George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Thomas Hartley, 29 September 1789

To Thomas Hartley

New York September 29th 1789


As you are about to return to your own State, you will oblige me by informing the Gentlemen to whom you wrote some time ago—or any others in whom you can place entire confidence that I will give £400 Pennsa currency (to be paid in specie) for twenty mares of the annexed description, delivered at my Seat of Mount Vernon in Virginia (which is only nine miles from Alexandria) and I will allow besides a commission of 5 ⅌ cent on the said £400 as compensation for the trouble of purchasing, which two sums I mean to be in full of all expences, risk &ca in delivering of them as above.


None of the above mares are to be under 15 hands high by a proper standard measure—not to exceed six years old last spring—and to be warranted sound. Bays or Blacks would be preferred, but no colour rejected—They must not be low in flesh, or have marks of abuse about them—being a little rubbed by collars will not be regarded.

If a contract of this sort can be made, The mares must all be taken to Mount Vernon at one time—and duplicate descriptive lists of their colours, brands, and marks, minutely detailed—One of which must be sent to me by the post, when the mares set off for Mount Vernon—the other will accompany them to that place, in order to receive at the foot of it the receipt of my nephew Major George Augt. Washington, who lives at my house, which receipt will entitle the Purchaser, or bearer thereof with your order annexed to the aforesaid sum of £420 which shall be paid at this place at any moment it is presented.

As I have no doubt of getting mares answering this description for 40 or 50 dollars and am assured of this fact by Col. Thos Lowry,1 I am not inclined to exceed the sum of £420 for the above mentioned 20—and therefore beg the favor of you as soon after your return home as you can make it convenient to let me know if I may depend upon that number in your parts for this price—Should this commission be executed to the entire satisfaction of my Nephew, who will be charged with the examination of the mares, and will be instructed to reject any, and all, that deviate from the above description, it is not only possible, but very probable that I may take 20 more on the same terms, from the same or other persons, being more convenient than any that could be bought in Jersey.2 I am &ca

G. Washington


In the summer of 1789 GW, hoping to purchase “a number of good brood mares to send to Virginia” in order to raise mules by them from his jackasses, opened correspondence on the subject with several individuals in the New York-Pennsylvania-New Jersey area. See GW to Abraham Hunt, 20 July 1789, Hunt’s reply, 21 July 1789, and Thomas Hartley to GW, 31 July 1789. Both Hunt and Hartley were encouraging about the possibility of purchasing mares suiting GW’s specifications.

1Conversations with Lowrey during the summer apparently had led GW to believe the mares could be easily acquired in New Jersey. On 1 Oct. 1789 he wrote GW from Alexandria, N.J., that he had purchased a “pair of Bay mares for you, six years old next Spring. full fifteen hands high proportionable and well Built. . . next week I shall send them down by a Carefull hand” (ViMtvL).

2On 6 Oct. Hartley wrote GW from Lancaster, Pa., that consultation with his contacts in Pennsylvania had indicated that mares of the type required by GW could not be purchased in Pennsylvania for less than £25, not counting the additional costs of sending them to Mount Vernon and that he was pessimistic about the chances of purchasing at GW’s price in New Jersey (NjMoHP). Hartley’s letter arrived while GW was on his New England tour, but on his return he wrote Hartley, 20 Nov., “I was in hopes, from the knowledge I had of what such mares, as I described, are now and then bought for in Virginia—from what Colonel Lowry told me of the price of them in New Jersey—from the season of the year, when Farmers find it convenient to dispose of superfluous mouths, and from the number it was probable I might take (which made it an object) that the price offered by me, in my letter of the 29. of September last, would be sufficient to procure them.

“I have neither seen, heard from, nor written to Colonel Lowry since my return to this city on the above subject, and believing that better mares for my purpose, and more convenient, can be had in Lancaster county than in Jersey, I am disposed to give Five hundred pounds, Pennsylvania currency, for Twenty mares, such as are therein described; delivered as there directed. This sum of £500 Pennsa currency I mean to be in full for the purchase and all incidental expences attending the mares. In other respects my letter of the 29 of September, alluded to, is expressive of my desires, and must be referred to in case of a purchase.” In a postscript, GW added: “For your information only, I will add, that rather than not get the mares I will allow besides the Five hundred Pounds for twenty—Twenty shillings for each for the expence of transportation—but it is really too much; and nothing but the expectation of having fine Mares would induce me to exceed the sum proposed in my former letter” (LB, DLC:GW. In the letter book this letter is mistakenly dated 20 Oct.).

