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which makes it look altogether like marlpits, or stone-quarries, that
have been carried away by those hasty showers in the summer, which no
man who has not seen them in this climate could form any idea of or
believe possible....

In two days after we left this place, we came in sight of Mount Vernon;
but in all the way up the river, I did not see any green fields. The
country had to me a most barren appearance. There were none but
snake-fences; which are rails laid with the ends of one upon another,
from eight to sixteen in number in one length. The surface of the earth
looked like a yellow-washed wall; for it had been a very dry summer; and
there was not any thing that I could see green, except the pine trees in
the woods, and the cedars, which made a truly picturesque view as we
sailed up the Potomac. It is indeed a most beautiful river.

When we arrived at Mount Vernon, I found that General Washington was at
Philadelphia; but his steward[9] had orders from the General to receive
me and my family, with all the horses, cattle, &c. which I had on board.
A boat was, therefore, got ready for landing them; but that could not be
done, as the ship must be cleared out at some port before anything was
moved: so, after looking about a few minutes at Mount Vernon, I returned
to the ship, and we began to make way for Alexandria....

[9] No doubt Anderson, Washington's last manager.

When I had been about seven days at Alexandria, I hired a horse and went
to Mount Vernon, to view my intended farm; of which General Washington
had given me a plan, and a report along with it - the rent being fixed at
eighteen hundred bushels of wheat for twelve hundred acres, or money
according to the price of that grain. I must confess that if he would
have given me the inheritance of the land for that sum, I durst not have
accepted it, especially with the incumbrances upon it; viz. one hundred
seventy slaves young and old, and out of that number only
twenty-seven[10] in a condition to work, as the steward represented to
me. I viewed the whole of the cultivated estate - about three thousand
acres; and afterward dined with Mrs. Washington and the family. Here I
met a Doctor Thornton, who is a very pleasant agreeable man, and his
lady; with a Mr. Peters and his lady, who was a grand-daughter of Mrs.
Washington. Doctor Thornton living at the city of Washington, he gave me
an invitation to visit him there: he was one of the commissioners of
the city.

[10] Most certainly a mistake.

I slept at Mount Vernon, and experienced a very kind and comfortable
reception; but did not like the land at all. I saw no green grass there,
except in the garden: and this was some English grass, appearing to me
to be a sort of couch-grass; it was in drills. There were also six
saintfoin plants, which I found the General valued highly. I viewed the
oats which were not thrashed, and counted the grains upon each head; but
found no stem with more than four grains, and these a very light and bad
quality, such as I had never seen before: the longest straw was of about
twelve inches. The wheat was all thrashed, therefore I could not
ascertain the produce of that: I saw some of the straw, however, and
thought it had been cut and prepared for the cattle in the winter; but I
believe I was mistaken, it being short by nature, and with thrashing out
looked like chaff, or as if chopped with a bad knife. The General had
two thrashing machines, the power given by horses. The clover was very
little in bulk, and like chaff; not more than nine inches long, and the
leaf very much shed from the stalk. By the stubbles on the land I could
not tell which had been wheat, or which had been oats or barley; nor
could I see any clover-roots where the clover had grown. The weather was
hot and dry at that time; it was in December. The whole of the different
fields were covered with either the stalks of weeds, corn-stalks, or
what is called sedge - something like spear-grass upon the poor limestone
in England; and the steward told me nothing would eat it, which is true.
Indeed, he found fault with everything, just like a foreigner; and even
told me many unpleasant tales of the General, so that I began to think
he feared I was coming to take his place. But (God knows!) I would not
choose to accept of it: for he had to superintend four hundred slaves,
and there would be more now. This part of his business especially would
have been painful to me; it is, in fact, a sort of trade of itself.

I had not in all this time seen what we in England call a corn-stack,
nor a dung-hill. There were, indeed, behind the General's barns, two or
three cocks of oats and barley; but such as an English broad-wheeled
waggon would have carried a hundred miles at one time with ease. Neither
had I seen a green plant of any kind: there was some clover of the first
year's sowing: but in riding over the fields I should not have known it
to be clover, although the steward told me it was; only when I came
under a tree I could, by favour of the shade, perceive here and there a
green leaf of clover, but I do not remember seeing a green root. I was
shown no grass-hay of any kind; nor do I believe there was any.

