Philadelphia 8th Jany 1797
Your letter of the 3d instant, & Mr Pearce’s of the same date, with the weekly reports—were received by me yesterday, and I shall take notice of such parts of both as may require an expression of my sentiments thereon.
I consent to your commencing a distillery, and approve of your purchasing the Still, & entering of it. And I shall not object to your converting part of the Coopers shop at the Mill to this operation. It is to be wished however, that it could be nearer your own house, or at the Mansion house; for I fear at the Mill, idlers (of which, & bad people there are many around it) under pretence of coming there with grist could not be restrained from visiting the Distillery nor probably from tempting the Distiller nay more robbing the Still; as the Mill would always afford a pretext for coming to that place. If the advantages were certain, of wch from want of experience in the business I have no adequate idea; I should have no objection to the building of a house for the purpose of distillation; and in that case (unless the house ought to be so situated as that water can be carried through it) I should prefer for this purpose the point below your house at what used to be the ferry landing. There the house might be sunk so as to bring the surface of the earth on the Northside and east end, nearly upon a level (or rather a foot below the plates) and this end, and side, might be done up with slabs from the Saw-pits, of which there ought to be many nailed (the sawed side inwards) to substantial Posts morticed into a square frame below, in order to prevent the earth which should be rammed around them, from falling in. The South front, and East end might be boarded up with three quarter, or Inch plank in the usual manner, & covered in the first instance, at least, with lap boards, as any other roof would be. The earth by sinking the house in this manner after throwing enough up on the North side, & East end for filling in, and ramming behind the Slabs, by being spread on the other side & end, would form a level sufficient for casks, or any thing else to stand. On an examination of the ground, something more simple & less expensive even than this, might be found to answer. The situation on many accounts would be good—1. because you would have it immediately under your own eyes, —2 because no body could have any pretext for coming to it but on real business, —3 because it wd be convenient on acct of the Hogs, as well as more secure, if they are to run at large—and 4. because every thing might be brought to, or transported from it, by Water. I question too, whether the expence of such a building as I have described, would be much greater than what would necessarily attend making the alterations in the Coopers shop at the Mill, to accomodate this business.
If upon full consideration of this matter, you should be of the same opinion, and at the sametime are satisfied from your own experience, not from theoretical calculations, that it can be carried on profitably, I authorise you to set the Carpenters about getting the framing, & putting up such a building as I have described. In the execution of wch do not crimp the matter, but rather look forward to an extension of the work, than narrow it to the views of the present moment.
As an expeditious, and cleanly mode of getting grain out of the Straw, is of the first importance to a farmer (especially in this country, where our wheat has so many enemies) I highly approve of your providing the materials for erecting a Threshing Machine in time, that the timber may be seasoning, but it will be time enough to put them together before next harvest, by which I think it probable that some improvement will be made on the one at Malborough; I know it is in contemplation.
I believe with you, that my stock of Hogs is inadequate, and I have no objection to your increasing of them by purchase, of a good sort; and approve of your buying half a dozen, or more cows, of a proper kind, and a Bull. A Mr Gough near Baltimore has the imported breed, and Sells them high; the Bulls especially, but I should not stand so much upon the price, provided the breed is to be depended upon.
I am sorry to find the Mill is unable to grind. What does the Negros do for want of Meal? Secure the cracks in the manner you have recommended, or any other, in the Walls of it, and without delay; lest they should give way, as was the case some years ago. "A stitch in time," to make use of a homely proverb "will save nine."
My last letter (this day week) to Mr Pearce, gave him my ideas fully with respect to the manner of opening the New road; but in case any circumstances may have prevented his communicating these to you, they are as follow—viz.—If the large trees can be cut so low, & even off, as that a carriage will run Smooth over them without jolting, I had no objection to his pursuing this method, instead of grubbing them up by the Roots. I added, that although the whole road was to be opened 33 feet wide, I only required 20 or 24 of it directly in the middle, to be cleansed of every thing, & made perfectly easy & agreeable for carriages; but if ditched on each side, these ditches ought to be 33 feet, or the width of the whole road, apart. I expect however, that ’ere this, he has communicated these ideas to you; and turned over to you a long memorandum which I transmitted to him, of my views, soon after my return to this City in October—It will be necessary for your government in a variety of cases therein mentioned.
