GEORGE WASHINGTON: FARMER
BEING AN ACCOUNT OF HIS HOME LIFE AND AGRICULTURAL ACTIVITIES
PAUL LELAND HAWORTH
Author of THE PATH OF GLORY, RECONSTRUCTION AND UNION, AMERICA IN FERMENT, ETC.
WITH MANY ILLUSTRATIONS, FACSIMILIES OF PRIVATE PAPERS, AND A MAP OF WASHINGTON'S ESTATE DRAWN BY HIMSELF
"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.
PAUL LELAND HAWORTH.
I A MAN IN LOVE WITH THE SOIL. II BUILDING AN ESTATE. III VIRGINIA AGRICULTURE IN WASHINGTON'S DAY. IV WASHINGTON'S PROBLEM. V THE STUDENT OF AGRICULTURE. VI A FARMER'S RECORDS AND OTHER PAPERS. VII AGRICULTURAL OPERATIONS AND EXPERIMENTS BEFORE THE REVOLUTION. VIII CONSERVING THE SOIL. IX THE STOCKMAN. X THE HORTICULTURIST AND LANDSCAPE GARDENER. XI WHITE SERVANTS AND OVERSEERS. XII BLACK SLAVES. XIII THE FARMER'S WIFE. XIV A FARMER'S AMUSEMENTS. XV A CRITICAL VISITOR AT MOUNT VERNON. XVI PROFIT AND LOSS. XVII ODDS AND ENDS. XVIII THE VALE OF SUNSET.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
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.
A MAN IN LOVE WITH THE SOIL
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 conquests."
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 role 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 role 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.
BUILDING AN ESTATE
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 existence.
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.
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. 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.
 From entries in Washington's account book we know that this equivalent in 1755 was L93.15; during each of the next four years it was L87.10, and for 1760 it was L81.5.
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.
 Adapted from a description written by his comrade-in-arms, George Mercer.
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 L4." 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 L15.11.7.
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, jurisdictions and proclamations.
Washington, however, had seen the land and knew it was good and he had prophetic faith in the future of the West. He employed his old comrade Captain William Crawford to locate and survey likely tracts not only in what is now West Virginia and western Pennsylvania, but beyond the Ohio River. Settlement in the latter region had been forbidden by the King's proclamation of 1763, but Washington thought that this was merely a temporary measure designed to quiet the Indians and was anxious to have picked out in advance "some of the most valuable land in the King's part." In other words he desired Crawford to act the part of a "Sooner," in the language of more than a century later.
In this period a number of companies were scrambling for western lands, and Washington, at one time or another, had an interest in what was known as the Walpole Grant, the Mississippi Company, the Military Company of Adventurers and the Dismal Swamp Company. This last company, however, was interested in redeeming lands about Dismal Swamp in eastern Virginia and it was the only one that succeeded. In 1799 he estimated the value of his share in that company at twenty thousand dollars.
Washington took the lead in securing the rights of his old soldiers in the French War, advancing money to pay expenses in behalf of the common cause and using his influence in the proper quarters. In August, 1770, he met many of his former officers at Captain Weedon's in Fredericksburg, and after they had dined and had talked over old times, they discussed the subject of their claims until sunset, and it was decided that Washington should personally make a long and dangerous trip to the western region.
In October he set out with his old friend Doctor James Craik and three servants, including the ubiquitous Billy Lee, and on the way increased the party. They followed the old Braddock Road to Pittsburgh, then a village of about twenty log cabins, visiting en route some tracts of land that Crawford had selected. At Pittsburgh they obtained a large dugout, and with Crawford, two Indians and several borderers, floated down the Ohio, picking out and marking rich bottom lands and having great sport hunting and fishing.
The region in which they traveled was then little known and was unsettled by white men. Daniel Boone had made his first hunting trip into "the dark and bloody ground of Kaintuckee" only the year before, and scattered along the banks of the Ohio stood the wigwam villages of the aboriginal lords of the land. At one such village Washington met a chief who had accompanied him on his memorable winter journey in 1753 to warn out the French, and elsewhere talked with Indians who had shot at him in the battle of the Monongahela and now expressed a belief that he must be invulnerable. At the Mingo Town they saw a war party of three score painted Iroquois on their way to fight the far distant Catawbas. Between the Indians and the white men peace nominally reigned, but rumors were flying of impending uprisings, and the Red Man's smouldering hate was soon to burst into the flame known as Lord Dunmore's War. Once the party was alarmed by a report that the Indians had killed two white men, but they breathed easier on learning that the sole basis of the story was that a trader had tried to swim his horse across the Ohio and had been drowned. In spite of uncertainties, the voyagers continued to the Great Kanawha and paddled about fourteen miles up that stream. Near its mouth Washington located two large tracts for himself and military comrades and after interesting hunting experiences and inspecting some enormous sycamores—concerning which matters more hereafter—the party turned back, and Washington reached home after an absence of nine weeks.
Two of Washington's western tracts are of special interest. One had been selected by Crawford in 1767 and was "a fine piece of land on a stream called Chartiers Creek" in the present Washington County, southwest of Pittsburgh. Crawford surveyed the tract and marked it by blazed trees, built four cabins and cleared a patch of ground, as an improvement, about each. Later Washington, casting round for some one from whom to obtain a military title with which to cover the tract, bought out the claim of his financially embarrassed old neighbor Captain John Posey to three thousand acres, paying L11.11.3, or about two cents per acre. Crawford, now a deputy surveyor of the region, soon after resurveyed two thousand eight hundred thirteen acres and forwarded the "return" to Washington, with the result that in 1774 Governor Dunmore of Virginia granted a patent for the land.
In the meantime, however, six squatters built a cabin upon the tract and cleared two or three acres, but Crawford paid them five pounds for their improvements and induced them to move on. To keep off other interlopers he placed a man on the land, but in 1773 a party of rambunctious Scotch-Irishmen appeared on the scene, drove the keeper away, built a cabin so close in front of his door that he could not get back in, and continued to hold the land until after the Revolution.
By that time Crawford himself was dead—having suffered the most terrible of all deaths—that of an Indian captive burnt at the stake.
