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[Illustration: _By permission of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association_
Mount Vernon Stable Built in 1733 Showing also the Powell Coach]

"The aim of the farmers in this country (if they can be called farmers)
is, not to make the most they can from the land, which is or has been
cheap, but the most of the labour, which is dear; the consequence of
which has been, much ground has been _scratched_ over and none
cultivated or improved as it ought to have been: whereas a farmer in
England, where land is dear, and labour cheap, finds it his interest to
improve and cultivate highly, that he may reap large crops from a small
quantity of ground."

Washington to Arthur Young, December 5, 1791.


The story of George Washington's public career has been many times told
in books of varying worth, but there is one important aspect of his
private life that has never received the attention it deserves. The
present book is an attempt to supply this deficiency.

I desire to acknowledge gratefully the assistance I have received from
Messrs. Gaillard Hunt and John C. Fitzpatrick of the Library of
Congress, Mr. Hubert B. Fuller lately of Washington and now of
Cleveland, Colonel Harrison H. Dodge and other officials of the Mount
Vernon Association, and from the work of Paul Leicester Ford,
Worthington C. Ford and John M. Toner.

Above all, in common with my countrymen, I am indebted to heroic Ann
Pamelia Cunningham, to whose devoted labor, despite ill health and
manifold discouragements, the preservation of Mount Vernon is due. To
her we should be grateful for a shrine that has not its counterpart in
the world - a holy place that no man can visit without experiencing an
uplift of heart and soul that makes him a better American.







Mount Vernon Stable, Built in 1733, Showing also the Powell Coach.

Mount Vernon, Showing Kitchen to the Left and Covered
Way Leading to It.

The Washington Family.

Driveway from the Lodge Gate.

The Porter's Lodge.

One of the Artificial Mounds. The Tree Upon It Was
Set Out by Mrs. Grover Cleveland.

The Seed House. Beyond Lay the Vegetable Garden.

The Mount Vernon Kitchen (restored).

Map of Mount Vernon Drawn by Washington and Sent
by Him to Arthur Young in 1793.

Gully on a Field of Union Farm, Showing Susceptibility to Erosion.

Looking Across Part of Dogue Run Farm to "Woodlawn,"
the Home of Nelly Custis Lewis.

First Page of Washington's Digest of Duhamel's Husbandry.

Dogue Run Below the Site of the Mill.

On the Road to the Mill and Pohick Church.

Part of Washington's Plan for His Sixteen-Sided Barn.

Bill of Lading for "Royal Gift".

Experimental Plot, with Servants' Quarters (restored)
in Background.

West Front of Mansion House, Showing Bowling Green
and Part of Serpentine Drive.

First Page of the Diary for 1760.

Part of a Manager's Weekly Report.

The Butler's House and Magnolia Set Out by Washington
the Year of His Death.

Spinning House - Last Building to the Right.

Weekly Report on the Work of the Spinners.

The Flower Garden.

A Page from a Cash Memorandum Book.

One of Washington's Tavern Bills.



One December day in the year 1788 a Virginia gentleman sat before his
desk in his mansion beside the Potomac writing a letter. He was a man of
fifty-six, evidently tall and of strong figure, but with shoulders a
trifle stooped, enormously large hands and feet, sparse grayish-chestnut
hair, a countenance somewhat marred by lines of care and marks of
smallpox, withal benevolent and honest-looking - the kind of man to whom
one could intrust the inheritance of a child with the certainty that it
would be carefully administered and scrupulously accounted for to the
very last sixpence.

The letter was addressed to an Englishman, by name Arthur Young, the
foremost scientific farmer of his day, editor of the _Annals of
Agriculture_, author of many books, of which the best remembered is his
_Travels in France_ on the eve of the French Revolution, which is still
read by every student of that stirring era.

