VISIT TO WASHINGTON.
The following letters are extracts from the manuscript diary of an English gentleman, Mr. Hunter, who came to America in 1785 and visited Washington at Mount Vernon. They give a very graphic description of the home life of Washington at that time. The letters were presented to our Historical Society by Mr. Evan Powell, of Powellton. W. Va.
Extract from the dairy of Mr. Hunter.
STATE OF VIRGINIA, ALEXANDRIA.
Wednesday 16th of Nov’r, 1785. After breakfast I waited on Colonel Fitzgerald. A fire that had broken out in the town hindered us from getting off so soon as we intended. However, after some trouble it was extinguished and at half past eleven we left Alexander with Mr. Lee, the president of Congress, his son and the servants. You have a fine view of the Potomac till you enter a wood. A small rivulet here divides the General’s estate from the neighboring farmers. His seat breaks out beautifully upon you when you little expect, being situated upon a most elegant rising ground on the banks of the Potomac. 10 miles from Alexandria. We arrived at Mt. Vernon by one o’clock so-called by the General’s eldest brother, who lived there before him after the Admiral of that name. When Colonel Fitzgerald introduced me to the General I was struck with his noble and venerable appearance. It immediately brought to my mind the great par: he had acted in the late war. The General is about six feet high, perfectly straight and well made; rather inclined to be lusty. His eyes are full and blue and seem to express an air of gravity. His nose inclines to be the aquiline; his mouth small: his teeth are yet good and his cheeks indicate perfect health. His forehead is a noble one and he wears his hair turned back, without curls and quite in the officers style, and tied a long queue behind. Altogether he makes a most noble, respectable appearance, and I really think him the first man in the world After having had the management and care of the whole Continental Army, he has now retired without receiving any pay for his trouble, and though solicited by the King of France and some of the first characters in the world to visit Europe, he has denied them all and knows how to prefer solid happiness in his retirement to all the luxuries and flattering speeches of European Courts. The General was born and educated near Fredericksburg on the Rappahannock. He must be a man of great abilities and a strong natural genius, as his master never (aught him anything but writing and arithmetic. People came to see him here from all parts of the world – hardly a day passes without; but the General seldom makes his appearance before dinner; employing the morning to write his letters and superintend his farm, and allotting the afternoon to company: but even then he generally retires for two hours between tea and supper to his study to write.
He is one of the most regular men in the world. When no particular company is at his house, he goes to bed always at nine and gets up with the sun. It’s astonishing the packets of letters that daily come for him, from all parts of the world, which employ him most of the morning to answer, and his Secretary, Mr. Shaw, (an acquaintance of mine) to copy and arrange. The General has all the accounts of the war yet to settle. Shaw tells me he keeps as regular books as any merchant whatever, and a daily journal of all his transactions. It’s amazing the number of letters he wrote during the war:
There are thirty large folio volumes of them upstairs, as big as common ledgers, all neatly copied. The General is remarkable for writing a most elegant letter. Like the famous Addison, his writing excels his speaking. But to finish this long digression, when I was first introduced to him he was neatly dressed in a plain blue coat, white cassimere waistcoat, and black breeches and boots, as he came from his farm. After having sat with us some time he retired and sent in his lady, a most agreeable woman about 50, and Major Washington, his nephew, married about three weeks ago to a Miss Bassett: She is Mrs. Washington’s niece and a most charming young woman. She is about 19. After chatting with them for half an hour, the General came in again, with his hair neatly powdered, a clean shirt on, a new plain drab coat, white waistcoat and white silk stockings. At three dinner was on the table, and we were shown by the General into another room, where everything was set off with a peculiar taste, and at the same time very neat and plain. The General sent the bottle about pretty freely after dinner, and gave success to the navigation of the Potomac for his toast, which he was very much at heart, and when finished will I suppose be the first river in the world. He never undertakes anything, without having first well considered of it and consulted different people, but when once he has begun anything, no obstacle or difficulty can come in his way, but what he is determined to surmount. The Generals character seems to be a prudent, but a very persevering one.
He is quite pleased at the idea of the Baltimore Merchants laughing at him, and saying it was a ridiculous plan and would never succeed. They begin now says the General, to look a little serious about the matter, as they know it must hurt their commerce amazingly.
The Colonel and I had our horses ready after dinner to return to Alexandria, and notwithstanding all we could do the General absolutely insisted upon our staying on account of the bad afternoon. We therefore complied, (although it was fully my intention to have set off either to Fredericksburg in my way to Mr. McCall’s. in the stage, if the morning was tine, and if not, most certainly back again. to Baltimore) as I could not refuse the pressing and kind invitation of so great a General, tho’ our greatest enemy, I admire him as superior even to the Roman heroes themselves.
