George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James Anderson, 8 March 1797

From James Anderson

Mount Vernon 8 March 1797


I wrote You on 1st And since have Yours of 27 Ultimo with Mr Carters letter 1—I now beg leave to hand reports of last week.2 And nothing particular having Occured since my last leaves me little matter of information—especially as I hope You will soon be at Your Seat, when this paper correspondence will be exchanged for my letter—As directed I forwarded your letter to Mr Carter And a Note from myself requiring Him to name a place for delivery, some where on the Potomac, or its Creeks most convenient for You & Him. Also took notice of the Kind of pease You wanted. And asked 2 Bus. (in case He had any) of the Yateman pea, which has a great Character in Glocester County, With a request for 2 Bushels white Cotton seed as I would wish to raise some for Mrs Washington—The day after I had sent these letters, I had Mr Carters, informing the pease were ready 30 Bu., and desiring me to send the Waggon. But as there is an alteration thot on in the way of bringing them here will wait the result, by having another letter, especially as there are plenty of time, end of april is soon enough to plant.

No Acct of the Potatoes, Clover &ca. Allison returned with 40 Hogs—20 Turkeys, 6 Pulleds & 5 Drakes & one Duck—no Geese could be bought in these parts, so soon as the Land is in condition will sow Oats. And the Clover on Lands where ⟨seeding⟩ it (when it arrives). And should wish how soon I had the Clover. Early Potatoes & Oats in the Ground—Grain & flour much as in my last ⟨illegible⟩. Corn rather looking up, I could wish to sell some of the Midlings & Ship Stuff. But the price does not please me. As said in a former letter shall begining of next week have the road cut ⟨thru⟩ But have my doubts whether it may suit Your Carriage to run over it, upon Your return here, But shall meet You on the Way, that You may be duly informed—The Pits made by the roots of trees being taken out are mostly full of water. And cannot be filled until dry, as if done just now the Clay ⟨turned in⟩ would be of the quality of mush—Besides—I have in Contemplation to scrape the surface of the road, And the leaves & some fine clay, Rotten trees, & other vegetable substences will make a part of a Compost to Manure that Land below the white Gate, when the Corn are taken off. And the more I think on this as the two places are so near, that labour will be saved. All that rough Land will be ploughed this. And a small part next week—The under part of the feild where the wheat grew (with submission to Your opinion) might be in Oats and pease; Oats on the best land & pease the remr. This Week I will advertise the Stead 40/ & 3/ to the Groom. Jacks 80/ & 3/to the Groom. pasturage 3/ p[er] week, not accountable for the Accidents that may befall, or escapes made by mares or Jennets And with much respect I am Sir Your most Obedt Humble Servt

Jas Anderson


While at Mount Vernon in the summer of 1796, GW learned that William Pearce, his farm manager at Mount Vernon since January 1794, was “leaving my business” because of “an increasing Rheumatic affection” (GW to James Anderson, 18 Aug. 1796). On the day after he left Mount Vernon to return to Philadelphia, GW wrote on 18 Aug. 1796 to Anderson: “In Passing through Alexandria yesterday, on my way to Philadelphia, I saw Colo. [John] Fitzgerald, who informed me of a letter he had received from you [apparently expressing interest in the position of manager at Mount Vernon] in consequence of one which Doctr [David] Stuart had written to his relation, Mr [William] Fitzhugh of Stafford.” After making clear to Anderson his reluctance to part with William Pearce, who “superintends all my concerns, which appertain to the Estate of Mount Vernon; consisting besides Tradesmen, of four large Farms, and the Mansion house farm,” GW went on to say that Pearce’s replacement, “besides being sober, & a man of integrity . . . must possess a great deal of activity and firmness, to make the under Overseers do their duty strictly. He must be a man of foresight & arrangement. . . . He must be a farmer bred and understand it in all its parts. I would wish him too to understand grazing—& particularly the care & management of Stock. How to Ditch—Hedge &ca—and how to conduct a Dairy.” GW then instructed Anderson “to declare truly, whether from practice the matters here detailed are, or could soon be made familiar to you designating those which you have a competent practical knowledge of, from those which you may be less perfect in.”