"The more I am acquainted with agricultural affairs," such were the
words that flowed from the writer's pen, "the better I am pleased with
them; insomuch, that I can no where find so great satisfaction as in
those innocent and useful pursuits. In indulging these feelings I am led
to reflect how much more delightful to an undebauched mind is the task
of making improvements on the earth than all the vain glory which can be
acquired from ravaging it, by the most uninterrupted career of

Thus wrote George Washington in the fulness of years, honors and
experience. Surely in this age of crimson mists we can echo his
correspondent that it was a "noble sentiment, which does honor to the
heart of this truly great man." Happy America to have had such a
philosopher as a father!

"I think with you that the life of a husbandman is the most delectable,"
he wrote on another occasion to the same friend. "It is honorable, it is
amusing, and, with judicious management, it is profitable. To see
plants rise from the earth and flourish by the superior skill and bounty
of the laborer fills a contemplative mind with ideas which are more easy
to be conceived than expressed."

The earliest Washington arms had blazoned upon it "3 Cinque foiles,"
which was the herald's way of saying that the bearer owned land and was
a farmer. When Washington made a book-plate he added to the old design
spears of wheat to indicate what he once called "the most favorite
amusement of my life." Evidently he had no fear of being-called a
"clodhopper" or a "hayseed!"

Nor was his enthusiasm for agriculture the evanescent enthusiasm of the
man who in middle age buys a farm as a plaything and tries for the first
time the costly experiment of cultivating the soil. He was born on a
plantation, was brought up in the country and until manhood he had never
even seen a town of five thousand people. First he was a surveyor, and
so careful and painstaking was he that his work still stands the test.
Later he became a soldier, and there is evidence to show that at first
he enjoyed the life and for a time had military ambitions. When
Braddock's expedition was preparing he chafed at the prospect of
inaction and welcomed the offer to join the general's staff, but the
bitter experiences of the next few years, when he had charge of the
herculean task of protecting the settlers upon the "cold and Barren
Frontiers ... from the cruel Incursions of a crafty Savage Enemy,"
destroyed his illusions about war. After the capture of Fort Duquesne
had freed Virginia from danger he resigned his commission, married and
made a home. Soon after he wrote to an English kinsman who had invited
him to visit London: "I am now I believe fixed at this seat with an
agreeable Consort for Life. And hope to find more happiness in
retirement than I ever experienced amidst a wide bustling world."

Thereafter he quitted the quiet life always with reluctance. Amid long
and trying years he constantly looked forward to the day when he could
lay down his burden and retire to the peace and freedom of Mount Vernon,
there to take up again the task of farming. As Commander-in-Chief of the
Armies of the Revolution and as first President of the Republic he gave
the best that was in him - and it was always good enough - but more from a
sense of duty than because of any real enthusiasm for the rôle of
either soldier or statesman. We can well believe that it was with
heartfelt satisfaction that soon after independence was at last assured
he wrote to his old comrade-in-arms the Marquis de Chastellux: "I am at
length become a private citizen on the banks of the Potomac, where under
my own vine and fig-tree free from the bustle of a camp and the
intrigues of a court, I shall view the busy world with calm
indifference, and with serenity of mind, which the soldier in pursuit of
glory, and the statesman of a name, have not leisure to enjoy."

Years before as a boy he had copied into a wonderful copy-book that is
still preserved in the Library of Congress some verses that set forth
pretty accurately his ideal of life - an ideal influenced, may we not
believe, in those impressionable years by these very lines. These are
the verses - one can not call them poetry - just as I copied them after
the clear boyish hand from the time-yellowed page:


These are the things, which once possess'd
Will make a life that's truly bless'd
A good Estate on healthy Soil,
Not Got by Vice nor yet by toil;
Round a warm Fire, a pleasant Joke,
With Chimney ever free from Smoke:
A strength entire, a Sparkling Bowl,
A quiet Wife, a quiet Soul,
A Mind, as well as body, whole
Prudent Simplicity, constant Friend,
A Diet which no art Commends;
A Merry Night without much Drinking
A happy Thought without much Thinking;
Each Night by Quiet Sleep made Short
A Will to be but what thou art:
Possess'd of these, all else defy
And neither wish nor fear to Die
These are things, which once Possess'd
Will make a life that's truly bless'd.

