George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Francis Mercer, 1 February 1787

To John Francis Mercer

Mount Vernon Febuary 1st 1787


I am perfectly satisfied with your determination respecting the Negroes—The money will be infinitely more agreeable to me than property of that sort. I 1 will too, if I should want any of those people, procure them on more advantageous terms than I offered.

I beg that the Certificates may be no longer delayed—I have already sunk one hundred pounds specie by consenting to take them at 4 for 1—at the moment I did this, as appeared by the Richmond Gazette which came to my hands a day or two afterwards the price of them was 4½ and five Now Doctr Stuart tells me the latter is with difficulty obtained—I wish therefore to do some thing with these before my loss becomes greater.2

The money sent by Mr Diggs came safe.3 I am Sir your most Obed. Humble Servant

G. Washington

LB, DLC:GW. Between 1793 and 1794 GW’s letters, beginning with this one and continuing through that of 3 Oct. 1790, were copied in his letter book by his young nephew Howell Lewis. The mistaken impression shared by some that the mature GW was a bad speller and careless writer derives in large part from the defects of Lewis and other copyists. Lewis’s misspelled words, misreadings, omissions, and bizarre punctuation disfigure and even distort the letter-book copies of many of GW’s letters during these years.

In the spring of 1792 GW wrote his sister Betty Lewis to ask if her young son Howell would wish “to spend a few months with me, as a writer in my office (if he is fit for it),” working “from breakfast until [early afternoon] dinner—Sundays excepted.” He was wanted for “recording letters, and other papers.” Betty Lewis expressed her misgivings to her “Dear Brother,” explaining that her son was “a Boy of very Slender Education.” Howell Lewis when accepting the offer lamented that he had “not been more attentive to the improvement of my writing.” After Lewis arrived in Philadelphia in May 1792, GW explained his appointment in these terms: “understanding that he was spending his time rather idly, and at the same time very slenderly provided for by his father, I thought for the few months which remained to be accomplished of my own servitude, by taking him under my care, I might impress him with ideas, and give him a turn to some pursuit or other that might be serviceable to him hereafter” (GW to Betty Lewis, 8 April 1792; Betty Lewis to GW, 19 April 1792; Howell Lewis to GW, 24 April 1792; GW to Charles Carter, 19 May 1792). In May 1792 Lewis joined GW’s family in Philadelphia, where his brother Robert had been since May 1789. When Anthony Whitting, the manager of the plantation at Mount Vernon, died in June 1793, GW sent Howell Lewis down to act as temporary manager and to send GW weekly farm reports until a qualified farm manager could be found. In early January 1794 William Pearce took over as manager at Mount Vernon.

1The copyist wrote “It” instead of “I.”

2For Mercer’s negotiations with GW for repaying the long-term debt of John Mercer’s estate with slaves and military certificates, see GW to John Francis Mercer, 9 Sept. 1786, nn.2 and 3.

3GW recorded on 2 Feb. having received £6.10 from Mercer (Ledger B description begins General Ledger B, 1772–1793. Library of Congress, George Washington Papers, Series 5, Financial Papers. description ends , 242).

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