Anderson replied on 28 Aug.: “Farming, as Practised in Scotland and some County’s in England, is what I was bred to from my Youth the management of Stock We say is an Essential part of the Farmers business, the knowledge of a Dairy, Ditching & Hedging with Thorns are I think things Familiar to me, as well as the practical parts of Farming in Britain, conjoined with six Years experience in this Country where Soil, & Climate make some alterations necessary—But whether my knowledge in these, my Sobriety, Integrity, Industry, foresight in Arrangements, And Firmness are such as will Answer Your expectations, I will not pretend to say to draw my own Character is what I would rather decline, I shall leave this part to them who know me, And who I hope will be impartial.” When pressed in a letter of 5 Sept. to be more forthcoming, Anderson wrote on 11 Sept.1796: “My Father was a Farmer in Scotland on the River Forth nearly 40 miles above Edinh And at the Age of 21 thinking the business more fully understood upon the English border I agreed with a Gentleman, Famous in Farming, feeding Horned Cattle & Sheep, in Summer on Grass, and in Winter on Potatoes, Turnip & Hay, Had a good Dairy, properly managed. with Him I was an apprentice 2 Years at the expiry of which I took the management of a large Estate possest by His uncle an old Gentn which I conducted for 3 Years. And I beleive with approbation. For 19 Years after I farmed on my own account, 18 of which I was also largely in the Grain line, And had several manufactering Mills. But by the failure of a Sett of Distillers in 1788 I nearly lost all, And many more were ruined.” He then went on to tell of his farming experience in the United States: “In the begining of 1791 I came to this Country. and during a few weeks stay in Alex[and]ria was once on Your Estate at Mount Vernon. . . . In the spring 1791 I rented a Farm of poor Land on the upper part of Fairfax County in which I did not find my expectations Answered—In the beginning of 1793 I took the Management of Mr Prescotts Estate in Prince William 1100 Acres Land on which there was 14 or 15 Slaves employed—The narrowness of that Gentlemans circumstances, prevented the neccessary improvements being made, And induced me to relinquish the business—In 1795 I came here. the Estate is 1700 Acres of Land, one part on the Creek fine meadow. the other part Hilly & poor. last Year I had no Assistant. this I have one. We employ about 25 hands. We have a Distillery which I also Conduct, And turns to good Account. . . . My employer a Young unmarried man, Mr Cary Selden, His Mother a Lady advanced in life and sister of John F[rancis] Mercer of Marborough, with whom I suppose You are accquainted—And I am I think in good Company. But permit me to say I would prefer Your employ to any I know of, provided I could render it profitable to You—& worth my while. And if this reciprocity of Interests are not Answered I would never wish to be employed.” The plantation where Anderson was estate manager was called Salvington. It was on the south side of Potomac Creek between John Francis Mercer’s Marlborough and Fredericksburg. Sarah Ann Mason Mercer Selden was the widow of Col. Samuel Selden. See also John Fitzgerald to GW, 29 Aug. 1796, and Anderson to GW, 18 Sept. 1796.

It was at a time when GW was back at Mount Vernon, on 6 Oct. 1796, that he and Anderson agreed to terms. The agreement, most of which is almost illegible, is in ViHi: Custis Papers. On 5 Nov. 1796 GW addressed a very long letter of instructions from Philadelphia jointly to William Pearce and Anderson at Mount Vernon, and each of them reported to him in missing letters of 3 Jan. 1797. Anderson assumed sole superintendence of Mount Vernon probably on 1 Jan. and was still at Mount Vernon at the time of GW’s death in 1799. See GW to Anderson, 8, 22, 29 Jan., 5, 20, 27 Feb. 1797, and Anderson to GW, 11 Jan., 14, 22 Feb. 1797.

1Anderson’s letter has not been found; GW wrote Anderson on 27 Feb.: “Enclosed is Mr Landon Carters letter relative to the Peas with which he was to furnish me; but it is so unintelligible, that I scarcely know what to expect from it; and therefore have, with a view to reduce matters to a certainty, wrote him a letter which is left open for your perusal—sealing—and forwarding....” Landon Carter wrote to GW about the cultivation of peas on 27 Oct., 29 Nov., and 13, 18, and 24 Dec. 1796. In his letter to Carter of 27 Feb., GW wrote that Anderson “suggested (and I thought it a good expedient) that instead of sending my own Waggon along the heavy road between Mount Vernon & Stafford Court House, that one should be hired by you to transport them to some landg on the Potomack; at which my Boat at an appointed time, might meet them.” GW suggests this, he says, because “the roads, I am told, were never worse than at present; and ... no road in the world can be deeper, or more distressing for horses to plunge through than the one from Occoquan to Stafford Court house.” GW would “cheerfully add the cost of waggonage to the price of the Peas.”

2Anderson’s farm reports for 26 Feb.—4 Mar. (DLC:GW) appear in CD-ROM:GW.

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