The cattle were very poor and ordinary, and the sheep the same; nor did
I see any thing I liked except the mules, which were very fine ones, and
in good condition. Mr. Gough had made a present to General Washington of
a bull calf. The animal was shown to me when I first landed at Mount
Vernon, and was the first bull I saw in the country. He was large, and
very strong-featured; the largest part was his head, the next his legs.
The General's steward was a Scotchman, and no judge of animals - a better
judge of distilling whiskey.

I saw here a greater number of negroes than I ever saw at one time,
either before or since.

The house is a very decent mansion: not large, and something like a
gentleman's house in England, with gardens and plantations; and is very
prettily situated on the banks of the river Potowmac, with extensive
prospects.... The roads are very bad from Alexandria to Mount Vernon.

The General still continuing at Philadelphia, I could not have the
pleasure of seeing him; therefore I returned to Alexandria.

I returned [to Mount Vernon some weeks later] ... to see General
Washington. I dined with him; and he showed me several presents that had
been sent him, viz. swords, china, and among the rest the key of the
Bastille. I spent a very pleasant day in the house, as the weather was
so severe that there were no farming objects to see, the ground being
covered with snow.

Would General Washington have given me the twelve hundred acres I would
not have accepted it, to have been confined to live in that country; and
to convince the General of the cause of my determination, I was
compelled to treat him with a great deal of frankness. The General, who
had corresponded with Mr. Arthur Young and others on the subject of
English farming and soils, and had been not a little flattered by
different gentlemen from England, seemed at first to be not well
pleased with my conversation; but I gave him some strong proofs of his
mistakes, by making a comparison between the lands in America and those
of England in two respects.

First, in the article of sheep. He supposed himself to have fine sheep,
and a great quantity of them. At the time of my viewing his five farms,
which consisted of about three thousand acres cultivated, he had one
hundred sheep, and those in very poor condition. This was in the month
of November. To show him his mistake in the value and quality of his
land, I compared this with the farm my father occupied, which was less
than six hundred acres. He clipped eleven hundred sheep, though some of
his land was poor and at two shillings and sixpence per acre - the
highest was at twenty shillings; the average weight of the wool was ten
pounds per fleece, and the carcases weighed from eighty to one hundred
twenty pounds each: while in the General's hundred sheep on three
thousand acres, the wool would not weigh on an average more than three
pounds and a half the fleece, and the carcases at forty-eight pounds
each. Secondly, the proportion of the produce in grain was similar. The
General's crops were from two to three[11] bushels of wheat per acre;
and my father's farm, although poor clay soil, gave from twenty to
thirty bushels.

[11] A misstatement, of course.

During this conversation Colonel Lear, aide-de-camp to the General, was
present. When the General left the room, the Colonel told me he had
himself been in England, and had seen Arthur Young (who had been
frequently named by the General in our conversation); and that Mr. Young
having learnt that he was in the mercantile line, and was possessed of
much land, had said he thought he was a great fool to be a merchant and
yet have so much land; the Colonel replied, that if Mr. Young had the
same land to cultivate, it would make a great fool of _him_. The Colonel
did me the honour to say I was the only man he ever knew to treat
General Washington with frankness.

The General's cattle at that time were all in poor condition: except his
mules (bred from American mares), which were very fine, and the Spanish
ass sent to him as a present by the king of Spain. I felt myself much
vexed at an expression used at dinner by Mrs. Washington. When the
General and the company at table were talking about the fine horses and
cattle I had brought from England, Mrs. Washington said, "I am afraid,
Mr. Parkinson, you have brought your fine horses and cattle to a bad
market; I am of opinion that our horses and cattle are good enough for
our land." I thought that if every old woman in the country knew this,
my speculation would answer very ill: as I perfectly agreed with Mrs.
Washington in sentiment; and wondered much, from the poverty of the
land, to see the cattle good as they were.

The General wished me to stay all night; but having some other
engagement, I declined his kind offer. He sent Colonel Lear out after I
had parted with him, to ask me if I wanted any money; which I
gladly accepted.




