George Washington Papers

From George Washington to William Thornton, 1 October 1799

To William Thornton

Mount Vernon Octr 1st 1799

Dear Sir

Enclosed are Messrs McLeod and Lumleys prices for painting my Houses in the City. Theirs, as you will perceive, is extended in Virginia currency; that mentioned by you, I presume, is Maryland; and if so, the prices are nearly the same.

Wherefore, if the Painter in the City will—finding all materials—do the Windows & Cornice, & Doors, in short all the exterior of the Buildings, the roof excepted (which must remain for future decision) upon the Terms McLeod & Lumley have offered, and there is reason to expect faithful work from him, I have no desire to resort to Alexandria, although I know the former to be capital Painters, & respectable men.

The matter now rests with Mr Blagden, with your advice, to employ whom he pleases. What is meant (in McLeods & Lumleys letter) by London measurement, I know not; and the mode of doing it ought to be ascertained beforehand, to avoid mis-conception. Every one knows that a square yard contains nine feet, in common acceptation; but how many feet by London measurement, I know not.1

Sanding, is designed to answer two purposes—durability, & representation of Stone; for the latter purpose, and in my opinion a desirable one; it is the last operation, by dashing, as long as any will stick, the Sand upon a coat of thick paint. This is the mode I pursued with the painting at this place, & wish to have pursued at my houses in the City.2 To this, I must add, that as it is rare to meet with Sand perfectly white, & clean; all my Houses have been Sanded with the softest free stone, pounded and sifted;3 and it is my wish to have those in the City done in the same way. If the stone cannot be thus prepared in the City, be so good as to inform me, & it shall be done here & sent up. It must be dashed hard on—& as long as any place appears bare. I am with great esteem—Dr Sir—Your Most Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

ALS, DLC: Thornton Papers; ALS (letterpress copy), NN: Washington Papers.

1The estimate of the Alexandria firm of McLeod & Lumley of its charges for painting GW’s Capitol Hill houses has not been found. See GW to Thornton, 29 Sept., and note 2 of that document. London measure derived from a former practice of London drapers of allowing something above the standard yard in their measurements.

2In the fall of 1796, full of plans for his permanent return to Mount Vernon the following spring, GW drafted a lengthy set of instructions for his farm manager. In this memorandum, dated 5 Nov. 1796, he referred to his plans to have painting done at Mount Vernon in the summer of 1797 and wrote: “Some years ago, I had brought from Point Comfort, or some other place on the Bay of Chesapeak, a quantity of fine white Sand for the purpose of Sanding my houses anew when circumstances would enable me to give them a fresh coat of Paint.” Saunders A. Read of Alexandria did the painting at Mount Vernon that GW required, in May and June 1797 (see Read to GW, 25 April 1797, n.1). The sand was used with white paint to simulate stone.

3GW inserted an asterisk here and wrote at the end of the letter: “the fine dust must be seperated from the Sand by a gentle breeze, & the sifter must be of the finest the sand is required.”

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