George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Tobias Lear, 3 November 1793

From Tobias Lear

New York November 3d 1793

My dear Sir,

Presuming that you are now in German Town, agreeably to the arrangement which you informed me you had made for that purpose, when I had the honor of seeing you at Mount Vernon, I shall address this letter to you at that place; and have taken the liberty to enclose two copies of some observations respecting the River Potomack, the Country about it and the City of Washington, which I have noted down since my return to this place from George Town.

My object in writing these observations is to have some copies of them printed, that I may have it in my power, while in Europe, to give a more particular account, to such as may wish it, of that part of the Country which I have chosen for my establishment, than they may, as yet, have been able to obtain.

I have not had time to go so much into the detail on this subject as I wished. My view in these notes has been to give such facts respecting the Potomack and the City as may be important to be known, in the first instance, to those who may turn their attention to that quarter. My own knowledge of that part of the Country was too limited to allow me to depend altogether upon that for a statement of facts. I have, therefore, as you will observe, had recourse to others on whose authority I could rely—and I have found Mr Jefferson’s notes on the State of Virginia, and some extracts, which I met with, from the Report of the Committee appointed by the Merchants of George Town & Alexandria which is said to be founded on the actual observations made by order of the Directors of the Potomack Company of great use to me.1 I have given these observations in as plain and simple language as I was capable of doing, beleiving, if I had been able to dress them up in a captivating garb, that it would not be best to do so. A naked state of facts is all that is necessary to recommend the Potomack or the Country about it. All comparisons or reflections that might look like raising the Potomack by the depression of any other place, I have carefully avoided.

The friendship with which you have honored me, and the indulgence you have always shewn towards such attempts as I have made to be serviceable to myself or others, emboldens me, my dear Sir, to ask the favor of your perusing the enclosed, and rectifying such errors of fact as may appear therein, and to return me one of the Copies with your sanction of the statement being founded in truth, if you shall feel yourself perfectly free to do so.

In the copies I may have printed, or otherways, I shall make no improper use of the sanction you may be pleased to give of the truth of the statement. I wish it only for my own satisfaction, that I may feel confident in what I relate; for altho’ it will not be mentioned in the printed copies by whom the observations are made; yet as that may hereafter be known, and possibly while I am at a distance from this Country, the truth of the statement may be questioned by persons who may be interested in depreciating subject of these notes, I shall feel gratified by having it in my power to convince those who may be interested in obtaining the truth, that they have been inspected by one whose situation has given him the best opportunity of knowing the circumstances of the Country, and who would not suffer a statement to have his sanction unless supported by truth.

At the present moment, which I know must be a busy one with you, I would not presume to offer a thing of this kind for your inspection, but under a full beleif that the subject is so well understood by you that a single perusal will enable you to pass sentence upon it.

Finding that my business in Europe will first require my presence in Great Britain, I have engaged my passage in the American Ship Fanny, bound to Glascow, which is expected to sail about the 10th of this month; but I think it probable she may be detained a few days longer. She is a regular Trader to Glascow & a very fine Ship. An extension of our business will probably occasion my stay in Europe to be longer than I at first contemplated. This has obliged me to protract the time of my sailing beyond what I expected, in order to make my arrangements to comport with the time which I may be absent.

As I shall go to Scotland from the circumstance of the Ship in which I am to sail being the first American Vessel bound from this place to Great Britain, it is my intention (if nothing should occur to make it proper for me to go to London immediately on my arrival) to visit some of the principal Manufactories of Scotland where such goods are fabricated as suit our market; altho’ I shall have letters from some respectable merchants of this place to their correspondents; yet I shall esteem it a great favor if you will have the goodness to give me letters of introduction to the Earl of Buchan & Sir John Sinclair, who from their situations in that Country may be able to give me much useful information.

Upon enquiring for Mr Robinson, who took your portrait for the Earl of Buchan I am informed that he is now up the River; but is expected home in a day or two, when I shall, without fail, see him respecting the portrait.2

I have been so closely engaged in my own business since my return from George Town, that I have had but little opportunity of mixing in Society and learning the prevailing opinion of the day on politics. I have heard enough, however, to know that the conduct of Mr Genet, in the publication of his correspondence with Governor Moultrie and his letter to Mr Jefferson, is very much disapproved.3 Indeed so warm appears to be the censure of those I have heard speak on the subject, that I am not without apprehension that the operation of party, added to the general indignation expressed at his conduct, may lead to some imprudent step towards Mr G. personally, which might be productive of unpleasant circumstances in a national view.