CHAPTER XVI


PROFIT AND LOSS

A biographer whose opinions about Washington are usually sound concludes
that the General was a failure as a farmer. With this opinion I am
unable to agree and I am inclined to think that in forming it he had in
mind temporary financial stringencies and perhaps a comparison between
Washington and the scientific farmers of to-day instead of the juster
comparison with the farmers of that day. For if Washington was a
failure, then nine-tenths of the Southern planters of his day were also
failures, for their methods and results were much worse than his.

It must be admitted, however, that comparatively little of his fortune,
which amounted at his death to perhaps three-quarters of a million
dollars, was made by the sale of products from his farm. Few farmers
have grown rich in that way. Washington's wealth was due in part to
inheritance and a fortunate marriage, but most of all to the increment
on land. Part of this land he received as a reward for military
services, but much of it he was shrewd enough to buy at a low rate and
hold until it became more valuable.

The task of analyzing his fortune and income in detail is an impossible
one for a number of reasons. We do not have all the facts of his
financial operations and even if we had there are other difficulties. A
farmer, unlike a salaried man, can not tell with any exactness what his
true income is. The salaried man can say, "This year I received four
thousand dollars," The farmer can only say - if he is the one in a
hundred who keeps accounts - "Last year I took in two thousand dollars or
five thousand dollars," as the case may be. From this sum he must deduct
expenses for labor, wear and tear of farm machinery, pro rata cost of
new tools and machinery, loss of soil fertility, must take into account
the fact that some of the stock sold has been growing for one, two or
more years, must allow for the butter and eggs bartered for groceries
and for the value of the two cows he traded for a horse, must add the
value of the rent of the house and grounds he and his family have
enjoyed, the value of the chickens, eggs, vegetables, fruit, milk, meat
and other produce of the farm consumed - as he proceeds the problem
becomes infinitely more complex until at last he gives it up
as hopeless.

This much, however, is plain - a farmer can handle much less money than a
salaried man and yet live infinitely better, for his rent, much of his
food and many other things cost him nothing.

In Washington's case the problem is further complicated by a number of
circumstances. As a result of his marriage he had some money upon bond.
For his military services in the French war he received large grants of
land and the payment during the Revolution of his personal expenses, and
as President he had a salary of twenty-five thousand dollars a year.

Yet another difficulty discloses itself when we come to examine his cash
accounts. We find, for example, that from August 3, 1775, to September,
1783, leaving out of the reckoning his military receipts, he took in a
total of about eighty thousand one hundred sixty-seven pounds. What then
more simple than to divide this sum by seven and ascertain his average
receipts during the years of the Revolution? But when we come to examine
some of the details more closely we are brought to pause. We discover
such facts as that in 1780 a small steer, supposed to weigh about three
hundred pounds, brought five hundred pounds in money! A sheep sold for
one hundred pounds; six thousand five hundred sixty-nine pounds of
dressed beef brought six thousand five hundred sixty-nine pounds; the
stud fee for "Steady" was sixty pounds. In other words, the accounts in
these years were in depreciated paper and utterly worthless for our
purposes. Washington himself gave the puzzle up in despair toward the
end of the war and paid his manager in produce, not money.

We of to-day have, in fact, not the faintest conception of the blessing
we enjoy in a uniform and fairly stable monetary system. Even before the
days of the "Continentals" there was depreciated paper afloat that had
been issued by the colonial governments and, unless the fact is
definitely stated, when we come upon figures of that period we can never
be sure whether they refer to pounds sterling or pounds paper, or, if
the latter, what kind of paper. People had to be constantly figuring the
real value of Pennsylvania money, or Virginia money or Massachusetts
money, and one meets with many such calculations on the blank leaves of
Washington's account books. Even metallic money was a Chinese puzzle
except to the initiated, there were so many kinds of it afloat. Among
our Farmer's papers I have found a list of the money that he took with
him to Philadelphia on one occasion - 6 joes, 67 half joes, 2
one-eighteenth joes, 3 doubloons, 1 pistole, 2 moidores, 1 half moidore,
2 double louis d'or, 3 single louis d'or, 80 guineas, 7 half guineas,
besides silver and bank-notes.

