George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Burwell Bassett, Jr., 11 August 1799

To Burwell Bassett, Jr.

Mount Vernon ⟨11th Augt⟩ 1799

Dear Sir,

Sometime ⟨between illegible⟩ment to the walks of ⟨private illegible⟩ girl*, the body servant of Mrs Washington⟨,⟩ absconded without the least pr⟨ovocation⟩ and without our having ⟨illegible sus⟩picion of such, her intention ⟨illegible⟩ whither she had gone.

At length, we learnt ⟨illegible⟩ got to Portsmouth in New H⟨ampshire; in⟩ consequence of this information ⟨illegible⟩ authentic) I wrote to the Collect⟨or of the⟩ Port, Mr Whipple requesting ⟨illegible⟩ use proper means to restore ⟨her to her⟩ Mistress. At first, according to ⟨illegible⟩ she appeared willing to return: ⟨illegible⟩ the Vessel in which she was to ⟨illegible⟩ about to sail, she concealed ⟨illegible⟩ one difficulty and delay ⟨illegible⟩ther, so as to keep her Mistress ⟨from illegible⟩ Services until this time.

If, under this statement of ⟨illegible⟩ intention (as declared when here) of ⟨illegible⟩ Portsmouth, you could by any easy ⟨illegible⟩self & proper means, be the ⟨illegible⟩ of recovering, & forwarding the ⟨illegible⟩ place, it would be a pleasing circumstance to your Aunt.

I do not however wish you to undertake anything, that may involve ⟨illegible⟩ unpleasant, or troublesome ⟨illegible.⟩ The girl, as we have been ⟨illegible⟩ was enticed away by a Frenchman, ⟨illegible⟩ her, she was willing to come back; but ⟨illegible⟩ other connexions, wan⟨illegible⟩ conditions to her return, afterwards.

This I could not then, nor will ⟨I⟩ agree to; further than that, if she put⟨s me⟩ to no unnecessary trouble and expence; ⟨and⟩ conduct⟨s⟩ herself well for the time ⟨illegible⟩ she will escape punishment for the ⟨illegible⟩, & be treated according to her merit⟨s illegible⟩. To promise more, would be ⟨an im⟩politic & dangerous precedent.1 Your Aunt unites with me in ⟨best wishes⟩ for you; and I am—Dear Sir Your obedt & Affecte Servant

Go: Washington

*She went by the name of Oney Judge.

ALS (letterpress copy), ViMtvL.

1Most of the information that can be drawn or inferred from the partially illegible letterpress copy of this letter to Burwell Bassett can be found in GW’s letter about the young runaway slave Oney Judge, written on 28 Nov. 1796 to the collector of the customs at Portsmouth, N.H., Joseph Whipple (1738–1816). GW wrote Whipple: “I regret that the attempt you made to restore the girl (Oney Judge as she called herself while with us, and who, without the least provocation absconded from her Mistress) should have been attended with so little success. . . . there is no doubt in this family, of her having been seduced and enticed off by a Frenchman . . . who getting tired of her, as is presumed left her, and that she had betaken herself to the Needle—the use of which she well understood—for a livelihood. . . . If she will return to her former Service, without obliging me to resort to compulsory means to effect it, her late conduct will be forgiven by her Mistress.” If she refused to return, he should “put her on board a Vessel bound either to Alexandria or the Federal City,” provided such action would not be likely to “excite a mob or riot.” Oney Judge, who was 12 years old in February 1786, was the daughter of a seamstress at Mount Vernon, a dower slave named Betty (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 4:277–78).

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