The British Packet arrived here this day; but she brings no accounts so late as have been brought by other vessels from Europe.

The Accounts of the disorder in Philadelphia having been checked by the weather give great pleasure but still there are strong expressions of anxiety on account of your being so near the City while any signs of the disorder remain in it. Since the abatement of the disorder it seems to be a general opinion here that Congress will sit in Philadelphia.

A man by the name of Jacob Baur, has for some days past been importuning me to mention to you his wish to fill the place about your person lately occupied by William. He says he was for several years Valet de Chambre to the late Lord Barrymore, and occasionally acted as his Butler. He shewed me a certificate give him by Lord B. in which he recommends him as an honest, sober & most valuable servant. His present occupation is hair dresser at the Tontine Coffee House. I have made no enquiries respecting the man here, and shall not do it unless it is your wish to get a person of this description.4

Since my return to this place I have received several letters from my friends in Portsmouth which give me the pleasing information of my darling boy being in fine health & as full of spirits and activity as ever. The interest which you have ever taken in the welfare of this little fellow leads me to beleive that this account will be acceptable to you—and to Mrs Washington I am likewise sure it will give pleasure.

I presume Mrs Washington is not with you at German Town; but whether she is or not, I must beg the favor of being presented to her in terms of the liveliest respect & gratitude. My young friends about her have my best wishes for their health & happiness and will always be remembered by me with sincer regard.

I shall do myself the honor of writing to you again before I sail, if anything should occur worthy of being communicated to you. With sentiments of the highest respect and unbo⟨und⟩ed attachment I have the honor to be, my dear Sir, Your grateful & affectionate servant

Tobias Lear.

ALS, DLC:GW; ADf, PWacD: Sol Feinstone Collection, on deposit at PPAmP. The last three paragraphs of the ALS do not appear on the draft.

1The first American edition of Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia was published at Philadelphia in 1788. The report of the committee, signed by Robert Peter and nine others, was dated 7 Dec. 1789 and published as a one-page broadside at Alexandria, Virginia.

2For Lear’s report of his meeting with the painter Archibald Robertson, see his letter to GW of 9 November.

3William Moultrie’s letter to Edmond Genet of 5 Sept. and Genet’s reply of 15 Oct. appeared in Diary; or, Loudon’s Register (New York), 22 Oct., and other papers. Moultrie asked Genet about the reports that he had threatened to “appeal to the people” in his dispute with GW. Genet replied by stating that he would ask Congress for “the severest examination of all my official measures, and of every particular step which may be supposed to have been an attempt, upon the established authority of the American Republic.” This examination would refute the “falsehoods, which a dark and deep intrigue has laid to my charge,” and show that “if I have complained officially, and in no other way of the conduct of certain officers of the Federal Government, whose intentions appeared to me both destructive of liberty, and favourable to our enemies: if I have declared that their tameness, that their small measures in the common danger which menaces free nations, did not appear to me to be consistent with the sentiments of their fellow-citizens, with the true interests of their country: if I have expressed without disguise, my grief at seeing General Washington, that celebrated hero of liberty, accessible to men whose schemes could only darken his glory: if by this boldness, I have made myself the mark for all the resentment their utmost perfidy can occasion, I have never forgotten, what I owe to the supreme head of the executive of a great people, who were the first to open the career to freedom, the first to proclaim the Rights of Men, and whose existence is as dear to us, as ours is necessary to them.”

A translation of Genet’s letter to Thomas Jefferson of 27 Oct. appeared in Diary; or, Loudon’s Register, 30 Oct., and other papers. Genet protested GW’s dismissal of Antoine Charbonnet Duplaine as French vice-consul at Boston, “because the constitution of the United States has not given the President the right which he now appears desirous to exercise.” Genet argued that once a diplomatic officer was admitted, he could be dismissed only by the sovereign who had sent him.

4On 5 March 1793 Jacob Baur advertised himself in New York as a ladies’ hairdresser “Just arrived from London” (Diary; or, Loudon’s Register, 9 March). GW employed Baur as a valet and butler from late December 1793 to November 1794 (see GW’s testimonial for Baur, 4 Nov. 1794). After leaving GW’s employ, Baur resumed his occupation as a hairdresser at 61 Liberty Street in New York (Daily Advertiser Extraordinary [New York], 9 Dec. 1794). Richard Barry (1769–1793), tenth earl of Barrymore, was a Whig member of Parliament from 1791 until his death in March. GW’s former valet William Osborne, who had given notice in August, died during the yellow fever epidemic.

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