George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Tobias Lear, 28 October 1790

From Tobias Lear

Philadelphia October 28th 1790


The enclosed paper of this date will give a full account of the present state of the College in this City.1 It was the expectation of this, which I had been informed was about to be published, that prevented my entering so fully into the subject in former letters as I should otherwise have done. To this I will add, that, so far as I have been able to learn, the abilities and characters of the several directors and instructors stand high. Their mode of teaching is said to be eligible; and that good order and regularity prevail throughout the whole. The terms are five pounds per annum for each Scholar in the Academy, and seven pounds per ann. for each one in the Philosophy Schools of the College. Those who attend the Medical and other Lectures, pay six pounds for the course in each branch. The terms of the Law School are not yet fixed. There is no provision made for Students to board within the College; and the price of board at such places as would be suitable for George and Lawrence is now 3½ dollars per week, exclusive of washing; but it is highly probable that it will soon rise to 4 dollars; and at that rate the annual expence of each would stand thus

Board @ 4 dol. per week 208 dollars
Philosophy Schools in College  18 60/90
Washing & Ironing (say)  15
241 60/90 Dollars per ann.
Should they attend other Lectures the prices are fixed, except the Law, which will perhaps be the most worthy their at[ten]tion, unless the study of Physic should be an object with either.

If you should determine upon sending George and Lawrence here, I think it is not improbable but that board might be had for them with some one of the Directors of the College, which on every account would perhaps be the most eligible place.

The Attorney General and Colo. Hamilton seem desireous of having a School established upon the plan of that to which Washington went in New York.2 They have spoken to me on the subject. But as you had requested me to make inquiries respecting the College, I have declined taking any steps in the matter without your directions.

The Masons began yesterday to build the Bow window which they have now carried about four feet above the surface of the ground. The foundation of the Servants’ hall is not yet laid. The Stable & Smoke House are untouched.

Thirty seven cords of wood were laid in by Colo. Biddle (who has been exceedingly kind in offers of advice or assistance) to which I shall add fifty. This should have been done before this time, had not the Yard been so occupied by the Workmen and their materials as to render it almost impracticable to get another load in it. They are now removing their rubbish, and I hope in a few days we shall be able to take the wood in.

General Knox was in this city yesterday, and set off for New York this morning. He told me he should return with his family as soon as possible. The House in which Mr Jefferson is to reside appears to be in a very unfinished state, and I think he will hardly find it fit to live in when he arrives.3 The Rooms in the New Court-House for the Senators and Representatives will be handsome and convenient.4 They are nearly finished.

Mrs Lear unites with me in gratitude & respect for Mrs Washington and yourself—love to the Children and best wishes to all the family.5 With the highest respect and most sincere attachment I have the honor to be, Sir, Your obliged & very Humble Servant

Tobias Lear.


1The enclosure has not been found but was probably a copy of the 28 Oct. 1790 issue of the General Advertiser, and Political, Commercial, Agricultural and Literary Journal [Philadelphia], which contained William Smith’s 26 Oct. 1790 “A short account of the present-state of the College, Academy and Charitable School of Philadelphia, and the Public Lectures to be delivered in it during the ensuing winter, commencing the first day of November next,” GW apparently forwarded the account to his nephew in early December with a request for its return (GW to George Steptoe Washington, 5 Dec. 1790, LB, DLC:GW). For the background to GW’s interest in the college, see GW to Lear, 3 and 10 Oct. 1790.

2In New York George Washington Parke Custis attended Patrick Murdoch’s private school in his house on Greenwich Street behind Trinity Church. His schoolmates included the sons of Alexander Hamilton, Henry Knox, Dr. Samuel Bard, and Alexander Macomb (see Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 7:25–26).

3Although Jefferson had written to his landlord from New York on 4 Aug. 1790 that “It will be essential for me that the house, stables &c. be in readiness by the 1st. of October,” his quarters in Thomas Leiper’s house on High Street west of Eighth were not ready upon his arrival in Philadelphia on 20 Nov. 1790. The secretary of state lodged at Mrs. House’s boardinghouse with members of Virginia’s congressional delegation until 11 Dec. 1790 (Boyd, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 17:309–10, 18:38, 65n.).

4Upon the completion of the Philadelphia County courthouse in State House Square in February 1789, the Pennsylvania legislature offered the use of the building to Congress if it inclined to make Philadelphia the temporary residence of the federal government. The offer was accepted after GW signed the Residence Act on 16 July 1790, and from the opening of the third session of the First Congress to the close of the second session of the Sixth Congress, the U.S. House of Representatives met in a large first-floor chamber of what became known as “Congress Hall,” and the U.S. Senate occupied a second-story chamber above it.

5For GW’s reply to Lear’s 28 Oct. 1790 letter, see GW to Lear, 7 Nov. 1790.

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