George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James Muir, 3 March 1794

From James Muir

Alexandria [Va.] 3d March 1794


I have been favoured with yours of the 24th February; and this morning have seen your Manager Mr Pearce who discharged your annual donation for the education of Orphan Children or of the Children of indigent Parents who are unable to be at the expence themselves.1

The object of this charity is very worthy, as it rescues from ignorance a considerable number, and lays the foundation for their becoming useful Citizens.

I am sorry I cannot give you a particular account of this institution from its Commencement.2 Mr McWhir who formerly had the direction of it, has removed to Georgia and no record remains from whence I can draw any information. I have reason to believe it was then conducted well. Mr McMath who taught the School was an eminent Teacher and produced accurate scholars.3

Since Mr McWhir went away the Academy has been on the wane, nor have the greatest exertions of the Trustees been able to produce a Teacher for the Washington School of any ability. Parents in good circumstances are unwilling that their Children should associate with those of a lower Class. This operates against the Washington School, and prevents its increase[.] Fifty Pounds alone will not procure the labours of an Accurate Scholar. Mr McWhir had address to keep out of view that they were poor Scholars, beside the whole direction of the Academy was in his hands. Since his departure the Trustees have thought proper that each School depend on itself without any Superintendent.4 The Consequence to the Washington School has been unfavourable. A Twelve months advertisement in the Paper has not brought us an able Teacher.5

The Charity has certainly been useful:

J. Wiley went from this school, whose improvement has been such that Dr D. Stewart I am told has employed him as a Tutor to his Children.6

Thomas Sanford, son of a widow in Town has finished his education here with much applause.

At present the school consists of

1 John Smith, of indigent Parents, who is attentive, and makes progress.

2 Thomas Lowe, an Orphan who improves.

3. Samuel Benton, his mother a widow, and indigent, his diligence is commendable.

4. John Carey an orphan.

5 Henry Mars an Orphan. These two have attended Ill during the winter being badly Clothed.

6 James Grimes, of indigent Parents, he is regular in his attendance and studious.

7 Thomas Pindal, his father dead, had fallen from easy to needy circumstances.

8 John
9. Mary

Farmer a Widow’s Children.

Both have made great progress in reading, writing and Cyphering, and are very deserving.

10. Mary Stewart daughter of an Indigent widow, her progress is considerable.

11 William
12 John

Moore children of a widow beginning Spelling only, and their Letters.

13 William
14 Benjamin

Morley, their mother a widow a few miles from Town, the Children attend well, and begin to learn.

Such the present State of the School. The above are all who have lately been there, Of that number four only are advanced beyond their Spelling-book. Application is now making to the Trustees for the admission of two or three more.

I am sorry to say that the reputation of the School is not now, and has not for some time been such as I could wish. The cause I have already discovered.

Great benefit have numbers derived from the School, and now derive, but by no means such as ought to be. Painful is it to discover truths of this kind; nothing but your express desire could now have induced to that discovery.

Could a way be devised for Clothing as well as educating these Children, and could a person be prevailed upon, who is capable of Educating them, to attend to this, it would bring the School into repute.

The Trustees will neglect nothing which may be in their power to promote it’s advantage.

I shall urge at the first meeting of the Trustees to Try the benevolent in Town to Complete this institution, raising a fund to Clothe such as it may embrace: and rather than allow the institution to continue in disrepute, I shall offer the Trustees to take the School under my own immediate inspection, although Parochial duties have made it convenient for some time past to decline Teaching I shall not think of inconvenience where so excellent an object is in view.

courage in the field; wisdom in the Council, are advantageous to Society, but Charities especially of this kind, have advantages which are of a very eminent and peculiar nature.

Our Academy it is to be dreaded will come to nothing. The house is built on land Subject to ground-rent. Considerable back-rents are due. The Trustees have no fund to discharge these, or to prevented them from accumulating. The Price of Education of itself is thought burdensome, and the Parents have expressed an unwillingness to add to their expence, already too great, by contributing any thing for rent. The Proprietor threatens to enter on the house to secure himself. Should he do so, the Trustees cannot prevent him. This circumstance has discouraged the Trustees and weakened their exertions.

What ever becomes of the Academy our attention to the Washington-School, shal⟨l⟩ be unremitting—Nothing in my power Shall be wanting, and I shall take care for the future, whilst I continue a Trustee, that an exact statement of the school be regularly sent you. With great respect your humble Servt

James Muir.


1GW instructed William Pearce in a letter of 24 Feb. to pay £50 Virginia currency to Muir for the support of the Alexandria Academy. Pearce recorded this payment on 1 March (Mount Vernon Accounts, 1794–1797 description begins Manuscript Mount Vernon Accounts, 6 Jan. 1794-19 Jan. 1797. Library of Congress, George Washington Papers. description ends ).

2The academy had its beginning in 1785 when the cornerstone for the proposed school was laid on the east side of Washington Street, between Duke and Wolfe streets, in Alexandria, Va. (Brockett, Lodge of Washington description begins F. L. Brockett. The Lodge of Washington. A History of the Alexandria Washington Lodge, No. 22, A.F. and A.M. of Alexandria, Va., 1783-1876. Alexandria, Va., 1876. description ends , 44–45). In October 1786, the Virginia legislature passed “An act for incorporating the Academy in the town of Alexandria” (Va. Statutes [Hening] description begins William Waller Hening, ed. The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619. 13 vols. 1819–23. Reprint. Charlottesville, Va., 1969. description ends , 12:392–93).

3On the move of prior headmaster William McWhir to Georgia, see GW to McWhir, 17 Feb. 1793, and n.3. Mr. McMath has not been identified.

4The Alexandria Academy and the charity school, or the Washington Free School, were united under the direction of a superintendent until McWhir’s departure; shared the same building; and were administered jointly by the same board of trustees. Students of the charity school, however, were taught separately from the paying students (William Buckner McGroarty, “Reverend James Muir, D. D., and Washington’s Orphan Wards,” WMQ description begins The William and Mary Quarterly: A Magazine of Early American History. Williamsburg, Va. description ends , 2d. ser., 20:511–23, and McGroarty, “Alexandria Academy,” WMQ description begins The William and Mary Quarterly: A Magazine of Early American History. Williamsburg, Va. description ends , 2d. ser., 20:253–60).

5According to this advertisement, first placed in the Virginia Gazette and Alexandria Advertiser on 14 March 1793, a “Teacher is wanted to take charge of the Mathamatical School. He will be required to teach English, grammatically, Writing, Arithmetic, and the several Branches of Mathematics. Ample vouchers, respecting the moral character of the Candidate, will be obviously necessary.”

6Mr. J. Wiley, who may have served as a tutor for Dr. David Stuart’s children, has not been identified.

Index Entries