To Tobias Lear
Mount Vernon 25th Mar. 1797
Your letter of the 20th instt, with the Bill of lading for the Goods in the Sloop Salem, and another letter of the 15th are both received; and I hope this will find you safely arrived in the Federal City.
I have got Painters at work in order to prepare my rooms for the furniture which is expected; but I find I have begun at the wrong end, for some joiners work (of the deficiency of which I was ignorant before it was examined) ought to have preceeded theirs, as the fixing of the chimney pieces ought also to do. the first I have engaged, but cannot, on enquiry, find that a skilful hand is to be had in Alexandria to execute the latter. I would thank you therefore for engaging one, if to be had in the Federal City or George town, to be here on Monday or tuesday at farthest as my work will be at a stand without. To prevent imposition, and to avoid disputes, I would prefer employing the artisan by the day. The work immediately foreseen, and which must be done without delay, is, to refix the Marble chimney piece in the Parlour which is almost falling out; to fix the New one (expected from Philadelphia) in the small dining room; to remove the one now there into what is called the School room; to fix the Grate which is coming round in the large dining room; and to give some repairs to the steps; which (like most things else I have looked into since I have been at home) are sadly out of repair.1
’Tis possible either of the Commissioners or Captn Hoban could point out a proper character, as they have had to do with the best workmen; and tis possible, but I do not think it very probable, that Cornelius (my old Servant) might be competent to it. two things however are necessary—viz.—Skill & dispatch.2 Our best regards are presented to all with you—and I am Your sincere friend and ⟨affect⟩ionate Servant
P.S. If Cornelius had knowledge in practice or theory sufficient for the job, I should be disposed to give him a preference; first because I am acquainted with his temper and industry; and 2dly because I foresee many other things in his line that must be done as fast as I can accomplish them; by engageing a workman upon moderate terms, make Bricks or raise stone, and procure lime.
The Winds have been favorable for Captn Elkins, but we see nothing of his Sloop yet. As soon as it arrives I will let you know, as it would be very pleasing to me, to have you here at that time. Yrs &c. G.W.
1. GW devoted much of his time in the months following his return to Mount Vernon in 1797 to supervising the repairing of the mansion house and other buildings at Mount Vernon. Declaring that he had never been so busy as in the past six months, on 15 Oct. GW complained to William Gordon that the workmen “of all descriptions, having been employed by me ever since I came home . . . has allowed me little leisure for other occupations.” The painters that he now had “at work” did not complete the job, for in April he hired Saunders A. Read to come from Alexandria to Mount Vernon for nearly two months to do the required painting (see Read to GW, 25 April, n.1). Much of the carpentry work was done by GW’s own workmen. According to the Presidential Household Accounts, on 17 Feb. 1797 James Traquair was paid $45.36 in Philadelphia “for marble chimney piece &c.” For reference to the work done on the fireplaces, see note 2. For GW’s continued search for additional carpenters, see George Gilpin to GW, 27 April, and Tobias Lear to GW, 31 May.
2. James Hoban, captain of the company of artillery in Washington, wrote from the Federal City on 30 Mar.: “Sir The bearer a Mr [Patrick Mc]Carty I have agreed with at two dollars Pr day and his expences, to sett your Chimney Pieces; He is capable and well acquainted with that business” (DLC:GW). See Patrick McCarty to GW, 26 April. GW acquired Cornelius McDermott (McDermott Roe), an Irishman, in August 1784 as an indentured servant for two years. In 1786 he hired McDermott as a stonemason and bricklayer, and as late as February 1788 McDermott was still working at Mount Vernon (see GW to Tench Tilghman,4 Aug. 1784, n.1, and Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 4:191, 5:277).