George Washington Papers

From George Washington to James Anderson, 10 September 1799

To James Anderson

Mount Vernon Septr 10th 1799

Mr Anderson,

In a hasty note which I wrote to you on Sunday last, I informed you, that as soon as time and circumstances would permit, I would be more full on a subject which I could then, but barely touch upon.1

The latter of these has not, yet, put it so fully in my power as I could wish to fulfil this promise. I shall, however, endeavour to explain my meaning without further ⟨delay⟩.

I have, for more than two years, been a witness to your zeal, industry and exertions in the discharge of your multifarious duties; and I always have, and still do believe, that they have been rendered with the strictest sobriety & integrity. But I must have been blind, if I had not discovered also, that the whole, taken together, more on account of the diversity, and complexity of them, than for their aggregate magnitude, was too much for you; and that by your exertions to execute the various parts, to your own satisfaction, you might bring on, what you say has already happened, ill-health.

The intimation of this by you, with the doubt accompanying it, of being unable to go through with the business; added to the earnest desire I have long had to simplify my concerns by dividing, and letting part of them out, thereby relieving myself from much trouble; and, though less profitable perhaps, place my income on more stable ground, has suggested more strongly than ever the idea of connecting my Mill and Distillery into one concern, and renting them on reasonable terms; and as you profess to understand the Management of both, to offer them to you on a Rent⟨,⟩ for any number of years not exceeding seven, and on such terms as you, yourself, under the estimates you have given me of their annual value, shall think just—between man & man—For at the sametime that I should expect a reasonable compensation for the use of the property it would be equally my wish that you should find your account in the profit, arising therefrom—Live, & let live—is, in my opinion, a maxim founded in true policy; and is one I am disposed to pursue.2

If the Mill & Distillery was let in this manner, there would be no difficulty in Renting the Fishery at the Ferry—(depending on that at the Mansion house to supply my Negros)—and having a project in contemplation for the disposal of one of my Farms, which (not being sufficiently matured) is ineligable to mention at this time,3 the others would be no more than amusement for me, to superintend, if I should not be drawn again into public life; and if I was, you would be on the spot to resume your old occupation—if you chose to return to it, while your son John, under your advice & directions could carry on the concerns of the Distillery & Mill for your own benefit. For I can assure you with frankness, that it is not with a view to introduce a new Manager that I have made these proposals—I have not the smallest inclination to change—But have assigned, with candour, the motives which have led to it; namely, that the business in its present shape is too complicated, & diversified to be managed to advantage; and because I want to bring my income to something more specific, as well as to avoid the expenditures which are heaped upon me in a ratio I am unable to support, when it is the first wish of my heart to be (as much as possible in my situation) exempt from cares. In a word, I wish to bring the Concerns, which would be under my immediate management, into so narrow a compass as to make the superintendence of them a mere matter of amusement.

I might even in this case, require your advice now and then, with respect to the ordering of Meadows—management of grounds—&ca—for which I should be well disposed to make you an allowance.

The house you live in, unless some more eligable plan could be devised, would still serve you, and your family:4 for I have said before, I should not require it for any other superintendant.

As the operations of both Mill and Distillery might require a little money to lay in Grain, until that grain would be in a condition to raise cash for the Flour & Whiskey it would produce, I should be disposed (if The means were in my power) to advance you a little, to begin with. But as my means depend upon payment from others, it would be folly in me to promise this, absolutely, as, from experience I have found, that there is no reliance on the most solemn assurances that are given of money. I wish you better health, and remain your friend &ca

Go: Washington

ALS (letterpress copy), NN: Washington Papers. In a number of the letterpress copies of GW letters, barely legible words have been traced over with a pencil, sometimes clearly by GW himself. The tracings in this letter were probably done by someone else, either at the time or later.

1GW’s letter is dated 8 September.

2Anderson responded to GW’s letter in a missing letter of 13 Sept. in which, as GW indicates in his letter to Anderson of 16 Sept., Anderson wrote that his health and his family’s was deteriorating and was not likely to improve as long as they remained at Mount Vernon. Anderson at the same time offered to help GW find a tenant for the mill and distillery at Mount Vernon. On 16 Sept. GW released Anderson from any engagement to him if Anderson’s health would be endangered by continuing as farm manager, and he outlined for Anderson the terms on which he would rent the mill and distillery if Anderson should turn up a suitable tenant. Within three days Anderson had decided to continue as manager, and on 19 Sept. he wrote GW that he thought GW’s terms for renting the mill and distillery reasonable and would let him know “as soon as I learn of any good Man well disposed to Rent.”

The next day, 20 Sept., GW wrote to his nephew Lawrence Lewis to say that he intended at his death to leave to Lewis and his bride, Martha Washington’s granddaughter Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis, Dogue Run farm at Mount Vernon and the adjacent mill and distillery, and he offered to rent all of them to Lewis at once “on a just, & equitable Rent.” GW enclosed this letter in a second letter to Lewis, dated 28 Sept., in which he wrote that “Mr Anderson (in Partnership with his son John) has discovered an inclination to Rent my Distillery & Mill.” GW went on to say that he would like to do this so that he could ease Anderson out of his position of farm manager and take over himself the management of the farms. He assured Lewis, however, that he would “say nothing definitively to him [Anderson], on the Subject” until he had heard from Lewis, who with his wife was visiting in Culpeper County.

Not hearing promptly from Lewis, GW wrote Anderson on 1 Oct. that as it seemed unlikely to him that Lewis would wish “to plunge at once into a scene of business to which he is a stranger,” if Anderson and his son were “disposed to offer me a rent, in any degree adequate to the value of the two concerns,” he would be “willing to treat with you on the subject.” GW then spelled out in detail the terms on which he would rent his mill and distillery to the Andersons.

After Lewis and his wife returned to Mount Vernon in mid-October, however, it was agreed that Lewis would rent the mill and distillery as well as Dogue Run farm in 1800 and that Anderson would continue at least for a time into the new year as farm manager at Mount Vernon (see GW to Anderson, 10, 13 Dec. 1799).

4Anderson lived at the house at the ferry, now a part of GW’s Union farm (An Account of Property at Mount Vernon, at the end of Mount Vernon Ledger, 1799–1800 description begins Mount Vernon Farm Manager James Anderson’s Ledger, 1799–1800, including his working accounts with individuals, the farms and other operations such as the distillery, mill and fisheries. Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union, Virginia. description ends ).

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