George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Tobias Lear, 10 October 1790

To Tobias Lear

Mount Vernon Octr 10th 1790

⟨De⟩ar Sir,

Your letters of the 26th and 30th of the last, & 3d of the present month, have come duly to hand.

Without entering into the details, I can assure you that I am perfectly satisfied with the steps you have taken respecting the Vessel which is to bring the furniture & Servants to Philadelphia1—With your agreements with Mr Macomb, & whatever you shall do with the Houses I was compelled to build, on his Lots.2 With your conduct towards, & agreement with Mr & Mrs Hyde.3 And with your taking the Carpeting from Barry & Rogers, although it arrived much after the time it ought, by agreement, to have been delivered.4 As Mr Macomb will, more than probable, get the Houses for little or nothing, you acted very properly I think in taking down the Closets, partitions & fixtures which I purchased of the French Minister and which would have been equally convenient to him rather than encrease his gain at my loss—If the Vessel will bring them, they can, unquestionably, be made useful in our intended habitation—if not they will probably fetch something.

The easy and quiet temper of Fanny is little fitted I find for the care of my Niece Harriot Washington, who is grown almost, if not quite a Woman; & what to do with her at the advanced size she is arrived at, I am really at a loss.5 Her age (just turned of 14) is not too great for a Boarding School, but to enter new with any tolerable prospect, the Mistress of it must not only be respectable, but one who establishes & will enforce good rules. She is prone to idleness, & having been under no controul, would create all the difficulty. I have formed no resolution respecting what will be proper for me to do with her; but that I may the better judge, I request that you will enquire whether there be a proper School (for her to board at) in Philadelphia. If so, whether there are at it, genteel girls of her size & age. Who the Mistress of it is, what her character—Terms &ca are—The numbers at it, who of the principal families and how they are entertained & accomodated. I have not intimated any thing of this matter to Harriot yet; who, if it should be, would I daresay be a good deal alarmed as she had, I daresay, rather mix with other company than be in a Boarding School. Among other things, enquire what is taught at these Schools.6 I must further desire, that, in pursuing your enquiries after a School for Washington,7 particularly if one is to be found in the College at Philadelphia fit for him, that you would extend them to the reputation of the higher branches in that Seminary; & whether much good could be expected from my fixing my Nephews George & Lawrence in it.8 From what I can find they are doing but little in Alexandria, having left the study of the Languages, & indeed Mr McWhir,9 and are learning French & the Mathematics under a Mr Harrow. George, & indeed Lawrence, I am told are well disposed Youths—neither of them wanting capacity; and both, especially the first, very desirous of improvement. I would wish to know what their Studies & board would stand them annually—In a word, the best estimate (exclusive of Cloaths) of the expense of fixing them at that place.

As I have had no account yet of what has been done, or is doing to our new habitation, or what ideas to annex to Mr Morris’ information to you, that the House would not be ready for your reception before the 10th of the present Month, I should be glad to receive a full statement of these matters as soon as you arrive at Philadelphia & have time to look into things.

We all join in best wishes for you & Mrs Lear—and for your & the safe arrival of every thing in Philadelphia.10 With sincere regard and Affecte I am Yours

Go: Washington


1For Lear’s hiring of vessels to transport the presidential household furnishings and servants from New York to Philadelphia, see Lear to GW, 17 and 20 Sept. 1790, 26 Sept. 1790 and notes 6–10, and 12, and 3 and 10 Oct. 1790, to Clement Biddle, 3 Oct. 1790 and note 4.

2For GW’s New York landlord, Alexander Macomb, and Lear’s dealings with him, see Macomb to Lear, 31 Jan. 1790 and source note, Lear to GW, 12 Sept. 1790 and note 10, 3 Oct. 1790 and note 5, and 10 Oct. 1790, and GW to Lear, 20 and 27 Sept. 1790.

3For GW’s steward John Hyde, his wife, and the arrangements Lear made for their continuance in the presidential household, see GW to Lear, 5 Sept. 1790 and note 8, and 20 Sept. 1790, and Lear to GW, 12 and 26 Sept. 1790.

4See Lear to GW, 30 Sept. 1790, in Macomb to Lear, 31 Jan. 1790, n.2, for the English carpeting GW had ordered for his New York residence from Berry & Rogers in the spring of 1790 but which had not arrived until late September 1790.

5Harriot Washington, daughter of GW’s younger brother Samuel and his fourth wife Ann Steptoe Washington, remained at Mount Vernon in the care of Frances Bassett Washington until October 1792, and GW apparently did not send her to school in Philadelphia before her marriage to Fredericksburg merchant Andrew Parks in 1796 (see Harriot Washington to GW, 2 April 1790 and source note).

6For Lear’s inquiries into schools for Harriot, see Lear to GW, 24 Oct. 1790, and notes 9, 10, and 11, and 7 Nov. 1790.

7GW had earlier requested Lear to look into the schools in the College of Philadelphia and elsewhere for George Washington Parke Custis. He reported the result of his preliminary inquiries on 24 Oct. (see GW to Lear, 3 Oct. 1790 and notes 5 and 6, and Lear to GW, 10 and 24 Oct. 1790; see also Lear to GW, 28 Oct. 1790, 14 Nov. 1790).

8For identification of Harriot Washington’s older brothers, George Steptoe and Lawrence Augustine, see Francis Willis, Jr., to GW, 24 Sept. 1788, source note. GW did enroll them in the Academy of the College of Philadelphia, and they graduated in 1792 (see GW to George Steptoe Washington, 5 Dec. 1790, LB, DLC:GW; George Augustine Washington to GW, 14 Dec. 1790, ViMtvL; and GW to James Craik, 19 Dec. 1790, LB, DLC:GW).

9GW had placed his nephews under the tutelage of William McWhir (1759–1851; see Samuel Hanson to GW, 19 Feb. 1789, n.2; Coleman, Dictionary of Georgia Biography, description begins Kenneth Coleman and Charles Stephen Gurr, eds. Dictionary of Georgia Biography. 2 vols. Athens, Ga., 1983. description ends 2:675–76).

10Lear acknowledged receipt of GW’s 10 Oct. 1790 letter one week later (see Lear to GW, 17 Oct. 1790).

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