George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Maunsell, 19 March 1794

From William Maunsell

Limerick [Ireland] March 19th 1794

Your Excellency will be pleased to pardon the liberty I have taken in Sending you the inclosed two Letters, on the Culture of Potatoes from the Shoots, a discovery heretofore unknown, & which I have reduced to as perfect & Simple System of Agriculture, as any other Branch in that Science.1

Your Excellencys great Abilities as a Statesman, a Soldier, & the Founder of a great Empire, deserve every tribute of respect; you will please to Accept this Small one from me.

As the providing the lower orders of the people with food at a cheap rate, is an object of great magnitude, so it shd be an object of great attention in every Legislator; as it will be the means of keeping them quiet, & contented in their present Situations; I am Satisfied your Excellencys Patronage of the Culture, will stamp a value on the discovery, & give it Currency in America.

If we can cre[d]it tradition, Sr Walter Rawleigh first Introduced Potatoes, & their culture into great Britain & Ireland, from America, it is more than probable, that my mode of culture was practised at that early period;2 if not, I shall claim the merit of introducing a new Species of Agriculture, and of giving Existence, (if I may use the Expression) & value to what heretofore had been thrown away as useless.

I do Suppose your Excellency is Patron of all the Agricultural Societys in America;3 your communicating my mode of Culture to them, with my best wishes for its Success, will be a high obligation conferred on me, by your Excellency; my exertions in reducing the Culture to a perfect System, was really disinterested, actuated only by the Love I bear to Society, as an Individual.

May your Excellency live long, & enjoy good health, and be a wittness of the encrease of my mode of Culture in America for many years.4 I am with the highest & most profound respect your Excellencys most obedt Servt

William Maunsell


GW’s docket reads: “From The Revd Mr Wm Maunsell.” This individual may be the same as the “Rev William MAUNSELL, LLD,” who died in 1804 “in the 79th year of his age” (Limerick General Advertiser or Gazette, 31 Dec. 1804).

1Maunsell enclosed a pamphlet he wrote titled Letters to the Right Honourable and Honourable the Dublin Society, on the Culture of the Potatoes from the Shoots (Dublin, 1794). He also wrote a second pamphlet, An Essay on Raising Potatoes from Shoots, . . . and a Letter from Alderman Alexander, on Potatoes, Addressed to the Dublin Society (Dublin, 1802).

2A long tradition associates Sir Walter Raleigh (Ralegh; 1554–1618), an English explorer, courtier, and soldier, with the introduction of the potato to the British isles, but the evidence is scanty and the conclusion speculative.

3GW was a member of the Philadelphia County Society for the Promotion of Agriculture and Domestic Manufactures and the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture.

4GW replied to Maunsell on 20 Feb. 1795: “At the moment I acknowledge the receipt of your obliging favor of the 19th of last March, I find it incumbent on me, to apologize, for delaying so long to offer you my thanks for the interesting pamphlet you had the goodness to send me, on the cultivation of Potatoes, from the shoots.

“Your discovery of this mode is novel; and it must be of great utility if it can be carried into extensive practice. I shall make trial of it myself the ensuing season, and will recommend it to others to do the same, by laying your experiments before them.

“It is to be regretted, that we have not more agricultural societies established in this country; and it is to be lamented that those wch are formed, are not sufficiently attended to. but in this, as in other things we must have a beginning. I pray you to accept my particular thanks for your kind wishes for me—& to accept mine in return” (ADfS, DLC:GW; LB, DLC:GW).

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