George Washington did not affect the rôle of a Cincinnatus; he took it
in all sincerity and simpleness of heart because he loved it.

Nor was he the type of farmer - of whom we have too many - content to
vegetate like a lower organism, making scarcely more mental effort than
one of his own potatoes, parsnips or pumpkins. As the pages that follow
will reveal, he was one of the first American experimental
agriculturists, always alert for better methods, willing to take any
amount of pains to find the best fertilizer, the best way to avoid
plant diseases, the best methods of cultivation, and he once declared
that he had little patience with those content to tread the ruts their
fathers trod. If he were alive to-day, we may be sure that he would be
an active worker in farmers' institutes, an eager visitor to
agricultural colleges, a reader of scientific reports and an
enthusiastic promoter of anything tending to better American farming and
farm life.



Augustine Washington was a planter who owned thousands of acres of land,
most of it unimproved, besides an interest in some small iron works, but
he had been twice married and at his death left two broods of children
to be provided for. George, a younger son - which implied a great deal in
those days of entail and primogeniture - received the farm on the
Rappahannock on which his father lived, amounting to two hundred and
eighty acres, a share of the land lying on Deep Run, three lots in
Frederick, a few negro slaves and a quarter of the residuary estate. He
was also given a reversionary interest in Mount Vernon, bequeathed to
his half-brother Lawrence. The total value of his inheritance was small,
and, as Virginia landed fortunes went, he was left poorly provided for.

Much of Washington's youth was spent with Lawrence at Mount Vernon, and
as an aside it may be remarked here that the main moulding influence in
his life was probably cast by this high-minded brother, who was a
soldier and man of the world. By the time he was sixteen the boy was on
the frontier helping Lord Thomas Fairfax to survey the princely domain
that belonged to his lordship, and received in payment therefor
sometimes as much as a doubloon a day. In 1748 he patented five hundred
fifty acres of wild land in Frederick County, "My Bullskin Plantation"
he usually called it, payment being made by surveying. In 1750 he had
funds sufficient to buy four hundred fifty-six acres of land of one
James McCracken, paying therefor one hundred twelve pounds. Two years
later for one hundred fifteen pounds he bought five hundred fifty-two
acres on the south fork of Bullskin Creek from Captain George Johnston.
In 1757 he acquired from a certain Darrell five hundred acres on Dogue
Run near Mount Vernon, paying three hundred fifty pounds.

It is evident, therefore, that very early he acquired the "land hunger"
to which most of the Virginians of his day were subject, as a heritage
from their English ancestry. In the England of that day, in fact, no
one except a churchman could hope to attain much of a position in the
world unless he was the owner of land, and until the passage of the
great Reform Bill in 1832 he could not even vote unless he held land
worth forty shillings a year. In Virginia likewise it was the landholder
who enjoyed distinction and consideration, who was sent to the House of
Burgesses and was bowed and scraped to as his coach bumped along over
the miserable roads. The movement to cities did not begin until after
the Industrial Revolution, and people still held the healthy notion that
the country was the proper place in which to live a normal human

In 1752 Lawrence Washington died. As already stated, he was the
proprietor by inheritance of Mount Vernon, then an estate of two
thousand five hundred acres which had been in the Washington family
since 1674, being a grant from Lord Culpeper. Lawrence had fought
against the Spaniards in the conflict sometimes known as the war of
Jenkins's Ear, and in the disastrous siege of Cartagena had served under
Admiral Vernon, after whom he later named his estate. He married Anne
Fairfax, daughter of Sir William Fairfax, and for her built on his
estate a new residence, containing eight rooms, four to each floor, with
a large chimney at each end.