The other tract whose history it is worth our while to follow consisted of twelve hundred acres on the Youghiogheny River, likewise not far from Pittsburgh. It bore seams of coal, which Washington examined in 1770 and thought "to be of the very best kind, burning freely and abundance of it." In the spring of 1773 he sent out a certain Gilbert Simpson, with whom he had formed a sort of partnership, to look after this land, and each furnished some laborers, Washington a "fellow" and a "wench." Simpson managed to clear some ground and get in six acres of corn, but his wife disliked life on the borderland and made him so uncomfortable with her complaints that he decided to throw up the venture. However, he changed his mind, and after a trip back East returned and, on a site noticed by the owner on his visit, built a grist mill on a small stream now called Washington's Run that empties into the Youghiogheny. This was one of the first mills erected west of the Alleghany Mountains and is still standing, though more or less rebuilt. The millstones were dug out of quarries in the neighborhood and the work of building the mill was done amid considerable danger from the Indians, who had begun what is known as Dunmore's War. Simpson's cabin and the slave quarters stood near what is now Plant No. 2 of the Washington Coal and Coke Company. The tract of land contains valuable seams of coal and with some contiguous territory is valued at upward of twenty million dollars.
Washington had large ideas for the development of these western lands. At one time he considered attempting to import Palatine Germans to settle there, but after careful investigation decided that the plan was impracticable. In 1774 he bought four men convicts, four indented servants, and a man and his wife for four years and sent them and some carpenters out to help Simpson build the mill and otherwise improve the lands. Next year he sent out another party, but Indian troubles and later the Revolution united with the natural difficulties of the country to put a stop to progress. Some of the servants were sold and others ran away, but Simpson stayed on in charge, though without making any financial settlement with his patron till 1784.
At the close of the Revolution Washington wrote to President John Witherspoon of Princeton College that he had in the western country patents under signature of Lord Dunmore "for about 30,000 acres, and surveys for about 10,000 more, patents for which were suspended by the disputes with Great Britain, which soon followed the return of the warrants to the land office. Ten thousand acres of the above thirty lie upon the Ohio; the rest on the Great Kenhawa, a river nearly as large, and quite as easy in its navigation, as the former, The whole of it is rich bottom land, beautifully situated on these rivers, and abounding plenteously in fish, wild-fowl, and game of all kinds."
He could have obtained vast land grants for his Revolutionary services, but he stuck by his announced intention of receiving only compensation for his expenses. He continued, however, to be greatly interested in the western country and was one of the first Americans to foresee the importance of that region to the young Republic, predicting that it would become populated more rapidly than any one could believe and faster than any similar region ever had been settled. He was extremely anxious to develop better methods of communication with the West and in 1783 made a trip up the Mohawk River to the famous Oneida or Great Carrying Place to view the possibilities of waterway development in that region—the future course of the Erie Canal. Soon after he wrote to his friend the Chevalier de Chastellux: "I could not help taking a more extensive view of the vast inland navigation of these United States and could not but be struck by the immense extent and importance of it, and of the goodness of that Providence which has dealt its favors to us with so profuse a hand. Would to God we may have wisdom enough to improve them. I shall not rest contented till I have explored the Western Country, and traversed those lines or great part of them, which have given bounds to a new empire."
In partnership with George Clinton he bought, in 1784, a tract of six thousand acres on the Mohawk, paying for his share, including interest, one thousand eight hundred seventy-five pounds. In 1793 he sold two-thirds of his half for three thousand four hundred pounds and in his will valued the thousand acres that remained at six thousand dollars. This was a speculation pure and simple, as he was never in the region in which the land lay but once.
On December 23, 1783, in an ever memorable scene, Washington resigned his commission as Commander of the Continental Army and rode off from Annapolis to Mount Vernon to keep Christmas there for the first time since 1774. The next eight months he was busily engaged in making repairs and improvements about his home estate, but on September first, having two days before said good-by to Lafayette, who had been visiting him, he set off on horseback to inspect his western lands and to obtain information requisite to a scheme he had for improving the "Inland Navigation of the Potomac" and connecting its head waters by canal with those of the Ohio. The first object was rendered imperative by the settlement of squatters on part of his richest land, some of which was even being offered for sale by unscrupulous land agents.
With him went again his old friend Doctor Craik. Their equipage consisted of three servants and six horses, three of which last carried the baggage, including a marquee, some camp utensils, a few medicines, "hooks and lines," Madeira, port wine and cherry bounce. Stopping at night and for meals at taverns or the homes of relatives or friends, they passed up the picturesque Potomac Valley, meeting many friends along the way, among them the celebrated General Daniel Morgan, with whom Washington talked over the waterways project. At "Happy Retreat," the home of Charles Washington in the fertile Shenandoah Valley, beyond the Blue Ridge, Washington met and transacted business with tenants who lived on his lands in that region. On September fifth he reached Bath, the present Berkeley Springs, where he owned two thousand acres of land and two lots. Here fifteen years before he had come with his family in the hope that the water would benefit poor "Patey" Custis, and here he met "the ingenious Mr. Rumney" who showed him the model of a boat to be propelled by steam.
At Bath the party was joined by Doctor Craik's son William and by the General's nephew, Bushrod Washington. Twelve miles to the west Washington turned aside from the main party to visit a tract of two hundred forty acres that he owned on the Virginia side of the Potomac. He found it "exceedingly Rich, & must be very valuable—the lower end of the Land is rich white oak in places springey ... the upper part is ... covered with Walnut of considerable size many of them." He "got a snack" at the home of a Mr. McCracken and left with that gentleman the terms upon which he would let the land, then rode onward and rejoined the others.
The cavalcade passed on to Fort Cumberland. There Washington left the main party to follow with the baggage and hurried on ahead along Braddock's old road in order to fill an appointment to be at Gilbert Simpson's by the fifteenth. Passing through the dark tangle of Laurel known as the Shades of Death, he came on September twelfth to the opening among the mountains—the Great Meadows—where in 1754 in his rude little fort of logs, aptly named Fort Necessity, he had fought the French and had been conquered by them. He owned the spot now, for in 1770 Crawford had bought it for him for "30 Pistols," Thirty years before, as an enthusiastic youth, he had called it a "charming field for an encounter"; now he spoke of it as "capable of being turned to great advantage ... a very good stand for a Tavern—much Hay may be cut here When the ground is laid down in grass & the upland, East of the Meadow, is good for grain."
 Doubtless he meant pistoles, coins, not weapons.
Not a word about the spot's old associations!
The same day he pushed on through the mountains, meeting "numbers of Persons & Pack horses going in with Ginseng; & for Salt & other articles at the Markets below," and near nightfall reached on the Youghiogheny River the tract on which Gilbert Simpson, his agent, lived. He found the land poorer than he had expected and the buildings that had been erected indifferent, while the mill was in such bad condition that "little Rent, or good is to be expected from the present aspect of her," He was, in fact, unable to find a renter for the mill and let the land, twelve hundred acres, now worth millions, for only five hundred bushels of wheat!
