George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Frances Bassett Washington, 10 June 1793

To Frances Bassett Washington

Philadelphia June l0th 17⟨93⟩

My dear Fanny

Your Aunt has lately received a letter from you, to which an answer was given about a week ago.1

As this answer, so far as it respected the renting of the estate in Berkley, of which you are possessed,2 was dictated by me, in a hurry, I will now give you my ideas more at large on that subject; although they will still appear, from my immersion in other business, to carry with them strong marks of indigestion.

The Will of my deceased Ne⟨phew,⟩ If I have sufficient recollection of it, ⟨di⟩rects a second plantation to be settle⟨d⟩ in Berkeley county. This may, and I think ought to be done in conformity therewith; and in so doing it might b⟨e⟩ well to include some if not all the hands whi⟨ch⟩ are in Fairfax County, as well to comply wi⟨th the⟩ dictates of the Will as because there a⟨re⟩ too many at the latter place to be employed to good profit; the Farm being small—poor—& worn. As a mere small grain or Grass farm, it might be turned to good account if an industrious man who would work constantly himself was fixed on it, with a Negro fellow and boy only; with an allowance of four Plough horses—two ⟨ploughs & a⟩ yoke of Oxen, with other ⟨stock proportio⟩ned thereto. This force wo⟨uld be ade⟩quate to the cultivation of the whole of th⟨at⟩ Farm, in small grain & grass, and might as much (or ought to do no more) Indian Corn as would suffice for themselves. And if you found it more convenient, the old woman there, for whom I presume no hire could be obtained, with such young chil3 others that could not be well disposed of might be placed there, & would be at hand to receive your own attentions.

The force I have mentioned, wd be able to put in as much small grain annually, as the size of the Farm would admit, to be kept in proper order; and in case you should do what you have talke⟨d⟩ of doing, for the sake of your childrens education—that is, to live in Alexandria⟨,⟩ would furnish you with Poultry, pig⟨s, lambs,⟩ &ca which, if always to be bought from th⟨e⟩ butcher’s & others, would be more expensive than you at present have any conception ⟨of.⟩4

I have not sufficient knowledge of the Estate in Berkeley, to give any other advice respecting it, than merely to say that renting, instead of keeping it in your own hands has a preference in my mind for many reasons which might be assig⟨ned;⟩ and as the Will enjoins a division of the land, I should suppose the negros had better be allotted to each parcel, and rented therewith. But of this to you, with the advice of your friends on the spot, must be a better judge than I am—among these George S. Washington, who has already acted the part you are about to do, will be able to give you useful information, as, by this time—he may have perceived the good, or felt the inconveniences of, the measures he pursued.5 It would, however, seem best to me, that the lands and negros should go together, in the manner already mentioned. The latter might hire for more singly, but then the trouble of collecting would also be greater; nor could there be the same attention paid to that as when together, & under the immediate eye of your brother in law.6

You will readily perceive the necessity of insisting upon ample Security for the performance of whatever agreement you may enter into; for the Land, Negroes, & Stock thereon will be none, because they are your own already—and as the transaction is important, & will be interesting to yourself & the Children, I advice you to pay a Lawyer of note to draw the articles, rather than hazard an imperfect instrument, which may be turned to your disadvantage hereafter.

Besides the usual covenants to compel payments when they become due, there ought to be a clause making all sums in arrear to carry interest. This will be some compensation for the want of punctuality: but forfeiture of the Lease, in case of nonperformance, of the conditions, should be strongly expressed, as it will be the principal hold you will have on the Tenant. Reservation of Wood land—limitation with respect to clearing—Restraint upon selling, or disposing of any timber or Wood except for the purposes of the Plantations—& prevention of all sorts of abuse. Keeping the Houses, fences and Meadows in order. Care of the Negros, in sickness & in health; Cloathing them properly—and feeding them as Negros usually are;7 are all matters which should be noticed in the Instrument. Nor ought there to be any transfer of the lease; or re-hire of the Negros without your consent first had & obtained in writing.

