George Washington Papers

To George Washington from George Augustine Washington, 16 July 1790

From George Augustine Washington

Mount Vernon July 16th 1790.

Honor’d Uncle

Your favor of the 4th Inst.1 gave me much satisfaction as it contained information of your health being well restored for I had feared from your communication to Doctr Stuart 2 that you were still an invallid not having at that time got rid of the cough and pain in your side, these complaints now being removed, your visit to Virginia will I hope produce a permanent establishment of your health 3—Fanny is now in much better health than she was, and except the head ach which I am frequently troubled with have for some time past been tolerably well.

The Alexandria price for Tobacco is certainly low but the present prospect of its rising is not flattering I have heard of no change that it has undergone since I wrote last respecting it—a better price might perhaps be obtain’d by Shiping but were I to judge from the complaints of some who have made the experiment I should think it very doubtful.

The ill success which has attended the propigation of Mules4 gives me much concern knowing that your wishes and expectations would be much disappointed—I am disinclined to think that it arises from the want of care in Peter during the covering season for he appears very attentive to that business indeed his time is almost intirely ingrosed by it—Mr Scott of Maryland who called here a few days ago was mentioning his ill luck he sent 7 Mares the season before and 6 the last which he keeps as broods and has had only 2 Mules which were produced the first season—neglect is too frequently the origin of misfortunes but with respect to the Horses that have died tho’ it may in some instances have been the case I am persuaded it has not been in many the two last that died in the Neck & the one at the Ferry died with a disorder called the scowers Mr Diggs5 sent two mares to the Jacks one of them died a few days after with the same complaint I have sufferd very considerably in horses myself—I proposed to Mr Speake6 to rent your Ferry but he replied that the one he now has is so unproductive that he should quit it in the Fall and that if both were made a present to him he would not ac[c]ept them to be obliged to continue where he does—the price he has given was £20.0.0. I went to Capt. Marshall7 to know what he had determin’d doing with it when Speake went away he told me he should give himself ⟨no⟩ concern about it but if any person applied for it he believed he would rent it—he complain’d of the inconvenience attending it and said he wished it could be discontinued but seemed to have his doubts that it might be difficult to accomplish it—I think it might be accomplished by the application of yourself and Capt. Marshall to the Assemblies8 but in case it cannot the Fishery and Ferry united may perhaps be an object for some person to give a good rent—but there situation may perhaps under the letting of them [be] objectionable to you—Bloxham9 with his Family I believe occupies Mr T. Wests Brick house near Alexandria where I understand he means to remain untill he informs himself whether it will be most to his advantage to remain in America or return to his own Country—if he suffers the emolument he has heretofore gained to have any influence in his determination he will not quit America for any prospects he may have left behind him. the Balance which appeared due him on a settlement was £299.11.9 as he did not wish the whole and it was not convenient to pay it to him he recd 200£ and the Bal: is now due him—you will recieve a Copy of his acct from the Ledger. I fear the season is too far advanced to procure young Mocking Birds but shall indeavour to do it—The Wheat and Rye was finished Curing last week, the last on Saturday at the Ferry the crop will be very short and some of the Grain not as good as I expected the bearded wheat I think the best grain and appears to stand the winter as well or better than any other—I have sent a sample of the grain—the Oats is not generally in order for cuting but began on such parts of the fields as were on Friday at the River Plantn D. Run: & Muddy hole none of that at the Ferry & Frenches being in order—the Oats ripens very irregular owing I think to some of the grain remaining in the ground during the drought and springing after the rains set in—a mixture of green straw prevents its being shocked as it is cut down it is therefore put up in 5 or 6 sheafs to cure before it could with safety be shocked—last night and this day has produced some fine showers which will not be unfriendly to any thing (as the ground was geting dry) except to the Oats which has been cut and that may be prevented from injury unless the rain should be of long continuance. The Oats is large and full and the heads generally fine had they not have been injured in the early part of the season a greater crop perhaps how would have been made—but the crop will turn out so much better than could be expected that it would be criminal to complain the Corn is generally of a pretty good growth and of a Fine complexion the Plaister of Paris when first applied to it particularly that which I tried during the drought produced very evidently a good effect but for some time past I have been unable to dis[c]ern any difference between that which received it and that which did not this I am unable to account for but it is undoubtedly the case and it had the same effect on Corn that I applied it to last year—I have tried it this year on Tobacco, Barley Oats, and other things without being able to discover any effect—I mean to try some of the same corn that has already received it with the same quantity that was put on before to see what additional effect it may produce—and to try some that has not had any put on to afford it the advantage of different seasons—being inclined to think on reconsideration that you might perhaps dispence with sowing Wheat in No. 6 at Frenches as the Crops in a part of it would be removed too late and the Rye lately cut from it following wheat would be another weighty objection. I therefore consented to the advise of Whiting to have field No. 3 at the Ferry now in Buck Wheat plowed up for wheat. I was induced to depart in this instance from your directions because it would be preparing a field which would afford you the option of sowing or not in Wheat and if you thought proper to decline it the field would derive benefit from it the loss of the seed which would have been got had the Buck wheat remain’d for the purpose could not have been great for tho’ it was good in some parts of the field it was generally very bad but the crop of weeds being pritty thick will supply the defficiency as a manure.