The land had cost him far more than he had received from it. Simpson had not proved a man of much energy and even had he been otherwise conditions in the region would have prevented him from accomplishing much in a financial way, for there was little or no market for farm produce near at hand and the cost of transportation over the mountains was prohibitive. During the Revolution, however, Simpson had in some way or other got hold of some paper currency and a few months before had turned over the worthless bills to Washington. A century later the package was sold at auction, and the band, which was still unbroken, bore upon it in Washington's hand: "Given by Gilbt. Simpson, 19 June, 1784."
At Simpson's Washington was met by a delegation from the squatters on his holdings on Miller's Run or Chartiers Creek, "and after much conversation & attempts in them to discover all the flaws they could in my Deed &c." they announced that they would give a definite answer as to what they would do when Washington reached the land in dispute.
He drew near the neighborhood on the following Saturday, but the next day "Being Sunday, and the People living on my Land, apparently very religious, it was thought best to postpone going among them till to-morrow." On Monday, in company with several persons including the high sheriff, Captain Van Swearingen, or "Indian Van," captain of one of the companies in Morgan's famous rifle corps, he proceeded to the land and found that, of two thousand eight hundred thirteen acres, three hundred sixty-three were under cultivation and forty more were in meadow. On the land stood twelve cabins and nine barns claimed by fourteen different persons, most or all of whom were doughty Scotch-Irishmen.
Washington was humane enough to see that they had something to urge in their behalf and offered to sell them the whole tract at twenty-five shillings an acre, or to take them as tenants, but they stubbornly refused his offers and after much wrangling announced their intention to stand suit. Ejectment proceedings were accordingly brought by Washington's attorney, Thomas Smith of Carlisle. The case was tried in 1786 before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and resulted in Washington's favor.
In 1796 Washington sold the tract to a certain Matthew Richey for twelve thousand dollars, of which three thousand one hundred eighty dollars was to be paid in cash and the rest in three annual instalments. Richey died in 1798, and Washington's heirs had difficulties in their attempts to collect the remainder.
Leaving these legal matters to be disposed of by lawyers, Washington turned back without visiting his Kanawha or Ohio lands, and on October fourth reached Mount Vernon, having traveled on horseback about six hundred eighty miles. One result of his trip was the formation of the Potomac Company, but this is a subject that lies without the scope of this book.
From that time onward he bought occasional tracts of lands in various parts of the country or acquired them in discharge of debts. By the death of his mother he acquired her land on Accokeek Creek in Stafford County, near where his father had operated an iron furnace.
Washington's landed estate as listed in his will amounted to about sixty thousand two hundred two acres, besides lots in Washington, Alexandria, Winchester, Bath, Manchester, Edinburgh and Richmond. Nine thousand two hundred twenty-seven acres, including Mount Vernon and a tract on Four Mile Run, he specifically bequeathed to individuals, as he did some of the lots. The remaining lots and fifty thousand nine hundred seventy-five acres (some of which land was already conditionally sold) he directed to be disposed of, together with his live stock, government bonds and shares held by him in the Potomac Company, the Dismal Swamp Company, the James River Company and the banks of Columbia and Alexandria—the whole value of which he conservatively estimated at five hundred and thirty thousand dollars. The value of the property he specifically bequeathed, with his slaves, which he directed should be freed, can only be guessed at, but can hardly have been short of two hundred and twenty thousand dollars more. In other words, he died possessed of property worth three-quarters of a million and was the richest man in America.
Not all of the land that he listed in his will proved of benefit to his heirs. The title to three thousand fifty-one acres lying on the Little Miami River in what is now Ohio and valued by him at fifteen thousand two hundred fifty-five dollars proved defective. In 1790 a law, signed by himself, had passed Congress requiring the recording of such locations with the federal Secretary of State. Washington's locations and surveys of this Ohio land had already been recorded in the Virginia land office, and with a carelessness unusual in him he neglected to comply with the statute. After his death certain persons took advantage of the defect and seized the lands, and his executors failed to embrace another opportunity given them to perfect the title, with the result that the lands were lost.
The matter rested until a few years ago when some descendants of the heirs set their heads together and one of them, Robert E. Lee, Jr., procured his appointment in 1907 by the court of Fairfax County as administrator de bonis non of Washington's estate. It was, of course, impossible to regain the lands—which lie not far from Cincinnati and are worth vast sums—so the movers in the matter had recourse to that last resort of such claimants—Congress—and, with the modesty usually shown by claimants, asked that body to reimburse the heirs in the sum of three hundred and five thousand one hundred dollars—that is, one hundred dollars per acre—with interest from the date of petition.
Thus far Congress has not seen fit to comply, nor does there seem to be any good reason why it should do so. The land cost Washington a mere bagatelle, it was lost through the neglect of himself and his executors, and not one of the persons who would benefit by such a subsidy from the public funds is his lineal descendant. As a mere matter of public policy and common sense it may well be doubted whether any claim upon government, no matter how just in itself, should be reimbursed beyond the third generation. The heirs urge in extenuation of the claim that Washington refused to accept any compensation for his Revolutionary services, but it is answered that it is hardly seemly for his grand nephews and grand nieces many times removed to beg for something that the Father of His Country himself rejected. One wonders whether the claimants would dare to press their claims in the presence of their great Kinsman himself!
VIRGINIA AGRICULTURE IN WASHINGTON'S DAY
The Virginia of George Washington's youth and early manhood was an imperial domain reaching from Atlantic tidewater through a thousand leagues of forests, prairies and mountains "west and northwest" to the South Sea. Only a narrow fringe along the eastern coast was settled by white men; the remainder was a terra incognita into which Knights of the Golden Horseshoe and Indian traders had penetrated a short distance, bringing back stories of endless stretches of wolf-haunted woodland, of shaggy-fronted wild oxen, of saline swamps in which reposed the whitened bones of prehistoric monsters, of fierce savage tribes whose boast was of the number of scalps that swung in the smoke of their wigwams. Even as late as 1750 the fertile Shenandoah Valley beyond the Blue Ridge formed the extreme frontier, while in general the "fall line," where the drop from the foothills to the coastal plain stops navigation, marked the limit of settlement.
At the time that Washington began to farm in earnest eastern Virginia had, however, been settled for one hundred fifty-two years. Yet the population was almost wholly rural. Williamsburg, the capital, was hardly more than a country village, and Norfolk, the metropolis, probably did not contain more than five thousand inhabitants. The population generally was so scattered that, as has been remarked, a man could not see his neighbor without a telescope or be heard by him without firing a gun.
