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To George Washington from Tobias Lear, 26–30 January 1794

From Tobias Lear

London, January 26th[–30] 1794

My dear Sir,

Presuming on the wish which you had the goodness to express when I left you last, that you might sometimes hear from me after my arrival in Europe, I have ventured to write you one letter from Glasgow, and now improve the opportunity offered by the Ship Delaware, Capt. Truxon, to write to you again.1

I was between 3 & 4 weeks in Scotland, during which time I improved every occasion (and many offered) of making myself acquainted with the manufactures and other important objects in that Country. Altho’ my sailing for Scotland was a matter determined upon so short a time before I left America as to prevent my taking so many letters for that part of the Kingdom as I should otherwise have obtained; yet I found civilities and attentions heaped upon me in the most unbounded manner. An unreserved communication respecting the manufactures, commerce & agriculture of Scotland, as far as I had an opportunity of making enquiries, was a circumstance peculiarly pleasing.2

On my way from Edinburgh to London, I visited Dryburgh Abbey (about 30 miles from Edinbg) and deliverd to Lord Buchan the letter which you had the goodness to give me for him. Altho’ I had determined to spend but one day at this place; yet I found it impossible to carry that determination into effect; for so pressing were the entreaties of Lord & Lady Buchan that I should prolong my stay there, and such was the undisguised hospitality—and I may say affectionate treatment which I received from them, that at the end of three days I was obliged to say in strong terms that I must pursue my journy. Finding that I could stay no longer at Drybugh Abbey without inconvenience to my business—Lord & Lady Buchan put into my hands letters to some of their best friends in London & earnestly pressed me to make use of them to encrease the number of my useful or agreeable acquaintances in this City—And no resistance on my part could prevent his Lordship from taking me on for the distance of twenty miles in his Carriage to the town of Coldstream, and as little could my entreaties avail to prevent his going with me. As we were to set out at six o’clock in the morning (which at that season is nearly two hours before day light in Scotland)—I concluded that we should take breakfast at the first stage of ten miles; but when I came down at half past five, I was surprized and distressed to find Lady Buchan already up and breakfast provided. I expressed my concern; but in vain: the reply was—we love General Washington so dearly that we wish to conduct towards one who has been long a member of his family and is esteemed by him, as we would towards our own child if we were so happy as to have one.

Lady Buchan wrote the enclosed note to Mrs Washington, begging her acceptance of the Earl’s likeness, in pa⟨s⟩te, taken by the famous Tassie, from whom I received it in London, and have transmitted it herewith.3

I have ventured, my dear Sir, to give the preceding detail because I felt myself most delightfully impressed in receiving such peculiar marks of kindness, in consequence of the letter which you gave me, as it discovered the veneration and affection with which you are considered in this part of the world. And altho’ I have had an opportunity of seeing & feeling it more peculiarly in this instance than in any others; yet I have every where met with enthusiastic expressions of admiration & affection for your character.

Sir John Sinclair had left Scotland for this City before I got to Edinburgh, which is his place & residence in Scotland. I have had the pleasure of seing him here, and put into his hands the letter with which you honored me for him; he has been very particular in his attentions to me, and being possessed of a large fund of useful knowledge and very happy and ready in his communication of it, I expect much benefit from his Acquaintance. He is of one of the first families in Scotland—possesses a very large estate there—is a member of Parliament—President of the national board of Agriculture—and considered by all parties a useful & most valuable member of Society—He is a friend of the present ministry and said to be much in the confidence of Mr Pitt. He is above 35 years of age; but his appearance bespeaks him younger, his dress plain & his manners perfectly easy & free from formality.4

Mr Young came in town a few days ago, to attend a meeting of the national Society for promoting Agriculture, of which he is Secretary, with a salary of 500£ per year. He soon found me out, and I have been much with him since. He is a man whose appearance does not charge him with being more than 45 years old, which is less than his real age some 7 or 8 years, as I am informed;5 he is about 5 feet 10 inches high—rather thin—an interesting countenance, aquiline nose & good eye; his conversation is animated and he handles his subject with dexterity; but many who know him well consider him rather as a theorist on the subject of farming—and even say that he never made half the experiments of which he has published the result—and his own farm is said to be one of the most slovenly in the part of the Country where he lives: It is however acknowledged by All, that he has done very great good to the cause of agriculture, by his writings and perseverence.6 In his political opinions it is said there has been a change since the commencement of the war with France—and some are so ill-natured as to impute it to the 500£ which he receives as Secy to the Board of Agriculture—Certain it is that he is now as high a monarchist as any in Britain.

