Robert Lewis, one of George Washington’s nephews, served as his secretary from 1789 to 1791. He escorted Martha Washington and her grandchildren from Mount Vernon to New York in 1789 and helped them get settled. The following passage is taken from Dining with the Washingtons: Historic Recipes, Entertainments, and Hospitality from Mount Vernon, Stephen McLeod, Ed. (Chapel Hill: Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, distributed by the University of North Carolina Press) p. 71. It includes a description of some amusing incidents which occurred during Mrs. Washington’s levées as recorded by Lewis in his diary.
As he came to the door to help several female guests out of their carriage, [Robert] Lewis heard “the screams and crys [of] a Lady who seemed to be in great distress.” The women reported that a member of their party had an insect in her ear. Lewis managed to get all the Ladies out of the carriage and into a private room in the president’s house, where, after pouring some oil in the sufferer’s ear, “the bug instantly run out—which was the cause of much rejoicing.”
Later, in his journal account of the evening, honesty compelled Lewis to record “another circumstance which has since cause much laugh[ter], when the bug ran out of . . . [the] . . . ear], it fell in her bosom and I plunged [my] hand into it involuntarily to catch the insect.” With all this excitement, one young lady . . . found herself “near fainting.” The young gallant was forced to “support her in my arms and to apply cold water to her face” in order to revive her. The ladies then rearranged their dresses, “which had been a good deal discomfited,” and went to make their greetings to Mrs. Washington,” who was all this while a stranger to what happened.” The story was told at the party, and Lewis was the hero of the evening. He also noted that “After . . . the company had nearly dispersed,” one of the female guests who “had observed my attention to the Lady whilst in distress invited me very politely to come and see her,” which Lewis thought he might do “so soon as time and opportunity will admit.”