George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Robert Cary & Company, 20 September 1759

To Robert Cary & Company

Mount Vernon Virga 20th Septr 1759.


This will make the 4th Letter I have wrote you since my Marriage with Mrs Martha Custis—the two first servd to cover Invoices of such Goods as I wanted and to advise you at the same time of the change in her affairs, and how necessary it woud be to address for the future, all your Letters which relate to the Estate of the deceasd Colo. Custis to me. The last tended only to order Insurance on 15 Hhds Tobo pr the Fair American.1

I shall now endeavour to take notice of such parts of your Letters as require answering, and then advise what is needful to be done as matters are circumstancd at present. In regard to the former there remains no great deal to be said unless you will permit me to condemn your premature Sale of the Estates Tobo by Whelden in which I shoud have thought a little delay woud have appeard absolutely advisable for another Reason besides that mentiond by you of an additional Duty taking place and that was the great demand of Tobo and rising price in the Country of which you coud not be unadvised from your Corrispondants in Virginia2—However I dare say you did for the best and we must therefore be satisfied; and in this place, I must beg leave to offer you my thanks for the opposition you made to this duty—had all your Brethren in the Trade merited our acknowledgements in the same manner this Duty, probably, might never have been laid.3 I remark the pains you take to shew the Impropriety of paying the Duty of the Estates Tobo—when money is wanting it cant be expected, but when a Sum lies in your hands it shoud certainly be applied that way as far as it will go4—I likewise observe the difficulties you have met with in settling for the Interest of the Bank Stock, but I hope that is now over, unless any part or the whole shoud (when a division of the Estate is made) require transferring, and then timely notice will be given, but till this happen’s it may be receivd and placed to the Estates Credit in the usual manner.5

From this time it will be requisite, that you shou’d raise three Accounts—One for me, another for the Estate, and a third for Miss Martha Parke Custis—or, if you think it more eligable, and I believe it will, make me Debtor on my own Account for Jno. Parke Custis—and for Miss Martha Parke Custis, as each will have their part of the Estate Assignd them this fall, and the whole remain under my management whose particular care it shall be to distinguish always either by Letter or Invoice for whom Tobacco’s are Shipd & for whose use Goods are Imported in order to prevent any Mistakes arising6—The Estates Credits now in Your hands may be applied towards answering the whole Drafts that have been, and shall be made this Year—and it must appear very plain from my former Letters, as well as what is here said how necessary it is to send regular Accts Currt that by comparing them with the Books here satisfactory Settlements may, from time to time, be made to our General Court.7

The Tobacco pr the Fair American will make its appearance I fear in a very irregular manner—Captn Talman first engagd it to be sent by the Cary, then by the Randolph, and being disappointed in both I had to seek for a conveyance myself and by mere good luck got it on board Captn Thompson but not till I had first been at the trouble & expence of Carting it across from York to James River for his Craft to take it in.8 The Vessel being upon the point of Sailing at that time a Gentn at Norfolk where She lay promisd to receive the Bills of Lading and send them by different oppertunitys under Cover to you but loosing the Memm wrote to me a Month afterwards for fresh directions which I suppose did not reach him till sometime after the Vessel had Sail’d⟨.⟩ I shall endeavour to put what Tobo I can on board the Cary as I understand She is to wait for the New Crop9—it will be needless I am perswaded to bespeak your best care in the Sales of it as you must be sensible the present high prices of Tobo gives us room to expect extraordinary returns for this Years produce so early Shipd.

I am possessd of several Plantations on this River (Potok) and the fine Lands on Shannondoah, and shoud be glad if you woud ingenuously tell me what prices I might expect from you for Tobaccos made thereon of the same Seed of that of the Estate & managd in every respect in the same manner as the best Tobo on James & York River’s are10—I ask this question purely for my own private information & my Shipping of these Crops will be governd in a great measure by the answer You may give therefore you will excuse me I hope if I again desire that you take some pains to be exactly informd because shoud the prices afterwards differ from those of the Estate I might possibly think myself deceivd and be disgusted accordingly.

Pleasd to send the Goods containd in the Inclosd Invoice and charge them as there directed11 I flatter myself that particular care will be taken in choosing them the want of which give some Tradesmen an oppertunity of Imposing upon us vilely⟨.⟩ the Coarse Goods for the Estates use are orderd from Liverpool this year12—all but the Stockings13 and these I beg you will cause to be sent from Glasgow in the usual manner and number directed to the care of Mr Joseph Valentine—or, person managing the Estates business York River. I am Gentn Yr Most Obedt Hble Servt

Go: Washington

ALS, ICU; LB, in GW’s hand, DLC:GW. Any significant differences in the letter-book copy have been noted.

1The dates of the letters are 1 May, 12 June, and 2 July 1759.

