned (to those who might incline to encounter the expence) are able to furnish scantling, plank and shingles to any amount, and on reasonable terms; and they afford a ready market also for the produce of the land.

On what is called Union farm (containing 928 acres of arable & Meadow) there is a newly erected Brick Barn equal perhaps to any in America, & for conveniences of all sorts particularly for sheltering & feeding horses, cattle &ca scarcely to be exceeded any where. A new house is now building in a central position, not far from the Barn, for the Overlooker; which will have two Rooms 16 by 18 feet below and one or two above nearly of the same size. Convenient thereto is sufficient accomodation for fifty odd Negroes (old & young); but these buildings might not be thought good enough for the workmen, or day labourers of your Country. Besides these, a little without the limits of the farm (as marked in the Plan) are one or two other houses very pleasantly situated; and which, in case this farm should be divided into two (as it formerly was) would answer well for the Eastern division. The buildings thus enumerated are all that stand on the premises.

Dogue run farm (650 acres) has a small but new building for the Overlooker—one room only below, and the same above, about 16 by 20 each; decent and comfortable for its size. It has also covering for forty odd negroes, similar to what is mentioned on Union farm. It has a new circular barn now finishing on a new construction; well calculated, it is conceived, for getting grain out of the straw more expeditiously than in the usual mode of threshing. There are good sheds also erecting, sufficient to cover 30 work horses and Oxen.

Muddy hole farm (476 acres) has a house for the Overlooker, in size & appearance, nearly like that at Dogue run; but older4. The same kind of covering for about thirty negroes—and a tolerable good barn, with stables for the work horses.

River farm which is the largest of the four, and seperated from the others by little hunting Creek (contains 1207 acres of ploughable land)—has an Overlookers Ho. of one large & two small rooms below, and one or two above; sufficient covering for 50 or 60 Negroes like those beforementioned. A large barn & stables (gone much to decay, but will be replaced next year with new ones).

I have deemed it necessary to give this detail of the buildings that a precise idea might be had of the conveniences and inconveniences of them; and I believe the recital is just in all its parts. The Inclosures are precisely, and accurately delineated in the plan; & the fences now are, or soon will be, in respectable order.

I would let these four farms to four substantial farmers, of wealth & strength sufficient to cultivate them; and who would insure to me the regular payment of the Rents; and I would give them leases for seven or ten years, at the rate of a spanish milled dollar, or other money current at the time, in this country, equivalent thereto, for every acre of ploughable & mowable ground within the Inclosures of the respective farms, as marked in the plan; and would allow the tenants during that period to take fuel; and use timber from the Woodland to repair the buildings and to keep the fences in order; until live fences could be substituted in place of dead ones; but in this case no subtenants would be allowed.

Or if these farms are adjudged too large, and the Rents of course too heavy for such farmers as might incline to emigrate, I should have no insuperable objection against dividing each into as many small ones as a society of them, formed for the purpose, could agree upon among themselves; even if it shd be by the fields as they are now arranged (which the plan would enable them to do)—provided such buildings as they would be content with, should be erected at their own expence,5 in the manner already mentioned. In which case as in the former, fuel, & timber for repairs, would be allowed; but as an inducement to parcel out my grounds into such small tenements, and to compensate me at the sametime for the greater consumption of fuel & timber, & for the trouble and expence of collecting small Rents, I should expect a quarter of a dollar pr acre in addition to what I have already mentioned. But in order to make these small farms more valuable to the occupants, and by way of reimbursing them for the expence of their establishment thereon, I would grant them leases for 15 or 18 years; although I have weighty objections6 to the measure, founded on my own experience of the disadvantage it is to the Lessor, in a Country where lands are rising every year in value. As an instance in proof, about 20 years ago I gave leases for three lives, in land I held above the blue Mountain, near the Shanondoah River, Seventy miles from Alexandria or any shipping port, at a Rent of one shilling pr Acre (no part being then cleared) and now land of similar quality in the vicinity, with very trifling improvements thereon, is renting currently at five & more shillings pr acre & even as high as 8/.7

My motives for letting this estate having been avowed, I will add, that the whole (except the Mansion house farm) or none, will be parted with, and that upon unequivocal terms; because my object is to fix my income (be it what it may) upon a solid basis in the hands of good farmers; because I am not inclined to make a medley of it;8 and above all, because I could not relinquish my present course without a moral certainty of the substitute which is contemplated: for to break up these farms—remove my Negroes—and to dispose of the property on them upon terms short of this would be ruinous.

