WASHINGTON, George (1732-1799), President. Autograph letter signed ("Go:Washington") TO HIS MOTHER, MARY BALL WASHINGTON, Mount Vernon, 30 September 1757. 1½ pages, 4to, 203 x 158mm., with 47mm. strip of integral blank present with remnants of orange-red wax seal, dampstaining to most of the sheet, not affecting legibility of the text, professionally conserved and with careful, almost invisible reinforcements to some folds where needed.
[With]: A small rectangular piece of silver brocade woven fabric, with undated note of David A. Hayes describing it as "a piece of a saddle used by George Washington during the Revolutionary War." 1 x 1.2 in. (25 x 13mm.).
ONE OF A VERY FEW EARLY LETTERS OF WASHINGTON TO HIS MOTHER, ALLUDING TO "THE PRINCIPLES WHICH GOVERN MY CONDUCT" AND ORDERING CLOTHING FOR HIS SLAVES
A fascinating letter--one of the earliest letters of Washington to be offered for sale in decades--with highly interesting reference to his slaves at Mount Vernon and provision for their clothing. It is also one of only a handful of surviving early letters to his mother, Mary Ball Washington (ca.1709-1789). The twenty-five-year old Washington, who was not to marry until two years later, comments on his brother's marriage prospects and asks assistance in providing suitable apparel for his slaves: "Honor'd Madam, Your letter by W. Smith I receiv'd on my way to Col. [George William] Fairfax's funeral; in answer to that part relative to my Bror. Charles's Marriage, I shall observe, that if there is no other objection than the one you mentioned, it may be removed; and that Mrs. Thornton if she believes I am capable of taking these ungenerous advantages knows little of the principles which govern my Conduct: however, I suppose Mrs. Thornton is actuated by prudent Motives and therefore wou[l]d be safe. If she will get any Instrument of writing drawn I will sign it provided it does not effect me in other respects than her Daughter's Fortune, if my Brother dies under Age.
"I have waited til now, expecting the arrival of my Negros Cloaths from Great Britain; but as the Season is advancing and risks attending them I can no longer depend, and therefore beg the favour of you to choose me about 250 yds. Oznbrgs 200 yds. of Cotton 35 pr. Pla[i]d Hose and as much thread as is necessary in Mr. Lewis' Store if he has them[,] if not in Mr. Jackson's, and send them up by Jno. [John Alton, servant at Mount Vernon] who comes down with a Tumbler [tumbril] for that purpose. I set out this afternoon on my return to Winchester. I offer my love to Charles & am Honor'd Madam Yr. most Dutiful & Affect Son..."
While acquiescing in the existence of slavery, Washington as President treated those at Mount Vernon humanely, and from the early 1770s seems to have avoided the purchase of slaves, and "would not sell one, unless the slave consented, which never happened" (R. Brookhiser, Founding Father, pp.182). In 1794, his opinions had crystallized, and to Spottswood he wrote unequivocally that "I am principled against selling negroes as you would cattle at a market." His will stipulated that all his slaves were to be freed upon Martha's death and specifically asked that they be well-cared for in the interval.
After she was widowed in 1743, Mary continued to reside at Ferry Farm, which George had inherited from his father. The productivity of the farm fell steadily until in 1771 George and his brother Charles took over its management, moving Mary Washington to Fredericksburg. Washington's relations with his mother do not appear to have been particularly warm, though they were always respectful. She is reported by George to have frequently asked money from him, and he also stated that most of her food and horse fodder had been supplied by him from Mount Vernon. In later years, Mary caused considerable embarassment to her son by complaining, sometimes to outsiders, that she was destitute and neglected by her children. At her death, at age 83, Washington's letter to his sister Elizabeth Washington Lewis is quite controlled; he writes that as "awful and affecting" as the death of a parent is, it is consoling that she had lived to an advanced age with "the full enjoyment of most of her mental faculties, and as much bodily strength as usually falls to the lot of fourscore" (Writings, ed. Fitzpatrick, 30:398-403). As to her estate, he specifically directed that his mother's Negro slaves not be sold, and adds that "when I was last at Fredericksburg, I took a final leave of my Mother, never expecting to see her more." The present letter is published (from a magazine) in Writings, ed. Fitzpatrick, 1:137-138.