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The True George Washington
by Ford, Paul Leicester

The earliest known Washington coat of arms had blazoned upon it "3 Cinque foiles," which was the herald's way of saying that the bearer was a landholder and cultivator, and when Washington had a book-plate made for himself he added to the conventional design of the arms spears of wheat and other plants, as an indication of his favorite labor. During his career he acted several parts, but in none did he find such pleasure as in farming, and late in life he said, "I think with you, that the life of a husbandman of all others is the most delectable. 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." "Agriculture has ever been the most favorite amusement of my life," he wrote after the Revolution, and he informed another correspondent that "the more I am acquainted with agricultural affairs, the better pleased I am 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 conquests." A visitor to Mount Vernon in 1785 states that his host's "greatest pride is, to be thought the first farmer in America. He is quite a Cincinnatus."

Undoubtedly a part of this liking flowed from his strong affection for Mount Vernon. Such was his feeling for the place that he never seems to have been entirely happy away from it, and over and over again, during his various and enforced absences, he "sighs" or "pants" for his "own vine and fig tree." In writing to an English correspondent, he shows his feeling for the place by saying, "No estate in United America, is more pleasantly situated than this. It lies in a high, dry and healthy country, three hundred miles by water from the sea, and, as you will see by the plan, on one of the finest rivers in the world."

The history of the Mount Vernon estate begins in 1674, when Lord Culpepper conveyed to Nicholas Spencer and Lieutenant-Colonel John Washington five thousand acres of land "scytuate Lying and being within the said terrytory in the County of Stafford in the ffreshes of the Pottomocke River and ... bounded betwixt two Creeks." Colonel John's half was bequeathed to his son Lawrence, and by Lawrence's will it was left to his daughter Mildred. She sold it to the father of George, who by his will left it to his son Lawrence, with a reversion to George should Lawrence die without issue. The original house was built about 1740, and the place was named Mount Vernon by Lawrence, in honor of Admiral Vernon, under whom he had served at Carthagena. After the death of Lawrence, the estate of twenty-five hundred acres came under Washington's management, and from 1754 it was his home, as it had been practically even in his brother's life.

Twice Washington materially enlarged the house at Mount Vernon, the first time in 1760 and the second in 1785, and a visitor reports, what his host must have told him, that "its a pity he did not build a new one at once, for it has cost him nearly as much to repair his old one." These alterations consisted in the addition of a banquet-hall at one end (by far the finest room in the house), and a library and dining-room at the other, with the addition of an entire story to the whole.

The grounds, too, were very much improved. A fine approach, or bowling green, was laid out, a "botanical garden," a "shrubbery," and greenhouses were added, and in every way possible the place was improved. A deer paddock was laid out and stocked, gifts of Chinese pheasants and geese, French partridges, and guinea-pigs were sent him, and were gratefully acknowledged, and from all the world over came curious, useful, or beautiful plants.

The original tract did not satisfy the ambition of the farmer, and from the time he came into the possession of Mount Vernon he was a persistent purchaser of lands adjoining the property. In 1760 he bargained with one Clifton for "a tract called Brents," of eighteen hundred and six acres, but after the agreement was closed the seller, "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." Presently Washington heard that Clifton had sold his lands to another for twelve hundred pounds, which "fully unravelled his conduct ... and convinced me that he was nothing less than a thorough pac'd rascall." Meeting the "rascall" at a court, "much discourse," Washington states, "happened between him and I concerning his ungenerous treatment of me, the whole turning to little account, 'tis not worth reciting." After much more friction, the land was finally sold at public auction, and "I bought it for 1210 Sterling, [and] under many threats and disadvantages paid the money."


