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Washington, George (1732-1799) to Burgess Ball

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC05287 Author/Creator: Washington, George (1732-1799) Place Written: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 27 July 1794 Pagination: 4 p. : docket ; 22.6 x 19 cm.

Summary of Content: President Washington discusses the construction of a tilt hammer. Relates that the United States Government may be interested in purchasing a tract of land from Ball, upon which to establish an arsenal. Discusses the character of Hyland Crow, who served as an overseer on Washington's Union Farm after Washington left to serve as President in 1789. Notes that if Ball hires Crow as an overseer on his own farm, he must be strict. Praises Crow's understanding of the farming business, but also received frequent reports of Crow's hasty temper, ill treatment, and frequent absence from his post. Offers his opinions on how best to oversee slaves, "if you can keep him always with your people [slaves] he will make you a good overseer; & without it, neither he, or any man will."

Background Information: Ball was the husband of George Washington's niece. In the American Revolution, Ball served as a volunteer aide to Washington, Captain of the 5th Virginia Regiment of Foot, and as ...a colonel.

Signer of the U.S. Constitution.
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Full Transcript: Philadelphia July 27 1794
Dear Sir,
Eight or ten days ago I wrote to you concerning a Manager for the Tilt hammer [inserted: which] you contemplated the erection of, since which I ...have received your letter of the 15th instant; in which doubts of going on with it are expressed. As I am equally ignorant of the expence of erecting, & the profit when erected, I can say nothing encouraging or discouraging of the measure: but if from an apprehension that the tract you bought is sickly, or from any other cause, you are disposed to part with it, it is possible the United States would become the purchaser, on which to establish an Arsenal. The person who was employed by the War department, to explore the water conveniences on the Margin of the River above the Great Falls (best calculated for this work) seems to have given a preference to yours, although others are favorably mentioned.
[2] With respect to your enquiries into the character of [Hyland] Crow, as an Overseer I will relate what I know of him fully; but it ought to be premised, that he became the Overlooker of my Union farm after I left home in 1789, and that my only opportunities of forming an opinion of him, has been from the occasional visits I have made to Mount Vernon since. The ideas I have formed of him are these - That he has good & bad qualities, but if he is to act under your own eyes the former [strikeout] [inserted: would] preponderate, [inserted: if] you are strict, & will keep him with your people; and others from his house. With me (who could not look into my own business & his disregard of those who superintended it) he was too often from home, & [inserted: had] too much company with him when at it although rigidly restricted from both by written articles; the consequence of w[hi]c[h]. (supposing the negros had been idle during his absence) was, that he and his charge were perpetually at varience. This, & inattention to the Stock, & farming impliments (not more however than [3] usual with men who have these things provided at the expence of another) are the exceptionable parts of his character. On the other hand, he is active, understands farming full as well, perhaps better, than most of his Countrymen who have not [inserted: been] regularly trained to it; and possesses more judgment in conducting the business of a farm than you generally meet with among that class of people. In a word, my best crops have been raised by him; but from the causes I have mentioned & possibly from a hasty temper, I had too frequent complaints of ill treatment, though I must acknowledge I never discovered any marks of abuse. & the whole may be summed up in this - if you can keep him always with your people he will make you a good Overseer; & without it, neither he, or any other man will. With me, it is an established maxim, that an Overseer shall never be absent from his people but at night, and at his meals; and if he is intended to be under your own eye I do not conceive it would be any difficulty to accomplish this, having it so [4] expressed in a written agreement, with a penalty annexed.
I am glad to hear that you are getting much better, and that your family are well. My love to them, in w[hi]ch Mrs. Washington joins.
I am - Dear Sir
Your Affecte. & Obedt. Serv
Go: Washington

Colo. Burgess Ball
[docket]
27th. July 1794
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People: Washington, George, 1732-1799
Ball, Burgess, 1749-1800

Historical Era: The New Nation, 1783-1815

Subjects: Science and TechnologyPresidentLand TransactionGovernment and CivicsAmmunitionWeaponryMount VernonAgriculture and Animal HusbandrySlaveryAfrican American History

Sub Era: The Early Republic

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