A large part of the settled land was divided up into great estates, though there were many small farms. Some of these estates had been acquired for little or nothing by Cavalier favorites of the colonial governors. A few were perfectly enormous in size, and this was particularly the rule on the "Northern Neck," the region in which Mount Vernon was situated. The holding of Lord Thomas Fairfax, the early friend and patron of Washington, embraced more than a score of modern counties and contained upward of five million acres. The grant had been made by Fairfax's grandfather, Lord Culpeper, the coproprietor and Governor of Virginia.
The Virginia plantation of 1760 was much more sufficient unto itself than was the same plantation of the next century when methods of communication had improved, articles from the outside world were easier to obtain, and invention was beginning to become "the mother of necessity." Many of the large plantations, in fact, bore no small resemblance to medieval manors. There was the planter himself residing with his family in the mansion, which corresponded to the manor house, and lording it over a crowd of white and black dependents, corresponding to serfs. The servants, both white and black, dwelt somewhat apart in the quarters, rude log huts for the most part, but probably as comfortable as those of the Saxon churls of the time of the Plantagenets. The planter's ownership over the persons of his dependents was, however, much more absolute than was that of the Norman lord, for on the manors the serfs could not be sold off the land, a restriction that did not apply in Virginia either to black slaves or indentured servants. On the manor, furthermore, the serf had his own bits of ground, for which he paid rent in kind, money or service, and the holdings passed from father to son; on the plantation the slave worked under an overseer on his master's crops only and had nothing that he could call his own—not even his wife or children. In the matter of the organization of industries there was a closer resemblance. The planter generally raised the staple articles of food for his family and slaves, as did the lord, and a large proportion of the other articles used or consumed were manufactured on the place. A son of George Mason, Washington's close friend and neighbor, has left us the following description of industry at Gunston Hall:
"My father had among his slaves carpenters, coopers, sawyers, blacksmiths, tanners, curriers, shoemakers, spinners, weavers, and knitters, and even a distiller. His woods furnished timber and plank for the carpenters and coopers, and charcoal for the blacksmith; his cattle killed for his own consumption and for sale, supplied skins for the tanners, curriers, and shoemakers; and his sheep gave wool and his fields produced cotton and flax for the weavers and spinners, and his own orchards fruit for the distillers. His carpenters and sawyers built and kept in repair all the dwelling-houses, barns, stables, ploughs, harrows, gates, etc., on the plantations, and the outhouses of the house. His coopers made the hogsheads the tobacco was prized in, and the tight casks to hold the cider and other liquors. The tanners and curriers, with the proper vats, etc., tanned and dressed the skins as well for upper as for lower leather to the full amount of the consumption of the estate, and the shoemakers made them into shoes for the negroes. A professed shoemaker was hired for three or four months in the year to come and make up the shoes for the white part of the family. The blacksmiths did all the iron work required by the establishment, as making and repairing ploughs, harrows, teeth, chains, bolts, etc. The spinners, weavers, and knitters made all the coarse cloths and stockings used by the negroes, and some of fine texture worn by the white family, nearly all worn by the children of it. The distiller made every fall a good deal of apple, peach, and persimmon brandy. The art of distilling from grain was not then among us, and but few public distilleries. All these operations were carried on at the home house, and their results distributed as occasion required to the different plantations. Moreover, all the beeves and hogs for consumption or sale were driven up and slaughtered there at the proper seasons, and whatever was to be preserved was salted and packed away for distribution."
Nevertheless the plantation drew upon the outside world for many articles, especially luxuries, and the owner had to find the wherewithal to make payment. The almost universal answer to this problem was—tobacco. It was not an ideal answer, and historians have scolded the departed planters vigorously for doing the sum in that way, yet the planters were victims of circumstances. They had no gold or silver mines from which to draw bullion that could be coined into cash; the fur trade was of little importance compared with that farther north; the Europe of that day raised sufficient meat and grain for its own use, and besides these articles were bulky and costly to transport. But Europe did have a strong craving for the weed and, almost of necessity, Virginians set themselves to satisfying it. They could hardly be expected to do otherwise when a pound of tobacco would often bring in England more than a bushel of wheat, while it cost only a sixtieth part as much to send it thither. It is estimated that prior to the Revolution Virginia often sent out annually as much as ninety-six thousand hogsheads of tobacco. Tobacco took the place of money, and debts, taxes and even ministers' salaries were paid in it.
The disadvantages of tobacco culture are well known. Of all crops it is perhaps the most exhausting to the soil, nor was a large part of Virginia particularly fertile to begin with. Much land was speedily ruined, but nothing was so cheap and plentiful in that day as land, so the planter light-heartedly cleared more and let the old revert to the wilderness. Any one who travels through the long settled parts of Virginia to-day will see many such old fields upon which large forest trees are now growing and can find there, if he will search closely enough, signs of the old tobacco ridges. Only heroic measures and the expenditure of large sums for fertilizer could make such worn-out land again productive. Washington himself described the character of the agriculture in words that can not be improved upon:
"A piece of land is cut down, and left under constant cultivation, first in tobacco, and then in Indian corn (two very exhausting plants), until it will yield scarcely anything; 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."
The tobacco industry was not only ruinous to the soil, but it was badly organized from a financial standpoint. Three courses were open to the planter who had tobacco. He might sell it to some local mercantile house, but these were not numerous nor as a rule conveniently situated to the general run of planters. He might deposit it in a tobacco warehouse, receiving in return a receipt, which he could sell if he saw fit and could find a purchaser. Or he could send his tobacco direct to an English agent to be sold.
If a great planter and particularly if situated upon navigable water, this last was the course he was apt to follow. He would have his own wharf to which once or twice a year a ship would come bringing the supplies he had ordered months before and taking away the great staple. If brought from a distance, the tobacco was rarely hauled to the wharf in wagons—the roads were too wretched for that—instead it was packed in a great cylindrical hogshead through which an iron or wooden axle was put. Horses or oxen were then hitched to the axle and the hogshead was rolled to its destination.
By the ship that took away his tobacco the planter sent to the English factor a list of the goods he would require for the next year. It was an unsatisfactory way of doing business, for time and distance conspired to put the planter at the factor's mercy. The planter was not only unlikely to obtain a fair price for his product, but he had to pay excessive prices for poor goods and besides could never be certain that his order would be properly filled.
Washington's experiences with his English agents were probably fairly typical. Near the close of 1759 he complained that Thomas Knox of Bristol had failed to send him various things ordered, such as half a dozen scythes and stones, curry combs and brushes, weeding and grubbing hoes, and axes, and that now he must buy them in America at exorbitant prices. Not long afterward he wrote again: "I have received my goods from the Recovery, and cant help again complaining of the little care taken in the purchase: Besides leaving out half and the most material half too! of the Articles I sent for, I find the Sein is without Leads, corks and Ropes which renders it useless—the crate of stone ware don't contain a third of the Pieces I am charged with, and only two things broken, and everything very high Charged."