In 1778, when some other land was offered, Washington wrote to his agent, "I have premised these things to shew my inability, not my unwillingness to purchase the Lands in my own Neck at (almost) any price--& this I am very desirous of doing if it could be accomplished by any means in my power, in ye way of Barter for other Land--for Negroes ... or in short--for any thing else ... but for money I cannot, I want the means." Again, in 1782, he wrote, "Inform Mr. Dulany,... that I look upon 2000 to be a great price for his land; that my wishes to obtain it do not proceed from its intrinsic value, but from the motives I have candidly assigned in my other letter. That to indulge this fancy, (for in truth there is more fancy than judgment in it) I have submitted, or am willing to submit, to the disadvantage of borrowing as large a sum as I think this Land is worth, in order to come at it"

By thus purchasing whenever an opportunity occurred, the property was increased from the twenty-five hundred acres which had come into Washington's possession by inheritance to an estate exceeding eight thousand acres, of which over thirty-two hundred were actually under cultivation during the latter part of its owner's life.

To manage so vast a tract, the property was subdivided into several tracts, called "Mansion House Farm," "River Farm," "Union Farm," "Muddy Hole Farm," and "Dogue Run Farm," each having an overseer to manage it, and each being operated as a separate plantation, though a general overseer controlled the whole, and each farm derived common benefit from the property as a whole. "On Saturday in the afternoon, every week, reports are made by all his overseers, and registered in books kept for the purpose," and these accounts were so schemed as to show how every negro's and laborer's time had been employed during the whole week, what crops had been planted or gathered, what increase or loss of stock had occurred, and every other detail of farm-work. During Washington's absences from Mount Vernon his chief overseer sent him these reports, as well as wrote himself, and weekly the manager received in return long letters of instruction, sometimes to the length of sixteen pages, which showed most wonderful familiarity with every acre of the estate and the character of every laborer, and are little short of marvellous when account is taken of the pressure of public affairs that rested upon their writer as he framed them.

When Washington became a farmer, but one system of agriculture, so far as Virginia was concerned, existed, which he described long after as follows:
"A piece of land is cut down, and kept under constant cultivation, first in tobacco, and then in Indian corn (two very exhausting plants), until it will yield scarcely any thing; a second piece is cleared, and treated in the same manner; then a third and so on, until probably there is but little more to clear. When this happens, the owner finds himself reduced to the choice of one of three things--either to recover the land which he has ruined, to accomplish which, he has perhaps neither the skill, the industry, nor the means; or to retire beyond the mountains; or to substitute quantity for quality, in order to raise something. The latter has been generally adopted, and, with the assistance of horses, he scratches over much ground, and seeds it, to very little purpose."
Knowing no better, Washington adopted this one-crop system, even to the extent of buying corn and hogs to feed his hands. Though following in the beaten track, he experimented in different kinds of tobacco, so that, "by comparing then the loss of the one with the extra price of the other, I shall be able to determine which is the best to pursue." The largest crop he ever seems to have produced, "being all sweet-scented and neatly managed," was one hundred and fifteen hogsheads, which averaged in sale twelve pounds each.

From a very early time Washington had been a careful student of such books on agriculture as he could obtain, even preparing lengthy abstracts of them, and the knowledge he thus obtained, combined with his own practical experience, soon convinced him that the Virginian system was wrong. "I never ride on my plantations," he wrote, "without seeing something which makes me regret having continued so long in the ruinous mode of farming, which we are in," and he soon "discontinued the growth of tobacco myself; [and] except at a plantation or two upon York River, I make no more of that article than barely serves to furnish me with goods."

From this time (1765) "the whole of my force [was] in a manner confined to the growth of wheat and manufacturing of it into flour," and before long he boasted that "the wheat from some of my plantations, by one pair of steelyards, will weigh upwards of sixty pounds,... and better wheat than I now have I do not expect to make." After the Revolution he claimed that "no wheat that has ever yet fallen under my observation exceeds the wheat which some years ago I cultivated extensively but which, from inattention during my absence of almost nine years from home, has got so mixed or degenerated as scarcely to retain any of its original characteristics properly." In 1768 he was able to sell over nineteen hundred bushels, and how greatly his product was increased after this is shown by the fact that in this same year he sowed four hundred and ninety bushels.