GW could not have found Hartley’s reply of 2 Dec. encouraging. Although, Hartley stressed, he intended to devote his best efforts to carrying out GW’s instructions, “The Mares of the description you wish, are only to be found in the hands of the rich and powerful Farmers, who are under no necessity of parting with them; indeed, next to a good Plantation, they esteem those large breeding Mares most, and they are not to be obtained from the holders of them without the utmost difficulty” (ViMtvL). On 7 Dec. Hartley again promised to continue his search, “tho’ I must confess my Expectations are not so sanguine as they were” (ViMtvL).

Hartley had been working through various business contacts in Pennsylvania in his search for the mares, and in mid-January he gave GW in New York a letter from Paul Zantzinger, 3 Jan. 1790, to Hartley, enclosing a list of animals that had been offered for sale to him and one of his colleagues (DLC:GW; the list is also in DLC:GW). GW wrote Hartley, 16 Jan. 1790, that he had read Zantzinger’s letter “and considered, and feel myself under very great obligations to those Gentlemen, and to you, Sir, for the disinterested trouble you have already taken, and are willing to continue to procure for me the number that I want.

“It was not my intention to give this trouble to any one without making compensation, and, for that reason I placed my business upon the restrictive footing of my former letter—But, as these Gentlemen, are so obliging as to undertake this business merely to serve me (for which, through you, I beg to offer my acknowledgements) it would not only be uncivil, but unjust to expect they should incur any expence or run any risque in the prosecution of it on my account—I would therefore leave it to them to act for me as they would for themselves in the purchase of 17 mares which, with the three you conditionally contracted for will complete my object—but I must still require That the average price of the above 17 may not exceed £25 or £26 Pennsylvania currency—That all such as may be under 15 hands (by standard measure) shall not exceed 4 years old next spring—and, in this case, none may be under 14½ hands high. That none may at any rate exceed six years old and be perfectly sound—the loss of an eye, if not proceeding from a mad or restive disposition I should not regard, as the defect will no doubt be considered in the price. That they shall be sent to Mount Vernon, at my expence, under the conduct of a careful man, with a descriptive list not only of the exact height and colour but of the minutest marks, natural and accidental, and a duplicate thereof to me—This may be useful on many accounts, and without it, a man not very scrupulous might exchange the best of them for others of inferior quality answering a general description.

“Receiving them at Mount Vernon any time in the month of February will answer my purposes fully, but I should be unwilling to incur the expence of keeping them until that time at the house of the Sellers. It may rest therefore with Colonel Miller and Mr Zantzinger whether they will send the whole to Mount Vernon at one or at two trips as they may be purchased.

“I will lodge in Colo. Biddle’s hands £400 subject to the orders of the above Gentlemen, and whatever this may fall short of the purchase shall be paid as soon as it is made known . . .” (LB, DLC:GW).

On 22 Feb. 1790 Hartley informed GW that “eleven Mares from Lancaster and three from Yorke are sent on to Mount Vernon. I enclose you a Duplicate Discriptions &c. and shall do myself the Honor of waiting upon you to Morrow Morning and will shew You some Letters and Papers respecting that Business.” Hartley’s letter and the lists of the mares and their owners, 15 and 22 Feb. 1790, are in DLC:GW. By 15 Mar. the dealers had sent the last four mares to Virginia (Hartley to GW, 15 Mar. 1790, DLC:GW). “The 6 mares which remain to complete the 20 purchased by Mr Zantzinger arrived here on Friday night last,” George Augustine Washington wrote GW on 26 Mar., “a Copy of the discriptive list which accompanied them is enclosed, of these I do not think less favorably than the first sent” (ViMtvL). For a description of the mares, see George Augustine Washington’s letter to GW, 26 Mar.; see also Zantzinger to George Augustine Washington, 9 and 14 Mar., and Washington to Zantzinger, 20 Mar. (ViMtvL) for the transportation of the mares to Mount Vernon. On 10 April 1790 GW wrote Zantzinger and Adam Reigart: “Colonel Hartley has put into my hands the account of the mares, which you have been so obliging as to purchase for me, and I have paid to that Gentleman the balance due upon your account. I have received from my Nephew, Major Washington, information of the safe arrival of all the Mares at Mount Vernon, and he appears to be much pleased with them.

“When I expressed to Colonel Hartley my wish to procure a number of mares for breeding from your quarter, I fully expected to compensate the trouble of the person who might purchase them for me, by commission or otherwise. But, Gentlemen, your declining to accept any thing more than an indemnification for the cost and expence which attended the purchase of them, has added to the obligation which I feel for your having executed the commission in so satisfactory a manner—and I beg you to be assured that I have a proper sense of your politeness on this occasion” (LB, DLC:GW).

See also Lear to Biddle, 17 and 21 Jan. 1790 (PHi: Washington-Biddle Correspondence), and Biddle to Lear, 24 and 28 Jan. 1790 (PHi: Clement Biddle Letter Book, 1789–92).

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