After tea, General Washington retired to his study and left us with the President, his lady and the rest of the company. If he had not been anxious to hear the news of Congress from Mr. Lee, most probably he would not have returned to supper, but gone to his bed at his usual hour, nine o’clock, for he seldom makes any ceremony. We had a very elegant supper about that tune. The General with a few glasses of champagne got quite merry, and being with his intimate friends laughed and talked a good deal. Before strangers he is generally very reserved, and seldom says a word. I was fortunate in being in his company with his particular acquaintances. I am told during the war he was never seen to smile. The care indeed of such an army was almost enough to make anybody thoughtful and grave. No man but the General could have kept the army together without victuals or clothes; they placed a confidence in him that they would have had in no other person.
His being a man of great fortune and having no children showed them it was quite a disinterested part that he was acting’ with regard to money making and that he had only the good of his country at heart. The soldiers, tho’ starving at times, in a manner adored him.
We had a great deal of conversation about the slippery ground (as the General said) that Franklin was on and also about Congress, the Potomac, improving their roads, etc. At 12 I had the honor of being lighted up to my bedroom by the General himself.
I rose early and took a walk about the General’s grounds which are really beautifully laid out. He has about 4,000 acres well cultivated and superintends the whole himself. Indeed his greatest pride now is, to be thought the first farmer in America. He is quite a Cincinnatus, and 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. The style of his house is very elegant, something like the Prince de Conde’s at Chantill, near Paris, only not quite so large; but it’s a pity he did not build a new one at once, as it has cost him nearly as much repairing his old one. His improvements I am told are very great within the last year. He is making a most delightful bowling green before the house and cutting a new road thro’ the woods to Alexandria. It would be endless to attempt describing his house and grounds – I must content myself with having seen them. The situation is a heavenly one, upon one of the finest rivers in the world. I suppose I saw thousands of wild ducks upon it all within gun shot. There are also plenty of blackbird’s and wild geese and turkies. After breakfast I went with Shaw to see his famous racehorse Magnolia – a most beautiful creature. A whole length of him was taken a little while ago (mounted on Magnolia;) by a famous man from Europe in copper – and Iris bust in marble – one by the State of Virginia, to stand in the House of Assembly. They will cost about 6,000 sterling. Shaw says. He also showed me an elegant State carriage, with beautiful emblematical figures on it made him a present of by the State of Pennsylvania. I afterwards went in to his stables, where among an amazing number of horses. I saw old Nelson, now about 22 years of age, that carried the general almost always during the war; Blueskin another fine old horse next to him, now and then had that honor. Shaw also showed me his old servant, that was reported to have been taken, with a number of the General’s papers about him. They have heard the roaring of many a cannon in their time. Blueskin was not the favorite, on account of his not standing tire so well as venerable old Nelson. The General makes no manner of use of them now; he keeps them in a nice stable where they feed away at their ease for their past services. There is a horse of .Major Washington’s there that was reckoned the finest figure in the American arm}’. It’s astonishing what a number of small houses the General has upon his estate for his different workmen and negroes to live in. He has everything within himself – carpenters, bricklayers, brewers, blacksmiths, bakers, etc., etc., and even has a well assorted store for the use of his family and servants.
When the General takes his coach out he always drives six horses; to his chariot he only puts four. The General has some fine deer, which he is going to enclose a park for – also some remarkable large fox hounds, made him a present of from England, as he is fond of hunting, and there are great plenty of foxes in this county. I forgot to mention Mrs. Washington’s sweet little grandchildren, who I imagine, will come in for a share of the General’s fortune with the Major. I fancy he is worth 100.000 pounds sterling and lives at the rate of 3 or 4.000 a year; always keeping a genteel table for strangers, that almost daily visit him as a thing of course. There is a fine family picture in the drawing room of the Marquis de La Fayette, his lady and three children, another of the General with his marching orders, when he was Colonel Washington in the British army against the French in the last year; and two of Mr. Washington’s children; her- son was reckoned one of the handsomest men living; also a picture of Mrs. Washington when a young woman.
The General has some hundreds of negroes on his plantations. He chiefly grows Indian corn, wheat and tobacco.
Its astonishing with what raptures Mrs. Washington spoke about the discipline of the army, the excellent order they were in superior to an\- troops we said upon the face of the earth towards the close of the war; even the English acknowledge it, she said. What pleasure she took in the sound of the fifes and drums, preferring it to any music that was ever heard; and then to see them reviewed a week or two before the men were disbanded, when they were all well clothed was she said a most heavenly sight; almost every soldier shed tears at parting with the General when the army was disbanded: Mrs. Washington said it was a most melancholy sight. The situation of Mount Vernon is by nature one of the sweetest in the world, and what makes it still more pleasing is the amazing number of sloops that are constantly sailing up and down the river. Indeed all the ships that come to Alexandria or George Town’ must sail by the General’s house.
At eleven we took leave of him. I shook him heartily by the hand and wished him all happiness. Mr. Lee and his son left us soon after to go to their seat on this side of the Rappahannock about 16 miles from Mr. McCalls at Hobb’s Hole. In our way to Alexandria we fell in with Mr. Lunn Washington, the gentleman who managed the General’s estate during the war.
We were soon after joined by a gentleman with a pack of fine hounds in search of a fox. They had had a tine hunt this morning and killed one. We arrived at Alexandria by one.