To Jacob Van Vleck
Mount Vernon 14 June 1797
It is with regret I find myself under the necessity of being an apologist for others.
Until lately I had no other expectation, or wish, than that the two misses (my nieces and cousin to each other) were preparin for their journey to the establishment at Bethlehem. But I am informed that one of them (Maria Washington) on whose acct the first application was made, is in very declining health (in short that she is in a consumption) and therefore adjudged by her Aunt, with whom she lives, to be unfit for the change which had been contemplated —and as a principal inducement to the other’s (daughter to Colo. Ball) going, was that they might continue together, I have been advised (both living at a considerable distance from me) that, under the circumstances I have related, it is not intended now, to send either.1
I hope, as it always appeared to me that your consent to admit these girls at the time you did, the School being full—was matter of favour, for which I felt the obligation, that no inconvenience will result from the change which has taken plac⟨e.⟩2 With very great esteem & respect I am—Revd Sir, Yr obedit & Obliged Hble Ser⟨vt⟩
ALS (letterpress copy), NN: Washington Papers.
1. In a missing letter of 9 Nov. 1796, GW asked the Rev. Jacob Van Vleck about the possibility of placing his and Martha Washington’s grandniece Anna Maria Washington (1788–1814) in Van Vleck’s boarding school in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Maria was born at Mount Vernon where her parents, George Augustine Washington and Frances Bassett Washington, had continued to live after their marriage in October 1785. Her father died in 1793, and her mother lived only eight months after marrying Tobias Lear in August 1795. Van Vleck informed GW on 15 Nov. 1796 that he would “endeavor to accommodate” GW’s niece “within the Course of two or three Months.” After consulting with Tobias Lear, GW wrote the schoolmaster on 7 Dec. proposing that Maria and her first cousin Mildred Thornton Ball (1786–1854), daughter of Burgess and Frances Washington Ball, should enter his school by 1 April 1797. GW concluded his letter to Van Vleck by saying that Van Vleck’s “answer to these requests, if put under cover to me, shall be immediately forward[ed] to Mr Lear, for his government.” Apparently it was subsequently arranged that the two girls would not enter the school until summer.
2. Van Vleck replied from Bethlehem on 1 July: “Be pleased to accept of my best thanks for your kindness in giving me by your esteemed favor of June 14 information of the Cause preventing your Nieces from coming to our School. As I have been greatly disappointed with respect to the number of expected Vacancies in the Course of this Spring & Summer, we are of course very much crouded; and not the least Inconvenience will result from the above mentioned Circumstance, so that I have only to lament the Cause of it, viz. the declining health of your Niece Maria Washington . . .” (DLC:GW).
GW had seen Van Vleck during the war. In a diary in the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem there is this entry for 25 July 1782: “After dinner we had the pleasure to welcome his Excellency Gen. Washington who is accompanied by two aids and no escort, with our trombones. The Sisters’ House was first visited, and next the Single Brethren’s House, in the chapel of which the party were refreshed with cake and wine, while Bro. Jacob Van Vleck played on the organ” (John W. Jordan, “Bethlehem during the Revolution,” description begins John W. Jordan. “Bethlehem during the Revolution: Extracts from the Diaries in the Moravian Archives at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 12 (1888): 385–406; 13 (1889): 71–89. description ends Pa. Mag., description begins Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. 139 vols. to date. 1877–. description ends 13 , 89).