In September of the same year he ordered, among other things, busts of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Charles XII of Sweden, Frederick the Great, Prince Eugene and the Duke of Marlborough; also of two wild beasts. The order was "filled" by sending him a group showing Aeneas bearing his father from Troy, two groups with two statues of Bacchus and Flora, two ornamental vases and two "Lyons."
"It is needless for me to particularise the sorts, quality, or taste I woud choose to have them in unless it is observd," he wrote a year later to Robert Gary & Company of London apropos of some articles with which he was dissatisfied, "and you may believe me when I tell you that instead of getting things good and fashionable in their several kind, we often have articles sent us that coud only have been used by our Forefathers in the days of yore—'Tis a custom, I have some reason to believe, with many Shop keepers, and Tradesmen in London when they know Goods are bespoke for Transportation to palm sometimes old, and sometimes very slight and indifferent goods upon us taking care at the same time to advance 10, 15, or perhaps 20 pr. Ct. upon them."
To his London shoemaker he wrote, November 30, 1759, that the last two pairs of dog leather pumps scarce lasted twice as many days. To his tailor he complained on another occasion of exorbitant prices. "I shall only refer you generally to the Bills you have sent me, particularly for a Pompadour Suit forwarded last July amounting to L16.3.6 without embroidery, Lace or Binding—not a close fine cloth neither—and only a gold Button that woud not stand the least Wear."
Another time he mentions that his clothes fit poorly, which is not strange considering that measurements had to be sent three thousand miles and there, was no opportunity to try the garments on with a view to alterations. We may safely conclude, therefore, that however elegant Virginia society of that day may have been in other respects, it was not distinguished for well fitting clothes!
Most Virginia planters got in debt to their agents, and Washington was no exception to the rule. When his agents, Robert Gary & Company, called his attention to the fact, he wrote them, that they seemed in a bit of a hurry considering the extent of past dealings with each other. "Mischance rather than Misconduct hath been the cause of it," he asserted, explaining that he had made large purchases of land, that crops had been poor for three seasons and prices bad. He preferred to let the debt stand, but if the agents insisted upon payment now he would find means to discharge the obligation.
Not all planters could speak so confidently of their ability to find means to discharge a debt, for the truth is that the profits of tobacco culture were by no means so large as has often been supposed. A recent writer speaks of huge incomes of twenty thousand to eighty thousand pounds a year and asserts that "the ordinary planter could count on an income of from L3,000 to L6,000." The first figures are altogether fabulous, "paper profits" of the same sort that can be obtained by calculating profits upon the geometrical increase of geese as illustrated in a well known story. Even the last mentioned sums were realized only under the most favorable conditions and by a few planters. Much of the time the price of the staple was low and the costs of transportation and insurance, especially in time of war, were considerable. Washington himself had a consignment of tobacco captured by the French.
The planters were by no means so prosperous as is often supposed and neither was their life so splendid as has often been pictured. Writers seem to have entered into a sort of conspiracy to mislead us concerning it. The tendency is one to which Southern writers are particularly prone in all that concerns their section. If they speak of a lawyer, he is always a profound student of the law; of a soldier, he is the bravest tenderest knight that ever trod shoe leather; of a lady, she is the most beautiful that ever graced a drawing-room.
The old Virginia life had its color and charm, though its color and charm lay in large part in things concerning which the writers have little or nothing to say. It is true that a few planters had their gorgeous coaches, yet Martha Washington remembered when there was only one coach in the whole of Virginia, and throughout her life the roads were so wretched that those who traveled over them in vehicles ran in imminent danger of being overturned, with possible dislocation of limbs and disjointing of necks. Virginians had their liveried servants, mahogany furniture, silver plate, silks and satins; an examination of the old account books proves that they often had these and many other expensive things, along with their Madeira and port wine. But the same books show that the planter was chronically in debt and that bankruptcy was common, while accounts left by travelers reveal the fact that many of the mansion houses were shabby and run down, with rotting roofs, ramshackle doors, broken windows into which old hats or other garments had been thrust to keep the wind away. In a word, a traveler could find to-day more elegance in a back county of Arkansas than then existed in tidewater Virginia.
The tobacco industry was a culture that required much labor. In the spring a pile of brush was burned and on the spot thus fertilized and made friable the seed were sowed. In due course the ground was prepared and the young plants were transplanted into rows. Later they must be repeatedly plowed, hoed and otherwise cultivated and looked after and finally the leaves must be cut or gathered and carried to the dry house to be dried. One man could care for only two or three acres, hence large scale cultivation required many hands—result, the importation of vast numbers of indentured servants and black slaves, with the blighting effects always consequent upon the presence of a servile class in a community.
Although tobacco was the great staple, some of the Virginia planters had begun before the Revolution to raise considerable crops of wheat, and most of them from the beginning cultivated Indian corn. From the wheat they made flour and bread for themselves, and with the corn they fed their hogs and horses and from it also made meal for the use of their slaves. In the culture of neither crop were they much advanced beyond the Egyptians of the times of the Pyramids. The wheat was reaped with sickles or cradles and either flailed out or else trampled out by cattle and horses, usually on a dirt floor in the open air. Washington estimated in 1791 that the average crop of wheat amounted to only eight or ten bushels per acre, and the yield of corn was also poor.
So much emphasis was laid upon tobacco that many planters failed to produce food enough. Some raised none at all, with the result that often both men and animals were poorly fed, and at best the cost of food and forage exhausted most of the profits. A somewhat similar condition exists in the South to-day with regard to cotton.
Almost no attention was paid to conserving the soil by rotation of crops, and even those few planters who attempted anything of the sort followed the old plan of allowing fields to lie in a naked fallow and to grow up in noxious weeds instead of raising a cover crop such as clover. Washington wrote in 1782: "My countrymen are too much used to corn blades and corn shucks; and have too little knowledge of the profit of grass land." And again in 1787:
"The general custom has been, first to raise a crop of Indian corn (maize) which, according to the mode of cultivation, is a good preparation for wheat; then a crop of wheat; after which the ground is respited (except for weeds, and every trash that can contribute to its foulness) for about eighteen months; and so on, alternately, without any dressing, till the land is exhausted; when it is turned out, without being sown with grass-seeds, or reeds, or any method taken to restore it; and another piece is ruined in the same manner. No more cattle is raised than can be supported by lowland meadows, swamps &c. and the tops and blades of Indian corn; as very few persons have attended to growing grasses, and connecting cattle with their crops. The Indian corn is the chief support of the labourers and their horses."
