George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Tobias Lear, 4 February 1794

From Tobias Lear

London february 4th 1794.

My dear Sir,

I had the honor of writing a long letter to you on the 26th ultimo by the Ship Delaware, Captain Truxon, to whose particular care I committed the Watch & chain for Mrs Washington, also a profile of the Earl of Buchan, by Tassie, which Lady Buchan committed to my charge with a note for Mrs. Washington.1 Since which I have received a letter from the Earl with the enclosed packets for you which he requested me to forward by the first Oppy. These he tells me are curious Mss relative to the Fairfax family and he wishes to have them preserved in your hands.2 You will find enclosed likewise a vest pattern of a new fabric which Sir John Sinclair pressed upon me to send to you, and in a way that I could not decline it, altho’ I know full well your wishes to avoid anything, however trifling, coming to you in the shape of a present. This, Sir John, begs to send in order that you may judge of the perfection to which the wool of Scotland (of which this is made) is brought, as well as of the progress in manufactures of the finer kinds.

I have put on board the Ship Peggy of George Town, by which this letter goes, 5000 plants of the white thorn. These you will see by the enclosed Acct are 8/ pr M which is 2/ dearer than they would be at another season; the ground being at this time hard frozen makes it very difficult to take them up; but this is considered as the best season for sending them abroad.3

I have likewise taken the liberty, as the season and opportunity are so favorable, to send addressed to you a number of the best kinds of fruit trees & goosberry & Currant bushes. These I have taken for myself, as it will be one of my first objects, as soon as I fix myself in the City of Washington, to have a garden of good fruit. Not knowing how I could otherways have them taken care of, I have ventured, my dear Sir, to trespass so much on your goodness as to send them to you, beleiving that you will direct your gardener to plant them at Mount Vernon—and as these are intended for standard trees & bushes they will not only furnish me with as many scions or grafts as I may have occasion for my self hereafter; but will afford abundantly more for you or your friends.4

Mr Young tells me that in a letter which he has lately received from you, he is requested to send out a number of good farmers to go upon some of your lands, provided he can find such as are disposed to go—can be recommended—and will become tenants. He is very doubtful whether he shall be able to meet with such as are good for any thing who would be willing to become tenants; the great object with those who go out to America (at least if they have a little property to take with them, and such as have not are generally but indifferent folks) is to obtain a free hold; and so strongly are they possessed with this idea that they will hardly consent to become tenants, however advantageous the terms of a lease might be. But Mr Young is not without hopes of being able, in some measure, to comply with your wishes, as he knows of a considerable number of farmers who have it in contemplation to emigrate to America in the ensuing spring.5

In my letter by Captain Truxon I said so much on the subject of politicks that I shall add nothing on that score here further than to enclose a few of the latest papers.6

The pamphlet containing a few remarks which I made on the River Potomack &c. has had an astonishing effect here in producing more particular enquiries about that part of the Country7—and I flatter my self that not a few of those who emigrate this spring will turn their eyes to that quarter—And I think no great length of time will elapse before I shall have the pleasure of seeing a verification of the opinion with which I have always been impressed with respect to the federal City. I find some of my Countrymen here who are not well pleased with the eagerness of enquiry respectlng the Potomack—and altho they do not venture to contradict a single fact contained in the Pamphlet; yet they cry up certain other parts of the U.S. as having infinitely greater advantages: But I find what I always beleived, to be true, that a reasonable & fair statement of facts will make a much deeper & more lasting impression on the public mind than any florid description which may, in the first moment, lead the imagination astray, but is most assuredly afterwards the destruction of the very point which it wished to establish.

I will intrude no longer on your precious time, my dear Sir, than to beg that my best & most cordial respects may be made acceptable to Mrs Washington—my love & best wishes given to my young friends Nelly & Washington as well as to Mr Dandridge & Mr Lewis8—and to assure you that I am with the most perfect respect & inviolable attachment, Your affectionate friend & grateful Servt

Tobias Lear.

P.S. I heard a report last evening that the Portuguise would not adhere to the terms of the truce which had been made with the Algerines, and that the consequence would be that those depredators would be again shut up in their ports. This however is a mere report, and as such I give it. But it has been all along said that the truce between the Portuguise & Algerines was made by another power without the assent of the Portuguise Court.9

I am informed that the British Merchants trading to Am. have determined to petition Parliament for a Convoy to protect the Am. Ships from the Algerines!

T. Lear

Sir John Sinclair has committed to my care the enclosed letter and a packet containg the Reports made to the Society for Promoting Agriculture, which will go by the same vessel with this.10


1For GW’s receipt of Lear’s letter of 26–30 Jan. and its accompanying packages, see GW to William Pearce, 20 April, and to Lear, 6 May.

2According to a note by Buchan, “By the return of his friend and Sec: Tobias Lear I sent to my Cousin the General an old account of the Family of Fairfax of Cameron written by Bryan Fairfax an extract from wch relating to the Parlt General I inserted in Dodsley’s Ann. Reg.” (StEdU). For the extract, see Annual Register, or a View of History, Politics, and Literature, for the Year 1773 description begins The Annual Register, or a View of the History, Politics, and Literature, of the Year . . .. 80 vols. London, 1759–1838. description ends (London, 1776), 75-77. On the Earl of Buchan’s kinship ties to Lord Thomas Fairfax, see n.5 of Buchan to GW, 22 Oct. 1792.

3On the receipt of the white thorn plants and their planting at Mount Vernon, see the farm reports for 25–31 May (DLC:GW). The enclosed account has not been found, but GW’s financial records indicate that he paid £2.5.0 sterling for the plants (Ledger C description begins Manuscript Ledger in Morristown National Historical Park, Morristown, N.J. description ends , 4).

4On Lear’s purchase of land in the Federal City, see his letter to GW of 24 June 1793. Lear enclosed a “List of Fruit trees and bushes put on board the Ship Peggy, Capt. Lunt, bound to George Town.” The trees and bushes, which were “packed up in matts and directed to G: Washington, Mount Vernon,” consisted of twenty-four gooseberry and twenty-four currant bushes, plus six apple, twelve pear, twelve plum, twelve cherry, two almond, three apricot, and thirty nectarine trees (DLC:GW).

5For GW’s plan to lease the farms on his Mount Vernon estate, reserving the Mansion House farm for his own use, see his letter to Arthur Young of 12 Dec. 1793. On Young’s inability to recruit tenant farmers, see his letter to GW, 2 June 1794.

6The enclosed newspapers have not been identified.

7See Lear’s Observations on the River Potomack, the Country Adjacent, and the City of Washington (New York, 1793).

8Eleanor Parke “Nelly” Custis and George Washington Parke Custis were Martha Washington’s grandchildren. Bartholomew Dandridge, Jr., and Howell Lewis were GW’s current secretaries.

9Portugal’s previous naval blockade of the Straits of Gibraltar, which was designed to protect commerce with its colony of Brazil, had also protected America’s merchant ships from Algerine attacks since 1786. The British government was eager to solicit the assistance of the Portuguese navy in its war with France in 1793. Therefore, by assuring the dey of Algiers that Portugal was willing to pay a large tribute, Charles Logie, the British consul at Algiers, obtained on 12 Sept. 1793 the dey’s consent to a twelve-month truce. By late November, however, Portugal concluded that the cost was excessive, repudiated the truce, and re-established the blockade (Parker, Uncle Sam in Barbary description begins Richard B. Parker. Uncle Sam in Barbary: A Diplomatic History. Gainesville, Fla., 2004. description ends , 75–79, 227–29).

10For Sinclair’s letter and his description of the reports accompanying it, see his letter to GW of 6 February.

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