I have enclosed you copies of Surveys10 which I have in possession that came under cover to Fairfax in a Letter from Mr Colston who was authorised to recieve the £51.9.8 acruing thereon, by Mr Marshal—Mr Colston has desired the money paid to Mr Taylor of Alexandria who I have not yet seen but shall wait your directions before I do anything in the business.

Colo. Mercer informed me that the proceeds of his present crop of Tobacco which was intended when ready for the George Town market, was designed for you, but have not yet recd it—he also informed me that his present Crop of Wheat was designed for the same purpose—if you thought proper to take the wheat he would deliver it as soon as it was got out, allowing him the highest Alexandria price in two months after the delivery, if not he would dispose of it and the money should be paid you—these kinds of bargains are disagreeable and some times productive of disputes but still it may be avoided by appointing persons to determine the price—and I think it may be better to recieve the Wheat than to let it be otherwise disposed of—if you will inform me I will let him know the result of your determination—The 13 Barrels Porter shiped by Colo. Biddle from Philadelphia arrived last week11—the Gardner is very desirous of geting a Dutch and English Dictionary12 to perfect himself in the English language as Alexandria does not afford one I promised to write to you for one and observed to him that I was certain you would incourage him in little requests if he would exert himself to deserve your favor—he is really industrious and very obliging and as to a knowledge of his business I am persuaded he possesses it very sufficiently. he furnishes the greatest supply of good vegitables and has got the gardens in as good order as could well be expected considering the order he found them in—many of the Negroes have and are confined with this troublesome Influenza—we shall begin shortly to expect the happiness of seeing you as we are told the 15 Int was talked of for the rising of Congress13—Fanny joins me in sincerest good wishes for yourself my Aunt and the Children and best respects to Mr Lear and the Gentlemen of your Family14 I am Honord Uncle Your truely affectionate Nephew

Geo: A. Washington


1This letter has not been found.

3For GW’s near-fatal illness of May 1790 and recovery in June, see William Jackson to Clement Biddle, 12 May 1790, editorial note.

4Royal Gift, a blooded jackass given to GW by King Charles III of Spain, arrived at Mount Vernon in December 1785. Knight of Malta, another jack, a gift from Lafayette, arrived in November 1786 accompanied by two jennets. That autumn a jennet GW had ordered earlier from Surinam also arrived. GW put Peter, the groom to his Arab stallion Magnolio, in charge of the asses, and both men were vexed by Royal Gift’s failures at stud his first covering season. In 1788, however, Compound, Mount Vernon’s first native jack, was born of Royal Gift and one of Lafayette’s jennets. According to George Augustine Washington’s farm report of 4–10 July 1790, GW had four mules at Ferry and French’s farms, two at Dogue Run plantation, one at Muddy Hole, and another at River plantation, in addition to four jacks and three jennets at Mount Vernon’s Mansion House plantation (see William Carmichael to GW, 3 Dec. 1784, n.1, Lafayette to GW, 16 April 1785, n.4, GW to Carmichael, 19 Dec. 1785; Farm Report, 4–10 July 1790, DLC:GW and CD-ROM:GW; Pennsylvania Packet [Philadelphia], 7 Mar. 1786; Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 4:214n.; J. H. Powell, General Washington and the Jack Ass . . . [Cranbury, N.J., 1969], 183–84, 185, 186, 190; Haworth, George Washington: Farmer, description begins Paul Leland Haworth. George Washington: Farmer, Being An Account of His Home Life and Agricultural Activities. Indianapolis, 1915. description ends 140).

