George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James Butler, 24 May 1798

From James Butler

24th May 1798 Alexandria poorhouse


In a few days after I had the honour of Waiting on you at Mt Vernon which is now upwards of two years—I agreed with Mr Alexander to teach his Children I remain’d in that station for twenty months, I then was Render’d incapable of Staying with him any longer on acct of a Severe linguiring complaint, which Still Continues. When I left Mr Alexanders I came to a boarding house where I remain’d till I see out the last Shilling I had, & was oblig’d to come to the poorhouse, where I suppose I stay the remainder of my life as I have not the Smallest hopes of ever geting rid of the complaint that I have.1 I really am at present in distress tho’ particular care is taken of me I flatter my Self from the many favours you heretofore confer’d on me that you will send me assistance which I really Stand in need of,2 may the great god prolong your days which Shall always be the Constant prayer of your most obliged humble Servt

Jams Butler

I beg leave to Enclose you Mr Alexanders Certificate wch Coroborates what I tell you.3

What causes my present distress is, that I want Several things that is not allowd into the poor house.


James Butler, an Irishman recently arrived in the United States, was hired by GW in Philadelphia in 1792 as overseer at the Home House, or Mansion House, plantation at Mount Vernon. Although Butler came with good references, GW had doubts from the beginning that he would prove satisfactory because of his age, health, and lack of experience with slave workers. Butler was let go in 1794.

1Mr. Alexander may have been Charles Alexander (1737–1806) who had several young children, but there were numerous other Alexanders living in Fairfax County.

2GW had instructed his farm manager on several occasions to send money to Butler. See GW to William Pearce, 28 Dec. 1794, 14 June 1795, and 27 Mar. 1796. No subsequent correspondence with Butler has been found.

3The “Certificate” has not been found.

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