I have given this personal description of those persons with whom you are in the habits of correspondence; because I know one feels desireous of knowing something more of persons with whom they converse by letter, but have never seen, than what they can collect from a general account.

Of the Earl of Buchan I should say something also. His Lordship is about the middle size, rather thin—his manner & conversation full of vivacity, the portrait which accompanies this resembles him; but I think it must have been a better likeness of him 8 or 10 years ago—he now appears to be about 55. He has been married to his present and only lady about 23 years. They have no issue7—and the title will go to his Brother Henry Erskine—who is at present at the head of the Scotch Bar—and what is remarkable, his Lordship’s Youngest Brother, the Honble Thomas Erskine, is considered at the head of the English Bar. We have often heard of this gentleman, from the conspicuous figure he has made in most of the important causes which have come before this Court for several years past.8 Had it not been the Earls misfortune to have been born a Lord, he would in all probability have made as conspicuous a figure in the law or some other literary pursuit as his Brothers have done; for he has been assiduous in the acquisition of knowledge—and is considered as possessing very considerable talents; his moderate disposition has however helped him from pressing himself forward in the political world in the manner that his rank & abilities would have given him a right to do. He has rather chosen to enjoy domestic life, and attend to the improvemt of his Estate, as well as to promoting the interest of agriculture & manufactures in general. In the former I understand he has been successful, and from being ranked as a poor nobleman 15 years ago, he has become the reverse—and what is much to his honor, all the tenants in his Estates have grown rich as well as himself.

Mr Anderson, Professor of Mathematics & natural Philosophy in the University of Glasgow, informed me that he had written to you some months ago on the subject of an improvement which he had made in Artillery—and had also sent some publications which he had made therein. This Gentleman seems to be an enthusiastic admirer of America & her Government and is very anxious that our Country should derive an advantage from his improvements. The French, it is said, have received vast advantage from Mr Anderson’s Artillery; it being carried over there by himself in 1789, after the improvement was rejected by the Duke of Richmond, or rather after the proposal to let him have the improvement was rejected; for Mr A. tells me that he never deigned to make any enquiry into it. The most important point is his having found a method of destroying the recoil of the Cannon without moving or injuring the carriage. This Mr A. shewed to me very fully & clearly—and gave me every information on the subject of it. Its simplicity is as astonishing as its effects. Besides his improvement of Artillery, Mr Anderson has introduced many very useful & important inventions & improvements for their Manufacturing machines of various descriptions in Scotland, and having communicated them gratis & without reserve to the manufacturers he is much venerated & beloved by them. If we should carry into effect the intention of establishing a national University in Washington City, Mr A. would be a great acquisition to it, provided he could be drawn over there. He is spoken of whereever he is know[n] as a man of great talents as a natural Philosopher & Mathematician; but his liberality of opinion in politics gives great offence to the high government folks here.9

Before this reaches you, I trust you will have received a letter which I had the honor of writing to you from Glasgow, together with a Box containing a few Articles which I took the liberty of putting up for yourself & Mrs Washington, as Specimens of the manufactures of the Country. These I left to be sent to America by the first vessel sailing from Glasgow for that place, and they will either go to Norfolk in the Ship Alnomac or to New York, in the Brigantine John & Jane; these being the first Vessels to sail for America: and in whatsoever vessel they go, they will be forwarded to Philadelphia. I enclose a duplicate of the Invoice of the Articles.10

The watch for Mrs Washington is preparing; but cannot be got ready to go by this Vessel. It will be sent in the next that sails, which will be in about ten days. The man who is finishing the watch, wishes it to be a very good one, altho plain, and therefore choses rather to finish one on purpose than to send any one which he had ready, altho, he considered them as good—He is spoken of as one of the most honesst among the most eminent in his way. The white thorn plants will be ready for the next vessel also.11

In the Box from Glasgow there is some furze seed; which I sent under an impression that it might answer for hedges with you, as it was used for that purpose about Glasgow, and looked well; but I was afterwards informed, that the hedges of it were not secure against swine—and that when it once got root in the ground it spread over every part & became a troublesome weed.