The depreciation of the paper currency during the Revolution proved
disastrous to him in several ways. When the war broke out much of the
money he had obtained by marriage was loaned out on bond, or, as we
would say to-day, on mortgage. "I am now receiving," he soon wrote, "a
shilling in the pound in discharge of Bonds which ought to have been
paid me, & would have been realized before I left Virginia, but for my
indulgences to the debtors." In 1778 he said that six or seven thousand
pounds that he had in bonds upon interest had been paid in depreciated
paper, so that the real value was now reduced to as many hundreds. Some
of the paper money that came into his hands he invested in government
securities, and at least ten thousand pounds of these in Virginia money
were ultimately funded by the federal government for six thousand two
hundred and forty-six dollars in three and six per cent. bonds.

And yet, by examining Washington's accounts, one is able to estimate in
a rough way the returns he received from his estate, landed and
otherwise. We find that in ten months of 1759 he took in £1,839; from
January 1, 1760, to January 10, 1761, about £2,535; in 1772, £3,213;
from August 3, 1775, to August 30, 1776, £2,119; in 1786, £2,025; in
1791, about £2,025. Included in some of these entries, particularly the
earlier ones, are payments of interest and principal on his wife's share
of the Custis estate. Of the later ones, that for 1786 - a bad farming
year - includes rentals on more than a score of parcels of land amounting
to £282.15, £25 rental on his fishery, payments for flour, stud
fees, etc.

Upon the average, therefore, I am inclined to believe that his annual
receipts were roughly in the neighborhood of ten thousand dollars to
fifteen thousand dollars a year from his estate.

As regards Mount Vernon alone, he sometimes made estimates of what the
crop returns ought to be; in other words, counted his chickens before
they were hatched. Thus in 1789 he drew up alternative plans and
estimated that one of these, if adopted, ought to produce crops worth a
gross of £3,091, another £3,831, and a third £4,449, but that from these
sums £1,357, £1,394 and £1,445 respectively would have to be deducted
for seed, food for man and beasts, and other expenses.

A much better idea of the financial returns from his home estate can be
obtained from his actual balances of gain and loss. One of these, namely
for 1798, which was a poor year, was as follows:

BALANCE OF GAIN AND LOSS, 1798

DR. GAINED CR. LOST

Dogue Run Farm 397.11.2 Mansion House .. 466.18. 2-1/2
Union Farm .... 529.10.11-1/2 Muddy Hole Farm 60. 1. 3-1/2
River Farm .... 234. 4.11 Spinning ....... 51. 2. 0
Smith's Shop .. 34.12.09-1/2 Hire of Head
Distillery .... 83.13. 1 overseer ..... 140. 0. 0
Jacks ......... 56.1
Traveler ...... 9.17
(stud horse)
Shoemaker ..... 28.17. 1
Fishery ....... 165.12. 0-1/4 By clear gain on
Dairy ......... 30.12. 3 the Estate.....£898.16. 4-1/4

Mr. Paul Leicester Ford considered this "a pretty poor showing for an
estate and negroes which had certainly cost him over fifty thousand
dollars, and on which there was live stock which at the lowest
estimation was worth fifteen thousand dollars more." In some respects it
was a poor showing. Yet the profit Washington sets down is about seven
per cent. upon sixty-five thousand dollars, and seven per cent. is more
than the average farmer makes off his farm to-day except through the
appreciation in the value of the land. The truth is, however, that Mount
Vernon, including the live stock and slaves, was really worth in 1798
nearer two hundred thousand dollars than sixty-five thousand, so that
the actual return would only be about two and a fourth per cent.

But Washington failed to include in his receipts many items, such as the
use of a fine mansion for himself and family, the use of horses and
vehicles, and the added value of slaves and live stock by
natural increase.

Besides in some other years the profits were much larger.

And lastly, in judging a man's success or failure as a farmer, allowance
must be made for the kind of land that he has to farm. The Mount Vernon
land was undoubtedly poor in quality, and it is probable that Washington
got more out of it than has ever been got out of it by any other person
either before or since. Much of it to-day must not pay taxes.