Still further study and experimentation led him to conclude that "my countrymen are too much used to corn blades and corn shucks; and have too little knowledge of the profit of grass lands," and after his final home-coming to Mount Vernon, he said, "I have had it in contemplation ever since I returned home to turn my farms to grazing principally, as fast as I can cover the fields sufficiently with grass. Labor and of course expence will be considerably diminished by this change, the nett profit as great and my attention less divided, whilst the fields will be improving." That this was only an abandonment of a "one crop" system is shown by the fact that in 1792 he grew over five thousand bushels of wheat, valued at four shillings the bushel, and in 1799 he said, "as a farmer, wheat and flour are my principal concerns." And though, in abandoning the growth of tobacco, Washington also tried "to grow as little Indian corn as may be," yet in 1795 his crop was over sixteen hundred barrels, and the quantity needed for his own negroes and stock is shown in a year when his crop failed, which "obliged me to purchase upwards of eight hundred barrels of corn."

In connection with this change of system, Washington became an early convert to the rotation of crops, and drew up elaborate tables sometimes covering periods of five years, so that the quantity of each crop should not vary, yet by which his fields should have constant change. This system naturally very much diversified the product of his estate, and flax, hay, clover, buckwheat, turnips, and potatoes became large crops. The scale on which this was done is shown by the facts that in one year he sowed twenty-seven bushels of flaxseed and planted over three hundred bushels of potatoes.

Early and late Washington preached to his overseers the value of fertilization; in one case, when looking for a new overseer, he said the man must be, "above all, Midas like, one who can convert everything he touches into manure, as the first transmutation towards gold;--in a word one who can bring worn out and gullied Lands into good tilth in the shortest time." Equally emphatic was his urging of constant ploughing and grubbing, and he even invented a deep soil plough, which he used till he found a better one in the English Rotheran plough, which he promptly imported, as he did all other improved farming tools and machinery of which he could learn. To save his woodlands, and for appearance's sake, he insisted on live fences, though he had to acknowledge that "no hedge, alone, will, I am persuaded, do for an outer inclosure, where two or four footed hogs find it convenient to open passage." In all things he was an experimentalist, carefully trying different kinds of tobacco and wheat, various kinds of plants for hedges, and various kinds of manure for fertilizers; he had tests made to see whether he could sell his wheat to best advantage in the grain or when made into flour, and he bred from selected horses, cattle, and sheep. "In short I shall begrudge no reasonable expence that will contribute to the improvement and neatness of my Farms;--for nothing pleases me better than to see them in good order, and everything trim, handsome, and thriving about them."

The magnitude of the charge of such an estate can be better understood when the condition of a Virginia plantation is realized. Before the Revolution practically everything the plantation could not produce was ordered yearly from Great Britain, and after the annual delivery of the invoices the estate could look for little outside help. Nor did this change rapidly after the Revolution, and during the period of Washington's management almost everything was bought in yearly supplies. This system compelled each plantation to be a little world unto itself; indeed, the three hundred souls on the Mount Vernon estate went far to make it a distinct and self-supporting community, and one of Washington's standing orders to his overseers was to "buy nothing you can make within yourselves." Thus the planting and gathering of the crops were but a small part of the work to be done.

A corps of workmen--some negroes, some indentured servants, and some hired laborers--were kept on the estate. A blacksmith-shop occupied some, doing not merely the work of the plantation, but whatever business was brought to them from outside; and a wood-burner kept them and the mansion-house supplied with charcoal. A gang of carpenters were kept busy, and their spare time was utilized in framing houses to be put up in Alexandria, or in the "Federal city," as Washington was called before the death of its namesake. A brick-maker, too, was kept constantly employed, and masons utilized the product of his labor. The gardener's gang had charge of the kitchen-garden, and set out thousands of grape-vines, fruit-trees, and hedge-plants.

