George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Samuel Powel, 16 January 1786

From Samuel Powel

Philadelphia January 16. 1786

Dear Sir

It would have afforded me great Pleasure could I, at this Time, have answered your Queries as fully & satisfactorily as I wish to do; but tho’ it is not in my Power to do this now, yet, as the definitive Judgement of the Society respecting the Claims 2 & 3, is to be given on the first Tuesday in February, I shall, when that is pronounced, procure a Copy of the respective Essays & forward them to you. They are, from the Nature of the Subject, rather long, especially No. 2, which, from it’s being so essentially fundamental to all good Husbandry, requires to be treated in Detail.

For No. 3 no Claim has been offered—I hope, however, that the Præmium for an Essay on that Subject will be continued for the ensuing Year. At the next Meeting a new List of Præmiums will be offered, in which many of the Subjects of the present List will, doubtless, be continued. Should any Subject, interesting to Agriculture, occur to you⟨,⟩ the Society will be much obliged to you to communicate it.1

The Result of actual Experiments, being so much preferable to the most specious & well supported theories, has induced the Society to turn its Thoughts towards the Establishment of an experimental Farm, & the sending to England for a Farmer thoroughly versed in the most approved Mode of english Farming, to execute the Plan. A Committee is appointed to examine into the State of the Society’s funds, & to report how far their Ability to execute this Scheme, extends. Should it be found practicable, the present Intention is to rent a worn out Farm, & by a Sett of actual Experiments, to endeavor to ascertain the best Methods of recovering, what is called a worn out Soil. Should an easy Method of doing this, & within the reach of every Farmer be found out, the Discovery will be usefull indeed.2

Mrs Powel begs Leave to join me in Thanks to Mrs Washington & yourself for your obliging Compliments of the Season, which we most sincerely return. I am, with great Esteem, Dear Sir Your most obedt humble Servt

Samuel Powel


1GW’s inquiry about the papers submitted to the Philadelphia Agricultural Society is dated 27 Dec. 1785. The minutes of the Philadelphia Agricultural Society for 5 Dec. 1785 have this entry: “The President and Mr. G[eorge] Clymer presented two communications; one, marked No. I., ’An Essay on a Farm-Yard System;’ being a claim for the Premium no. 2.—The other, marked No. II., describing a method for counteracting the effects of frost in heaving or spewing up ground, and thereby exposing the roots of plants to injury or destruction; being a claim for premium no. 3.” On Feb. 7 the essay on a farmyard system was read and unanimously voted to receive a gold medal. It was then revealed that the author was Col. George Morgan, along with John Beale Bordley the most frequent contributor of communications to the society and apparently the only recipient of the society’s medal before it suspended operations for a decade in 1793 (Minutes of the Philadelphia Society for the Promotion of Agriculture, from Its Institution in February, 1785, to March, 1810 [Philadelphia, 1854]). On 10 May Powel sent GW a transcription of Morgan’s essay.

2In January 1787 the Philadelphia Agricultural Society adopted a motion that it rent a tract of land and import an English farmer to manage an experimental farm, but no action was taken at the time (ibid., 17; see also Gambrill, “John Beale Bordley,” description begins Olive Moore Gambrill, “John Beale Bordley and the Early Years of the Philadelphia Agricultural Society.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 66 (1942): 410–39. description ends 432).

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