George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Tobias Lear, 5 September 1790

To Tobias Lear

Philadelphia1 Septr 5th 1790

Dear Sir,

After a pleasant Journey we arrived in this City about 2 O clock on thursday last.2 Tomorrow we proceed (if Mrs Washingtons health, for she has been much indisposed since she came here) towards Mount Vernon.3

The House of Mr R. Morris had, previous to my arrival, been taken by the Corporation for my residence.4 It is the best they could get. It is, I believe, the best single House in the City; yet, without additions it is inadequate to the commodious accomodation of my family. These, I believe, will be made.

The first floor contains only two public Rooms (except one for the upper Servants). The second floor will have two public (drawing) Rooms, & with the aid of one room with the partition in it in the back building will be Sufficient for the accomodation of Mrs Washington & the Children,5 & their Maids—besides affording me a small place for a private Study & dressing Room. The third Storey will furnish you & Mrs Lear6 with a good lodging room—a public Office (for there is no place below for one) and two Rooms for the Gentlemen of the family.7 The Garret has four good Rooms which must serve Mr & Mrs Hyde8 (unless they should prefer the room over the wash House)—William—and such Servants as it may not be better to place in the addition (as proposed) to the Back Building. There is a room over the Stable (without a fire place, but by means of a Stove) may serve the Coachman & Postilions; and there is a smoke House, which, possibly, may be more useful to me for the accomodation of Servants than for Smoking of meat. The intention of the addition to the Back building is to provide a Servants Hall, and one or two (as it will afford) lodging rooms for the Servants; especially those who are coupled. There is a very good Wash House adjoining to the Kitchen (under one of the rooms already mentioned). There are good Stables, but for 12 Horses only, and a Coach House which will hold all my Carriages.

Speaking of Carriages—I have left my Coach9 to receive a thorough repair against I return (which I expect will happen before the first of December) and I request you will visit Mr Clark10 (into whose hands it is committed) often, to see it well done; & that I may not be disappointed in the time allowed him for the completion which is by the 25th of November. The Harness is also left with him, and he has my ideas also on this subject: generally they are, if the Wheel Harness (which I understand was left at New York) can be made complete, and to look as well as if it were New, then, and in that case, he is to make a set of Pole end Harness to suit them, both to be plated—but if this cannot be accomplished, the set is to be made entirely new, and in the best stile.

I have requested Colo. Biddle11 to take measures for laying in wood for me—this being, he thinks the proper time for doing it, and to draw upon you for the amount of Cost.

The pressure of business under which I laboured for several days before I left New-York, allowed me no time to enquire who, of the female Servants, it was proposed or thought advisable to remove here besides the Wives of the footmen—-namely James & Fidas. The Washer Women I believe are good, but as they, or one of them at least, has a family of Children, quere whether it is necessary to incumber the March, and the family afterwards, with them? I neither contradict or advise the measure, your own judgment, & the circumstances of the case must decide the point: but unless there is better reasons than I am acquainted with for bringing Mrs Lewis12—her daughter—and their families along, they had better, I should conceive, be left: but as I never investigated the subject I will give no decisive opinion thereon.

As Mr Hyde some little time before I left New York expressed some dissatisfaction; signifying that he could neither enjoy under the conduct of the Servants the happiness he wished; or render those services he thought might be expected from him; it might be well for you, before I am at the expence of his removal, to know, decidedly, what his determination is, and his views with respect to a continuance. There can be no propriety in sadling me with the cost of his transportation, & that of his baggage, if he has it in contemplation to leave me at, or soon after his arrival. And I am the rather inclined to make this suggestion now as time will allow you to scrutinize his accts & to form a good comparative view of them with Francis’.13 As a Steward, I am satisfied William (independent of the Woman, & what her Excellence is I really know not) would be full his equal—and I think the Dinners if the Cook had more Agency in the planning of them, would be better; at least more tasty—but this Mr or Mrs Hyde’s pride will not submit to. As I have got to the end of the Paper, and am tired, I shall only add that your letter of the 3d with its enclosures came safe—and that Mrs Washington joins me in best wishes for Mrs Lear & yourself—I am sincerely & Affectly Yrs

Go: Washington

P.S. In a fortnight or 20 days from this time it is expected Mr Morris will have removed out of the House—It is proposed to add Bow Windows to the two public rooms in the South front of the House14—But as all the other apartments will be close & secure the sooner after that time you can be in the House with the furniture, the better, that you may be well fixed and see how matters go on during my absence.


1GW had originally written and deleted “New York.”

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

3GW’s secretary Thomas Nelson wrote to Clement Biddle from Philadelphia’s City Tavern on 5 Sept. 1790, requesting him to remove the boxed items in the president’s coach to a trunk and to have the stage brought to the tavern that evening to load one or two more trunks in preparation for the next morning’s journey (PHi: Washington-Biddle Correspondence).

According to the 7 Sept. 1790 Pennsylvania Packet, and Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia), “Yesterday morning the President of the United States, proceeded on his journey to his seat in Virginia.” GW’s party arrived in Baltimore in the afternoon of 8 Sept. 1790 (see GW to Lear, 9 Sept. 1790 and note 2).

4GW had intended to spend several days in Philadelphia searching for a suitable presidential residence, but upon his arrival he discovered that a committee of the Corporation of the City of Philadelphia had already selected one of the handsomest dwellings in the city to serve as the presidential mansion while Philadelphia was the seat of the federal government (see Lear to GW, 21 Nov. 1790).