Having said thus much, I am disposed to add further, that it would be in my power, and certainly it would be my inclination (upon the principal above) to accomodate the wealthy, or the weak handed farmer (and upon reasonable terms) with draught horses, & working mules & Oxen; with cattle, Sheep & Hogs; and with such impliments of husbandry if they should not incline to bring them themselves, as are in use on the farms. On the four farms there are 54 draught horses, 12 working Mules,9 and a sufficiency of Oxen, broke to the yoke—the precise number I am unable at this moment to ascertain as they are comprehended in the agregate of the black cattle. Of the latter there are 317. Of sheep 634 of hogs many, but as these run pretty much at large in the Woodland (which is all under fence) the number is uncertain. Many of the Negroes, male & female, might be hired by the year as labourers, if this should be preferred to the importation of that class of people; but it deserves consideration how far the mixing of whites & blacks together is advisable; especially where the former, are entirely unacquainted 10 with the latter.

If there be those who are disposed to take these farms in their undevided state, on the terms which have been mentioned; it is an object of sufficient magnitude for them, or one of them in behalf of the rest, to come over & investigate the premises thoroughly, that there may be nothing to repro[ac]h themselves or me with if (though unintentionally) there should be defects in any part of the information herein given—or if a society of farmers are disposed to adventure, it is still more incumbent on them to send over an Agent for the purposes abovementioned: for with me the measure must be so fixed as to preclude any cavil or discussion thereafter. And it may not be malapropos to observe in this place, that our Overlookers are generally engaged, & all the arrangements for the ensuing Crops are made before the first of September in every year; it will readily be perceived then, that if this period is suffered to pass away, it is not to be regained until the next year. Possession might be given to the Newcomers at the Season just mentioned to enable them to put in their grain for the next Crop; but the final relinquishment could not take place until the Crops are gathered; which, of Indian Corn (maiz) seldom happens ’till toward Christmas as it must endure hard frosts before it can be safely housed.

I have endeavoured as far as my recollection of facts would enable me, or the documents in my possession allow, to give such information of the actual state of the farms as to enable persons at a distance to form as distinct ideas as the nature of the thing is susceptible short of ones own view. and having communicated the motives which have inclined me to a change in my System, I will announce to you the origin of them.

First—Few Ships, of late, have arrived from any part of G: Britain or Ireland without a number of emigrants, and some of them, by report, very respectable & full handed farmers. A number of others, they say, are desirous of following; but are unable to obtain passages; but their coming in that manner, even if I was apprised of their arrival in time, would not answer my views for the reason already assigned—and which, as it is the ultimatum at present, I will take the liberty of repeating—namely—that I must carry my plan into complete execution, or not attempt it; and under such auspices too as to leave no doubt of the exact fulfilment—and

2dly because from the number of letters which I have received myself (& as it would seem from respectible people) enquiring into matters of this sort, with intemations of their wishes and even intention of migrating to this County, I can have no doubt of succeeding11—But I have made no reply to these enquiries, or if any, in very general terms, because I did not want to engage in corrispondences of this sort with persons of whom I had no knowledge, nor indeed leizure for them if I had been so disposed.

I shall now conclude as I began, with a desire, that if you see any impropriety in making these sentiments known 12 to that class of people who might wish to avail themselves of the occasion, that it may be mentioned.13 By a law, or by some regulation of your government, Artizans I am well aware, are laid under restraints; and for this reason I have studiously avoided any overtures to Mechanics although my occasions called for them—But never having heard that difficulties were thrown in the way of Husbandmen by the Government, is one reason for my bringing this matter to your view—a 2d is, that having, yourself expressed sentiments which shewed that you had cast an eye towards this Country, & was not inattentive to the welfare of it, I was led to make my intentions known to you, that if you, or your friends were disposed to avail yourselves of the knowledge, you might take prompt measures for the execution. and 3dly I was sure if you had lost sight of the object yourself, I could, nevertheless rely upon such information as you might see fit to give me, and upon such characters too as you might be disposed to recommend.

