To Robert Lewis
Mount Vernon 17th Augt 1799
Your letter of the 7th instant came duly to hand, but being received with many other letters, it was laid by, and entirely forgotten, until I came across it yesterday again. Mr Ariss’s draught on Mr James Russell for £42 pounds shall be presented to him, but if he is indisposed to pay it, or wants time to do it, he has a good pretext for delay, as you have sent it without your Endorsement, although made payable to you.1
Of the facts related in the enclosed letter, relative to the loss of his Crop, by the Hessian fly, I know nothing. If it should appear to you evident, that Kercheval has used his true endeavour to raise the means to discharge his Rent, & is deprived thereof by an Act of Providence, I am willing, however illy I can afford to do it, to make some reasonable abatement therefrom; of wch you, from enquiry, will be the best judge.2
It is demonstratively clear, that on this Estate (Mount Vernon) I have more working Negros by a full moiety, than can be employed to any advantage in the farming System; and I shall never turn Planter thereon.
To sell the overplus I cannot, because I am principled against this kind of traffic in the human species. To hire them out, is almost as bad, because they could not be disposed of in families to any advantage, and to disperse the families I have an aversion. What then is to be done? Something must, or I shall be ruined; for all the money (in addition to what I raise by Crops, and rents) that have been received for Lands, sold within the last four years, to the amount of Fifty thousand dollars, has scarcely been able to keep me a float.3
Under these circumstances, and a thorough conviction that half the workers I keep on this Estate, would render me a greater nett profit than I now derive from the whole, has made me resolve, if it can be accomplished, to settle Plantations on some of my other Lands. But where? without going to the Western Country, I am unable, as yet to decide; as the best, if not all the Lands I have on the East of the Alliganies, are under Leases, or some kind of incumbrance or an other. But as you can give me correct information relative to this matter, I now early apply for it.
What then is the State of Kerchevals lot, & the other adjoining? are they under Leases? If not, is the Land good? and how many hands would it work to advantage?4 Have I any other good Land in Berkeley that could be obtained on reasonable terms?5 Is that small tract above the Warm Springs engaged for the ensuing year?6 How much cleared Land is there on it? and what kind of buildings? How many hands could be usefully employed thereon? Information on these points, and any others relative thereto, would be acceptable to me.
The drought has been so excessive on this Estate, that I have made no Oats—& if it continues a few days longer, shall make no Corn. I have cut little or no Grass; and my Meadows, at this time, are as bare as the pavements; of consequence no second Crop can be expected. These things will compel me, I expect, to reduce the Mouths that feed on the Hay. I have two or three young Jacks (besides young Royal Gift) and several She Asses, that I would dispose of. Would Fauquier, or where else, be a good place to dispose of them?
I am glad to hear that your bro: Lawrence is so much amended, as your letter indicates, whether it be from Sulpher application, or other causes: but if Doctr Baynham, under whose hands he was, was unable to effect a radical cure, I should not place much confidence in Voss’s Springs, as the disorder must be deep rooted.
Your Aunt unites with me in best wishes for Mrs Lewis, yourself & family, and I am—Dear Sir, Your Sincere friend and Affectionate Uncle
P.S. Since writing the foregoing, Mr Anderson informs me that he saw you in Alexandria yesterday; and that you told him you were to be in Winchester on Monday, or Tuesday next: being desirous that this letter should get to your hands as early as possible—and especially while you were over the Ridge, I have put it under cover to Mr Bush of Winchester, with a request that if you should not be there to send it by Post to Fauquier Court House.7
ALS, ViMtvL; ALS (letterpress copy), NN: Washington Papers.
2. In December 1785 GW leased to William Kercheval a 172–acre tract on the Shenandoah River in Frederick County for an annual rent of £17.6, the lease to run from 1 Jan. 1786 to 1 Jan. 1799. See GW to Battaile Muse, 28 July 1785, n.1.
3. During the summer of 1799 GW made a list of all the slaves living on his farms at Mount Vernon. The Slave List is printed at the end of this volume.
4. For the land on the Shenandoah River in Frederick County that GW bought from George Mercer in 1774 and the terms on which parcels of it were leased to tenants, see GW to Battaile Muse, 28 July 1785, n.1 (Papers, Confederation Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1992–97. description ends , 3:160–61), and the references in that note.
5. In addition to the 700–acre tract rented by John Ariss (see Lewis to GW, 7 Aug. 1799, n.1), GW owned nine or ten smaller parcels of land in Berkeley County on or near Bullskin Run. See List of Tenants, 18 Sept. 1785, nn.1–9, (ibid., 259–61). After Ariss’s death, GW wrote Lewis again, on 7 Dec. 1799, about his regaining the use of his lands in Frederick and Berkeley counties.
7. GW’s letter of 17 Aug. to Philip Bush, a tavern keeper and merchant in Winchester whom GW had known since his own days as colonel of the Virginia Regiment in the 1750s, reads: “Sir Just Learning that Mr Robert Lewis (who manages my business in the Counties of Frederick &c.) is to be in Winchester on Monday or Tuesday next, and it being necessary that the enclosed letter should get into his hands while there, or while he is over the Ridge, you would do me a Kindness in accomplishing this.
“If he should not be in Winchester, but you should hear certainly of his being in Berkeley, I would have the letter sent to him by Express—the expence of which he will pay. If he shd be in neither be pleased to let it go by Post to Fauquier Court House. Remember me Kindly to Mrs Bush, if living—and with Esteem I am Sir Your very Hble Servt Go. Washington” (copy, sent to the Louisville [Ky.] Courier Journal, June 1881, ViU).