George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Tobias Lear, 12 June 1791

From Tobias Lear

Philadelphia June 12th 1791


I flatter myself that this letter will either find you at Mount Vernon, or meet you there in a very few days. In either case, I hope I may be so happy as to congratulat you upon a safe return from your southern excursion.

The day before yesterday a Drayman brought 14 Cases of wine here marked G.W. which he said were from on board a vessel which had arrived from Charleston S.C.—There was no letter, bill of lading or any other paper accompanying them, and I have not yet been able to learn by whom, or by whose desire they were sent. They were, however, received & taken care of. The wine which Mr Jefferson sent for to France on your account has likewise arrived; but as the packages all came marked in Mr Jefferson’s name, I did not think proper to have any of them brought here until Mr Jefferson’s return from his Eastern tour, when he will be able to make a proper division of it, (as I understood him before his departure that a part of the wines which might arrive was for himself.) It was therefore all put into his Cellar.1

Mr Fentham, with whom George & Lawrence board, gave me notice a few days ago that he did not think it would be in his power to accommodate them much longer, as he was placed in a very disagreeable situation by two of his boarders, young Gentlemen from Maryland, having left him without paying off their Account of board, which had been of a long standing, and upon which he depended to enable him to dis-charge some debts which were chiefly contracted for the supply of his house of which these young gentlemen had partaken. He expected his Creditors would come upon him immediately & the consequences would be very disagreeable. He thought he should be obliged at least to break up house-keeping. As I had about the middle of April, (at his earnest request) advanced him a quarter’s board for George & Lawrence—which quarter will not expire ’till the latter part of this month, I had it not in my power to afford him any relief by a payment on their Acct—and I did not feel authorized to make any further advances even if he had requested it. I immediately acquainted Doctor Smith with these circumstances & requested his assistance in providing other lodgings for Geo. & Lawce in Case Mr Fentham should not be able to keep them. The Doctor told me he did not consider Mr Fentham’s case in so desperate a light as he did himself, and that he intended to request the College Treasurer to advance so much of his salary as would enable him to satisfy his Creditors and that he might then go on as he had done. But if it should finally so be that Mr Fentham could not continue them, there would be no difficulty in providing suitable lodgings for them, and that he would take care to give me timely information of a proper place. On this ground the matter rested ’till last evening, when George informed me that Mr Fentham intended to remove in a short time to Maryland where he had an advantageous offer of a School & a Parish. Should he carry his intentions into effect I shall then refer to Dr Smith’s offer of providing a place for them. They both express themselves very well satisfied with the fare & treatment which they have met with at Mr Fentham’s.2

Washington has been detained from School this week past by the Chicken pox which he has had pretty severely—and which I expect will keep him at home most of the present week. The early commencement of the vacation (about the middle or latter part of July) with these interruptions, will not allow time to form an opinion of the effects of any new regulations which may have been formed in his School, before he goes to Virginia.3

It is here a great subject of inquiry when you will be in this place; but nobody is able say further than that it is probable you will be here towards the last of the month. Mr Brown, however, undertook to fix the 25th of the month in his paper & from him the other printers have taken up that idea.4

Some late English papers say that the Attorney General of G. B. has commenced a prosecution agst Mr Paine for some things contained in his Answer to Mr Burke. This, it was expected by many here, would be the case, when they first read his pamphlet, unless Government should be detered from such a step by an apprehension of its exciting a popular commotion; for the book is said to be read with great avidity and much approbation by a large part of the Community in Great Britain—and almost universally in Ireland.5

Mrs Lear unites with me in sentiments of the highest respect & in sincere wishes for your heath & happiness, with a respectful remembrance to all friends at Mt Vernon.6 I have the honor to be, with the greatest respect & most sincere Attachment, Sir, Your Obliged & Affect. Servt

Tobias Lear.

ALS, DLC:GW; AL[S] (letterpress copy), PWacD.