Lengthy as this epistle is, I will crave you patience while I add, that it is written in too much haste, and under too great a pressure of public business at the commencement of an important session of Congress to be correct or properly digested. But the season of the year & the apprehension of Ice are hurrying away the last vessel bound from this Port to London. I am driven therefore to the alternative of making the matter known in this hasty manner, & giving a rude sketch of the farms, which is the subject of it—or to encounter delay, the first I preferred. It can hardly be necessary to add, that, I have no desire that any formal promulgation of these sentiments should be made.14 To accomplish my wishes, in the manner herein expressed would be agreeable to me, and in a way that cannot be exceptionable wd be more so. With much estm & regd—I am—Sir Yr Most Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

ALS, PPRF; ADfS, DLC:GW; Copy, in Bartholomew Dandridge, Jr.’s writing, ViMtvL; LB, DLC:GW. GW made many revisions on the ADfS, the most significant of which are reported in the notes below.

2The enclosed sketch was a version of the map reproduced as Fig. 3, with somewhat variant reference notes. It also was the basis of the printed map published in Letters from His Excellency General Washington, to Arthur Young, Esq. F.R.S.: Containing an account of his husbandry, with a map of his farm; his opinions on various questions in agriculture; and many particulars of the rural economy of the United States (London, 1801), facing p. 1. The printed map is shown in this volume as Fig. 2.

3An insertion marked on the draft here specifies “of ploughable land.”


Fig. 2. “A map of General Washington’s farm of Mount Vernon from a transmitted drawing by the General,” in Letters from His Excellency General Washington, to Arthur Young, Esq. F.R.S., containing An Account of His Husbandry, with a Map of His Farm; His Opinions on Various Questions in Agriculture; and Many Particulars of the Rural Economy of the United States (London, 1801). (Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.)

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4On the draft, GW initially continued this sentence with the words “and not quite as good,” but he struck that phrase.

5At this point on the draft, GW substituted the words that complete this sentence for several lines that he initially had written but struck out: “materials for which, and on moderate terms are to ⟨illegible⟩ be had from the market Towns already mentioned and at which they would find a ready sale for the produce of their farms—If they could accomodate themselves with houses made of Brick Clay or Clay made with their own hands or at their own expense there would be no limitation to the number nor to the straw necessary to thatch them—and”

6GW initially wrote on the draft that he had “an almost insuperable objection,” but he revised the sentence.

7GW was referring to his lands in Berkeley County, Va. (now Jefferson County, W.Va.). In 1789 nine Berkeley County lots were under lease for three lives (Ledger B description begins Manuscript Ledger Book 2, 1772-93, in George Washington Papers, Library of Congress. description ends , 281–85). All of these leases were made between 1769 and 1776, and only the most recent, that of Samuel Bailey at £10 for 183 acres, called for a rent of more than a shilling per acre (see List of Tenants, 18 Sept. 1785, and source note and notes 1–8, Papers, Confederation Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1992–97. description ends , 3:256–61).

8On the draft, GW wrote: “medley of the business, i.e., renting some & keeping others.”

9An asterisk is placed at this point on the draft to suggest insertion of the phrase “since increased to 30.”

10The draft and both copies use the word “unaccustomed” instead of “unacquainted.”

12On the draft, GW initially continued at this point with “in a manner liable to no exception in your own ju,” but he struck that text. He then placed similar sentiments following “avail themselves of”—writing “it (& I will add in a manner unexceptionable)”—but he struck that text as well.

13The draft and both copies have “may never be mentioned” here. Young’s reply of 2 June 1794 assured GW that there was no impropriety in the request.

14Young’s reply of 2 June 1794 reported that he had found little interest in “hiring in America tho’ very many were eager to become proprietors there.” He did, however, state that were it not for the passage “which precludes my taking any publick step to procure such tenants as you describe,” he would have “little doubt” of success (DLC:GW).

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