A water-mill, with its staff, not merely ground meal for the hands, but produced a fine flour that commanded extra price in the market In 1786 Washington asserted that his flour was "equal, I believe, in quality to any made in this country," and the Mount Vernon brand was of such value that some money was made by buying outside wheat and grinding it into flour. The coopers of the estate made the barrels in which it was packed, and Washington's schooner carried it to market.

The estate had its own shoemaker, and in time a staff of weavers was trained. Before this was obtained, in 1760, though with only a modicum of the force he presently had, Washington ordered from London "450 ells of Osnabrig, 4 pieces of Brown Wools, 350 yards of Kendall Cotton, and 100 yards of Dutch blanket." By 1768 he was manufacturing the chief part of his requirements, for in that year his weavers produced eight hundred and fifteen and three-quarter yards of linen, three hundred and sixty-five and one-quarter yards of woollen, one hundred and forty-four yards of linsey, and forty yards of cotton, or a total of thirteen hundred and sixty-five and one-half yards, one man and five negro girls having been employed. When once the looms were well organized an infinite variety of cloths was produced, the accounts mentioning "striped woollen, woolen plaided, cotton striped, linen, wool-birdseye, cotton filled with wool, linsey, M.'s & O.'s, cotton-India dimity, cotton jump stripe, linen filled with tow, cotton striped with silk, Roman M., Janes twilled, huccabac, broadcloth, counterpain, birdseye diaper, Kirsey wool, barragon, fustian, bed-ticking, herring-box, and shalloon."

One of the most important features of the estate was its fishery, for the catch, salted down, largely served in place of meat for the negroes' food. Of this advantage Washington wrote, "This river,... is well supplied with various kinds of fish at all seasons of the year; and, in the spring, with the greatest profusion of shad, herrings, bass, carp, perch, sturgeon, &c. Several valuable fisheries appertain to the estate; the whole shore, in short, is one entire fishery." Whenever there was a run of fish, the seine was drawn, chiefly for herring and shad, and in good years this not merely amply supplied the home requirements, but allowed of sales; four or five shillings the thousand for herring and ten shillings the hundred for shad were the average prices, and sales of as high as eighty-five thousand herring were made in a single year.

In 1795, when the United States passed an excise law, distilling became particularly profitable, and a still was set up on the plantation. In this whiskey was made from "Rye chiefly and Indian corn in a certain proportion," and this not merely used much of the estate's product of those two grains, but quantities were purchased from elsewhere. In 1798 the profit from the distillery was three hundred and forty-four pounds twelve shillings and seven and three-quarter pence, with a stock carried over of seven hundred and fifty-five and one-quarter gallons; but this was the most successful year. Cider, too, was made in large quantities.

A stud stable was from an early time maintained, and the Virginia papers regularly advertised that the stud horse "Samson," "Magnolia," "Leonidas," "Traveller," or whatever the reigning stallion of the moment might be, would "cover" mares at Mount Vernon, with pasturage and a guarantee of foal, if their owners so elected. During the Revolution Washington bought twenty-seven of the army mares that had been "worn-down so as to render it beneficial to the public to have them sold," not even objecting to those "low in flesh or even crippled," because "I have many large Farms and am improving a good deal of Land into Meadow and Pasture, which cannot fail of being profited by a number of Brood Mares." In addition to the stud, there were, in 1793, fifty-four draught horses on the estate.

