George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Arthur Young, 6 August 1786

To Arthur Young

Mount Vernon 6th Augt 1786


I have had the honor to receive your letter of the 7th of Jany from Bradford-Hall, in Suffolk, and thank you for the favor of opening a correspondence, the advantages of which will be so much in my favor.

Agriculture has ever been amongst the most favourite1 amusements of my life, though I never possessed much skill in the art, and nine years total inattention to it,2 has added nothing to a knowledge which is best understood from3 practice, but4 with the means you have been so obliging as to furnish me, I shall return to it (though rather late in the day) with hope & confidence.5

The system of Agriculture (if6 the epithet of system can be applied to it)7 which is in use in this part of the United States, is as unproductive to the practitioners8 as it is ruinous9 to the landholders.10 Yet it is pertinaciously adhered to. To forsake it; to pursue a course of husbandry which is altogether11 different & new to the gazing multitude, ever averse to novelty in matters of this sort, & much attached to their old customs,12 requires resolution; and without a good practical guide, may be dangerous, because13 of the many volumes which have been written on this subject, few of them are founded on experimental knowledge—are verbose, contradictory, & bewildering. Your annals shall be this guide.14 The plan on which they are published, gives them a reputation which inspires confidence; and for the favor of sending them to me I pray you to accept my very best acknowledgments. To continue them, will add much to the obligation.15

To evince with what avidity, and with how little reserve I embrace the polite & friendly offer you have made me of supplying me with “Men, Cattle, Tools, seeds, or any thing else that may add to my rural amusement,”16 I will give you, Sir, the trouble of providing, and sending to the care of Wakelin Welch, Esqr. of London, Mercht the following articles.

Two of the simplest, & best constructed Plows for land which is neither very heavy nor Sandy. To be drawn by two horses. To have spare shares & Colters—and a mold17 on which to form new irons when the old ones are worn out, or will require repairing.

I shall18 take the liberty in this place to observe, that some years ago, from a description, or recommendation of19 what was then called the Rotheram; or Patent Plow, I sent to England for one of them,20 and till it began to wear, & was ruined by a bungling Country Smith that no plow could have done better work, or appeared to have gone21 easier with two horses; but for want of a Mold (wch I had neglected to order with the Plow), it became useless after the irons which came in with it were much worn.

A little of the best kind of Cabbage seeds, for field culture.

20 lbs. of the best Turnip-Seeds, for Do.22

10 Bushels of Sainfoin Seeds.

8 Bushls of the Winter Vetches.

2 Bushls of Rye-grass Seeds.23

50 lbs of Hop clover seeds,


If it is decided (for much has been said for and against it), that Burnet, as an early food, is valuable, I should be glad of a24 bushel of this seed also. Red clover seeds are25 to be had on easy terms in this Country, but if there are any other kinds26 of grass-seeds (not included in the above) that you may think valuable, especially27 for early feeding or cutting, you would oblige me by adding a small quantity of the seeds, to put me in stock.28 Early grasses, unless a species can be found that will stand29 a hot Sun, and oftentimes severe droughts in the summer months, without much expence of cultivation, would suit our climate best.

You see, Sir, that without30 ceremony, I avail myself of your kind offer; but if you should find in the course of our correspondence, that I am likely to become troublesome you can easily check me. Inclosed I give you an order on Wakelin Welch, Esqr. for the cost of such things as you may have the goodness to send me.31 I do not at this time ask for any other implements of Husbandry than the Plows; but when I have read your annals (for they are but just come to hand) I may request more. In the meanwhile, permit me to ask what a good Plowman might32 be had for, annual wages, to be found (being a single man) in board, washing, & lodging? The writers upon Husbandry estimate33 the hire of labourers so differently in England, that it is not easy to discover from them whether one of the34 class I am speaking of35 would cost Eight, or Eighteen pounds a year. A good Plowman at low wages, would come very opportunely with the Plows here requested.

