His habit of setting things down on paper was one that developed early. He kept a journal of his surveying experiences beyond the Blue Ridge in 1748, another of his trip to Barbadoes with his brother Lawrence in 1751-52, another of his trip to Fort Le Boeuf to warn out the French, and yet another of his Fort Necessity campaign.
A year after his marriage he began a formal diary, which he continued until June 19, 1775, the time of his appointment to command the army of the Revolution. He called it his Diary and later Where, & how my time is Spent. In it he entered the happenings of the day, his agricultural and other experiments, a record of his guests and also a detailed account of the weather.
...Washington was an objective man, above all in his papers. He sets down what happens and says little about causes, motives or mental impressions. When on his way to Yorktown to capture Cornwallis he visited his home for the first time in six weary years, yet merely recorded: "I reached my own Seat at Mount Vernon (distant 120 Miles from the Hd. of Elk) where I staid till the 12th."
For almost six years after 1775 there is a gap in the diary, though for some months of 1780 he sets down the weather. On May 1, 1781, he begins a new record, which he calls a Journal, and he expresses regret that he has not had time to keep one all the time. The subjects now considered are almost wholly military and the entries reveal a different man from that of 1775...
From November 5, 1781, for more than three years there is another blank, except for the journal of his trip to his western lands already referred to. But on January 1, 1785, he begins a new Diary and thenceforward continues it, with short intermissions, until the day of his last ride over his estate.
The original of the record of events for 1760 is a small book, perhaps eight or ten inches long by four inches wide and much yellowed by age. Part of the first entry stands thus: "January 1, Tuesday "Visited my Plantations and received an Instance of Mr. French's great Love of Money in disappointing me of some Pork because the price had risen to 22.6 after he had engaged to let me have it at 20 s."
On his return from his winter ride he found Mrs. Washington "broke out with the Meazles." Next day he states with evident disgust that he has taken the pork on French's own terms.
The weather record for 1760 was kept on blank pages of The Virginia Almanac, a compendium that contains directions for making "Indico," for curing bloody flux, for making "Physick as pleasant as a Dish of Chocolate," for making a striking sun-dial, also "A Receipt to keep one's self warm a whole Winter with a single Billet of Wood." To do this last "Take a Billet of Wood of a competent Size, fling it out of the Garret-Window into the Yard, run down Stairs as hard as ever you can drive; and when you have got it, run up again with it at the same Measure of Speed; and thus keep throwing down, and fetching up, till the Exercise shall have sufficiently heated you. This renew as often as Occasion shall require. Probatum est."
...Washington also kept cash memorandum books, general account books, mill books and a special book in which he recorded his accounts with the estate of the Custis children. These old books, written in his neat legible hand, are not only one of our chief sources of information concerning his agricultural and financial affairs, but contain many sidelights upon historical events. It is extremely interesting, for example, to discover in one of the account books that in 1775 at Mount Vernon he lent General Charles Lee—of Monmouth fame—£15, and "to Ditto lent him on the Road from Phila to Cambridge ture in their localities. These letters were the result of inquiries made of Washington by Young in 1791. In order to obtain the facts desired Washington sent out a circular letter to some of the most intelligent farmers in the Middle States, and the replies form perhaps our best source of information regarding agricultural conditions in that period...