George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Harriot Washington, 2 April 1790

From Harriot Washington

Mt Vernon April 2d 1790

I now set down to write to my dear Uncle as I have not wrote to him since he left this place I should have done it but I thought you had so much business that I had better write to Aunt Washington yet I am sure you would be very glad to se me improveing myself by writeing letters to my friend’s.

I am a going to ask you My Dear Uncle to do something for me which I hope you will not be against but I am sure if you are it will be for my good, as all the young Ladyes are a learning musick, I will be very much obleiged to you if you will send me a gettar, there is a man here by the name of Tracy that teaches to play on the harpsicord & gettar, a gettar is so simple an instrument that five or six lessons would be sufficient for any body to learn, If you think it proper to send me a gettar I will thank you if you will send it by the first opportunity I was informed the other day that you and Aunt Washington were certainly a comeing home this Summer which gave me a great deal of pleasure for I want to se you very much.1

If you please to give my love to Aunt Washington Nelly & Washington. I am My Dear Uncle your Sincere Neice

Harriot Washington.

ALS, ViMtvL.

Harriot (Harriet) Washington (1776–1822), GW’s niece, was the daughter of GW’s brother Samuel and his fourth wife, Ann Steptoe Washington. Samuel died in 1781, and Harriot was apparently taken into the household of her mother’s sister Elizabeth Steptoe Fendall, wife of Philip Richard Fendall and the widow of Philip Ludwell Lee. She probably lived with the Fendalls at Stratford Hall in 1781–82 and moved with them to Alexandria in late 1782 after Elizabeth Fendall’s daughter Matilda and her new husband Henry Lee took possession of the estate. GW refers to Harriot “being given over to me by Mrs Fendall” (GW to David Stuart, 21 Sept. 1794). This probably occurred in 1782 or shortly thereafter, although in 1792 GW referred to his having provided for Harriot “for seven years past” (GW to Betty Washington Lewis, 7 Oct. 1792), suggesting that Harriot came to Mount Vernon as late as 1785. She remained at Mount Vernon primarily in the care of Frances Bassett Washington, wife of George Augustine Washington, until October 1792 when GW sent her to live with Betty Washington Lewis because there would be no woman at Mount Vernon to care for her. After George Augustine Washington died, GW invited Fanny to return with her children to Mount Vernon and further invited her to bring Harriot with her, but Harriot apparently remained in Fredericksburg (GW to Frances Bassett Washington, 24 Feb. 1793). Harriot married Andrew Parks, a Fredericksburg merchant, in 1796. From the time she arrived at Mount Vernon until her marriage, GW provided Harriot with clothing and “such reasonable and proper necessaries as she may stand in need of” (GW to Betty Washington Lewis, 7 Oct. 1792).

1Thomas Tracy, previously engaged as a music master in the household of Arthur Middleton of South Carolina, was employed by David Stuart to teach music and other subjects, including arithmetic and penmanship, to the two oldest Custis girls, Elizabeth and Martha. GW later hired him to teach music to Nelly Custis (GW’s Cash Memoranda, 1 Sept. 1797–20 Feb. 1799, entry for 20 Dec. 1798, RPJCB). Tracy visited Mount Vernon periodically between April 1788 and February 1799 (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 5:306, 6:333). He apparently was not employed to teach Harriot the guitar. Harriot wrote to GW again on 28 May 1792, asking him to send her a “guittar,” indicating that Anne Blackburn Washington, wife of Bushrod Washington, had offered to teach her. Harriot evidently learned to play other instruments, since on 5 Jan. 1793 she wrote to GW asking him to send her money for a “Lutestring.”

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