By means of the application I made36 to my friend Mr Fairfax, of Bath, & through the medium of Mr Rack, a bailiff is sent to me, who, if he is acquainted with the best courses of cropping, will answer my purposes as a director or superintendant of my Farms.37 He has the appearance of a plain honest Farmer; is industrious; and, from the character given of him by a Mr Peacy (with whom he has lived many years) is understanding in the management of Stock, & of most matters for which he is employed. How far his abilities may be equal to a pretty extensive concern, is questionable.38 And what is still worse, he has come over with improper ideas; for instead of preparing his mind to meet39 a ruinous course of Cropping, exhausted Lands, and numberless inconveniencies into which we had been thrown by an eight years War, he seems to have expected that he was coming to well organized Farms, &40 that he was to have met Plows, Harrows, and all the other41 impliments of Husbandry in as high taste42 as the best farming Counties in England could have exhibited them.43 How far his fortitude will enable him to encounter these disappointments, or his patience & perseverence will44 carry him towards the work of45 reform, remains to be decided.46 With great esteem, I have the Honor to be, Sir, Yr Most Obedt47 Hble Servt

Go: Washington

ALS, PPRF; ALS, marked “Duplicate,”, PPRF; LB, DLC:GW. When he wrote Young again on 16 Nov. 1786, GW enclosed the duplicate copy of this letter. Before making the duplicate, GW revised his retained copy, or draft, of the original letter, introducing scores of changes in wording, punctuation, and spelling. These alterations are reflected both in the duplicate sent to Young and in the letter-book copy made years later by one of GW’s clerks. As so few of the drafts or retained copies of the letters that GW wrote have survived, the assumption is that his clerks discarded GW’s drafts after entering the letters in letter books, mostly in the 1790s. The discarded drafts must have numbered in the hundreds each year in the 1780s. Consequently, although there are many other clues in GW’s papers to his method of composition and to his close attention to language, we are almost entirely missing the evidence to be derived from his drafts of letters. For this reason, the substantive changes in language that he made in preparing the duplicate letter are noted here as they appear in the duplicate letter sent to Young.

1Favoured for favourite.

2Dereliction for total inattention to it.

3Only to be perfected by for best understood from.

4But deleted, and period inserted.

5More alacrity than ever for hope & confidence.

6It merits inserted.

7Can be applied to it deleted.

8Cultivator for practitioners.

9Injurious for ruinous.

10Land-holder for land-holders.

11Entirely for altogether.

12The customs of their fore fathers for their old customs.

13Unprofitable: for for dangerous, because.

14Under these impressions, I shall make choice of your annals as my Preceptor and guide for Your annals shall be this guide.

16Amusements for amusement.

17(If the ploughs are of this kind) inserted.

18Will for shall.

19Thereof which I had somewhere met with, I sent to England for for of.

20I sent to England for one of them deleted.

21Run for gone.

22Ten pounds each, of the three best sorts of Turnips Seed for feeding in succession, through the Season for 20 lbs. of the best Turnip-Seeds, for Do.

23Ray grass for Rye-grass.

24One for I should be glad of a.

25Seed is for seeds are.

26Sorts for kinds.

27Particularly for especially.

28Each, that I may get into a stock of it for the seeds, to put me in stock.

29Wihsand for will Stand.

30Any inserted.

31In his letter to Wakelin Welch of 5 Aug., GW sent a second letter of the same date to Welch, this copy of which went “under cover to Arthur Young” on 6 Aug.: “Sir, Arthur Young Esqr. of Bury, in Suffolk, having been so obliging as to offer to procure for me Implements of Husbandry, seeds &c.—I have accepted his kindness with much pleasure, because he is a competent judge of the first, and will be careful that the latter are good of their several kinds—a thing of much consequence, & which does not often happen with seeds imported into this country from Europe.

“I have requested him to forward these articles to your care, & to draw upon you for the amount.

“Let me entreat your particular attention to them, with a request that the Captn of the Vessel on board which they are shipped may be sollicited to keep the seeds in the Cabbin—or out of the Ship’s hold at any rate—as they never fail to heat & spoil when put there. I am Sir &c. G: Washington” (LB, DLC:GW).

32Cd for might.

33Speak of for estimate.

34This for the.

35I am speaking of deleted.

36I made deleted.

38May be questioned for is questionable.

39For for to meet.

40Period inserted; & deleted.

41Different for other.

42Perfection for taste.

43Would have been able to exhibit for could have exhibited them.

44Will deleted.

45Effecting a for the work of.

47And obliged inserted.

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