[Illustration: Mount Vernon, Showing Kitchen to the Left and Covered
Way Leading to It]

[Illustration: _From a painting by T.P. Rossiter and L.R. Mignot_ The
Washington Family] Lawrence Washington was the father of four
children, but only an infant daughter, Sarah, survived him, and she died
soon after him. By the terms of his father's and Lawrence's wills George
Washington, after the death of this child, became the ultimate inheritor
of the Mount Vernon estate, but, contrary to the common idea, Anne
Fairfax Washington, who soon married George Lee, retained a life
interest. On December 17, 1754, however, the Lees executed a deed
granting said life interest to George Washington in consideration of an
annual payment during Anne Lee's lifetime of fifteen thousand pounds of
tobacco or the equivalent in current money[1]. Mrs. Lee died in 1761 and
thereafter Washington owned the estate absolutely. That it was by no
means so valuable at that time as its size would indicate is shown by
the smallness of the, rent he paid, never more than four hundred
sixty-five dollars a year. Many eighty-acre farms rent for that much
to-day and even for more.

[1] From entries in Washington's account book we know that this
equivalent in 1755 was £93.15; during each of the next four years it was
£87.10, and for 1760 it was £81.5.

Up to 1759 Washington was so constantly engaged in fighting the French
and Indians that he had little time and opportunity to look after his
private affairs and in consequence they suffered. In 1757 he wrote from
the Shenandoah Valley to an English agent that he should have some
tobacco to sell, but could not say whether he did have or not. His pay
hardly sufficed for his personal expenses and on the disastrous Fort
Necessity and Braddock campaigns he lost his horses and baggage. Owing
to his absence from home, his affairs fell into great disorder from
which they were extricated by a fortunate stroke.

This stroke consisted in his marriage to Martha Custis, relict of the
wealthy Daniel Parke Custis. The story of his wooing the young widow has
been often told with many variations and fanciful embellishments, but of
a few facts we are certain. From a worldly point of view Mrs. Custis was
the most desirable woman in all Virginia, and the young officer, though
not as yet a victor in many battles, had fought gallantly, possessed the
confidence of the Colony and formed a shining exception to most of the
tidewater aristocracy who continued to hunt the fox and guzzle Madeira
while a cruel foe was harrying the western border. Matters moved
forward with the rapidity traditional in similar cases and in about
three weeks and before the Colonel left to join Forbes in the final
expedition against Fort Duquesne the little widow had been wooed and
won. After his return from that expedition Washington resigned his
commission and on the 6th of January, 1759, they were married at her
"White House" on York River and spent their honeymoon at her "Six
Chimney House" in Williamsburg.

The young groom and farmer - as he would now have styled himself - was at
this time not quite twenty-seven years old, six feet two inches high,
straight as an Indian and weighed about one hundred and seventy-five
pounds. His bones and joints were large, as were his hands and feet. He
was wide-shouldered but somewhat flat-chested, neat-waisted but broad
across the hips, with long arms and legs. His skin was rather pale and
colorless and easily burned by the sun, and his hair, a chestnut brown,
he usually wore in a queue. His mouth was large and generally firmly
closed and the teeth were already somewhat defective. His countenance as
a whole was pleasing, benevolent and commanding, and in conversation he
looked one full in the face and was deliberate, deferential and
engaging. His voice was agreeable rather than strong. His demeanor at
all times was composed and dignified, his movements and gestures
graceful, his walk majestic and he was a superb horseman[2].

[2] Adapted from a description written by his comrade-in-arms, George

The bride brought her husband a "little progeny" consisting of two
interesting stepchildren; also property worth about a hundred thousand
dollars, including many negro slaves, money on bond and stock in the
Bank of England. Soon we find him sending certificates of the marriage
to the English agents of the Custis estate and announcing to them that
the management of the whole would be in his hands.

The dower negroes were kept separate from those owned by himself, but
otherwise he seems to have made little distinction between his own and
Mrs. Washington's property, which was now, in fact, by Virginia law his
own. When Martha wanted money she applied to him for it. Now and then in
his cash memorandum books we come upon such entries as, "By Cash to Mrs.
Washington for Pocket Money £4." As a rule, if there were any purchases
to be made, she let George do it and, if we may judge from the long
list of tabby colored velvet gowns, silk hose, satin shoes, "Fashionable
Summer Cloaks & Hatts," and similar articles ordered from the English
agents she had no reason to complain that her husband was niggardly or a
poor provider. If her "Old Man" - for she sometimes called him
that - failed in anything she desired, tradition says that the little
lady was in the habit of taking hold of a button of his coat and hanging
on until he had promised to comply.