As for the use of fertilizer, very little was attempted, for, as Jefferson explained, "we can buy an acre of new land cheaper than we can manure an old one." It was this cheapness of land that made it almost impossible for the Virginians to break away from their ruinous system—ruinous, not necessarily to themselves, but to future generations. Conservation was then a doctrine that was little preached. Posterity could take care of itself. Only a few persons like Washington realized their duty to the future.
In the matter of stock as well as in pure agriculture the Virginians were backward. They showed to best advantage in the matter of horses. Virginia gentlemen were fond of horses, and some owned fine animals and cared for them carefully. A Randolph of Tuckahoe is said to have had a favorite dapple-gray named "Shakespeare" for whom he built a special stable with a sort of recess next the stall in which the groom slept. Generally speaking, however, even among the aristocracy the horses were not so good nor so well cared for as in the next century.
Among the small farmers and poorer people the horses were apt to be scrubs, often mere bags of bones. A scientific English agriculturist named Parkinson, who came over in 1798, tells us that the American horses generally "leap well; they are accustomed to leap from the time of foaling; as it is not at all uncommon, if the mare foal in the night, for some part of the family to ride the mare, with the foal following her, from eighteen to twenty miles next day, it not being customary to walk much. I think that is the cause of the American horse having a sort of amble: the foal from its weak state, goes pacing after the dam, and retains that motion all its life. The same is the case with respect to leaping: there being in many places no gates, the snake or worm-fence (which is one rail laid on the end of another) is taken down to let the mare pass through, and the foal follow: but, as it is usual to leave two or three rails untaken down, which the mare leaps over, the foal, unwilling to be left behind, follows her; so that, by the time it is one week old, it has learned to leap three feet high; and progressively, as it grows older, it leaps higher, till at a year old, it will leap its own height."
Sheep raising was not attempted to any great extent, partly because of the ravages of wolves and dogs and partly because the sheep is a perverse animal that often seems to prefer dying to keeping alive and requires skilled care to be made profitable. The breeds were various and often were degenerated. Travelers saw Holland or rat-tailed sheep, West Indian sheep with scant wool and much resembling goats, also a few Spanish sheep, but none would have won encomiums from a scientific English breeder. The merino had not yet been introduced. Good breeds of sheep were difficult to obtain, for both the English and Spanish governments forbade the exportation of such animals and they could be obtained only by smuggling them out.
In 1792 Arthur Young expressed astonishment when told that wolves and dogs were a serious impediment to sheep raising in America, yet this was undoubtedly the case. The rich had their foxhounds, while every poor white and many negroes had from one to half a dozen curs—all of which canines were likely to enjoy the sport of sheep killing. Mr. Richard Peters, a well informed farmer of Pennsylvania, said that wherever the country was much broken wolves were to be found and bred prodigiously. "I lay not long ago at the foot of South Mountain, in York county, in this State, in a country very thickly settled, at the house of a Justice of the Peace. Through the night I was kept awake by what I conceived to be a jubilee of dogs, assembled to bay the moon. But I was told in the morning, that what disturbed me, was only the common howling of wolves, which nobody there regarded. When I entered the Hall of Justice, I found the 'Squire giving judgment for the reward on two wolf whelps a countryman had taken from the bitch. The judgment-seat was shaken with the intelligence, that the wolf was coming—not to give bail—but to devote herself or rescue her offspring. The animal was punished for this daring contempt, committed in the face of the court, and was shot within a hundred yards of the tribunal."
Virginians had not yet learned the merits of grass and pasture, and their cattle, being compelled to browse on twigs and weeds, were often thin and poor. Many ranged through the woods and it was so difficult to get them up that sometimes they would not be milked for two or three days. Often they gave no more than a quart of milk a day and were probably no better in appearance than the historian Lecky tells us were the wretched beasts then to be found in the Scottish Highlands.
Hogs received even less care than cattle and ran half wild in the woods like their successors, the famous Southern razor-backs of to-day, being fed only a short period before they were to be transformed into pork. Says Parkinson:
"The real American hog is what is termed the wood-hog: they are long in the leg, narrow on the back, short in the body, flat on the sides, with a long snout, very rough in their hair, in make more like a fish called a perch than anything I can describe. You may as well think of stopping a crow as those hogs. They will go a distance from a fence, take a run, and leap through the rails, three or four feet from the ground, turning themselves sidewise. These hogs suffer such hardships as no other animal could endure. It is customary to keep them in the woods all winter, as there is no thrashing or fold-yards; and they must live on the roots of trees, or something of that sort, but they are poor beyond any creature that I ever saw. That is probably the cause why American pork is so fine. They are something like forest-sheep. I am not certain, with American keeping and treatment, if they be not the best: for I never saw an animal live without food, except this; and I am pretty sure they nearly do that. When they are fed, the flesh may well be sweet: it is all young, though the pig be ten years old."
"The aim of the farmers in this country (if they can be called farmers)," wrote Washington to Arthur Young in 1791, "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."
No clearer statement of the differences between American and European agriculture has ever been formulated. Down to our own day the object of the American farmer has continued to be the same—to secure the largest return from the expenditure of a given amount of labor. But we are on the threshold of a revolution, the outcome of which means intensive cultivation and the realization of the largest possible return from a given amount of land.
That Washington saw the distinction so clearly is of itself sufficient proof that he pondered long and deeply upon agricultural problems.
"No estate in United America," wrote Washington to Arthur Young in 1793, "is more pleasantly situated than this. It lies in a high, dry, and healthy country, 300 miles by water from the sea, and, as you will see by the plan, on one of the finest rivers in the world. Its margin is washed by more than ten miles of tide water; from the beds of which and the innumerable coves, inlets, and small marshes, with which it abounds, an inexhaustible fund of mud may be drawn as a manure, either to be used separately or in a compost....
"The soil of the tract of which I am speaking is a good loam, more inclined, however, to clay than sand. From use, and I might add, abuse, it is become more and more consolidated, and of course heavier to work....
"This river, which encompasses the land the distance above mentioned, is well supplied with various kinds of fish at all seasons of the year; and, in the spring, with great profusion of shad, herring, bass, carp, perch, sturgeon, etc. Several fisheries appertain to the estate; the whole shore, in short, is one entire fishery."
The Mount Vernon estate, amounting in the end to over eight thousand acres, was, with the exception of a few outlying tracts, subdivided into five farms, namely, the Mansion House Farm, the Union Farm, the Dogue Run Farm, Muddy Hole Farm and the River Farm.
