George Washington Papers

Tobias Lear to Clement Biddle, 17 August 1790

Tobias Lear to Clement Biddle

New York Augt 17th1 1790

Dear Sir,

I acknowledge the rect of your favor of the 11th Inst.—and will thank you to get & deliver to Mr Lewis, the Presidents Nephew who will have the pleasure to deliver this, a German & English Dictionary for the Presidents German Gardner2—and charge the same to the President’s Acct.

The President went on Saturday to R. Island3—he will return in about 8 days & I think will leave this for Virginia about the 1st of Septr—of which you shall have due information.4 In great haste I am Dr Sir, Yr most Obedt Servt5

Tobias Lear

ALS, PHi: Washington-Biddle Correspondence; ADfS, ViMtvL; LB, DLC:GW.

GW had been away from Mount Vernon ever since he left Virginia in April 1789 to assume the presidency, and it was undoubtedly with much anticipation that he looked forward to turning his carriage homeward after the adjournment of Congress. Although the administration of his business and plantation affairs in his absence had been in the capable hands of George Augustine Washington, his nephew’s health had so deteriorated that a trip to the mountains was planned for its restoration, and another nephew, Robert Lewis, was leaving to take temporary charge of the estate. Before GW himself could return to Virginia, however, he had to finish up government business with secretaries Knox and Hamilton and had also lately decided to undertake a public trip to Rhode Island to recognize that state’s accession to the federal union (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 5:445; 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 147; see also GW to the Clergy of Newport, R.I., 18 Aug. 1790, source note).

1The letter-book copy is misdated 7 Aug. 1790.

2John Christian Ehlers, who left Bremen in June 1789 and arrived at Mount Vernon on 22 Sept. 1789, did not speak English. Biddle replied to Lear’s 17 Aug. 1790 request one week later, noting that he had paid the high price of six dollars for a German-English dictionary in Philadelphia and sent it to Mount Vernon with some other articles by Captain John Ellwood, Jr. On 26 Aug. Lear acknowledged receiving the bill and receipt for the dictionary (Biddle to Lear, 24 Aug. 1790, PHi: Clement Biddle Letter Book; Lear to Biddle, 26 Aug. 1790, PHi: Washington-Biddle Correspondence; see also Ehlers to GW, 24 June 1789, source note, Lear to Biddle, 16 Sept. 1789).

3For GW’s trip to Rhode Island in the third week of August 1790, see GW to the Clergy of Newport, R.I., 18 Aug. 1790, source note.

4On 8 Aug. 1790 Lear replied to Biddle’s first request for information on GW’s travel schedule by writing: “I will, agreeably to your request, inform you of the time when the President intends setting off for Mount Vernon, which I imagine will be in about 8 or 10 days after the adjournment of Congress. I will, however, just hint to you that the President would not like more parade on his Journey than what may be absolutely necessary to gratify the people. It is to him a fatiguing thing” (PHi: Washington-Biddle Correspondence).

5After GW’s return from Rhode Island, Lear had opportunity to discuss with him the details of his trip home and was better able to reply to Biddle’s latest request for information: “I shall be much obliged to you to inform me first of the Day the President expects to set off & last the Hour he will Cross the Delaware & at what Ferry” (Biddle to Lear, 24 Aug. 1790, PHi: Clement Biddle Letter Book).

Lear wrote to Biddle two days later, noting that GW probably would be in Philadelphia about 3 Sept. 1790 and giving a detailed itinerary: “I will now, Sir, agreeably to your request, inform you of the arrangements, as to time, which the President has made for his journey. He is detained in New York to complete some business in the Treasury and War Departments, which, the Heads of these departments inform him, will be finished by saturday; in which case he will leave this place on Monday—reach Elizabeth Town that night—Brunswick on Tuesday night—Trenton on Wednesday night—Breakfast at Bristol on Thursday morning, and proceed from thence to Philadelphia. This I know is his present intention; and if the business which detains him is completed on Saturday, and no unforseen circumstances occur to retard his progress, it will be carried into effect. He will travel slow in the beginning of his Journey, as he has a number of horses, some of which are young, and all in that state, as to exercise, which requires moderation at the first setting out” (PHi: Washington-Biddle Correspondence).

Lear also reiterated in that same letter GW’s desire for a quiet trip. “I give you this information, in compliance with your request; but at the same time I must repeat, what I observed in a former letter, that as little ceremony & parade may be made as possible; for the President wishes to command his own time, which these things allways forbid in a greater or less degree, and they are to him fatiguing and often times painful. He wishes not to exclude himself from the sight or conversation of his fellow citizens; but their eagerness to shew their affection frequently imposes a heavy tax on him.”

Biddle required information on GW’s Philadelphia plans because he was arranging for an honor guard to welcome GW to the city and because Lear had asked him to hire accommodations for the presidential family. In his 26 Aug. 1790 letter to Biddle, Lear wrote that, as GW intended to tarry in Philadelphia for several days, “he has directed me to request that you will engage Lodgings for him, during that time, at Mrs House’s, if she can accommodate all of his family who will accompany him. They are as follow, The President & Mrs Washington, Mrs Washington’s two little grand children, Major Jackson & Mr Nelson, two maids, four white servants and four black do. If Mrs House can accommodate this number, the Horses of which there are 16 will be sent to Mr Hiltzimer’s Stables of which you will be so good as to give him notice.

“Should Mrs House not be able to accommodate this number of persons, the President then wishes you to engage lodgings for all at the City Tavern, and in that case, the horses will be kept at the same place, and notice need not be given to Mr Hiltzimer. The President would prefer Lodgings at Mrs House’s if they can be obtained. . . .

“I shall not accompany the President, but remain in New York until arrangements are made for the President in Philadelphia, when I shall have the pleasure of becoming an inhabitant of your City.

“That Mrs House may not think more Rooms are necessary than are really so, the President directs me to observe, that two lodging Rooms will accommodate himself, Mrs Washington, the children and two maids; and one Room will serve the two Gentlemen—the servants she knows how she can best accommodate—You will be good enough to give the President timely information of the House in which he is to lodge that he may drive directly there on his arrival.”

Biddle reported back to Lear on 30 Aug. 1790: “I called at Mrs Houses but she was so full of Lodgers that she could not accommodate the President & Mrs Washington tho very desirous to do it—I then called on Mr Moysten at the City Tavern where Rooms were empty and I engaged them for the Number you mention and stabling for 16 Horses and he called on me last Evening to let me know that everythng should be in Readiness for their Reception. Our old Troop of City Horse intend to meet the President at Holmes’s Tavern Ten miles from this City & which is the line of this County—I shall go forward to Bristol & shall acquaint the President what Lodgings are provided & have the Honor to Conduct him to them” (PHi: Clement Biddle Letter Book).

On the same day Lear wrote Biddle: “The President left us this morning, and if he meets no interruption on his Journey he will be in Philadelphia on Thursday as I mentioned in my last.

“I have sent by the old line of Stages a Trunk and a set of Harness which could not be carried on with the Presidts baggage, and have taken the liberty to address them to your care. The Trunk Mrs Washington may want in Philadelphia; and if she should not have occasion for it on her journey afterwards, it had better be sent to Mt Vernon with the harness by water, as it will be expensive sending it by the Stages. The Harness will not be wanted on the Road, therefore that may be sent by water at all events. I have directed it to be covered with a course cloth to prevent injury. The expense of their Carriage to Philada I will discharge here at the same time that I pay for the Stage Horses which the President employs in that line” (PHi: Washington-Biddle Correspondence).

For GW’s arrival in Philadelphia, see John Claypoole to GW, 4 Sept. 1790, n.2.

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