- 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
12 [June] We spoke of the authors who have written the History of the Revolution. Gordon, who has the most details, came to visit the archives of the Gl. [William Gordon, who published his four-volume History of the Independence of the United States in 1788]. They consist of between 30 and 40 cases of papers, containing all the military expeditions, reports, journals, correspondence with Congress, with the Generals, etc. What a wealth of material! However, Gordon stayed only three weeks to read them and extract them. The Gl. intends to build a separate house for the deposit of his archives since the collection has become so voluminous.
Mrs. Washington showed me a small collection of medals struck during the Revolution. There is one of at least 100 ducats in gold, with the head closely resembling that of Gl. Washington, which was struck on the occasion of the evacuation of Boston; one for Gl. [Horatio] Gates for the defeat of Bourgoyne; others for Gl. [Nathanael] Green, Gl. [Daniel] Morgan, Col. [John Eager] Howard and Col. [William] Washington on the occasion of the battle of Cowpen; one for Franklin, for M. de Fleury [François Louis Teisseidre Fleury, a French officer who fought in the Revolution under General Pulaski], for [John] Paul Jones; one with the head of Liberty on one side and on the reverse France defending America with her shield against Gr[eat] Britain. Further there is the order of Cincinnatus in diamonds presented by the French Navy [the Society of the Cincinnati was formed by officers of the Continental Army for the perpetuation of old friendships]; a box in gold, very badly turned, presented by the city of New York with the freedom of the city.
In the evening the General went to the storehouse to look over things which had come from Europe, just as we do when goods come from Gdansk during the spring floods.
June 13. Mr. Law returned from Baltimore where he had ridden to consult with lawyers in a matter instigated by litigious associates and false friends. In the morning we went out with the steward Anderson and some Negroes to catch fish.
On our return we found a notable and unexpected company from Alexandria. The table in the great hall was set out with a Sèvres porcelain service with places for 20. The General, in high spirits, was gracious and full of attention to everybody. Amongst the guests were the young Randolphs; I do not know whether both their ages would add up to 38, and already they are the parents of three children. Mrs. Fetus [Fitzhugh], who in corpulence and girth gives way only to the late Semiramis [Catherine the Great], was in a gay humour and had an enormous appetite. As she swept through one platter after another, her husband laughingly encouraged her with these words: “Betsy, a little more, a little more.”
On this occasion, for the first time, Washington spoke on the subject which must have been uppermost in his thoughts at this period of his life. France and Great Britain were at war, and it seemed likely that the young United States might become involved. In 1794, in order to end British harassment of American vessels, particularly of those trading with the French West Indies, as well as to settle a number of other disputes between the United States and Britain, President Washington had sent John Jay to London with power to negotiate a treaty. The French considered this a proBritish move and one automatically dissolving the FrancoAmerican alliance formed during the American Revolution. Now the United States found its ships being attacked by the French. In hopes of settling this matter, Washington sent Charles Cotesworth Pinckney to France as United States minister in July of 1796, but the French Directory bluntly asked him to leave the country. The new President, John Adams, then named John Marshall and Elbridge Gerry to join Pinckney as special envoys. They were received coldly by Talleyrand, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, who baldly demanded an American loan of several million dollars as a condition of further negotiations. The Americans had neither the power nor the inclination to make such a loan, and their mission failed. As French harassment of American shipping mounted, President Adams recommended that merchant vessels be permitted to arm and asked Congress to “act in defense of the national rights.” This brought bitter attacks on Adams by Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and other pro-French Republicans. Washington’s sympathies, as revealed by his remarks to Niemcewicz, were strongly with his successor.
In the evening, after the departure of the company, the General, sitting with Mr. Law and me under the portico, read to us a letter which he had just received from a friend in Paris. This letter written with sense, dispassion, and with a sound knowledge of the situation in France and the politics of those who rule her, gave us an opportunity for conversation about the wrongs suffered by America at French hands, and about the bloody struggles which might shortly break out between the two countries. This conversation aroused the passionate wrath of the venerable citizen and commander. I have never heard him speak with so much candor nor with such heat.