He managed the property of the two children with great care and
fidelity, keeping a scrupulous account in a "marble colour'd folio Book"
of every penny received or expended in their behalf and making a yearly
report to the general court of his stewardship. How minute this account
was is indicated by an entry in his cash memorandum book for August 21,
1772: "Charge Miss Custis with a hair Pin mended by C. Turner" one
shilling. Her death (of "Fitts") in 1773 added about ten thousand pounds
to Mrs. Washington's property, which meant to his own.

There can be no question that the fortune he acquired by the Custis
alliance proved of great advantage to him in his future career, for it
helped to make him independent as regards money considerations. He
might never have become the Father of His Country without it. Some of
his contemporaries, including jealous-hearted John Adams, seem to have
realized this, and tradition says that old David Burnes, the crusty
Scotsman who owned part of the land on which the Federal City was laid
out, once ventured to growl to the President: "Now what would ye ha'
been had ye not married the widow Custis?" But this was a narrow view of
the matter, for Washington was known throughout the Colonies before he
married the Custis pounds sterling and was a man of too much natural
ability not to have made a mark in later life, though possibly not so
high a one. Besides, as will be explained in detail later, much of the
Custis money was lost during the Revolution as a result of the
depreciation in the currency.

Following his marriage Washington added largely to his estate, both in
the neighborhood of Mount Vernon and elsewhere. In 1759 he bought of his
friend Bryan Fairfax two hundred and seventy-five acres on Difficult
Run, and about the same time from his neighbor, the celebrated George
Mason of Gunston Hall, he acquired one hundred acres next that already
bought of Darrell. Negotiations entered into with a certain Clifton for
the purchase of a tract of one thousand eight hundred six acres called
Brents was productive of much annoyance. Clifton agreed in February,
1760, to sell the ground for one thousand one hundred fifty pounds, but
later, "under pretence of his wife not consenting to acknowledge her
right of dower wanted to disengage himself ... and by his shuffling
behavior convinced me of his being the trifling body represented."
Washington heard presently that Clifton had sold the land to another
man for one thousand two hundred pounds, which fully "unravelled his
conduct ... and convinced me that he was nothing less than a thorough
paced rascal." Ultimately Washington acquired Brents, but had to pay
one thousand two hundred ten pounds for it.

During the next few years he acquired other tracts, notably the Posey
plantation just below Mount Vernon and later often called by him the
Ferry Farm. With it he acquired a ferry to the Maryland shore and a
fishery, both of which industries he continued.

By 1771 he paid quit rents upon an estate of five thousand five hundred
eighteen acres in Fairfax County; on two thousand four hundred
ninety-eight acres in Frederick County; on one thousand two hundred
fifty acres in King George; on two hundred forty in Hampshire; on two
hundred seventy-five in Loudoun; on two thousand six hundred eighty-two
in Loudoun Faquier - in all, twelve thousand four hundred sixty-three
acres. The quit rent was two shillings and sixpence per hundred acres
and amounted to £15.11.7.

In addition to these lands in the settled parts of Virginia he also had
claims to vast tracts in the unsettled West. For services in the French
and Indian War he was given twenty thousand acres of wild land beyond
the mountains - a cheap mode of reward, for the Ohio region was to all
intents and purposes more remote than Yukon is to-day. Many of his
fellow soldiers held their grants so lightly that he was able to buy
their claims for almost a song. The feeling that such grants were
comparatively worthless was increased by the fact that to become
effective they must be located and surveyed, while doubt existed as to
whether they would be respected owing to conflicting claims,

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Online LibraryPaul Leland HaworthGeorge Washington: Farmer → online text (page 1 of 17)