The number of years for which you would part with the estate deserves consideration, and a consultation of circumstances, of which you can judge as well, or better than I. My own opinion however, is, that it ought not to go for more than five or Seven; for less than three I presume no good tenant would take it. The Horses, cattle & other stock, together with the implements of the Farm, you might either sell, or let go with the places at the valuation of two, or more judicious and impartial men, to be returned in equal numbers, and in the specific articles of equal value, when the places are surrendered; paying in the mean while a regular annual interest on the agregate valuation as above.8

The peculiar situation of our public affairs is such—and likely to remain such, that I see no prospect of my being able to leave the seat of the Government but for a mere flying visit home;9 which I am more than ever called upon to do, as by a letter received on Saturday—it appears that Mr Whiting is in a confirmed consumption, & so much reduced as to be scarce⟨l⟩y able to mount a horse. What I am to do under a circumstance of this kind I really know not; not being able, in the short time I have had to reflect on this disgreeable event, to call to mind a single character (if to be obtained) that would answer my purposes.10

I shall strive hard to be at Mount Vernon by the first of next month, but to say positively I shall accomplish it, is more than I dare do; My stay there cannot exceed, if it should amount to, ten days.11 I request you to remember me in the most affectionate manner to my Brother, Sister and the rest of the family. My love to ⟨the Children—compliments to Mr Warner Washington and family if you should see them.12 In all which your Aunt, Nelly &c. join me. With much truth I am, Your sincere friend and Affte relation

Go. Washington⟩

AL[S] (letterpress copy), ViMtvL; LB, DLC:GW. The last page of the letterpress copy has not been found. The text in angle brackets is from the letter-book copy. Having addressed this letter to Berkeley County, Va. (now Jefferson County, W.Va.), and finding that it had not been received as of 21 July, GW enclosed the letterpress copy in his letter of 28 July and described its physical condition as “on one side only of the Paper, and dull; but where most so, is brightened with Ink.” On the receipt on 22 July of the original ALS, see Frances Bassett Washington to GW of 7 Aug. 1793.

1The letter from Frances Bassett Washington to Martha Washington has not been identified. On 2 June Martha wrote a letter to Fanny in which she expressed the “Sentiments dictated” by GW: “‘The President says you are already acquainted with his sentiments on the propriety of renting out your lands & negroes in Berkeley. As it seems to be the intention to settle another plantation there, he thinks that the negroes, with such as you may incline to move up from Fairfax, had better be divided between the two places & each rented to some man of character & responsibility, who will be able to give security for the performance of the agreement. This will ease you of much trouble & reduce your income to a certainty, which never will be the case under Overseers at a distance, as you seem to experience already. He thinks articles should be drawn up by some professional & skilful person: and every precaution taken to prevent waste of the timber, or the cutting down too much thereof—and no abuse of either the Land or negroes be permitted. As to the term for which you would let the Estate, it must depend upon your own view of the subject, the will & the advice of your friends there, who are much better acquainted with the circumstances attending the Estate, & the utility of a longer or shorter term, than he is at this distance’” (DLC:GW).

2For the estate left to Fanny Washington by her husband, George Augustine Washington, including his lands in Berkeley and Fairfax Counties, Va., see his will of 24 Jan. 1793 in Will Book F-1, 243–47, ViFfCh.

3The letter-book copy has the phrase “children as have no mothers living &” at this point.

4For Fanny Washington’s plan to live in Alexandria, Va., with her children, Anna Maria, George Fayette, and Charles Augustine, see her letters to GW of 5, 28 March. For GW’s negative opinion of Fanny’s establishing a separate household, see GW to Frances B. Washington, 24 Feb., 17 Mar. 1793.

5George Steptoe Washington, GW’s nephew, currently resided at Harewood, his estate in Berkeley County.

6Samuel Washington (c.1770–1831), the younger brother of George Augustine Washington, lived in Berkeley County, as did his parents Charles and Mildred Thornton Washington.

7For GW’s opinion on what constituted an adequate provision for his own slaves, see GW to Anthony Whitting, 26 May 1793.

8For the arrangements that Fanny made for the estate, see her letter to GW of 7 Aug. 1793.

9For the past few months, GW and the cabinet had been occupied with establishing national policies to maintain American neutrality during the current war between France and Great Britain (Neutrality Proclamation, 22 April, and source note; Cabinet Opinion on French Privateers, 1 June, and notes).

10The letter received on Saturday, June 8, was probably Whitting’s letter of 5 June, which has not been found. For the illness and eventual death of Anthony Whitting, GW’s estate manager, see James Craik to GW, 15 June, Tobias Lear to GW, 24 June. GW hired William Pearce to replace Whitting (GW to Pearce, 26 Aug., Pearce to GW, 30 Aug. 1793).

11After leaving Philadelphia on 24 June, GW arrived at Mount Vernon by 28 June. He departed Mount Vernon on 7 July and arrived at Philadelphia on 11 July (JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 189–90).

12When Fanny traveled to visit her estate in Berkeley County, GW expected her to see his brother Charles and his wife Mildred (see note 6). Warner Washington, Jr., GW’s first cousin once removed, lived near Berryville in Frederick (now Clarke) County, Virginia.

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