Portsmouth New Hampe Decr 22d 1796
I had the honor to receive your letter of the 28th ultimo. I sincerely Lament the ill success of my endeavours to restore to your Lady her servant on the request of Mr Wolcott—It had indeed become a subject of Anxiety to me on an Idea that her services were very valuable to her mistress and not readily to be replaced.
My mode of proceeding then, was adapted to my feelings on the Occasion for I conceived that a Servant (in her employment especially) returning voluntarily of infinitely more value in the estimation of her employer than one taken forceably like a felon to punishment—wherefore I gave her notice—this notice however was not given until the Vessel intended to convey her in was on the point of sailing—nor would it then have been given had I not drawn from her an Acknowledgement of a desire to return before she knew I was authorized to send her back, It was the circumstance of her Acquaintence discovering her intention that defeated it.
I will now Sir agreeably to your desire send her to Alexandria if it be practicable without the consequences which you except—that of exciting a riot or a mob—or creating uneasy Sensations in the mind of well disposed Citizens—the first cannot be calculated before hand—it will be governed by the popular opinion of the moment—or the circumstances that may arise in the transaction, The latter may be sought into and judged of by conversing with Such persons without discovering the Occasion—so far as I have had opportunity I perceive that different sentiments are entertained on this Subject. At present there is no Vessel bound for Alexandria or Philadelphia when there is for the former place, I shall (if practicable without such disagreeable consequences as I may think repugnant of your wishes) execute your directions. I have defered answering your letter some days to find out the present retreat of the Girl and yesterday discovered that she was lodged at a Free-Negro’s—that she is published for marriage agreeably to our law in such cases to a Mulatto. I have applied to the officer who certifies the publication and required of him to withhold the certificate. The farther measures that may be proper I will give the utmost attention to.
It has been remarked that there are many Servants who have escaped from the Southern States into Massachusetts and some to New Hampshire; If the practices increases it will be very injurious to many Valuable Estates at the Southward, and such numbers of persons unused to providing for themselves will become miserable and a nuisance to the public. It were to be wished for the good of Society as well as for the individuals interested that some means could be adopted of a public nature to prevent this growing evil and that the abolition of this Species of Servitude should be gradual as has been heretofore contemplated. I shall in all cases in which my services may be acceptable to you be happy in rendering them & in executing your commands—and am Sir with Sentiments of the most perfect respect Your Excellency’s most obedt and most Hume Servant
DLC: Papers of George Washington.