5“Scowers,” or “scouring,” as described by William Gibson in his 1751 New Treatise on the Diseases of Horses . . ., a copy of the second edition (London, 1754) of which GW had at Mount Vernon, was a continued purging, “what we call a Diarrhœa in men,” which “may proceed from various causes,” including “excessive feeding, or from unwholesome food,” hard riding, worms, a “great glut of water, or eating some uncommon thing in their food” (288–89; see also Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 1:244). George Digges (c.1742–1792) of Warburton Manor, Prince George’s County, Md., lived directly across the Potomac from Mount Vernon and frequently visited GW (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 1:236; 2:75).

6Francis Speake of Charles County, Md., served as tobacco inspector at Chicamuxen warehouse. Two years earlier GW had complained to him that his unauthorized passenger service across the Potomac was illegally infringing on GW’s public ferry to the detriment of his revenues (GW to Speake, 30 Mar. 1788, LB, DLC:GW; Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 5:386n).

7Capt. Thomas Hanson Marshall owned Marshall Hall, the Charles County, Md., terminus of John Posey’s Potomac River ferry, which was established by a November 1753 act of the Virginia legislature and became GW’s in 1770. At least by 1788 GW considered “the ferry inconvenient, and unprofitable enough . . . to wish the discontinuance of it” and was almost to the point of “put[ting] it down and stop[ping] up the Road leading thereto” (GW to Speake, 30 Mar. 1788; see also n.8 below; Cash Accounts, October 1770, n.2; George Augustine Washington to GW, 14 Dec. 1790, ViMtvL, and 7 and 28 Dec. 1790, both in DLC:GW; Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 1:240–41, 270n., 3:7n.; 6 Hening description begins William Waller Hening, ed. The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619. 13 vols. 1819–23. Reprint. Charlottesville, Va., 1969. description ends 375, and 13 Hening description begins William Waller Hening, ed. The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619. 13 vols. 1819–23. Reprint. Charlottesville, Va., 1969. description ends 152).

8GW directed his nephew to petition the Virginia General Assembly, for on 10 Oct. 1790 George Augustine Washington wrote: “The petition of George Augustine Washington in behalf and by direction of George Washington President of the United States, for whom he is Agent, Humbly sheweth,

“That in the year 1753 a Ferry from the land of John Posey of Fairfax County to the land of Thomas Marshall of Maryland, was established by law. That the land of the said Posey, and the Ferry thereunto belonging hath since become the property of the said George Washington, and the latter being exceedinly inconvenient to him the said George Washington, the discontinuance of it is earnestly prayed for.

“As evidence of the reasonableness of this petition, it is humbly and truly stated, that, however convenient this Ferry may have been to travellers and however productive to the owner in the early stages of its existence it is far from being the case at present: the income of it having decreased from more than a hundred (which your Petitioner is informed it has yielded) to less than thirty five pounds pr Annum as may be seen by the weekly receipts of the last year which is hereunto annexed—and from near seventy pounds since the year 1786. Occasiond as your Petitioner concieves either by the erection of New, or the greater use of the old Ferries—but more especially by the lately adopted mode of travelling in Stage Carriages none of which pass this way; and by the encreased entercourse with Alexandria, Dumfries & Colchester, at or near to which, Ferries are kept. That the said Ferry being more than a mile wide, and much exposed to the N.E. & So. Wt winds, it requires large and expensive Boats to render the passage safe; and a tender (the landing being shoal) to avoid wading in the cold weather. That the N. Wt winds blowing at this place directly from the Virginia to the Maryland shore, and the banks of the former being high, Passengers are often deceived by the apparent smoothness of the water on the hither side, and will cross contrary to the remonstrances of the Ferrymen who although they may get over without accident, are frequently (if the wind continues at the above point) detain’d many days— nay weeks in the winter season when Ice occasiond by the coldness of the No. & No. Wt winds begin to form; and this too, to the great hazard and oftentimes injury of the Boat. That the Farm to which this Ferry appends, being large, the labourers thereon are frequently employed a mile and more from the landing notwithstanding which two of the best hands belonging to it, must always be kept within call to avoid delay, and those complaints which result from disappointment. But the greatest grievance of all and which will be most severely felt by the proprietor is the public Roads which this Ferry occasions through a Neck of upwards of 6000 acres of land; the whole of which now being the property of the said George Washington will this fall (on the land side) be under a five feet Ditch with a strong Post and Rail Fence of six miles in length as may be seen by the plan annexed; laid down from actual Survey and exhibited to shew how inadequate the emoluments of the Ferry is to the injury that will be sustaind by Roads, which must if continued make the land a common.