1The wine from Charleston was that shipped by Fenwick, Mason, & Co. from Bordeaux at the end of March. The original cover letter and invoice had become separated from the shipment, but William Jackson forwarded to Tobias Lear on 17 June copies that had arrived at Mount Vernon (DLC:GW). See also GW to Lear, 19 June 1791. The firm’s letter of 28 Mar. informed GW that eleven cases of wine were shipped the previous summer on the St. James, Capt. William Van Leuvenigh, for which Wakelin Welch & Son paid £20.13.7, and that the first shipment of wine was still at Brest but would be sent to Philadelphia by the first available conveyance. The letter also covered an invoice for fourteen cases ordered by Thomas Jefferson for GW and charged to Jefferson’s account. That wine was sent to Hazlehurst & Co. of Charleston with directions for its forwarding to Jefferson by the first packet (DLC:GW). The accompanying invoice listing the fourteen cases of 710 bottles of wine and their costs as well as various other charges, for a total of £1,697.19, was postmarked “BALT. JUNE 19 FREE” (DLC:GW). On 7 July Lear wrote to Fenwick, Mason, & Co., acknowledging their letters to GW of 9 July, 10 Aug. 1790, and 1 April 1791 and informing the merchants of the arrival of both shipments of wine. Lear added: “Of these wines none have yet been proved except the claret of the first shipment which is pronounced very good—Those ordered by Mr Jefferson are undoubtedly of an excellent quality coming directly from the fountain head” and noted that he had not yet heard anything about the wine then at Brest, which “seems to have passed thro’ so many trials that when it does come, if at all, it must either be highly improved or totally spoiled” (DLC:GW). See also Fenwick, Mason, & Co. to GW, 9 July 1790 and note 4).

2William Fentham was considered one of the best teachers of the academy associated with the College of Philadelphia under Provost William Smith. Lear paid Fentham and his wife $53.34 on 19 April for “a quarter’s board in advance for Geo. & Lawce Washington” (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 227). GW sent George Steptoe and Lawrence Augustine Washington, sons of his brother Samuel, to the college the previous year and paid for their education. They graduated after the college merged with the University of Pennsylvania in September 1791 (see GW to Lear, 3 Oct. 1790, notes 5 and 6, and to George S. Washington, 5 Dec. 1790 and notes 1 and 3).

3According to a receipt of 1 July, Lear paid James Clement of the College, Academy, and Charitable School of Philadelphia £1.7.6 for one quarter’s tuition for George Washington Parke Custis (ViMtvL).

4Andrew Brown’s Federal Gazette and Philadelphia Daily Advertiser, 6 June, noted: “We are informed that the President . . . is expected at Mount-Vernon, from his southern tour, about the 12th of this month, and that he would immediately proceed to Philadelphia, so that he may be expected in this City about the 25th instant.” The General Advertiser and Political, Commercial and Literary Journal (Philadelphia) reprinted Brown’s notice on 7 June, and the Gazette of the United States (Philadelphia) on 8 June. Brown announced in the Federal Gazette on 15 June that GW had arrived at Mount Vernon “on Sunday last [12 June]” and “may be expected in town in a few days.” GW actually arrived at Philadelphia on 6 July.

5Lear probably was referring to the notice in the Federal Gazette, 8 June, that “By the English Chronicle of April 9, just received by the Editor, it appears that the Attorney General of Great Britain has received instructions to prosecute Mr. Paine for his pamphlet on the Rights of Men.” British attorney general Sir Archibald MacDonald stated at Thomas Paine’s trial of December 1792 that he had earlier declined prosecuting Paine because “Reprehensible as that book [Rights of Man] was, . . . it was ushered into the world under circumstances that led me to conceive that it would be confined to the judicious reader, and when confined to the judicious reader, it appeared to me that such a man would refute as he went along” (Howell, State Trials, description begins Thomas Jones Howell. A Complete Collection of State Trials and Proceedings for High Treason and Other Crimes and Misdemeanors from the Earliest Period to the Year 1783, with Notes and Other Illustrations . . .. Vol. 23. London, 1817. description ends 22:382). The Irish patriot Theobald Wolfe Tone noted in October 1791 that the Rights of Man had become “‘the Koran’ of Belfast” (quoted in Parsons, “The Mysterious Mr. Digges,” description begins Lynn Hudson Parsons. “The Mysterious Mr. Digges.” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 22 (1965): 486–92. description ends 488). For the popularity of Paine’s pamphlet in Ireland, see Keane, Paine, description begins John Keane. Tom Paine: A Political Life. Boston, 1995. description ends 333.

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