A unique feature of this stud was the possession of two jackasses, of which the history was curious. At that time there was a law in Spain (where the best breed was to be found) which forbade the exportation of asses, but the king, hearing of Washington's wish to possess a jack, sent him one of the finest obtainable as a present, which was promptly christened "Royal Gift." The sea-voyage and the change of climate, however, so affected him that for a time he proved of little value to his owner, except as a source of amusement, for Washington wrote Lafayette, "The Jack I have already received from Spain in appearance is fine, but his late Royal master, tho' past his grand climacteric cannot be less moved by female allurements than he is; or when prompted, can proceed with more deliberation and majestic solemnity to the work of procreation." This reluctance to play his part Washington concluded was a sign of aristocracy, and he wrote a nephew, "If Royal Gift will administer, he shall be at the service of your Mares, but at present he seems too full of Royalty, to have anything to do with a plebeian Race," and to Fitzhugh he said, "particular attention shall be paid to the mares which your servant brought, and when my Jack is in the humor, they shall derive all the benefit of his labor, for labor it appears to be. At present tho' young, he follows what may be supposed to be the example of his late Royal Master, who can not, tho' past his grand climacteric, perform seldomer or with more majestic solemnity than he does. However I am not without hope that when he becomes a little better acquainted with republican enjoyment, he will amend his manners, and fall into a better and more expeditious mode of doing business." This fortunately proved to be the case, and his master not merely secured such mules as he needed for his own use, but gained from him considerable profit by covering mares in the neighborhood. He even sent him on a tour through the South, and Royal Gift passed a whole winter in Charleston, South Carolina, with a resulting profit of six hundred and seventy-eight dollars to his owner. In 1799 there were on the estate "2 Covering Jacks & 3 young ones, 10 she asses, 42 working mules and 15 younger ones."

Of cattle there were in 1793 a total of three hundred and seventeen head, including "a sufficiency of oxen broke to the yoke," and a dairy was operated separate from the farms, and some butter was made, but Washington had occasion to say, "It is hoped, and will be expected, that more effectual measures will be pursued to make butter another year; for it is almost beyond belief, that from 101 cows actually reported on a late enumeration of the cattle, that I am obliged to buy butter for the use of my family."

Sheep were an unusual adjunct of a Virginia plantation, and of his flock Washington wrote, "From the beginning of the year 1784 when I returned from the army, until shearing time of 1788, I improved the breed of my sheep so much by buying and selecting the best formed and most promising Rams, and putting them to my best ewes, by keeping them always well culled and clean, and by other attentions, that they averaged me ... rather over than under five pounds of washed wool each." In another letter he said, "I ... was proud in being able to produce perhaps the largest mutton and the greatest quantity of wool from my sheep that could be produced. But I was not satisfied with this; and contemplated further improvements both in the flesh and wool by the introduction of other breeds, which I should by this time have carried into effect, had I been permitted to pursue my favorite occupation." In 1789, however, "I was again called from home, and have not had it in my power since to pay any attention to my farms. The consequence of which is, that my sheep at the last shearing, yielded me not more than 2-1/2" pounds. In 1793 he had six hundred and thirty-four in his flock, from which he obtained fourteen hundred and-fifty-seven pounds of fleece. Of hogs he had "many," but "as these run pretty much at large in the woodland, the number is uncertain." In 1799 his manager valued his entire live-stock at seven thousand pounds.

A separate account was kept of each farm, and of many of these separate departments, and whenever there was a surplus of any product an account was opened to cover it. Thus in various years there are accounts raised dealing with cattle, hay, flour, flax, cord-wood, shoats, fish, whiskey, pork, etc., and his secretary, Shaw, told a visitor that the "books were as regular as any merchant whatever." It is proper to note, however, that sometimes they would not balance, and twice at least Washington could only force one, by entering "By cash supposed to be paid away & not credited 17.6.2," and "By cash lost, stolen or paid away without charging 143.15.2." All these accounts were tabulated at the end of the year and the net results obtained. Those for a single year are here given:
Dr. gained.

Dogue Run Farm.      397.11.02
Union Farm .....     529.10.11-1/2
River Farm .....     234. 4.11
Smith's Shop....      34.12.09 1/2
Distillery .....      83.13.01
Jacks ..........      56.01
Traveller (studhorse)  9.17
Shoemaker.......      28.17.01
Fishery ........     165.12.0-3/4
Dairy ..........      30.12.03

Cr. lost.