“If further cause is necessary to shew the reasonableness of this petition, it could be added, that the product of the Ferry at this place, of late is so inadequate to the expence and the risque attending the same, that the person who keps it on the Maryland side, is about to relinquish it, & has declared to your petitioner, that the emoluments of both sides would not induce him to hold it any longer.

“Your petitioner for the reasons aforesaid in behalf of the said George Washington prays relief in the premises, and as in duty bound will ever pray” (Vi). See also George Augustine Washington to GW, 14 Dec. 1790, ViMtvL, and 7 and 28 Dec. 1790, both in DLC:GW

Two documents accompanied this petition. One was a weekly account in George Augustine Washington’s hand entitled “Statement of the receipts of Ferriages from the 3d of October 1789 to the 4th of October 1790” totaling £34.15, from which was “to be deducted the expence of the Boats and hands; and the risque there of” (Vi).

The other document was a map drafted by GW of the roads and fences near the ferry (see fig. 1) with the following remarks in GW’s hand: “From the Mill at a, by the letters B, C, D, to E; except a small part of the line DE; is already ditched; and a strong Post & Rail fence thereon.

“The Roads A, G, H & I; and F, H & I, are those which lead to & from the Ferry, actually Survd;

“The Road from G, by F to K, was also public—but by order of the Court it is turned; & will go, when compleated from K along by ED, until it falls into the Road leading from Alexandria to Colchester at L; being nearer and more convenient than the lowr Rd.

“The Tide of little Hunting Creek flows up to the letter F, to which, from E, the ditch and Posting & Railing must be continued; and will be compleated this Fall (1790) which, with the present Fences of the farm, Incloses between 6 and 7,000 acres of Land that is now (except the Cultivated part) a common; and that wch is cultivated is much incommoded by Lanes, which are exceedingly injurious & expensive to the Proprietor” (AD, Vi). GW erroneously labeled Dogue Run as Pohick Creek on this map.

The Virginia General Assembly granted GW’s request on 11 Dec. 1790 when it passed “An act for establishing several new Ferries, and discontinuing one formerly established,” but George Augustine Washington was still unaware of that fact two and a half weeks later (see his letter to GW, 28 Dec. 1790, DLC:GW; and 13 Hening description begins William Waller Hening, ed. The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619. 13 vols. 1819–23. Reprint. Charlottesville, Va., 1969. description ends 151–52).

9GW’s English farm manager, James Bloxham, decided to quit and return to his native land (see GW to Bloxham, 1 Jan. 1789, source note, George Augustine Washington to GW, 26 Mar. 1790, and GW to Anthony Whitting, 14 April 1790).

10The enclosed surveys have not been identified but may have related to the Shenandoah River acreage that GW sold in 1774 acting as George Mercer’s attorney. GW exchanged correspondence about that property with Rawleigh (Raleigh) Colston (1747–1823), brother-in-law and sometime attorney of John Marshall (see Edward Snickers to GW, 17 May 1784, n.1, GW to John Francis Mercer, 8 July 1784 and notes, and 6 Nov. 1786; Colston to GW, 10 Nov. 1786, and 1 June and 20 Dec. 1798, both in DLC:GW; GW to Colston, 4 Dec. 1786; and 16 July 1798, ALS, letterpress copy, DLC:GW; Johnson and Cullen, Marshall Papers, description begins Herbert A. Johnson et al., eds. The Papers of John Marshall. 12 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1974–2006. description ends 1:300, n.40, 349).

11Clement Biddle had earlier sent to Tobias Lear Robert Hare’s bill and receipt for the porter shipped to Mount Vernon by Capt. John Ellwood, Jr. (Biddle to Lear, 8 July 1790, PHi: Clement Biddle Letter Book).

12For John Christian Ehlers’s dictionary, see Lear to Biddle, 17 Aug. 1790 and note 2.

13Congress actually adjourned on 12 Aug. 1790, and GW visited Rhode Island before leaving for Mount Vernon on 30 Aug. 1790. He arrived home on 11 Sept. 1790.

14GW’s reply of 8 Aug. 1790 has not been found.

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