Washington died possessed of property worth about three-quarters of a
million, although he began life glad to earn a doubloon a day surveying.
The main sources of this wealth have already been indicated, but when
all allowance is made in these respects, the fact remains that he was
compelled to make a living and to keep expenses paid during the forty
years in which the fortune was accumulating, and the main source he drew
from was his farms. Not much of that living came from the Custis estate,
for, as we have seen, a large part of the money thus acquired was lost.
During his eight years as Commander-in-Chief he had his expenses - no
more. Of the eight years of his presidency much the same can be said,
for all authorities agree that he expended all of his salary in
maintaining his position and some say that he spent more. Yet at the end
of his life we find him with much more land than he had in 1760, with
valuable stocks and bonds, a house and furniture infinitely superior to
the eight-room house he first owned, two houses in the Federal City that
had cost him about $15,000, several times as many negroes, and live
stock estimated by himself at $15,653 and by his manager at upward of
twice that sum.

Such being the case - and as no one has ever ventured even to hint that
he made money corruptly out of his official position - the conclusion is
irresistible that he was a good business man and that he made farming
pay, particularly when he was at home.

It is true that only three months before his death he wrote: "The
expense at which I live, and the unproductiveness of my estate, will not
allow me to lessen my income while I remain in my present situation. On
the contrary, were it not for occasional supplies of money in payment
for lands sold within the last four or five years, to the amount of
upwards of fifty thousand dollars, I should not be able to support the
former without involving myself in debt and difficulties," This must be
taken, however, to apply to a single period of heavy expense when
foreign complications and other causes rendered farming unprofitable,
rather than to his whole career. Furthermore, his landed investments
from which he could draw no returns were so heavy that he had approached
the condition of being land poor and it was only proper that he should
cut loose from some of them.




CHAPTER XVII


ODDS AND ENDS

In an age when organized charity was almost unknown the burden of such
work fell mainly upon individuals. Being a man of great prominence and
known to be wealthy, the proprietor of Mount Vernon was the recipient of
many requests for assistance. Ministers wrote to beg money to rebuild
churches or to convert the heathen; old soldiers wrote to ask for money
to relieve family distresses or to use in business; from all classes and
sections poured in requests for aid, financial and otherwise.

It was inevitable that among these requests there should be some that
were unusual. Perhaps the most amusing that I have discovered is one
written by a young man named Thomas Bruff, from the Fountain Inn,
Georgetown. He states that this is his second letter, but I have not
found the first. In the letter we have he sets forth that he has lost
all his property and desires a loan of five hundred pounds. His need is
urgent, for he is engaged to a beautiful and "amiable" young lady,
possessed of an "Estate that will render me Independent. Whom I cannot
Marry in my present situation.... All my Happyness is now depending upon
your Goodness and without your kind assistance I must be forever
miserable - I should have never thought of making application to you for
this favor had it not been in Consequence of a vision by Night since my
Fathers Death who appeared to me in a Dream in my Misfortunes three
times in one Night telling me to make applycation to you for Money and
that you would relieve me from my distresses. He appeared the other
night again and asked me if I had obeyed his commands I informed him
that I had Wrote to you some time ago but had Received no answer nor no
information Relative to the Business he then observed that he expected
my letter had not come to hand and toald me to Write again I made some
Objections at first and toald him I thought it presumption in me to
trouble your Excellency again on the subject he then in a Rage drew his
Small Sword and toald me if I did not he would run me through. I
immediately in a fright consented."

One might suppose that so ingenious a request, picturing the deadly
danger in which a young man stood from the shade of his progenitor,
especially a young man who was thereby forced to keep a young lady
waiting, would have aroused Washington's most generous impulses and
caused him to send perhaps double the amount desired. Possibly he was
hard up at the time. At all events he indorsed the letter thus:

"Without date and without success."

Many times, however, our Farmer was open-handed to persons who had no
personal claim on him. For example, he loaned three hundred and two


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Online LibraryPaul Leland HaworthGeorge Washington: Farmer → online text (page 14 of 17)