George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Lee, 17 September 1793

From Henry Lee

Richmond sepr 17th 93

My dear sir

The letter which you did me the honor to write to me dated 21st July got to hand just as I was departing for Winchester, from which place I am late returned.

To this cause is to be attributed cheifly the lateness of my reply, tho my wish to have known with accuracy the mind of my country men relative to those matters which were beginning to agitate the community, would of itself have induced some delay.

I ever attributed the mad conduct of a certain foreigner to the insidious & malignant councils of some perverse ambitious americans—I had grounded my opinion on this point from a variety of circumstances which progressively took place shortly after the arrival of the foreign gentleman & I concluded long before the publication signed by Mr J. & Mr K. made its appearance that a party was formed under the auspices of this foreigner to draw america into the veiws of France however unjust & disastrous such conduct might be—among the many symptoms of this wicked combination no one affected me more than the establishment of a society in Philada called the democratic society. This was intended as a standard for the people to rally under, & menaced from its very nature the destruction of the constitution & government under which we live1—The gratitude & just affection felt by the americans towards france, it was supposed would bury in the public mind a regard even for their own country for a while, which space of time would be sufficient to produce the contemplated embroilment—The part you had taken on the subject of neutrality opposed their views—you became of course an object of their hatred, as well as an obstruction, to be removed—Encouraged by the silly & impudent declamations published in some of the public prints they were hardy enough to beleive that could they impress a conviction of your enmity to France & its cause, that you too would be prostrated.

Little did they know the american people—Elated with this hope their partizans circulated every where reports calculated to foster the temper they had given birth to, & to fan the fire they had kindled—To complete their well fabricated plan they introduced the administration as favoring G.B., for which nation they well knew the deep rooted hatred possessed by the people of the U.S.

At first success seem to hover over their efforts, then it was that the unparallelled exhibition of the agent of a foreign nation publicly inviting the people to unite with him agst their own government was presented to the world—an epoch memorable indeed, whether we regard the atrocity of the act, or the moderation of the power against whom it was directed.

The transaction soon flew into every part of the continent, it became the subject of constant enquiry & conversation—Finally it was understood, & consequently detested.

the people began to speak out, & their utterance stopped the farther efforts of the conspirators.

However sir the matter is not over, the first plan may be in part relinquished, but its main object will never be abandoned until those among ourselves who engender these nefarious plans be dismissed from Nation & confidence—It is suspected by many that such characters are to be found in high employments; that many may be readily met with in state & congressional offices no one doubts—to detect the designs of these men & to expose them to the public eye is the work of true patriotism, & I hope will be soon commenced by those who have leisure & ability. In this country, much will depend on the assembly—If they act on the business, & act with becoming energy, a deadly blow will be struck to the malignant combination, & great good result to our country—they meet next month. On their patriotism & good sense I rely with confidence.

I am very sorry to hear of the loss of your manager & I hear you cannot soon replace him.2

An Englishman well recommended arrived last summer in this state & has engaged to live with me at the little falls.

He is said to be a thorough farmer—His name is Workman & he is now at the little falls—If you will send for him & find that he answers your purposes, I will chearfully permit him to obey your orders—the man brought with him letters of credit from merchants of respectability in London.3

While I was in the upper Countys I called at Col. L. Taliaferros to examine his threshing mill—It appeared to me perfectly calculated to answer to various purposes for which it was constructed—It is on a small scale & has little water—I saw it thresh Wheat, nothing could be done more satisfactorily I think—It can in its present situation & (it has been in use four years without repair) get out 100 bushels pr day—one old negro only attended it.4

Besides threshing wheat it shells corn, beats Saw yard bark, breaks hemp flax & grinds into a homony the corn husks—persuaded of the vast utility of the machine where convenient water seats were possessed, I engaged a Mr Payne the builder of the mill to visit my plantation in Fairfax, from whence he proceeds to Stratford—presuming you might wish such a mill at Mt Vernon I directed him to call there, & examine your water courses, that I might communicate to you his report, & gave him a letr to your manager—He tells me that he can improve very much on Mr Taliaferro’s mill & I credit the man, because I have seen what he has done & am informed that he is a man of good character—Should you think proper to precede me in the attempt you may so do—or I will after my mill is done put it in your power to employ him.5 I learn with great pleasure that you have left Phida. where the pestilential disease there raging seems to render the life of man very precarious indeed.

I hope Mrs W. & your family have got back in good health & free from the seeds of that terrible disorder—so then please to present my best respects & be assured of the constant affection of your friend & h. ser.

Henry Lee


1The “certain foreigner” was French minister Edmond Genet. For the publication of 12 Aug. signed by John Jay and Rufus King and stating that Genet “had said he would Appeal to the People from certain decisions of the President,” see Genet to GW, 13 Aug., n.4. For discussion of the Democratic Society of Pennsylvania, see n.4 of the enclosure with Jeremiah Banning to GW, 7 September.

2Anthony Whitting died on 21 June. Howell Lewis was temporarily acting as manager at Mount Vernon until William Pearce, whom GW hired on 23 Sept., arrived to take up the position in January 1794.

3The Little Falls of the Potomac River were located near the current boundary between Arlington and Fairfax counties. Lee’s first wife, Matilda, had inherited property there from her father, Philip Ludlow Lee (Fairfax County Deed Book description begins Fairfax County, Virginia, Deed Book, T-1, 1790–92, Fairfax County Courthouse, Fairfax, Va., and Microfilm Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond. description ends U, 18–19).

4Lawrence Taliaferro (1734–1798), of Rose Hill in Orange County, served in 1775 as colonel of a battalion of minutemen recruited from Culpeper, Orange, and Fauquier counties, and in 1778 he was appointed a lieutenant colonel of Orange County militia. An undated sketch and plan of Taliaferro’s mill, signed by Taliaferro, is to be found in DLC:GW (at the end of 1757). According to Taliaferro’s description on the sketch: “with the Stream small as it is, I have got out 40 Bushells of Wheat a Day. & not Imploy’d one hand Half his time to Attend her, She will Shell 20 Barrels of Corn, in 15 Minutes, fit for Market & Scarcely leave a Grain on the Coars or Cobs. She will Break 500Wt of Hemp or Flax in a Day. And Mill 400Wt of Hemp fine enough for the Finest Linnen.”

5The letter has not been identified. Lee’s residence was at Stratford Hall plantation, about six miles northwest of Montross, Va., in Westmoreland County, which his first wife, Matilda Lee, had inherited from her father.

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