- 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
Since his retirement he has led a quiet and regular life. He gets up at 5 o’clock in the morning, reads or writes until seven. He breakfasts on tea and [cakes] made from maize; because of his teeth he makes slices spread with butter and honey. He then immediately goes on horseback to see the work in the fields; sometimes in the middle of a field he holds a council of war with Mr. Anderson. He returns at two o’clock, dresses, goes to dinner. If there are guests, he loves to chat after dinner with a glass of Madeira in his hand. After dinner he diligently reads the newspapers, of which he receives about ten of different kinds. He answers letters, etc. Tea at 7 o’clock; he chats until nine, and then he goes to bed.
Mrs. Washington is one of the most estimable persons that one could know, good, sweet and extremely polite. She loves to talk, and talks very well about times past. She told me she remembered the time when there was only one single carriage in all of Virginia. Ladies invited to an entertainment arrived on horseback. All the trade consisted in the little tobacco that was exported. The correspondents in England did not fail to send to their friends one or two pounds of tea, which was a very great present.
I was not as a stranger but a member of the family in this estimable house. They took care of me, of my linen, of my clothes, etc. …
6 June. Mr. Law left for Baltimore. Mrs. Stuart, daughter-in-law of Mrs. Washington], with four of her daughters by her second marriage and her husband, arrived in a coach-and-four with two postillions and two men on horseback, all black.
7 [June] I took a long walk on foot to the herring fisheries. They fish for them in April; they have caught as many as 100 thousand of them with a single draw of the net. It is the best nourishment for the Negroes.
8 J[une] For three years the deer have almost disappeared from the Gl.’s park. When today we discovered three grazing on the grass a little distance from the house, the Gl. suggested to me to look at them close up. We left. He walked very quickly; I could hardly follow him. We maneuvered to force them to leave their retreat and go towards the field, but the maneuver, clever as it was, did not succeed; they plunged into the wood.
9 J[une] Mrs. Washington made me a gift of a china cup with her monogram and the names of the states of the United States. Miss Custis gave me my monogram in flowers, which she herself has painted very well. This evening I received a letter from Bory [Jan Boryslawski, Niemcewicz’s nephew] and another from Most [Thaddeus Mostowski, a friend who would publish in Poland the account of Niemcewicz’s visit to Mount Vernon]. These were the first replies to all the letters that I have written from here. My emotion was such that I had a fever; I thought only of my friends, only of my poor country. I wanted to fly there with the speed of thought. At night I dreamt that I was in Poland and, a most extraordinary thing, I regretted being there. That too was only a dream.
10 [June] Sunday, cool weather, I caught a river turtle weighing at least 12 pounds. We retired at 9 o’clock.
11 [June] Monday I had a conversation with Dr. Stuart. He told me: “No one knows better than the Virginians the cruelty, inconvenience and the little advantage of having Blacks. Their support costs a great deal; their work is worth little if they are not whipped; the Surveyor [overseer] costs a great deal and steals into the bargain. We would all agree to free these people; but how to do it with such a great number? They have tried to rent them a piece of land; except for a small number they want neither to work nor to pay their rent. Moreover this unfortunate black color has made such a sharp distinction between the two races. It will always make them a separate caste, which in spite of all the enlightenment of philosophy, will always be regarded as an inferior class which will never mix in the society of Whites. All these difficulties will increase from day to day, for the Blacks multiply. Only a great increase of the population of Whites, a great emigration from Europe, could render this less apparent.”
The real cause, or so it appears to me, for the necessity and the existence of Negroes in the United States is the excessive extent of the individual properties, and the small number of Whites that there are in view of the size of the country. The owners, not being able either to cultivate their lands themselves or to find white cultivators to lease them, find it necessary to keep this large number of Negroes. It is the greed of the Liverpool merchants who before the Revolution peopled this country with Blacks. This greed, in spite of all the remonstrances of the Legislatures then, served only to make this infamous traffic grow daily. The cultivation of tobacco and of cotton is again one of the reasons why the Southern States still have slaves while those of the East, where properties are more divided and where they do not cultivate this sort of produce, do not have them.