WASHINGTON, George. Autograph letter signed ("Go: Washington") to Colonel William A. Washington, Mount Vernon, [Va.], 29 October 1799. 1¼ pages, 4to, separate address leaf addressed in Washington's hand, thin strip of paper along extreme left edge, otherwise very fine condition.
WASHINGTON'S MOUNT VERNON DISTILLERY - "TWO HUNDRED GALLONS OF WHISKEY WILL BE READY...THE DEMAND...IS BRISK"
Shortly before his death, Washington writes to his nephew (a noted cavalry commander during the Revolution), concerning the distillery he had established at Mount Vernon. Requesting aid for the distillery operator, he writes: "this letter will be handed to you by Mr. Lawr Lewis, to whom I have rented my Mill & Distillery, and who comes into your parts to see if he can procure (on reasonable terms) grain with which to keep them employed. Your advice and aid in enabling him to obtain these, would be serviceable to him, & obliging me. Mr. Lewis is a cautious man, and I persuade myself will scrupulously fulfil[l] any contracts he may enter into. You will be perfectly safe, I conceive, in declaring this."
Washington was obviously well-informed on the details of the operation, writing "Two hundred gallons of Whiskey will be ready this day for your call, and the sooner it is taken the better, as the demand for this article (in these parts) is brisk. The Rye may be sent when it suits your convenience - letting me know, in the meantime, the quantity I may rely on, that my purchase of this grain may be regulated thereby." Closing he adds that "Mrs Washington has got tolerably well again..."
The letter refers to an important business venture of Washington's last years: the commercial distillery and fishery he established at a specially built facility, which also operated a sideline in herring, which were salted and barrelled. The distillery, which Washington hoped might prove one of his most profitable business investments, was conceived as an independent establishment under professional management. Unfortunately, while the Mount Vernon Distillery demonstrably distilled, barrelled, and sold a great quantity of whiskey, and salted and sold thousands of herring, it did not prove as profitable as Washington had expected. He had to contend with an efficient but disgruntled manager, James Anderson, a Scot with distillery experience, plus uncertain grain harvests which prevented the expensive stills from operating at their full capacity.
Published in Writings ed. J.C. Fitzpatrick, 37:415.