One of the most intriguing greenhouse stories involves Virginian George Washington & Margaret Tilghman Carroll (1742–1817) of Maryland.
In her 1770 description of the gardens Charles Carroll the Barrister's home called Mount Clare in Baltimore, Maryland, visiting Virginia widow Mary Ambler mentioned, "there is a Green House with a good many Orange & Lemon Trees just ready to bear." Widow & mother Mary Ambler had traveled to Baltimore from Belvoir in Fauquier County, Virginia, with her 2 children to be inoculated against smallpox.
At Mount Clare, as in many 18C gentry households, the wife supervised the greenhouse activities, while the husband oversaw the maintenance of the gardens & grounds. Raised on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Margaret Tilghman Carroll, the daughter of Matthew Tilghman (1718-1794) & Anna Lloyd Tilghman (1723-1794) was the sister-in-law of George Washington's wartime aide Tench Tilghman (1744-1786). She married Charles Carroll “the barrister” (1723–1783) joining him on his on his Mount Clare two-story brick Georgian house in Baltimore, Maryland. An avid horticulturist, Mrs. Carroll designed the estate’s gardens & grounds, overlooking the Patapsco River just off the harbor in Baltimore. The most famous component of these grounds was the orangery or greenhouse, containing orange, lemon, & peach trees.
1765 John Hesselius (1728-1778). Margaret Tilghman Carroll Mrs Charles Carroll the Barrister.
In addition to her greenhouse, Margaret Carroll also had a 39' by 24' brick structure at Mount Clare, which she called a Stove House, with an intricate hot air heating system for growing plants, such as pineapples, indoors year-round.
Her reputation & skill as a visionary gardener had impressed George Washington (1732-1799) who wrote a letter to her cousin Col. Tench Tilghman in August of 1784, "I shall essay the finishing of my greenhouse this fall, but find that neither myself, nor any person about me is so well skilled in the internal constructions as to proceed without a probability at least of running into errors. Shall I for this reason, ask the favor of you to give me a short description of the Green-house at Mrs. Carrolls? I am persuaded, now that I planned mine on too contracted a scale. My house is (of Brick) 40 feet by 24, in the outer dimensions."
It is believed that Washington built his greenhouse copying Margaret Carrolls' building, which no longer exists. And in April the following spring Washington noted in his diary, "Planted and sowed in boxes placed in front of the Green House."
In 1788, Lt. John Enys (1757-1818) stopped at Mount Vernon noting that, "The front by which we entered had a Gras plot before it with a road round it for Carriages planted on each side with a number of different kinds of Trees among the rest some Weeping Willows which seem to flourish very well. One the one side of this stands the Garden, green house &c." Enys had come to America during the Revolution and recorded his notes after he returned to England and retired from the British army.
Early in 1789, Congregational clergyman & geographer Jedidiah Morse (1761-1826) was also impressed with Washington's garden & described Mount Vernon in his American Geography, "the green-house, school-house, offices and servants halls, when seen from the land side, bears a resemblance to a rural village --especially as the lands in that side are laid out somewhat in the form of English gardens, in meadows and grass grounds, ornamented with little copcies, circular clumps and single trees."
Greenhouse at Mount Vernon
Wishing to make a present of some of her prized greenhouse specimens to George Washington, including one grafted tree that produced both lemons and oranges, on 29 October 1789, Margaret Carroll sent by boat 20 pots of lemon & orange trees plus 5 boxes of assorted other greenhouse plants to Washington at the harbor in Alexandria.
The correspondence leading up to the delivery this present is revealing of both the problem of over-water transportation & of trying to deal with a very determined lady.
To Margaret Tilghman Carroll
New York, September 16th 1789.