Mansion House...     466.18.02-1/2
Muddy Hole Farm       60.01.03-1/2
Spinning .......      51.02.0
Hire of head
   overseer ....     140.00.0

By Clear gain on
 the Estate. 898.16.4-1/4
A pretty poor showing for an estate and negroes which had certainly cost him over fifty thousand dollars, and on which there was livestock which at the lowest estimation was worth fifteen thousand dollars more. It is not strange that in 1793 Washington attempted to find tenants for all but the Mansion farm. This he reserved for my "own residence, occupation and amusement," as Washington held that "idleness is disreputable," and in 1798 he told his chief overseer he did not choose to "discontinue my rides or become a cipher on my own estate."

When at Mount Vernon, as this indicated, Washington rode daily about his estate, and he has left a pleasant description of his life immediately after retiring from the Presidency: "I begin my diurnal course with the sun;... if my hirelings are not in their places at that time I send them messages expressive of my sorrow for their indisposition;... having put these wheels in motion, I examine the state of things further; and the more they are probed, the deeper I find the wounds are which my buildings have sustained by my absence and neglect of eight years; by the time I have accomplished these matters, breakfast (a little after seven o'clock)... is ready;... this being over, I mount my horse and ride round my farms, which employs me until it is time to dress for dinner." A visitor at this time is authority for the statement that the master "often works with his men himself--strips off his coat and labors like a common man. The General has a great turn for mechanics. It's astonishing with what niceness he directs everything in the building way, condescending even to measure the things himself, that all may be perfectly uniform."

This personal attention Washington was able to give only with very serious interruptions. From 1754 till 1759 he was most of the time on the frontier; for nearly nine years his Revolutionary service separated him absolutely from his property; and during the two terms of his Presidency he had only brief and infrequent visits. Just one-half of his forty-six years' occupancy of Mount Vernon was given to public service.

The result was that in 1757 he wrote, "I am so little acquainted with the business relative to my private affairs that I can scarce give you any information concerning it," and this was hardly less true of the whole period of his absences. In 1775 he engaged overseers to manage his various estates in his absence "upon shares," but during the whole war the plantations barely supported themselves, even with depletion of stock and fertility, and he was able to draw nothing from them. One overseer, and a confederate, he wrote, "I believe, divided the profits of my Estate on the York River, tolerably betwn. them, for the devil of any thing do I get." Well might he advise knowingly that "I have no doubt myself but that middling land under a man's own eyes, is more profitable than rich land at a distance." "No Virginia Estate (except a very few under the best of management) can stand simple Interest," he declared, and went even further when he wrote, "the nature of a Virginia Estate being such, that without close application, it never fails bringing the proprietors in Debt annually." "To speak within bounds," he said, "ten thousand pounds will not compensate the losses I might have avoided by being at home, & attending a little to my own concerns" during the Revolution.

Fortunately for the farmer, the Mount Vernon estate was but a small part of his property. His father had left him a plantation of two hundred and eighty acres on the Rappahannock, "one Moiety of my Land lying on Deep Run," three lots in Frederick "with all the houses and Appurtenances thereto belonging," and one quarter of the residuary estate. While surveying for Lord Fairfax in 1748, as part of his compensation Washington patented a tract of five hundred and fifty acres in Frederick County, which he always spoke of as "My Bull-skin plantation."

As a military bounty in the French and Indian War the governor of Virginia issued a proclamation granting Western lands to the soldiers, and under this Washington not merely secured fifteen thousand acres in his own right, but by buying the claims of some of his fellow officers doubled that quantity. A further tract was also obtained under the kindred proclamation of 1763, "5000 Acres of Land in my own right, & by purchase from Captn. Roots, Posey, & some other officers, I obtained rights to several thousand more." In 1786, after sales, he had over thirty thousand acres, which he then offered to sell at thirty thousand guineas, and in 1799, when still more had been sold, his inventory valued the holdings at nearly three hundred thousand dollars.