William Masters probably built the three-story residence at 190 High Street sometime before 1761, and it passed to his daughter Mary before her marriage to Richard Penn. During the Revolution the house was Sir William Howe’s headquarters and later was occupied by Benedict Arnold after the British evacuated the city. According to the August 1785 deed that transferred the property to Robert Morris, the building was “for the most part, consumed by fire and rendered uninhabitable” early in January 1780 while serving as the French consulate of John Holker. Morris rebuilt and repaired the house and lived in it until October 1790 when he and his wife moved to the corner of Sixth and High streets, becoming the Washingtons’ nearest neighbors. GW occupied the property until the spring of 1797, and John Adams also resided there during his presidency. John Francis kept the house as the Union Hotel for several years after the turn of the century. The structure fell into decay and was demolished in 1833 (Burt, Address on the Washington Mansion, description begins Address of Nathaniel Burt, February 12, 1875, on the Washington Mansion in Philadelphia. Philadelphia, 1875. description ends 11, 12, 33; Pa. Mag., description begins Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. 139 vols. to date. 1877–. description ends 46 [1922], 168–69, n.187; 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 151, 159–60, 285).

5GW and Martha Washington raised Martha’s two youngest grandchildren, Eleanor (Nelly) Parke Custis and George Washington Parke Custis, after their father John (Jacky) Parke Custis died in 1781.

6Lear had married Mary (Polly) Long in Portsmouth, N.H., on 22 April 1790, and GW invited the young couple to continue living in his household after the move to Philadelphia.

7After the departure of David Humphreys for Europe and Robert Lewis for Virginia, GW’s remaining private secretaries were, in addition to Lear, William Jackson and Thomas Nelson, his traveling companions. Nelson, however, sent his letter of resignation from Yorktown on 24 Nov. 1790 and never rejoined the presidential household in Philadelphia.

8John Hyde succeeded Samuel Fraunces as GW’s steward in early 1790. His wife also joined the presidential household and assisted her husband by baking cakes and preparing desserts. The couple traveled to Philadelphia and continued in GW’s service until the end of the first quarter of 1791. Returning to New York, Hyde became proprietor of the new Tontine Coffee House in 1793, and both he and his wife died during a yellow fever epidemic in 1805 (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 116, 198, 203, 217–18, 221).

9Even before Lear reported selling the president’s official vehicle on 20 Sept. 1790, GW had decided to refurbish the sturdy private coach he had purchased from George Bringhurst of Philadelphia for £210 in 1780 and to transform that large carriage into something “plain and elegant” for official use around Philadelphia (Freeman, Washington, description begins Douglas Southall Freeman. George Washington: A Biography. 7 vols. New York, 1948–57. description ends 6:226, 278, 295–96; 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 170). After driving it from New York, GW left it in Philadelphia with David & Francis Clark and hired a replacement vehicle from Stephen Page for the rest of the trip to Mount Vernon, the cost of which Biddle informed Lear on 22 Sept. 1790: “The Carriage which took down the Family & baggage to mount Vernon is returned & I have paid as follows 7 Days going down 5 days returning is 12 days 4 horses & driver 4 Ds. per Day & Carriage 1 dollar per Day—60 D.” (DLC:GW). GW’s private chariot and baggage wagon, each of which overturned on the homeward journey, also helped transport the presidential party of sixteen persons and their belongings to Virginia.

10Philadelphia carriage maker David Clark (d. 1793) had formed a partnership with Francis Clark by 1790, when the firm acquired GW’s patronage. The 1790 Federal Census listed Clark’s residence as being on the east side of South Sixth Street. He died of yellow fever during the epidemic of 1793 (Heads of Families [Pennsylvania], description begins Heads of Families at the First Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1790: Pennsylvania. 1908. Reprint. Baltimore, 1970. description ends 223; Carey, A Short Account of the Malignant Fever, description begins Mathew Carey. A Short Account of the Malignant Fever, Lately Prevalent in Philadelphia: With a Statement of the Proceedings that took place on the Subject, in Different Parts of the United States . . .. 1794. Reprint. New York, 1970. description ends 127).

11Even as GW was traveling to his vacation at Mount Vernon, his chief secretary began making arrangements with Clement Biddle for transporting the presidential household and furnishings to Philadelphia. On 9 Sept. 1790 Lear wrote to Biddle from New York: “I received a letter from the President on Tuesday giving me a particular account of the House, alterations &c.—and he seemed to think that Mr Morris would be removed by the 25th of the Month; in which case the President’s furniture could go in immediately, as the alterations which are making will not interfere with the rest of the House.” Lear also noted: “I expect to have everything in readiness to leave this place by the first of October. I think to engage two of the Packets which ply between this place and Philadelphia, to carry our things by the trip, unless other vessels can be obtained upon more reasonable terms. As I am not acquainted with the Captains of these Packets, nor the Vessels themselves, I will therefore be much obliged to you to inform me who & which are the best, and likewise, if you can, how much is given for them, or a Vessel of their size to carry a freight from this place to Philada for I presume they will not be backward in their demands for anything which they do for the President, as I have in many instances found a disposition to require more for him than for another person” (PHi: Washington-Biddle Correspondence).

12Mrs. Rachel Lewis was the Washingtons’ kitchen maid and earlier had served the household as temporary cook (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 121).

13For Lear’s evaluation of Hyde’s expenses compared to those of GW’s previous steward, see Lear’s 12 Sept. 1790 reply to GW’s 5 Sept. 1790 letter, as well as GW to Lear, 17 and 20 Sept. 1790, and Lear to GW, 26 Sept. 1790.

14GW conversed with Mary White Morris in the evening of 5 Sept. 1790 about the work to be done to the interior of the presidential mansion (see GW to Lear, 9 Sept. 1790, and GW to Robert Morris, 9 Sept. 1790).

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