A Person having been lately sent to me from Europe in the capacity of a Gardner, who professes a knowledge in the culture of rare plants and care of a Green-House, I am desirous to profit of the very obliging offer you were pleased some time ago to make me.1
In availing myself of your goodness I am far from desiring that it should induce any inconvenience to yourself—but, reconciling your disposition to oblige, with your convenience, I shall be happy to receive such aids as you can well spare, and as will not impair your collection. Trusting that this will be the rule of your bounty, I have requested General Williams to give you notice, when an opportunity offers to transport the trees or plants in the freshest state to Mount Vernon, and to pay any expence which may be incurred in fitting them for transportation, and to receive them from your Gardner for that purpose. I have the honor to be, most respectfully, Madam, Your obliged and obedient Servant
On 16 Sept. George Washington wrote Otho H. Williams in Baltimore, requesting Williams’s assistance in having the plants from Mrs. Carroll’s greenhouse “conveyed in the freshest state to Mount Vernon—for the purpose I beg that you would, on agreeing with some careful master of a vessel that may be going round to land them at Mount Vernon, give Mrs Carroll such notice of the opportunity as will allow time for putting them up—and that you would be so obliging as to receive and ship them—the cost of package, or any other expense attending this matter, I must beg you to defray, and it shall be repaid with thanks”
On 23 Sept. Williams wrote George Washington that he had delivered the president’s note to Mrs. Carroll who “advised me to provide a boat proper for transporting the trees in about two Weeks from this time. As some of them are large and bear a good deal of fruit and as their boxes are of considerable weight, it will be necessary to procure [a] commodious Vessel and a trusty Navigator”
Mrs. Carroll responded warmly to George Washington’s request on 25 Sept., assuring George Washington that the “Trees shall be immediately put in order” and shipped as soon as Williams could procure a vessel. “I have been rather unfortunate in the Shaddocks that were long intended for your Excellency’s use, attempting to engraff on them my two other sorts of Fruit, have fail’d either for want of Skill in my Gardiner or that being an improper Stock for either of them, you will therefore please Sir to accept with them a Lemon Tree two yo[u]ng plants and a few Seedlings, those with two plants of the Aloe and a Geranium, which shall also be sent are all the kinds my Green-house affords and do not in the least disfurnish it. It will give me much pleasure to hear they get safe, and should they Succeed Shall think my Self happy having in the Smallest degree contributed to your convenience or amusement”
By 2 Oct. George Washington had received Williams’s letter of 23 Sept. announcing his intention of chartering a vessel to transport the plants. Dismayed, George Washington replied that he feared “my request of you, to forward the Plants which Mrs Carroll had been so obliging as to offer me, was so incautiously expressed as to lead you into a mistake, and myself, consequently, into an expence which I had no intention to incur. More than to embrace the opportunity of the Packet from Baltimore to Alexandr[i]a, or any other casual conveyance from the one place to the other, by which the above plants could easily have been sent, I had not extended my ideas; and if a large Vessel should have been employed for this purpose the cost will far exceed the value of the things, if not too late, I could wish to avoid it. I had no expectation of large Trees—or of any plants beyond their infant growth; the first would be a robbery of the good Lady without answering my purposes so well as those which were younger”
On 7 Oct. Williams replied: “I regret that my error should give you the trouble of explaining your intentions respecting the fruit Trees.” On 2 visits to Mount Clare to consult with Mrs. Carroll about the plants, Williams had “found her so indecisive, and anxious about their safety, that I indulge myself in the prospect of another visit soon to Mount Clare, which I always find agreeable, and I hope that it will be in my power to gratify all Mrs Carroll’s wishes respecting the small trees; But there is, at present, very little prospect of sending the larger ones without going to an expence disproportioned to their value. Two careful boat Men have engaged to take, each, a part of the smaller plants this week, But I must wait for an opportunity by some Ship, that may go from here to lade with Tobacco in Patowmac, to send the large ones. Allow me, sir, to explain a word—Mrs Carroll is indecisive, only, because she is not quite certain which are the most suitable, and which will be the most fortunate, and acceptable. Her garden contains but one tree which bears both Lemons and Oranges—She thought there were two Was quite disappointed! This, she said, must be sent. I presumed to tell her that you would not permit her to make the sacrifice; That its great burden of fine fruit would render a safe conveyance impracticable; That your object, in which we mutually wished that you might be long indulged, was to cultivate young trees, and bring them like this, to perfection; The perfection of this fine tree (for she spoke then of no other) was her great reason for wishing it in your collection; Could it not, possibly, be conveyed with safety? I expressed my doubts—and her solicitude increased—So I was obliged to sooth it by promising that I would again consult the Boat Men, and provide for the transportation of the small trees, which I have already done. Conceiving, my Dear Sir, that the satisfaction which you are to derive from the acceptance of Mrs Carroll’s present will be in proportion to the pleasure which you give, by receiving, I have endeavoured to conduct myself as your agent in the business, with all possible attention and delicacy—But I cannot imagine that Her Compliment will be at all enhanced by unnecessary trouble, or useless expence.”