On the Mansion House Farm stood the owner's residence, quarters for the negroes and other servants engaged upon that particular estate, and other buildings. The land in general was badly broken and poor in quality; much of it was still in woodland.
The River Farm lay farthest up the Potomac, being separated from the others by the stream known as Little Hunting Creek. Visitors to Mount Vernon to-day, traveling by trolley, cross this farm and stream. It contained more tillable ground than any other, about twelve hundred acres. In 1793 it had an "overlooker's" house of one large and two small rooms below and one or two rooms above, quarters for fifty or sixty negroes, a large barn and stables gone much to decay.
Muddy Hole Farm lay across Little Hunting Creek from the River Farm and back of the Mansion House Farm and had no frontal upon the Potomac. It contained four hundred seventy-six acres of tillable soil and had in 1793 a small overlooker's house, "covering for about 30 negroes, and a tolerable good barn, with stables for the work-horses."
Union Farm lay just below the Mansion House Farm and contained nine hundred twenty-eight acres of arable land and meadow. In 1793 it had, in Washington's words, "a newly erected brick barn, equal, perhaps, to any in America, and for conveniences of all sorts, particularly for sheltering and feeding horses, cattle, &c. scarcely to be exceeded any where." A new house of four rooms was building, and there were quarters for fifty odd negroes. On this farm was the old Posey fishery and ferry to Maryland.
Dogue Run Farm, of six hundred fifty acres, lay back of Union Farm and upon it in 1793 stood the grist mill and later a distillery and the famous sixteen-sided "new circular barn, now finishing on a new construction; well calculated, it is conceived, for getting grain out of the straw more expeditiously than the usual mode of threshing." It had a two-room overseer's house, covering for forty odd negroes, and sheds sufficient for thirty work horses and oxen. Washington considered it much the best of all his farms. It was this farm that he bequeathed to Nelly Custis and her husband, Lawrence Lewis, and upon it they erected "Woodlawn," which is shown in the photograph herewith reproduced.
Not long since I rambled on foot over the old estate and had an opportunity to compare the reality, or what remains of it, with Washington's description. I left the Mansion House, often visited before, and strolled down the long winding drive that runs between the stunted evergreens and oaks through the old lodge gate and passed from the domain, kept trim and parklike by the Association, out upon the unkempt and vastly greater part of the old Mount Vernon.
It was early morning, about the hour when in the long past the master of the estate used to ride out on his tour of inspection. The day was one of those delicious days in early autumn when earth and sky and air and all things in nature seem kindly allied to help the heart of man leap up in gladness and to enable him to understand how there came to be a poet called Wordsworth. Meadow-larks were singing in the grass, and once in an old hedgerow over-grown with sweet-smelling wild honeysuckle I saw a covey of young quails. These hedgerows of locust and cedar are broken now, but along the old road to the mill and Pohick Church and between fields the scattered trees and now and then a bordering ditch are evidences of the old owner's handiwork.
Then and later I visited all the farms, the site of the old mill, of which only a few stones remain, the mill stream, the fishery and old ferry landing. I walked across the gullied fields and examined the soil, I noted the scanty crops they bear to-day and gained a clearer idea of what Washington's problem had been than I could have done from a library of books.
Truly the estate is "pleasantly situated," though even to-day it seems out of the world and out of the way. One must go far to find so satisfying a view as that from the old Mansion House porch across the mile of shining water to the Maryland hills' crowned with trees glorified by the Midas-touch of frost. The land does lie "high" and "dry," but we must take exception to the word "healthy." In the summer and fall the tidal marshes breed a variety of mosquito capable of biting through armor plate and of infecting the devil himself with malaria. In the General's day, when screens were unknown, a large part of the population, both white and black, suffered every August and September from chills and fever. The master himself was not exempt and once we find him chronicling that he went a-hunting and caught a fox and the ague.
What he says as regards the fisheries is all quite true and in general they seem to have been very productive. Herring and shad were the chief fish caught and when the run came the seine was carried well out into the river in a boat and then hauled up on the shelving beach either by hand or with a windlass operated by horse-power. There were warehouses and vats for curing the fish, a cooper shop and buildings for sheltering the men. The fish were salted down for the use of the family and the slaves, and what surplus remained was sold. Now and then the landing and outfit was rented out for a money consideration, but this usually happened only when the owner was away from home.
At the old Posey fishery on Union Farm the industry is still carried on, though gasoline engines have been substituted for the horse-operated winch used in drawing the seines. Lately the industry has ceased to be very productive, and an old man in charge told me that it is because fishermen down the river and in Chesapeake Bay are so active that comparatively few fish manage to get up so far.
The Mount Vernon estate in the old days lacked only one quality necessary to make it extremely productive, namely, rich soil! Only ignorance of what good land really is, or an owner's blind pride in his own estate, can justify the phrase "a good loam." On most of the estate the soil is thin, varying in color from a light gray to a yellow red, with below a red clay hardpan almost impervious to water. To an observer brought up on a farm of the rich Middle West, Mount Vernon, except for a few scattered fields, seems extremely poor land. For farming purposes most of it would be high at thirty dollars an acre. Much of it is so broken by steep hills and deep ravines as scarcely to be tillable at all. Those tracts which are cultivated are very susceptible to erosion. Deep gullies are quickly worn on the hillsides and slopes. At one time such a gully on Union Farm extended almost completely across a large field and was deep enough to hide a horse, but Washington filled it up with trees, stumps, stones, old rails, brush and dirt, so that scarcely a trace of it was left. In places one comes upon old fields that have been allowed to revert to broom sedge, scrub oak and scrub pine. One is astonished at the amount that has never been cleared at all. Only by the most careful husbandry could such an estate be kept productive. It never could be made to yield bumper crops.
The situation confronting "Farmer Washington" was this: He had a great abundance of land, but most of it on his home estate was mediocre in quality. Some of that lying at a distance was more fertile, but much of it was uncleared and that on the Ohio was hopelessly distant from a market. With the exception of Mount Vernon even those plantations in Virginia east of the Blue Ridge could not be looked after in person. He must either rent them, trust them to a manager, or allow them to lie idle. Even the Mount Vernon land was distant from a good market, and the cost of transportation was so great that he must produce for selling purposes articles of little bulk compared with value. Finally, he had an increasing number of slaves for whom food and clothing must be provided.
His answer to the problem of a money crop was for some years the old Virginia answer—tobacco. His far western lands he left for the most part untenanted. Those plantations in settled regions but remote from his home he generally rented for a share of the crop or for cash. The staple articles that he produced to feed the slaves were pork and corn, eked out by herring from the fishery.
