- Historic Sites
A Visit To Mount Vernon
The Polish poet stayed twelve days and saw it all—the great gardens, pretty Nellie Custis, the distillery, the toy Bastille, the wretched slave huts, the great man himself denouncing the irritating French
February 1965 | Volume 16, Issue 2
One sees also in the garden lilies, roses [and] pinks. The path which runs all around the bowling green is planted with a thousand kinds of trees, plants and bushes; crowning them are two immense Spanish chestnuts that Gl. Washington] planted himself; they are very bushy and of the greatest beauty. … In a word, the garden, the plantations, the house, the whole upkeep, proves that a man born with natural taste can divine the beautiful without having seen the model. The Gl. has never left America. After seeing his house and his gardens one would say that he had seen the most beautiful examples in England of this style. …
3 June. The next day, which was Sunday, the Gl. retired to write letters, this day being set aside for this activity. I went out for a walk with Mr. Law. He showed me a hill covered with old chestnuts, oaks, weeping willows, cedars, etc. It was a burial ground. It is there that the inhabitants of Mount Vernon, their eyelids once closed, sleep a peaceful and eternal sleep. …
About one o’clock we had the pleasure of seeing Mrs. Law arrive with her little daughter and then a gentilman farmer of the neighborhood with his stout and red-haired wife who had a belt with a buckle of Bohemian Glass. In the evening no music, not even a game of chess; it was Sunday; everyone retired at nine o’clock.
4 June. His Fortune. We left on horseback with Mr. Law to see the Gl.’s farm. Mount Vernon was already a large property when Gl. Washington inherited it from his half-brother of the first marriage [Lawrence Washington, son of Washington’s father, Augustine, and his first wife, Jane Butler]. When he married Mrs. Custis, he took with her as dowry 20,000 pounds of the money of Virginia, about 70,000 dollars. He bought with a large part of this money lands at 20 and 30 shillings per acre, between 4 and 5 pounds (today he would not give them up for ten times as much). His lands in Mount Vernon today enclose 10,000 acres in a single unit. He has just sold 23 thousand acres of land on the Kanhowa [the Kanawha River in what is now West Virginia] at 8 dollars an acre, which amounts to 184 thousand at 6 per cent. These lands were given to him by the Crown for his services in the defeat of Gl. Brad[d]ock. Besides these he has properties in the Shenandoah valley, in Barkley [Berkeley] County which he has just leased at 40 pounds per hundred acres, and also in Fridericks [Frederick] County.
This morning we saw vast fields covered with different kinds of grain. One hundred acres in peas alone, much rye, which is distilled into whiski , maize, wheat, flax, large meadows sown to lucerne [alfalfa]; the soil, although for the most part clayey, produces, as a result of good cultivation, abundant harvests. All these lands are divided into four farms with a number of Blacks attached to each and a Black overseer over them. The whole is under the supervision of Mr. Anderson, a Scottish farmer.
We saw a very large mill built in stone. An American machine invented by Evens … for the aeration of the flour is very ingenious [Oliver Evans of Delaware, 1755-1819, an inventor who revolutionized the manufacture of flour]. Besides the different kinds of grain that are ground for the use of the house, and for the nourishment of the Blacks, each year a thousand kegs of wheat flour are ground for export. A boushel of grain makes a boushel of flour; 5 boushels are necessary for a barrel. The lowest price being 5 dollars, that makes 5,000 dollars per year. Outsiders who come to grind at the mill pay an eighth in kind.
Just nearby is a whiski distillery. Under the supervision of the son of Mr. Anderson, they distill up to 12 thousand gallons a year (they can distill 50 gallons per day if the weather is not too hot); each gallon at 4 Virginia shillings; that alone should bring in up to 16 thousand dollars. I do not know how Mr. Anderson maintains that the distillery produces only 600 pounds. If this distillery produces poison for men, it offers in return the most delicate and the most succulent feed for pigs. They keep 150 of them of the Guinea type, short feet, hollow backs and so excessively bulky that they can hardly drag their big bellies on the ground. Their venerable and corpulent appearance recalled to me our Dominican convents, like so many priors. We saw here and there flocks of sheep. The Gl. has between six and seven hundred. …