George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Benjamin Lincoln, 4 January 1786

From Benjamin Lincoln

Boston Jany 4h 1786

I have since my return, My Dear General, been looking agreeably to your request, among my young friends to see whether I could find among them one who would answer your purpose as a private Secy &c. &c.—I have at last found a Mr Lear who supports the character of a Gentleman & a schollar—He was educated at Cambridge in this State—Since he left College he has been in Europe & in different parts of this continent—It is said that he is a good master of language, He reads French, and writes an exceeding good letter—That his abilities are surpassed by few and his integrity by none—From the best information I can obtain I am induced to believe that you will find him the man you described.

For a more particular acct of Character and abilities I beg leave to refer you to the inclosed letter from my son to me—he has an intimate knowledge of Mr Lear—If you should now be in want of his services he will by the first opportunity join your Excellencys family.1

The Council of the American Academy have had a meeting here this day. Among other communications we had a very interesting one from the Reverend Mr West of Dartmouth a Gentleman of great Abilities and extensive information He wrote on the subject of extracting by a simple machine without the use of fire fresh water from salt—He informed the Academy that he was admitted into the secret by the original inventor of the operation and that they were now attempting some improvements upon it—However thus far they had reduced the matter to a certainty that three gallons of good fresh water could be extracted from a certain quantity of Sea water (I think a barrel) in seventy or eighty minutes He hoped by some little amendments they were attempting that double that quantity would be produced in the same time—should they never improve upon the present discovery it must be considered as a very important one.2 With great esteem & regard I have the honor to be My Dear Sir Your Excellencys most Obedent Servant

B. Lincoln


1Lincoln, who had business connections in Alexandria, last dined at Mount Vernon on 27 Nov. 1785 (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 4:160, 164, 169, 236, 241). GW pursued Lincoln’s suggestion regarding the hiring of Tobias Lear (1762–1816) as his secretary and tutor for the two Custis grandchildren (GW to Lincoln, 6 Feb., 10 April, 7 June 1786, and Lincoln to GW, 15 Mar., 3 May, 9 May 1786). Lear wrote GW on 7 May agreeing to accept the position at a salary of $200 per annum. He arrived at Mount Vernon on 29 May to begin a long and fruitful relationship with GW (ibid., 337–38). Benjamin Lincoln, Jr.’s letter to his father, dated 2 Jan., reads: “Mr Lear whose character you wish, I have been some time acquainted with. He is a young man of sobriety, good sense and learning, possesses an honest heart, a generous, elevated spirit and is such a youth as General Washington will esteem and be happy to patronize. He is been unfortunate in the loss of a very handsome patrimony. But his misfortunes while they drained his purse have enriched his understanding and given him a style of thinking which in my opinion at his time of life is preferable to wealth” (DLC:GW).

2The Rev. Samuel West (1731–1807), pastor of the church in Dartmouth, Mass., is best known for his deciphering for GW a letter from Dr. Benjamin Church to the British in 1775 and for his Essays on Liberty and Necessity (1793) in which he argues against Jonathan Edwards’s Calvinist theology. The paper on the desalinization of seawater was delivered to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, founded in Boston in 1780. Lincoln wrote GW on 15 Mar.: “It is now said little may be expected from, the supposed invention, of extracting fresh from salt water.”

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