With respect to the Clumps of Trees on the Northern part of the North Visto, it would certainly have been judicious, in the first clearing, to have left them on the knowls; but as that was not done; or rather as the whole was designed for trees seperated from each other; clumps can only be formed now from those parts which are thickest of trees, whether on knowls or otherwise; as it is not my wish to thin the ground too much of its growth.
The place where the Ice is deposited, was not intended originally, for that purpose; and it was my design when I was last home, to have marked out, and prepared another spot for an Ice house; but I found the Road, and other jobs would allow no time to execute it; and therefore I postponed the matter until a more convenient period. If the weather (as it threatens to do) shd continue cold & freezing after you receive this letter, I would have you do what is proposed—that is, to put water upon the Ice. If it congeals & turns to a solid mass it will be fortunate; but whether it does or does not do this, I would have you, as long as Ice is to be had, & that in the house continues to sink, replenish it with more; keeping up the greatest body of it you can, as long as the exterior resource will enable you to do it; for having the means of preserving fresh meat during the Summer will be of immense importance to me, after I get settled at home. I forgot to mention it in time, & now I presume it is too late, that the wall all round, as the Ice was put in & rammed, ought to have been lined with straw—that is—straw to have been placed between the Ice & the wall 3 or 4 Inches thick, at least; for there it is the Ice begins always to dissolve first. After the house is filled, and before do not keep it close, for this also is injurious.
When you have taken an Inventory of every thing, examined the fields, and formed your plans, I shall expect to receive an acct of them. I have provided five bushels of Clover Seed for the use of the Estate, which I shall send to Mt Vernon so soon as the Water communication is uninterrupted by Ice. If there are any other Seeds, or things wanting, let me know it, that they may be provided and sent in due Season. Is rape seed desirable? if so how much would you want? It is dear here & probably (being imported) not very good. You talked of an early Potatoe.
I would not have the rotation (marked out for Dogue run farm) deviated from; except by planting the Indian Peas, if to be had, in what otherwise would be a naked fallow for Seeding wheat in Autumn, of the present year. Enquire if there is a probability of getting seed to that extent within reach of Mount Vernon; and let me know as soon as possible, as Mr Landon Carter of Cleve, has promised to supply me with seed if I can not obtain it nearer home. this would be far to send for it.
The Gardener complains heavily of the injury which he sustains from my half wild, half tame Deer; & I do not well know what course to take with them—especially as the hard weather, if it continues, will make them grow more and more bold & mischievous. Two methods have occurred, one or both combined, may, possibly, keep them out of the Gardens & Lawns; namely, to get a couple of hounds—& whenever they are seen in, or near those places, to fire at them with shot of a small kind that would make them smart, but neither kill or maim them. If this will not keep them at a distance, I must kill them in good earnest, as the lesser evil of the two. Possibly, if there was a rack for Hay—& aManger for grain and offal of the Garden placed in the Pines in the Clover lot front of the House & regularly supplied with provender (and Herculas knows how to do this as he used to feed them) it might prevent them from doing mischief—& I might derive some benefit from them.
In your next letter, give me the exact measurement of the chimney in the Small dining room: that is—how wide & deep it is within the wood, or facing part; how much the Slabs of stone on each side & at top, without the said wood, shewn; what the size of the blocks or pedestals (of stone) are, on which these slabs stand; and what the length and breadth of the hearth (without the fire place) are. You will readily perceive that the object of this enquiry is to supply these with something else: exactness therefore, in the measurement, is indispensible. I am your friend and well wisher
P.S. Send me the size of the frame, from out to out, which contains the family picture of the Marquis de la Fayette in the parlour.
If Mr Pearce should be still at Mount Vernon, tell him I sincerely wish him better health & every prosperity he can desire.
DLC: Papers of George Washington.