In addition, Washington was a partner in several great land speculations,--the Ohio Company, the Walpole Grant, the Mississippi Company, the Military Company of Adventures, and the Dismal Swamp Company; but all these ventures except the last collapsed at the beginning of the Revolution and proved valueless. His interest in the Dismal Swamp Company he held at the time of his death, and it was valued in the inventory at twenty thousand dollars.

The properties that came to him from his brother Lawrence and with his wife have already been described. It may be worth noting that with the widow of Lawrence there was a dispute over the will, but apparently it was never carried into the courts, and that owing to the great depreciation of paper money during the Revolution the Custis personal property was materially lessened, for "I am now receiving 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," Washington wrote, and in 1778 he said, "by the comparitive worth of money, six or seven thousand pounds which I have in Bonds upon Interest is now reduced to as many hundreds because I can get no more for a thousand at this day than a hundred would have fetched when I left Virginia, Bonds, debts, Rents, &c. undergoing no change while the currency is depreciating in value and for ought I know may in a little time be totally sunk." Indeed, in 1781 he complained "that I have totally neglected all my private concerns, which are declining every day, and may, possibly, end in capital losses, if not absolute ruin, before I am at liberty to look after them."

In 1784 he became partner with George Clinton in some land purchases in the State of New York with the expectation of buying the "mineral springs at Saratoga; and ... the Oriskany tract, on which Fort Schuyler stands." In this they were disappointed, but six thousand acres in the Mohawk valley were obtained "amazingly cheap." Washington's share cost him, including interest, eighteen hundred and seventy-five pounds, and in 1793 two-thirds of the land had been sold for three thousand four hundred pounds, and in his inventory of 1799 Washington valued what he still held of the property at six thousand dollars.

In 1790, having inside information that the capital was to be removed from New York to Philadelphia, Washington tried to purchase a farm near that city, foreseeing a speedy rise in value. In this apparently he did not succeed. Later he purchased lots in the new Federal city, and built houses on two of them. He also had town lots in Williamsburg, Alexandria, Winchester, and Bath. In addition to all this property there were many smaller holdings. Much was sold or traded, yet when he died, besides his wife's real estate and the Mount Vernon property, he possessed fifty-one thousand three hundred and ninety-five acres, exclusive of town property. A contemporary said "that General Washington is, perhaps, the greatest landholder in America."

All these lands, except Mount Vernon, were, so far as possible, rented, but the net income was not large. Rent agents were employed to look after the tenants, but low rents, war, paper money, a shifting population, and Washington's dislike of lawsuits all tended to reduce the receipts, and the landlord did not get simple interest on his investments. Thus, in 1799 he complains of slow payments from tenants in Washington and Lafayette Counties (Pennsylvania). Instead of an expected six thousand dollars, due June 1, but seventeen hundred dollars were received.

Income, however, had not been his object in loading himself with such a vast property, as Washington believed that he was certain to become rich. "For proof of" the rise of land, he wrote in 1767, "only look to Frederick, [county] and see what fortunes were made by the ... first taking up of those lands. Nay, how the greatest estates we have in this colony were made. Was it not by taking up and purchasing at very low rates the rich back lands, which were thought nothing of in those days, but are now the most valuable land we possess?"

In this he was correct, but in the mean time he was more or less land-poor. To a friend in 1763 he wrote that the stocking and repairing of his plantations "and other matters ... swallowed up before I well knew where I was, all the moneys I got by marriage, nay more, brought me in debt" In 1775, replying to a request for a loan, he declared that "so far am I from having 200 to lend ... I would gladly borrow that sum myself for a few months." When offered land adjoining Mount Vernon for three thousand pounds in 1778, he could only reply that it was "a sum I have little chance, if I had inclination, to pay; & therefore would not engage it, as I am resolved not to incumber myself with Debt." In 1782, to secure a much desired tract he was forced to borrow two thousand pounds York currency at the rate of seven per cent.

