Tobias Lear to Clement Biddle
New York, December 21 st 1789
I have to acknowledge your three favors of the 22d & 30th of Novr and 10th of Decr—all of which have been duly laid before the President,1 who now directs me to request that you will be so good as to inform me in your next, at what price per bushel 350 bushels of Buckwht could be delivered at Alexandria if sent in bags, includg the cost of the Buckwheat—the bags—commission on purchasing—freight and every incidental charge; and what would be the cost per bushl if sent in Barrels including every expense as above. He wishes this particular calculation to determine whether he shall procure it from Philadelphia or from the back Counties in Virginia—and requests this information to be given, if it can be obtained, in the course of this week, that he may, in his letter of next week to Major Washington, direct him to procure it from the back Country or wait its arrival from Philadelphia. From your last letter it is not probable the Buckwheat could be got in time to send (if it should be ordered) before the Rivers close, therefore, the calculation, I suppose, must be made with an idea of its being forwarded as early in the spring as possible.2
Mrs Washington will be much obliged to you to get from Mr Reinagle, who taught Miss Custis music last summer, such music as he thinks proper for her to progress with through the winter—and pay him for the same, which you will be good enough to forward to New York.3
Present my best Respts to Mrs Biddle—and tell her I will present her compliments to Mrs Lear on the first day of my marriage whenever that may be 4—and I thank you, my dear Sir, for your kind congratulations which shall be reserved for the proper occasion.5 I am, with very sincere esteem Dr Sir, Yr most Obedt Sert
ALS, PHi: Washington-Biddle Correspondence; copy, in Lear’s handwriting, ViMtvL; LB, DLC:GW.
1. All of these letters are in PHi: Clement Biddle Letter Book, 1789–92.
2. On 17 Nov. Lear first inquired of Biddle about buckwheat for GW. In his letter of 22 Nov. Biddle responded: “It has been a favourable year for Buckwheat and any quantity may be had but I Cannot yet ascertain the price as little has been brought to Market but suppose about 2/ P Bus[hel].” His letters to Lear of 30 Nov. and 10 Dec. contained further reports on his attempt to secure buckwheat. George Augustine Washington wrote Biddle on 10 Dec. that the “very short crop of Buckwheat” would create for GW a need of four hundred bushels, which he hoped to procure from “50 or 60 Miles above Alexandria where the culture of this grain is much attended to.” On 24 Dec. Biddle sent Lear an “Estimate of the Cost of 100 bushels of Buckwheat which I have extended at 2/6 as Mr Abraham Hunt of Trenton, & some others were of Opinion it probably may be had during the Winter at that price but perhaps may Cost 2/9 which may be Considered in the Estimate and on the other hand the bags charged in the Estimate being of Good Homespun tow Linen may be supposed nearly worth the first Cost for use on a farm and the Barrels including additional freight as they do not stow to such advantage as Bags will be near ⅔ the Cost of the Bags & the Cost nearly ⟨sunk⟩ unless they Can be applied to some use as in such Case we purchase flour Barrels which have been in use” (PHi: Clement Biddle Letter Book).
3. Alexander Reinagle (1756–1809) of Philadelphia was an accomplished composer and performer. Of Austrian descent, he emigrated from England to the United States in 1786 and soon became one of Philadelphia’s leading musicians. Reinagle apparently spent some time in New York in the summer or fall of 1789, and GW arranged for Nelly Custis to take lessons on the pianoforte from him (Britt, Nothing More Agreeable, description begins Judith S. Britt. Nothing More Agreeable: Music in George Washington’s Family. Mount Vernon, Va., 1984. description ends 30, 31). In his letter to Lear of 24 Dec. Biddle wrote that “I send herewith by Post the Bundle of Music for Miss Custis procured from Mr Reinagle he intends to send one or more pieces by a future Conveyance” (PHi: Clement Biddle Letter Book).
4. On 18 April 1790 Lear married Mary Long (c.1770–1793) of Lear’s native city, Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Upon their return from Portsmouth several weeks after the wedding, the young couple were invited to make their home with the Washingtons. Mrs. Lear, known as Polly, eventually relieved Mrs. Washington of many social chores (Decatur, Private Affairs of George Washington, description begins Stephen Decatur, Jr. Private Affairs of George Washington: From the Records and Accounts of Tobias Lear, Esquire, his Secretary. Boston, 1933. description ends 128–29). She died of yellow fever in Philadelphia during the epidemic in the summer of 1793.
5. On 6 Jan. 1790 Lear wrote Biddle that “I have now before me your much esteemed favor of the 24th Ulto which came duly to hand, together with the music furnished by Mr. Renaigle. The President thanks you for your information relative to the Buckwheat—and requests that you will procure for him two Hundred bushels to be sent to Mount Vernon by the last of Feby or certainly early in March, in good bags marked G.W” (PHi: Washington-Biddle Correspondence).