Thursday, October 4, 2018

George Washington: Farmer - Odds & Ends

George Washington as Farmer by Junius Brutus Stearns. 1851

George Washington: Farmer  
Paul Leland Haworth (1876-1936) 
Ch 17 Odds & Ends

...To friends, family, church, education & strangers our Farmer was open-handed beyond most men of his time. His manager had orders to fill a corn-house every year for the sole use of the poor in the neighborhood & this saved numbers of poor women & children from extreme want. He also allowed the honest poor to make use of his fishing stations, furnishing them with all necessary apparatus for taking herring, & if they were unequal to the task of hauling the seine, assistance was rendered them by the General's servants.

To Lund Washington he wrote from the camp at Cambridge: "Let the hospitality of the house, with respect to the poor, be kept up. Let no one go hungry away. If any of this kind of people should be in want of corn, supply their necessaries, provided that it does not encourage them to idleness; & I have no objection to you giving my money in charity to the amount of forty or fifty pounds a year, when you think it well bestowed. What I mean by having no objection is, that it is my desire it should be done. You are to consider that neither myself nor wife is now in the way to do these good offices."

His relations with his own kindred were patriarchal in character. His care of Mrs. Washington's children & grandchildren has already been described. He gave a phaeton & money to the extent of two thousand five hundred dollars to his mother & did not claim possession of some of the land left him by his father's will. To his sister Betty Lewis he gave a mule & many other presents, as well as employment to several of her sons.  He loaned his brother Samuel (five times married) considerable sums, which he forgave in his will, spent "near five thousand dollars" on the education of two of his sons, & cared for several years for a daughter Harriot, notwithstanding the fact that she had "no disposition ... to be careful of her cloaths." To his nephew, Bushrod Washington, he gave money & helped him to obtain a legal education, & he assisted another nephew, George A. Washington, & his widow & children, in ways already mentioned. Over forty relatives were remembered in his will, many of them in a most substantial manner.

In the matter of eating & drinking Washington was abstemious. For breakfast he ordinarily had tea & Indian cakes with butter & perhaps honey, of which he was very fond. His supper was equally light, consisting of perhaps tea & toast, with wine, & he usually retired promptly at nine o'clock. Dinner was the main meal of the day at Mount Vernon, & was served punctually at two o'clock. One such meal is thus described by a guest:

"He thanked us, desired us to be seated, & to excuse him a few moments.... The President came & desired us to walk in to dinner & directed  us where to sit, (no grace was said).... The dinner was very good, a small roasted pigg, boiled leg of lamb, roasted fowls, beef, peas, lettice, cucumbers, artichokes, etc., puddings, tarts, etc. etc. We were desired to call for what drink we chose. He took a glass of wine with Mrs. Law first, which example was followed by Dr. Croker Crakes & Mrs. Washington, myself & Mrs. Peters, Mr. Fayette & the young lady whose name is Custis. When the cloth was taken away the President gave 'all our Friends.'"

The General ordinarily confined himself to a few courses & if offered anything very rich would reply, "That is too good for me." He often drank beer with the meal, with one or two glasses of wine & perhaps as many more afterward, often eating nuts, another delicacy with him, as he sipped the wine...

His sideboard & table were well equipped with glasses & silver wine coolers of the most expensive construction. As in many other matters, his inventive bent turned in this direction. Having noticed the confusion that often arose from the passing of the bottles about the table he designed when President a sort of silver caster capable of holding four bottles. They were used with great success on state occasions & were so convenient that other people adopted the invention, so that wine coasters, after the Washington design, became a part of the furniture of every fashionable sideboard.

To cool wine, meat & other articles, Washington early adopted the practice of putting up ice, a  thing then unusual. In January, 1785, he prepared a dry well under the summer house & also one in his new cellar & in due time had both filled. June fifth he "Opened the well in my Cellar in which I had laid up a store of Ice, but there was not the smallest particle remaining.--I then opened the other Repository (call the dry Well) in which I found a large store." Later he erected an ice house to the eastward of the flower garden.

His experience with the cellar well was hardly less successful than that of his friend, James Madison, on a like occasion. Madison had an ice house filled with ice, & a skeptical overseer wagered a turkey against a mint julep that by the fourth of July the ice would all have disappeared. The day came, they opened the house, & behold there was enough ice for exactly one julep! Truly a sad situation when there were two Virginia gentlemen...