In 1788, "the total loss of my crop last year by the drought" "with necessary demands for cash" "have caused me much perplexity and given me more uneasiness than I ever experienced before from want of money," and a year later, just before setting out to be inaugurated, he tried to borrow five hundred pounds "to discharge what I owe" and to pay the expenses of the journey to New York, but was "unable to obtain more than half of it, (though it was not much I required), and this at an advanced interest with other rigid conditions," though at this time "could I get in one fourth part of what is due me on Bonds" "without the intervention of suits" there would have been ample funds. In 1795 the President said, "my friends entertain a very erroneous idea of my particular resources, when they set me down for a money lender, or one who (now) has a command of it. You may believe me when I assert that the bonds which were due to me before the Revolution, were discharged during the progress of it--with a few exceptions in depreciated paper (in some instances as low as a shilling in the pound). That such has been the management of the Estate, for many years past, especially since my absence from home, now six years, as scarcely to support itself. That my public allowance (whatever the world may think of it) is inadequate to the expence of living in this City; to such an extravagant height has the necessaries as well as the conveniences of life arisen. And, moreover that to keep myself out of debt; I have found it expedient now and then to sell Lands, or something else to effect this purpose."


As these extensive land ventures bespoke a national characteristic, so a liking for other forms of speculation was innate in the great American. During the Revolution he tried to secure an interest in a privateer. One of his favorite flyers was chances in lotteries and raffles, which, if now found only in association with church fairs, were then not merely respectable, but even fashionable. In 1760 five pounds and ten shillings were invested in one lottery. Five pounds purchased five tickets in Strother's lottery in 1763. Three years later six pounds were risked in the York lottery and produced prizes to the extent of sixteen pounds. Fifty pounds were put into Colonel Byrd's lottery in 1769, and drew a half-acre lot in the town of Manchester, but out of this Washington was defrauded. In 1791 John Potts was paid four pounds and four shillings "in part for 20 Lottery tickets in the Alexa. street Lottery at 6/ each, 14 Dollrs. the Bal. was discharged by 2.3 Lotr prizes." Twenty tickets of Peregrine and Fitzhugh's lottery cost one hundred and eighty-eight dollars in 1794. And these are but samples of innumerable instances. So, too, in raffles, the entries are constant,--"for glasses 20/," "for a Necklace 1.," "by profit & loss in two chances in raffling for Encyclopadia Britannica, which I did not win 1.4," two tickets were taken in the raffle of Mrs. Dawson's coach, as were chances for a pair of silver buckles, for a watch, and for a gun; such and many others were smaller ventures Washington took.

There were other sources of income or loss besides. Before the Revolution he had a good sized holding of Bank of England stock, and an annuity in the funds, besides considerable property on bond, the larger part of which, as already noted, was liquidated in depreciated paper money. This paper money was for the most part put into United States securities, and eventually the "at least 10,000 Virginia money" proved to be worth six thousand two hundred and forty-six dollars in government six per cents and three per cents. A great believer in the Potomac Canal Company, Washington invested twenty-four hundred pounds sterling in the stock, which produced no income, and in time showed a heavy shrinkage. Another and smaller loss was an investment in the James River Canal Company. Stock holdings in the Bank of Columbia and in the Bank of Alexandria proved profitable investments.

None the less Washington was a successful businessman. Though his property rarely produced a net income, and though he served the public with practically no profit (except as regards bounty lands), and thus was compelled frequently to dip into his capital to pay current expenses, yet, from being a surveyor only too glad to earn a doubloon (seven dollars and forty cents) a day, he grew steadily in wealth, and when he died his property, exclusive of his wife's and the Mount Vernon estate, was valued at five hundred and thirty thousand dollars. This made him one of the wealthiest Americans of his time, and it is to be questioned if a fortune was ever more honestly acquired or more thoroughly deserved.


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