When I came to this Country I determined, as much as possible, to avoid all conversation on political subjects, knowing that any opinion of mine on those points could be of no use to any one, and that possibly they might be detrimental to me: Altho’ I have adhered pretty well to this resolution, yet it has not prevented me from hearing opinions expressed, of such a nature, and with so much openness as astonished me, when I knew the excess of punishment which the Government had inflicted on some individuals who had openly avowed their sentiments. An Idea not uncommon in Scotland, and the northern parts of England through which I have passed, is, that it is now folly to talk of a reform in Government—nothing short of a revolution can be thought of—men of moderation who espoused the cause of a reform havg been run down & put out of countenance, they lay by to see the event of measures which they know to be disagreeable to the Country at large—and leave to the more violent to push matters with a high hand, which would not have been necessary if the voice of reason and moderation had not been violently suppressed in its early stages. The Government beleive, because these moderate & respectable Characters rest in silence at present, that they approve their measures; but the reverse of this is true. They cannot approve, and they do not venture to express their disapprobation openly, because the cry of “Mad Dog” against them would cause them to be hunted down by the Underlings of party, and make their lives very uneasy; they therefore chuse to let the matter work in the only way in which it now can work, fully convinced that no great length of time can elapse before the storm will burst upon those who seem to have taken peculiar pains in preparing materials for it.

Altho’, as I observed before, I have avoided as much as possible entering into any political conversations; yet persons who would not openly express their sentiments to others, subjects of this Country, have spoken to me in a style which I have thought imprudent for them to use even tho’ they knew I should never use it to their disadvantage—and some of them have been persons of no inconsiderable standing here.

After giving this detail of what I have observed respecting the sentiments of many here; it may, notwithstanding, be proper to remark, that so large is the majority in Parlament for supporting the present ministry and for prosecuting the war, no doubt can remain but that it will be pursued, and especially as it is said that Mr Pitt can command in loan any sums he may want, and upon better terms than he could make last year. The want of employment at the manufacturies gives a great number of men to the Army & navy. But the truth is, a strong spirit of discontent prevails more or less in every part of the Kingdom—the causes which first excited it not only still exist, but increase every day—Those who are discontented are not by any means altogether of the lower order of people—many of distinguished property—many of distinguished talents—and some of distinguished rank are among them.

The Speech of the President on opening the Session of Congress arrived here the day before the Parliament met. It was universally approved & admired—at least so far as I could hear of any expressions respecting it—and very honorable mention was made of it as well as of America in general in some of the speeches on the day that Parliament met. Mr Fox in particular dwelt with enthusiastic energy on the—virtues—the talents—and the peculiar good fortune of General Washington. He drew, with much warmth, a lively comparison between the conduct of the American Governmt and that of this Country—much to the disadvantage of the latter. In an animated voice he cried—“All the Kings of Europe when compared with the great & the good Washington appear—small—and I had almost said contemptable”; but says he, in a lower voice, “I must except our own King.” The public papers, you will observe, have noticed this part of Mr Fox’s speech in the debates; but they have not given a just statement of it. I was present and felt his words strike my very soul—I wished to have embraced him for them.12

On your goodness, my dear Sir, do I rely to pardon me for the trouble of this tedious letter—I have written it for the purpose of giving you some idea of things here as they really are—and shall feel peculiarly happy if you find a moment’s amusement or one thing that is acceptable as information through the whole of it.

Everything respecting my own affairs is a[s] favorable as I could expect, considering the prospect of a continuance of the war, which is always more or less detrimental to a regular system of mercantile business. I have found every disposition in the great manufactures and merchants with whom I have been particularly conversent, to promote my views in business; but I have done nothing yet decisive in business, as we shall not be ready ’till mid-summer to pursue our plan fully at the City of Washington.13 Generally speaking I find a strong affection towards the americans in the manufacturing part of the Community—it is less in the mercantile—and still less I beleive in another class.

I take the liberty to enclose some papers from the opening of parliament to the present date, by which you will see something of what may be expected from the complexion of the debates.14

For Mrs Washington my best and grateful respects I beg may be made acceptable and to my young friends Nelly & Washington I send my love.15 And that they and yourself may enjoy all the health and happiness that this life can afford is the earnest prayer of my dear Sir, Your affectionate friend & grateful & obliged Servant

Tobias Lear.

