George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Jonathan Boucher, 19 November 1771

From Jonathan Boucher

Annapolis, Novr the 19th 1771.


I have seen your Letter to your Son, &, I will own to you, it has given Me a sensible Concern.1 That my Attention to Him has not lately been so close nor so rigid, as I wish’d, or, as it ought to have been, is a Truth I will not attempt to deny. The Peculiarity of my Circumstances & Situation, as well as of my Temper & Disposition, are All I have to offer in my Excuse, which, however, I do not, myself, think to be sufficient. I know I might have taught Him more than I have, &, sincerely as I wish his Welfare I wish I had; but I know also, that there are not many Masters under whom He would have learn’d more, than He has even under Me. This Business of Education is a complex & extensive Subject: & a man should be well acquainted with it, before He ventures to pronounce how far another has, or has not, done his Duty. Dr Witherspoon, it seems, said I ought to have put Him into Greek. Now, how much Deference soever I owe to his Authority, I will venture to say, that this Declaration, at least, must have been made much at Random. It was not possible He should know what I ought to have done, from the few, & the Kind of, Questions He ask’d. To be acquainted with the Greek is thought to sound well; but, to determine upon a Youth’s literary Attainments from that Circumstance alone, is not, in my Judgement, a much wiser method than the vulgar way of enquiring how far a Boy has got; and if He has run thro’ a long Catalogue of Books, to conclude He must be a good Scholar. Had Dr Witherspoon been pleased candidly & fully to have examined this young Gentleman, I shou’d have had nothing to fear. He would not, indeed, have found him possess’d of much of that dry, useless, & disgusting School-boy kind of Learning fit only for a Pedant; but I trust, He would have found Him not illy accomplish’d, considering his manners, Temper, & Years, in that liberal, manly & necessary Knowledge befitting a Gentleman. I ever did hold in abhorrence that servile System of teaching Boys Words rather than Things; & of getting a parcel of Lumber by Rote, which may be useful & necessary to a School-master, but can never be so to a Man of the World. In these, chiefly, Sir, your Son is deficient: & but that These are thought necessary to make a Shew of, it were not, I think, much to be lamented, should He ever remain so. I neither have attended, nor dare I promise that I can attend, to Him with the Regularity of a School master. But, Sir, tho’ the little unessential Minutiæ of School-Learning may have sometimes been neglected, & thro’ my Fault; I think I know You to be too observant & too candid a Man to believe that He has been wholly unattended to. His particular Genius & Complexion are not unknown to You; & that They are of a Kind requiring not the least Judgement & Delicacy to manage properly. Pardon me, Sir, if I assume somewhat a higher Tone in claiming some Merit to myself, for having faithfully done my Duty in this the most arduous, &, doubtless, by far the most important Part of Education. I have hitherto, I thank God, conducted Him with tolerable Safety, thro’ some pretty trying & perilous Scenes; &, remiss as I am, or may seem to be, I doubt not, in due Time, to deliver Him up to You a good Man, if not a very learned one. It will not be thought necessary for Me to enter into a fuller Detail of the Matter: what I should say, I persuade myself, will occur to You.

Annapolis was as unfit a Situation for Me as Him, which I knew not, till Experience told Me. I am now, however, at length, again to return to the Country with a Prospect of fewer Embarassments on my Hands, than it has been my good Fortune to be without for these five Years.2 I once was, I think, a good Preceptor: I have never been so, in my own Opinion, for the Period just mentioned. If, however, You think proper to try me a little longer, I think I can & will do better for Mr Custis, than any other Man: if You do not think proper, convinc’d that You will be influenced only by your Regard for Him, most ardently wishing that You may most effectually consult his Interest, I shall never blame You for removing Him—if, indeed, my Blame or Approbation needed to be of Consequence to You. You will do Me the Justice to believe that I can have no other Motive for wishing his Continuance with Me, besides a Kind of an Affectionate Attachment to the Boy; & a piece of Pride, perhaps, it may be, that another shou’d not reap the Merit, if there be any Merit in it, of finishing what I have begun. I am now, I trust, happily set above the Necessity of teaching for a Livelihood; nor will I as far as I can now Judge, ever take Charge of another Youth besides the Three now with me. For the last Year, I have long ago mentioned it to my Friends, I never intended charging either Custis or the other Two, any Thing for Education;3 & This only from what I thought a Consciousness that I had not deserved it. If ⟨mutilated⟩ He continues with Me, & I do my Duty as I now intend (& if I do n⟨mutilated⟩ be the first to tell You of it) I will charge Him, at the least, four or f⟨mutilated⟩ Times as much as I have ever yet done.

If, after all, You resolve on removing Him, all I have to add is a Request that it may not be to Princeton. Pay Me the Complimt of believing that I know something of these Matters: and there is not any Thing I am more convinced of, than that your own College is a better one—better in every Respect. You live contiguous to it, & hear ev’ry objecn to it, often magnify’d beyond the Truth: & were this the Case wth Respect to the Jerseys, I am mistaken, if You would hear less there. If, however, the Objections to Williamsburg be insuperable, I wou’d then recommend New-York: it is but a Step farther, & for obvious Reasons, infinitely deserves the Preference.4 I am, Sir Yr most obedt & very Hble Servt

Jonan Boucher

ALS, DLC:GW. The cover of the letter is marked “By favour of Mr Custis.” John Parke Custis arrived at Mount Vernon on 20 Nov. (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 3:70).

1Boucher is referring to GW’s missing letter to John Parke Custis to which Custis’s letter to GW of 18 Aug. 1771 is a response.

2For Boucher’s impending move to Queen Anne’s Parish, see Boucher to GW, 6–7 Dec. 1771, n.1.

3The “other Two” boys under Boucher’s care were Overton Carr of Virginia and Charles Calvert (1756–1777) of Maryland. Custis married the sister of the latter in 1773.

4GW took Boucher’s advice in the end and enrolled Custis in King’s College in New York in May 1773. Custis remained in New York only until September 1773. He married Eleanor Calvert the following February.

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