“the Blacks are so bad in their nature”

FANNY BASSETT WASHINGTON did marry Tobias Lear. (See previous post in which she solicited Martha Washington’s advice on Lear’s proposal.) Fanny continued to carry out Martha’s instructions about work to be done at Mount Vernon before she arrives.

Following is a letter whose content makes one squirm: Martha includes remarks about the nature and conduct of enslaved workers that reflect the mind set of white owners and the stereotypes to which they subscribed. Note that white servants are treated differently and receive better quarters and food than their enslaved counterparts.

Philadelphia May the 24th 1795My Dear Fanny,

Your affectionate favor of the 20th is come to my hands—I am very glad to hear by it that your children are well—and yourself—I am truly sorry that any thing should happen in your family to give you pain Black children are liable to so many accidents and complaints that one is heardly sure of keeping them I hope you will not find in him much loss the Blacks are so bad in their nature that they have not the least gratatude for the kindness that may be shewed to them—

from what I have heard of Mr Pearces House Keeper I wished very much to have her engaged to stay at mount vernon while I was at home so goe into the sellers meat house and look into the milk and butter Kitty has had it so long under her care—that I think she should be looked too to give a better account of it—we shall bring white servants with us which will make it necessary that I should have a person to see to thair having what is proper, done for them, and have thair vltuals alwas in proper order—I think it is really necessary to have a person such a one as Mrs Skinner is in our family while I am there besids that of looking after the women that work they always Idle half their time away about thair own business and wash so bad that the cloths are not fitt to use—if she will come only to stay while I am thair I shall be very much pleased to have her—I do expect we shall have a good deal of company many hear talk of coming to see the Federal city [Washington, DC, under construction] and will take that oppertunity to come to Mt Vernon while we are there

I am my Dear Fanny very sencible of your goodness and attention in having everything done for me as you can—but it always gave me pain to see you have so much trouble while I was at home—if Mrs Skinner will come I shah be much happyer to have her to do the drudgry—and then I shall have the plasure to have more of your company—and shah see my person whose bussnes it is to attend to all the wants and cares about the house

l am very much obliged to you my dear Fanny for offering to preserve strawberry for me—I dont think it will be worth while—to do any—I wish to live in a plain stile while I am at home—and we shall always have greene fruit which can be preserved at the time it is wanted which will be better for use—should thair be any goosberry I should wish to have some bottled and some of the morelly cherrys dried—I should think old Doll cannot have forgot how to do them [,] if she has Mrs Skinner may come to the hous as soon as she will—and she may have all the Beds and Bed Cloths air and clened [,]the Bedsteads all taken down and cleaned and well rubbed—so that thair may be nothing of that kind to do when I come home—and to have every part of the House cleaned from the garrets to the sellers as I wish to have every thing done that can be done before I come home

Thank god we are all well—the President has been very well since his return

The girls and Washington* are well—and join the President and me in love to you and children . . . I wish the House was done for when I go to house keeping. . . .

I am with love and affection my dear Fanny your sincear well wisher M Washington

* George Washington Parke Custis, called “Wash”, was Martha’s grandson, the child of her son from her first marriage, John “Jacky” Parke Custis, who died in 1781. Martha’s daughter, Patsy, died at 17. Wash’s sister, Eleanor “Nelly” Parke Custis, was one of the girls mentioned in the letter. Both Nelly and Wash were adopted by Martha and George Washington. Two older siblings lived with their mother Eleanor, widow of Jacky, when she remarried.

Citation: See copy of the letter HERE.


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