2Robert Cary wrote Martha Custis on 1 Mar. 1758 that the Custis estate had been credited with £546.15 for thirty-six hogsheads of tobacco that Cary had sold (ViHi: Custis Papers). John Whelden, who entered the York River in Virginia 15 Feb. 1758, may have transported the thirty-six hogsheads to London the year before.

3In addition to the duty of two shillings per hogshead that the ship captain paid when clearing a Virginia port, Cary had been paying a total of about six pence per pound in duties on the tobacco the company sold. The company passed the cost of these duties on to GW. In 1759, one pence was added to the duty, bringing the total to 8–1/3 pence before the 15 percent discount for bonded payment.

4If a merchant paid all duties in cash, he received an additional 10 percent discount. What GW is saying here is that the Custis estate maintained a sufficient balance with Robert Cary & Co. for the company to pay all the duties and secure for the estate the 10 percent discount. Robert Cary & Co. had written Martha Custis on 30 Nov. 1758 about its inability to pay these duties on the tobacco for the Custis estate (ViHi: Custis Papers).

5After her husband’s death, Martha Custis sought to arrange for Robert Cary & Co. to collect the dividends from the £1650 sterling of stock in the Bank of England owned by the Custis estate and to credit them to the estate’s account. On 12 July 1758 Cary & Co. wrote her that the company had not yet collected the dividends because the “Bank Directors have as yet not Entered your Power of Atty in their Books” (ViHi: Custis Papers). GW gave fuller instructions to Robert Cary & Co. on 10 Aug. 1760, and in 1762 the stock was transferred to Martha Parke Custis as part of her inheritance (doc. IV-C in Settlement of the Daniel Parke Custis Estate, 20 April 1759–5 Nov. 1761). See also GW to Robert Cary & Co., 28 May 1762.

6For the initial division of the estate, see Settlement of the Daniel Parke Custis Estate, 20 April 1759–5 Nov. 1761, especially docs. III-A, III-B, III-C–1, III-C–2, and III-C–3. The General Court did not approve the initial division of personal property in the Custis estate until October of this year, and not until November 1761 were the paper assets of the estate divided between the heirs (docs. IV, IV-A, IV-B, and IV-C, ibid.); but GW in his enclosed invoice indicated what articles were for the specific use of the Custis children (n.11). He also ordered plantation supplies from James Gildart for the Custis York River plantations by a separate invoice (n.12). It is in his letter to Robert Cary & Co. of 10 Aug. 1760 that he explains how the separate accounts for himself and his wards should be kept pending a final division of the estate’s assets in November 1761.

7Beginning in 1761 after the General Court made him legal guardian of the Custis children (see doc. IV, Settlement of Daniel Parke Custis Estate, 20 April 1759–5 November 1761, n.2), GW kept accounts of the children’s property, and periodically he submitted these accounts to the commissioners appointed by the General Court to safeguard the interests of GW’s wards (docs. IV, IV-A, IV-B, and IV-C, ibid.).

8For his offer of tobacco to Capt. Henry Talman and his shipping it by Capt. William Thompson, see GW to Robert Cary & Co., 1 May, 2 July 1759. Cary & Co. wrote Martha Custis, 30 Nov. 1758: “As the shortness of the Crops are likely to be so bad we shall send only one ship to Accomodate our Friends with Freight & by the time this reaches you we suppose she may be there she is called the Cary Capt. Talman will have the Management” (ViHi: Custis Papers). The Randolph referred to here may have been the ship of that name, Robert Walker, master, which carried tobacco regularly in the 1760s from James River to London.

10The York River sweet-scented tobacco sold more quickly and for a better price than other tobacco, and by the mid–1760s GW had discontinued raising tobacco for consignment to Robert Cary & Co. on his Bullskin quarters in Frederick County and at Mount Vernon on the Potomac. He continued to raise tobacco for shipment on his York River dower plantations and on John Parke Custis’s plantations.

11The letter-book copy has “Please” instead of “Pleasd” and “Invoices” instead of “Invoice”. The invoice of the goods ordered “for the use of George Washington” is included as an enclosure. Not printed are the list of “Sundries to be Shipd by Robt Cary Esqr. and Company for the uses of Master John, and Miss Patty Custis—each to be Chargd to their own Accts but both Consignd to George Washington Potomack River &ca,” 20 Sept. 1759. See source note, GW to Robert Cary & Co., 1 May 1759. The items ordered “For Master Custis 6 ys old” and “For Miss Custis—4 ys old” were mostly clothes, toys, and books. GW also enclosed an invoice for items of clothing to be sent to “Mrs Frances Dandridge York River,” Martha Washington’s mother, with instructions for her clothing “to be packd in a Small Trunk & Consignd to the above Lady with Invoice & Cost and a Copy thereof Inclosd to” GW (DLC:GW).

12GW ordered the annual supplies for the Custis plantations from James Gildart, merchant of Liverpool, in a letter and invoice dated this day (DLC:GW).

13In the letter book this has been changed to “Plaid Hose.”

Index Entries