On 10 Oct. Williams informed George Washington that “Mrs Carroll prevented my intended visit to Mount Clare, by doing me the honor to call at my House in town. We recapitulated all circumstances respecting the fruit trees: and agreed that it is most eligible, at present, to send only the small ones. I expect to Ship half a dozen, for Mount Vernon, tomorrow.”
On 14 Oct. George Washington addressed another note to Mrs. Carroll: “I know not how sufficiently to thank you for your polite and obliging compliance with my request— nor, in what manner to express my fears lest those motives should have led you into inconveniences. My Green House is by no means in perfect order, and if it was, it would not have been my wish to have robbed yours of any grown or bearing plants. If it is not too late I would again repeat and entreat that this may not happen”
On the same day George Washington wrote Williams that although on the point of leaving New York City for his New England tour “I cannot, notwithstanding, depart without again expressing in strong terms—if it is not too late—a pointed wish and desire that Mrs Carroll would not rob her own Green-house of any large & bearing trees especially the one of which she has not a second. It is highly probable that this tree, and perhaps all large ones would be lost to us both by the act of transportation unless very fine weather—a short passage—and more than common care are met with”
Mrs. Carroll, however, wrote again on 26 Oct. assuring George Washington that “no inconvenience in the least, can arise, from the removal of the Trees. your Excellency rates them too highly, they will not be miss’d in my Green-house, nor will they be such an acquisition to yours, as I could wish; but it has been my intention, ever since I fail’d in buding the Shaddocks, to present you with them, if I could have a conveyance (for such) unfortunately General Williams has not yet procured me one; possibly your cautious Politenes may have prevented. yet mindfull of your Commands, and incapable of deviateing in the Smallest degree from them; he fears to remove, even a plant, without your permission, equally impres’d with a fear of incuring your disapprobation I am at a loss. how Sir shall I convince you, how much ’tis my inclination to furnish your Orangery with a little Fruit, and with what convenience I can do it, you shall judge, when I tell you, mine is rather over Stock’d. allow me then to send them, and I hope it will be pleaseing both to your Self and Mrs Washington to gather of your own fruit on your return. . . . Sensible of the inconvenience such a Correspondence must be to you, I can no longer trespass on your politeness, only be pleased to Say to General Williams that he may inform me when your Green-house is in order”
Williams informed George Washington on 29 Oct. that “Mrs Carroll sent me five boxes, and twenty small pots of trees, and young plants; among which were two Shaddocks—One Lemon, and One Orange, of from three to five feet in length; Nine small orange trees; Nine Lemon; One fine balm scented Shrub; Two Potts of Alloes, and some tufts of knotted Marjoram; All which, on the 13th Instant, I saw safely Stowed on board the schooner Surprize, Lawrence Lazore Master, which sailed from hence the same day for Alexandria.”
By the time George Washington returned from his New England tour, he was prepared to surrender to Mrs. Carroll’s generosity. “I am overcome by your goodness,” he wrote her on 22 Nov., “and shall submit to your decision with respect to the Plants from your Green-house; but I must again declare that, I should feel infinitely more pain than pleasure from the receipt of them, if I thought that for the purpose of increasing my stock, you had, in the smallest degree, done injury to your own. After this declaration which I make, my good Madam, with the utmost truth & candour, such plants as your kindness may have intended for me, Generl Williams will forward when the Season will permit; which will be as soon, as from the alterations which my New Gardener is making at Mount Vernon, as my Green-House will be in complete order for their reception.”
Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Margaret Tilghman (Mrs Charles Carroll the Barrister) This painting depicts Margaret Carroll standing next to the closed or lidded Lidded Campana Urn on a Classical Pedestal which stood on the grounds at Mount Clare in Baltimore.
Several years later, in 1792, French visitor Jacques Pierre Brissot de Warville (1754-1793) wrote, "I hastened to arrive at Mount Vernon...after having passed over two hills, you discover a country house of an elegant and majestic simplicity. It is preceded by grass-plats; on the one side of the avenue are the stables, on the other the green-house, and houses of a number of negro mechanics." Brissot was a vocal supporter of the 1789 French Revolution.