From his accounts we find that in 1759 he made thirty-four thousand one hundred sixty pounds of tobacco; the next year sixty-five thousand thirty-seven pounds; in 1763, eighty-nine thousand seventy-nine pounds, which appears to have been his banner tobacco crop. In 1765 the quantity fell to forty-one thousand seven hundred ninety-nine pounds; in 1771, to twenty-nine thousand nine hundred eighty-six pounds, and in 1773 to only about five thousand pounds. Thereafter his crop of the weed was negligible, though we still find occasional references to it even as late as 1794, when he states that he has twenty-five hogsheads in the warehouses of Alexandria, where he has held it for five or six years because of low prices.
He tried to raise a good quality and seems to have concentrated on what he calls the "sweet scented" variety, but for some reason, perhaps because his soil was not capable of producing the best, he obtained lower prices than did some of the other Virginia planters, and grumbled at his agents accordingly.
He early realized the ruinous effects of tobacco on his land and sought to free himself from its clutches by turning to the production of wheat and flour for the West India market. Ultimately he was so prejudiced against the weed that in 1789 we find him in a contract with a tenant named Gray, to whom he leased a tract of land for ten pounds, stipulating that Gray should make no more tobacco than he needed for "chewing and smoaking in his own family."
Late in life he decided that his land was not congenial to corn, in which he was undoubtedly right, for the average yield was only about fifteen bushels per acre. In the corn country farmers now often produce a hundred. He continued to raise corn only because it was essential for his negroes and hogs. In 1798 he contracted with William A. Washington to supply him with five hundred barrels annually to eke out his own crop. Even this quantity did not prove sufficient, for we find him next year trying to engage one hundred barrels more.
Before this time his main concern had come to be to conserve his soil and he had turned his attention largely to grass and live stock. Of these matters more hereafter.
THE STUDENT OF AGRICULTURE
Washington took great pains to inform himself concerning any subject in which he was interested and hardly was he settled down to serious farming before he was ordering from England "the best System now extant of Agriculture," Shortly afterward he expressed a desire for a book "lately published, done by various hands, but chiefly collected from the papers of Mr. Hale. If this is known to be the best, pray send it, but not if any other is in high esteem." Another time he inquires for a small piece in octavo, "a new system of Agriculture, or a speedy way to grow rich."
Among his papers are preserved long and detailed notes laboriously taken from such works as Tull's Horse-Hoeing Husbandry, Duhamel's A Practical Treatise of Husbandry, The Farmer's Compleat Guide, Home's The Gentleman Farmer, and volumes of Young's Annals of Agriculture.
The abstracts from the Annals were taken after the Revolution and probably before he became President, for the first volume did not appear until 1784. From the handwriting it is evident that the digests of Tull's and Duhamel's books were made before the Revolution and probably about 1760. In the midst of the notes on chapter eight of the Compleat Guide there are evidences of a long hiatus in time—Mr. Fitzpatrick of the manuscript division of the Library of Congress thinks perhaps as much as eight or ten years. A vivid imagination can readily conceive Washington's laying aside the task for the more important one of vindicating the liberties of his countrymen and taking it up again only when he had sheathed the sword. But all we can say is that for some reason he dropped the work for a considerable time, the evidence being that the later handwriting differs perceptibly from that which precedes it.
As most of Washington's agricultural ideas were drawn from these books, it is worth while for us to examine them. I have not been able to put my hands on Washington's own copies, but in the library of the Department of Agriculture I have examined the works of Tull, Duhamel and Young.
Tull's Horse-Hoeing Husbandry was an epoch-making book in the history of English agriculture. It was first published in 1731 and the third edition, the one I have seen and probably the one that Washington possessed, appeared in 1751. Possibly it was the small piece in octavo, "a new system of Agriculture, or a speedy way to grow rich" concerning which he wrote to his agent. It deals with a great variety of subjects, such as of roots and leaves, of food of plants, of pasture, of plants, of weeds, of turnips, of wheat, of smut, of blight, of St. Foin, of lucerne, of ridges, of plows, of drill boxes, but its one great thesis was the careful cultivation by plowing of such annuals as potatoes, turnips, and wheat, crops which hitherto had been tended by hand or left to fight their battle unaided after having once been planted.
Duhamel's book was the work of a Frenchman whose last name was Monceau. It was based in part upon Tull's book, but contained many reflections suggested by French experience as well as some additions made by the English translator. The English translation appeared in 1759, the year of Washington's marriage. It dealt with almost every aspect of agriculture and stock raising, advocated horse-hoeing, had much to say in favor of turnips, lucerne, clover and such crops, and contained plates and descriptions of various plows, drills and other kinds of implements. It also contained a detailed table of weather observations for a considerable time, which may have given Washington the idea of keeping his meteorological records.
Young's Annals was an elaborate agricultural periodical not unlike in some respects publications of this sort to-day except for its lack of advertising. It contains records of a great variety of experiments in both agriculture and stock raising, pictures and descriptions of plows, machines for rooting up trees, and other implements and machines, plans for the rotation of crops, and articles and essays by experimental farmers of the day. Among its contributors were men of much eminence, and we come upon articles by Mr. William Pitt on storing turnips, Mr. William Pitt on deep plowing; George III himself contributed under the pen name of "Ralph Robinson." The man who should follow its directions even to-day would not in most matters go far wrong.
As one looks over these publications he realizes that the scientific farmers of that day were discussing many problems and subjects that still interest those of the present. The language is occasionally quaint, but the principles set down are less often wrong than might be supposed. To be sure, Tull denied that different plants require different sorts of food and, notes Washington, "gives many unanswerable Reasons to prove it," but he combats the notion that the soil ever causes wheat to degenerate into rye. This he declares "as ridiculous as it would be to say that an horse by feeding in a certain pasture will degenerate into a Bull." And yet it is not difficult to discover farmers to-day who will stubbornly argue that "wheat makes cheat." Tull also advocated the idea that manure should be put on green and plowed under in order to obtain anything like its full benefit, as well as many other sound ideas that are still disregarded by many American farmers.
Washington eagerly studied the works that have been mentioned, and much of his time when at Mount Vernon was devoted to experiments designed to ascertain to what extent the principles that were sound in England could be successfully applied in an American environment.
A FARMER'S RECORDS AND OTHER PAPERS
Washington was the most methodical man that ever lived. He had a place for everything and insisted that everything should be kept in its place. There was nothing haphazard about his methods of business. He kept exact accounts of financial dealings.