P.S. Jany 30: 1794 Captn Truxon not sailing so soon as he expected has given time for finishing the watch for Mrs Washington, which I have committed to the special care of Capt. Truxon, together with the likeness of Lord Buchan. The watch, as you will see by the enclosed Bill has a little exceeded the sum which you put into my hands for the purchase of it. But this being a horizontal Watch (which are decidedly the best) and made with very particular care by one of the first hands in London, I thought I might venture to go a triffle beyond the mark, rather than send one which could not be so well warranted.16

I have engaged 5000 of the white Thorn plants which will be put on board the Ship Peggy bound to George Town, She will sail by or before the 10th of next month, and is addressed to Colo. Deakins.17

Having mixed very much in almost all ranks of people since I have been here, and heard with attention all sentiments on public matters: Besides which I have been sought for and have had communications pressed upon me from quarters where the best knowledge of the views of this Governmt are to be found—Summing up in my mind all circumstances & communication I hesitate not to say to you, my dear Sir, that I am clearly impressed with a beleif, that it is the wish & view of the present Governmt of this Country to quarrel with the U.S.—and that their object is to make the U.S. appear to be the first open Aggressors, then endeavour to persuade the people that on the part of Britain it is a war of defence. Sure I am however that this excuse will never be accepted by the people of this Country—and that if the present ministry should be mad enough to plunge the nation in a War with the U.S. it will only hasten their own ruin. Their ruin & a terrible crush in this Kingdom, I cannot help looking upon as inevitable and at no great distance. It is impossible for me to communicate to you at this time the grounds upon wh. this opinion is founded—And I should hardly venture to say as much as I have done; but that I shall deliver this letter into Capt. Truxon’s hands and rely upon his special care of it.18

The eyes of the people here are beginning to open with respect to France—It is openly said here & in Almost every part of the Kingdom that it is folly to contend longer with that Nation—which is now considerd as the most powerful & energetic at this moment in Europe. The great successes of France can no longer be hid from the people—and the reports of their internal divisions are no longer beleived—as all operations & the Accounts of impartial men coming from that Country give the lie therto.


1Lear’s previous letter to GW was dated 25 Dec. 1793 and written at Glasgow, Scotland. On its receipt by GW, see note 10. The Delaware, Capt. Thomas Truxtun, arrived at Philadelphia in late April (Philadelphia Gazette and Universal Daily Advertiser, 22 April 1794). On the purpose of Lear’s journey and his departure for Scotland, see his letter to GW of 3 Nov. 1793.

2On 1 Sept., GW wrote letters of introduction for Lear to Gouverneur Morris, Thomas Pinckney, William Short, Nicholas Van Staphorst, and Arthur Young. He wrote two additional letters, on 8 Nov., to the Earl of Buchan and John Sinclair. Lear probably had a few letters from “some respectable merchants” to their business correspondents (Lear to GW, 3 Nov. 1793).

3In a brief letter to Martha Washington of 8 Jan., Lady Buchan wrote that she was sending a “Medallion Paste” of Lord Buchan’s portrait “as a Mark of the Interest she takes in the House & Family of Mount-Vernon & in the happiness of Mrs Washington” (ViMtvL). Artist James Tassie (1735–1799) was born near Glasgow, Scotland. His neo-classical portrait medallions brought him international fame and customers from the upper echelons of British and European society. Work on Buchan’s portrait may have begun in late 1791, when Tassie was modeling his portraits in Edinburgh and Glasgow. The model, usually a profile of the subject’s head and shoulders, was made from red wax, while the cameo itself was created from a vitreous paste. This medallion may be that identified as “1 Profile in plaister,” listed in the 1810 inventory of Mount Vernon as being in the study (Prussing, Estate of George Washington description begins Eugene E. Prussing. The Estate of George Washington, Deceased. Boston, 1927. description ends , 417).

4John Sinclair, who was born on 10 May 1754, often supported the policies of William Pitt the Younger, who served as prime minister of Great Britain, 1783–1801 and 1804–6.

5English agriculturist Arthur Young was born on 11 Sept. 1741. He was appointed secretary of the Board of Agriculture in 1793.

6GW had 31 volumes of Young’s Annals of Agriculture, as well as other works by Young, in his library (Griffin, Catalogue of the Washington Collection description begins Appleton P. C. Griffin, comp. A Catalogue of the Washington Collection in the Boston Athenæum. Cambridge, Mass., 1897. description ends , 95, 230–32, 273, 548).

