George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Fitzgerald, 7 February 1786

From John Fitzgerald

[Alexandria, 7 February 1786]

Dear Sir

Upon coming home I immedeatily Conversed with Colo. Lyles on the Subject of the Importation of a She Ass for you & also with the Captain[.] Colo. Lyles is very desirous to effect it & will if it is practicable—The Captain not having any expectation of orders in that way made no enquiry respecting them he says they are plenty & he believes there is no difficulty in obtaining them[.] I think the best way will be for you to Ship 20 or 25 bbls S. fine flour, for which I understand there is room, & in case of disappointmt Colo. Lyles is willing either to be accountable here at the price or run the risque of the Market as you think best[.] the Vessell I believe will be ready to sail by Saturday or Sunday.1 I much want to go up to Berkeley but my Business is such at this time that I believe it will not be in my power for 8 or ten days if then, I will however take care to let you know before I sett out. I am Dear Sir with perfect respect & Esteem yr Obedt Servt

John Fitzgerald

P.S. Mr Rumsey called upon me late the other evening & the only Conclusion we could come upon was that the President & Directors were to hold themselves in readiness to meet by the first of March unless advised previously that the Meeting could be put off without injury to the 15th.


1William Lyles & Co. of Alexandria immediately wrote GW: “Colo. Fitzgerald has signified to us your wishes of getting an ass imported from the dutch settlement of Surinam, we have a sloop that will sail in three days for that place, and we have made some enquiries from the Captain of the practicability of getting one from thence, who seems not to doubt but it may be done very safely and the season for his return will greatly favor the safety of the creatures passage here.

“The Capt. has no Idea of the probable cost of an ass in Surinam, but supposes 20 or 25 Barrels S. fine flour wou’d be fully adequate to the Cost, we have taken the liberty of giving you this information, and of making a tender of our Services in the execution of this business” (DLC:GW).

GW responded: “Gentn I have received your favor of yesterday & thank you for your ready compliance with my request. As soon as my Boat returns from Alexandria, it shall be dispatched again with 25 Barls of S: flour for your Vessell; for the purpose of procuring (if practicable) a she Ass from Surinam, for my benefit.

“I should be glad to know whether you commit the negotiation of your business to the Captn or consign it to a Merchant of that place, that I may entrust mine to the same person. And as I shall have to write to the Gentleman, would wish, in either case, to know the name & address of the Consignee.

“If I should not succeed in procuring the Ass, I will, if equally agreeable to you, abide the Sale of the flour at Surinam, and receive the amount in Rum, Molasses, or such other articles as come best from that place—advice of which I would thank you for—But, if this should interfere, in the smallest degree, with your freight back, it will be perfectly agreeable to me to have the return in cash. I am Gentn Yr Most Obedt Hble Servt Go: Washington” (ALS, ViMtvL: Willard Collection; LB, DLC:GW). Both the Lyles letter and GW’s response are dated 8 February.

On Feb. 9 William Lyles & Co. wrote: “We have always before this voyage consigned our vessels to a Mr Saml Branden mercht in Surinam, but as the voyage is generally pretty long we have determin’d to consign the one we now send to the Capt. (Wm Bartlett) as by giving him the Commissions of the Cargoes out and in, we have a very considerable abatement in his wages; Mr Branden is a man of considerable importance in Surinam and perhaps might be usefull on this occation. We can by no means recommend your ordering Rum or Sugar from Surinam, the rum is high proof but badly flavoured and their Sugars extremely dark indeed, Their Molasses and Coffee are superior to any we get from the West Indies—These are their only exports except Cocoa which we make but little use of here.

“You will be so obliging as to order the return of your boat as expeditiously as possible” (DLC:GW). GW records in his cash accounts the payment on 9 Feb. to Fitzgerald of 2s. 6d. for “Drayage of Goods” and £6.3.3 for “Freight of Sundry Goods on Board the Fanny” (Ledger B description begins General Ledger B, 1772–1793. Library of Congress, George Washington Papers, Series 5, Financial Papers. description ends , 207).

GW’s response of 10 Feb. reads: “Gentn As it is my wish to obtain a she Ass of the first kind, & think it is more in the power of a resident at Surinam, than it can be in that of the Captn to procure such an one, I have written the enclosed letter to Mr Branden requesting him to make the purchase accordingly. I hope the Captn will ascribe this preference to no other cause than the one assigned; at the same time that I earnestly request his particular attention to the animal, if one should be shipped on my account.

“In case of the failure in such purchase, I have requested Mr Branden to send the proceeds of the sales of the flour, in Molasses & Coffee. You would oblige me by having the flour inspected—properly marked for Mr Branden, & the bill of lading therefor put under cover with my letter to that Gentn, as it will save time & trouble. I am &c. G. Washington” (LB, DLC:GW).

GW enclosed in his letter of 10 Feb. the following letter to Samuel Brandon, also dated 10 Feb.: “Sir, I have lately received from Spain, a Jack Ass of the first race in the Kingdom, & am very desirous of availing myself of his breed. Hearing that she Asses of good appearance are to be had at Surinam, I take the liberty of asking your assistance to procure me one of the best kind, to be sent by the return of Captain Bartlett, who will deliver this letter to you.

“Neither the Captn, or any body else with whom I have had opportunities of conversing, could tell me the cost of one of these animals at Surinam, but have supposed that twenty five barrels of superfine flour, would be adequate to the purchase. This quantity (equal I believe in quality to any made in this Country) I have the honor of shipping to your address: but if it should prove inadequate, the deficiency shall be made up in the way most agreeable to yourself. All I pray is, that I may receive one of the largest & best she Asses that can be obtained in your Country fit to breed from.

“As the Captain is commissioned to purchase a She Ass for his owners, I should be glad, if the Bill of lading for mine (if one is sent to me) may be minutely descriptive of her. I hope every provision will be made for the accomodation & support of her on ship board. but if contrary to my wishes, a disappointment happens, I request in that case that you would be so obliging as to send me in return for the flour, two hogsheads of Molasses, & the remainder in the best Coffee of your Country.

“If, in this request, I have used an unwarrantable freedom, it proceeds from the good character given of you to me, by Messrs Fitzgerald & Lyles of Alexandria, by whose Vessel I write, & who have offered me a passage for the animal. I am Sir, &c. G: Washington” (LB, DLC:GW).

GW wrote Brandon again on 20 Nov. 1786 to report that “the Ass arrived safe, & the other Articles agreably to the Bill of Lading.” The “other Articles” were molasses and coffee (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 5:40).

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