George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 23 August 1788]

Saturday 23d. Thermometer at 74 in the Morning—83 at Noon and 82 at Night. The Morning was very clear, calm, and Warm; but a pretty fresh Southwester blew afterwards and towards Evening the Weather looked hazy & lowering.

Visited all the Plantations. In the Neck—Eight Plows and a harrow were at work in the Corn. The Waggon and two Carts were drawg. in Wheat from field No. 7 and the rest of the hands were about finishing weeding the Pease & pulling the large weeds from among the Pompions—after which would gather up the apples under the Trees.

At Muddy hole, the Plows and harrow were plowing for and putting in Wheat. The other hands were getting in & Stacking Oats and working at French’s as yesterday.

At Dogue run—The Plows and harrow were in the Corn. The other hands were at Frenchs except such as were employed in getting in and stacking the Barley.

At Frenchs—The Plows as yesterday were breaking up the balks. All the rest were weeding and drawing dirt to the Potatoes.

At the Ferry—The Plows and harrow were crossing for, & putting in Wheat. One land of which, designated by a stake drove into it, was trench plowed; or dble. plowed in the same furrow to break the ground 8 or 10 Inches deep to try the effect. This ought to have been done in the fall.

A Mr. George Thompson, from the Academy in Alexandria, with a letter to me from his father Doctr. Thompson respecting his Son in law Doctr. Spence; and Geo. Step. Washington came here to dinner & stayed all Night.

Dr. William Spence was the stepson of Dr. Thomas Thomson of Westmoreland County. As a boy Spence was sent to Great Britain for his education, which was culminated in 1780 by his taking a medical degree at Glasgow University. In Sept. 1781 he sailed for New York with a wife and child aboard the Buckskin Hero, but the vessel disappeared without a trace after having last been seen by another vessel two or three days’ sail out of New York harbor. It was assumed that the Buckskin Hero had sunk with all aboard until a report in the spring of 1788 from a man claiming to be a former Algerian prisoner gave some hope that the vessel had been captured by Algerian pirates and the crew and passengers carried into slavery. That report prompted Dr. Thomson’s letter, dated 12 Aug. 1788, to GW (DLC:GW). Although Thomson did not know GW personally, he was confident that GW would assist the family by asking French officials to make inquiries about the fate of Dr. and Mrs. Spence and their child. Strongly doubting the truth of the report, GW wrote for further information to Thomas Barclay of Philadelphia, who had been involved with American affairs in North Africa. Barclay confirmed GW’s suspicions. The Buckskin Hero was not among the vessels captured by the Algerians, a fact that was further substantiated later by Thomas Jefferson through James Madison (GW to Thomson, 24 Aug. and 18 Sept. 1788, GW to Barclay, 31 Aug. and 18 Sept. 1788, DLC:GW; Madison to Jefferson, 8 Oct. 1788, Jefferson to Madison, 12 Jan. 1789, JEFFERSON [1] description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends , 14:3–4, 436–38).

George Thomson, a son of Dr. Thomson by his first wife, was apparently a schoolmate of George Steptoe Washington at the Alexandria Academy.

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