George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Christian Ehlers, 24 June 1789

From John Christian Ehlers

Bremen the 24th June 1789.

Be it known by these presents to all whom it may Concern, that betwext Henry Willmans Esqr. his danish Majestys Real Consol of Justice & Agent in the Name of his Excellency General Washington Esqr. on one Side, and the Gardner John Christian Ehlers on the other Side, The following Contract is agreed upon and Concluded. The Said John Christian Ehlers engages himself to go from hence to New York by the Vessel called the Minerva Capt. David Kerr, and after his safe Arrival there immediatly to enter for the Space of four Years as Gardner into the Services of his Excellency General Washington Esqr.—to follow his Commands Strictly with Assiduity and Care, in the best maner he is able, in short to behave in such a Maner as to give Satisfaction to his Excellency and to do honour and Credid to himself.

In Consideration thereof Henry Willmans Esqr. Promisses in the name of his Excellency Vitz:

1st To give the afforesaid John Chris: Ehlers a free Passige as Cabbin Passinger from hence to New York, in the Ship called the Minerva Capt. David Kerr.

2d To have from the Time of entring into his Excell: Service Wittles, drink, and Lodging free.

3d To have his Wadges pay’d at the following Rate

12 guineas for the first Year

13 guineas for the Second Year

14 guineas for the Third Year &

15 guineas for the fourth Year

To be pay’d in hard Money of goold or Silver.

Lastly Agrees Henry Willman’s Esqr. in the Name of his Excellency to give the Whife of the aforesaid John Christ: Ehlers a free Passage to America in case she should resolve to follow her Husband.

To the Ratification hereof, and for the better Security of Both parties, they to a Double Copy of this Instrument put their own hands and zeal.

D, marked “translation,”, DLC:GW.

In November 1788 GW noted in his diary that Henrich Wilmans of Bremen, Germany, who was introduced to GW by Dr. James Craik and was then visiting briefly at Mount Vernon, “offered to engage a Gardener for me and to send him in a ship from Bremen; I requested that it might not exceed the following conditions for him and his Wife (if he brings one)—viz.—Ten pounds sterling for the 1st. year—Eleven for the 2d.—Twelve for the 3d. and so on, a pound encrease, till the sum should amt. to £15. beyond which not to go. That he would be found a comfortable House, or room in one, with bedding, victuals & drink; but no clothes; these for self and wife to be provided at his own expence—That he is to be a compleat Kitchen Gardener with a competent knowledge of Flowers and a Green House. And that he is to come under Articles and firmly bound. His, or their passages to be on as low terms as it can be obtained—The Wife if one comes is to be a Spinner, dairy Woman—or something of that usefulness” (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 5:422). Writing to Wilmans, 12 Oct. 1789, GW stated that the new gardener had arrived in New York on 14 Sept. “and set off a few days after for my seat in Virginia, where he will enter upon his duty, and, from the account which you have given of him, I have no doubt but I shall be pleased with his services.” Attached to the contract is the statement that “John Christian Ehlers arrived at Mount Vernon on Tuesday evening Sepr 22 1789.” In February 1790 Wilmans wrote GW from Bremen that Ehlers’s wife “is determined to follow her husband, and she is a Woman who can be of grand service to Your Exellences Lady as she is capable in every respect” (Wilmans to GW, 28 Feb. 1790). She had arrived in the United States by 1792 and was engaged in making clothing and measuring the work of the spinners on the Mount Vernon plantation. GW was evidently pleased with Ehlers’s services, always referring to him as “the Gardener,” in the same way he did to James Bloxham as “the Farmer.” By the spring of 1793, however, Ehlers himself evidently entertained some thoughts of leaving GW’s service. In June 1793, probably in response to Ehlers’s dissatisfaction, GW altered the terms of his employment, “as I am not fond of changing—and as I am sure he would very soon find his error in leaving me.” The gardener was allowed £30 or $100 per annum, continued use of the garden, “and a horse Six times a year to ride to Alexandria provided he is not kept out of nights,” if he agreed to stay for two more years (GW to Anthony Whitting, 26 May, 9 June 1793). In October 1795 GW engaged Ehlers for a further two years under considerably more favorable terms (contract with Ehlers, 10 Oct. 1795, DLC:GW). By the time Ehlers’s contract expired in 1797, however, GW launched a search for a new gardener, “the time of the one I now have terminating . . . and no inclination on my part to employ him any longer” (GW to James Anderson, 7 April 1797).

Index Entries