7Buchan married his cousin Margaret Fraser (d. 1819) on 15 Oct. 1771. While Buchan and his wife had no children together, he did have a son, David Erskine (1772–1837), who was brought up in their household. During his tenure as a professor at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, he became a well-known writer of historical fiction and drama. Upon his father’s death in 1829, he inherited Dryburgh Abbey, and he received a knighthood in 1830.

8Henry Erskine (1746–1817), a lawyer and politician, was Buchan’s youngest brother. Henry’s eldest son, Henry David, succeeded as twelfth earl of Buchan upon the death of his uncle. Thomas Erskine, first Baron Erskine (1750–1823), was also a lawyer and politician, and later in life he was lord chancellor, 1806–7.

9For John Anderson’s improvements in artillery, the rejection of his inventions by Charles Lennox, the third duke of Richmond, the adoption of his inventions by the French army, the publications he sent GW, and GW’s interest in bringing Anderson to the United States, see Anderson’s letter to GW of 26 Aug. 1793 and the enclosed memorial of 20 August.

10Lear’s letter of 25 Dec. 1793 and the accompanying box of articles were placed on the brigantine John and Jane, which did not set sail until 13 Feb. and which arrived in New York City in May (James Greenleaf to GW, 19 May 1794).

The enclosed invoice (DLC:GW), written at Glasgow on 24 Dec. 1793, reads:

Invoice of Articles sent from Glasgow to America
for George Washington, by Tobias Lear
Packed in a Box marked G. Washington—Mt Vernon or Philada

Three dozn Tumblers—Cut with Crest &c. @ 15/ 2. 5. 0
One p. Cotton Shirting contg 25 yds @ 3/8 4.11. 8
Three 9/8 fine muslin Hkfs @ 6/9 1. 0. 3
Three do do Book do @ 7/ 1. 1. 0
One p. sewed muslin contg 10 yds @ 13/ 6.10. 0
One p. Cotton Cambrick 8 yds @ 4/9 1.18. 0
Furze & Kail seeds 0. 3. 0
  Sterling   £17. 8.11
  Errors Excepted    
Tobias Lear.

11For GW’s instructions on purchasing a watch, see his letter to Lear of 25 Sept. 1793. Lear sent five thousand white thorn plants along with his letter to GW of 4 Feb. 1794. According to the farm reports for 25–31 May, these plants were retrieved from Georgetown, D.C., and planted at Mount Vernon on 31 May 1794 (DLC:GW).

12For GW’s annual address, see GW to U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, 3 Dec. 1793. The 17th British Parliament opened its fourth session on 21 Jan. 1794. Charles James Fox was the leader of a Whig faction that opposed both the domestic and foreign policies of the Whig and Tory coalition under the leadership of Prime Minister Pitt, and especially the current war against France. Fox’s speech begins: “I cannot help alluding to the president of the United States general Washington, a character whose conduct has been so different from that which has been pursued by the ministers of this country. How infinitely wiser must appear the spirit and principles manifested in his late address to the congress than the policy of modern European courts! Illustrious man, deriving honour less from the splendor of his station than from the dignity of his mind, before whom all borrowed greatness sinks into insignificance, and all the potentates of Europe (excepting the members of our own royal family) become little and contemptible!” For the entire speech, see Parliamentary History of England description begins The Parliamentary History of England, from the Earliest Period to the Year 1803. 36 vols. London, 1806–20. description ends , 30:1274–76.

13On Lear’s plans to establish a mercantile business in the Federal City, see GW to D.C. Commissioners, 13 June 1793, and n.1 to that document.

14The enclosed British newspapers have not been identified.

15Eleanor Parke “Nelly” Custis and George Washington Parke Custis, two of Martha Washington’s grandchildren, lived with the Washingtons.

16Lear originally received $120 in bank notes from GW to cover the cost of the watch and chain. According to GW’s financial records, Lear paid £32 sterling (GW to Lear, 25 Sept. 1793; Ledger C description begins General Ledger C, 1790–1799. Morristown National Historical Park, Morristown, N.J. description ends , 4).

17The ship Peggy was under the command of Capt. Lunt (Lear to GW, 4 Feb., n.4). William Deakins, Jr., was a Georgetown merchant.

18For GW’s receipt of this letter, see his letter to William Pearce of 20 April.

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