” to be united with a gentleman of respectable connexions”

In 1796, when HARRIOT WASHINGTON was twenty years old, she caught the eye of Andrew Parks, a young merchant. He wrote to George Washington on April 1 seeking his consent to marry Harriot and asked Harriot’s Aunt Betty, with whom she was still living, to do the same.

I have made my addresses to her and she has refered me to you, whose consent I am to acquire, or her objections to a Union with me are I am assur’d insuperable, having therefore no hope of possessing her, unless I should be so fortunate as to obtain your assent, and as my happiness measurably depends upon your determination, I shall endeavour by stating to you my situation and prospects in Life, to merit and induce your approbation. . . . ”

Washington replied to Parks on the 7th that he would give the matter serious consideration warning the young man that

My neice Harriot Washington having very little fortune of her own, neither she, nor her friends, have a right to make that (however desirable it might be) a primary consideration in a matrimonial connexion. . . . My wish is to see my niece happy; one step towards which is, for her to be united with a gentleman of respectable connexions, and of good dispositions; with one who is more in the habit (by fair and honorable pursuits) of making, than in spending money—and who can support her in the way she has always lived.

Washington also wrote to his sister regarding the proposal; he was nothing if not thorough and told her that he would look into the young man’s background and asked her to do the same.

Altho’ she has no right to expect a man of fortune, she certainly has just pretensions to expect one whose connexions are respectable, & whose relations she could have no objection to associate with. How far this is, or is not the case with Mr Parks, I know not for neither his own letter, or yours give any acct of his family nor whether he is a native or a foreigner—& we have his own word only for his possessing any property at all altho’ he estimates his fortune at £3000. A precarious dependance this when applied to a man in Trade.

Interestingly, Washington said he wished that Harriot could have remained single and settled at Mount Vernon to which he expected to return after the end of his presidency “because then she would have been in the way of seeing much company, and would have had a much fairer prospect of matching respectably than with one who is little known—and of whose circumstances few or none can know much about.”

Parks wrote back to Washington at the end of April giving him the name of a reference (his brother-in-law and business partner), describing his financial situation and what he had to offer Harriot.

I hope I possess most of the requisites, necessary to make your Niece happy[,] I have been for several Years, accustom’ed to Business, which has, I am persuaded, kept me clear of a temper, for vicious dispositions; my connexions, are respectable generally, inasmuch as they are people of Business, and mostly in good circumstances. I have described to your Niece, as nearly as I could, what my Situation would afford, in the style of living; which wd not be more than genteel, and comfortable, this she sais, will perfectly satisfy her, and render her happy, provided you can think it sufficient.

After further assessments of Parks’ suitability and his sister’s remark that Harriot was “Old Enougf now to make choice for her self, and if they are not happy I believe it will be her one falt, he bars the Best caracter of any young Person that I know.” Washington gave his consent to the marriage which occurred on July 16, 1796. Washington footed the bill and invited the young couple to Mount Vernon when business would allow. They did pay a visit in September of 1798.

Information on this segment of Harriot Washington’s life can be found HERE, April 5, 2017. Sources for quoted passages of letters: “To George Washington from Andrew Parks, 1 April 1796,” http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-00396. “From George Washington to Andrew Parks, 7 April 1796,” http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-00413. “From George Washington to Betty Washington Lewis, 7 April 1796,” Founders Online, National Archives, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-00411. “To George Washington from Betty Washington Lewis, 5 July 1796,” http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-00691. All are from Founders Online National Archives and were last modified on June 29, 2017. They are Early Access documents from The Papers of George Washington and are not the authoritative final versions.

“the thing’s that were sent are very pretty”

The year 1794 found HARRIOT WASHINGTON writing once more to her uncle, George Washington, who had promised his deceased brother Samuel to look after her, asking for money to buy a few articles of clothing. Harriet had been living with George Washington’s sister Betty Washington Lewis at her home Kenmore in Fredericksburg, Virginia, when she received an invitation in November of 1793 from Betty’s married daughter, Betty Lewis Carter, to visit with her in Culpeper, Virginia. Preparing to return to Fredericksburg Harriot wanted something new to wear for the celebration of Washington’s birthday.

Culpeper [Va.] January [7, 1794]I hope My dear Uncle will excuse my troubling him so soon again, but as he is the only Freind, on earth that I can apply to, for any thing I am induced to think that my necesity will apologize for me. I have spent the winter in Culpeper with Cousin Carter, in a very retired manner, we have scarcely seen a person since we came up, and as I am just a going to return to Fredericksburg, I shall be thousand time’s oblieged to My dear Uncle, if he will give me as much money as will get me a silk jacket and a pair of shoes to wear to the birth night as that will be the first Ball I shall have been to this winter.

Cousin Carter join’s me in love to you and Aunt Washington. I am My dear Uncle Your affectionate Neice
Harriot Washington

Harriot thanked her uncle in a letter of February 9 for “the bundle” she received, noting that “the thing’s that were sent are very pretty,” and “there could not be any procured here as handsome.” According to two entries dated 11 March 1794 in George Washington’s Household Accounts, he paid $19.19 for “sundry articles” sent to Harriot and 25 cents for the freight to Fredericksburg of the box containing these articles. It is interesting that Harriot received clothing rather than money.

Citation: “To George Washington from Harriot Washington, 7 January 1794,” and “To George Washington from Harriot Washington, 9 February 1794,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-15-02-0038. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 15, 1 January–30 April 1794, ed. Christine Sternberg Patrick. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009, pp. 49–50, p. 206.]

“be so good as to send me . . . money”

In October of 1792 George Washington sent his niece Harriot Washington (his deceased brother Samuel’s daughter), who had been at Mount Vernon, to live with his sister Betty Washington Lewis. Betty’s husband had died and Betty and her family found themselves in some financial distress. Harriet wrote letters to her uncle asking for money for herself. (He had promised to take care of her). It must have been embarrassing to do this; it makes me squirm to read this letter.

Fredericksburg [Va.] January 5 [1793]I hope my dear Uncle will excuse my troubleing him again, Aunt Lewis has desired me to ask you for a little money there is a few thing’s I want, that I would be much obleiged to you for, she say’s if you will send me some she will keep it, & I shall not get any thing but what I really want, I hear the Birth night is to be kept, and as every one is a going here and as I should like to go I will thank my dear Uncle if he, will be so good as to send me enough money, to get me a ⟨s⟩lite Lutestring or something, of that kind, as there is some very pretty one’s here, Aunt Lewis will get it for me and I will take great care of it[.] I had a violent pain and inflamation in my jaw last week I was obleiged to have my tooth drawn, and the Doctor charged two dollar for it. . . . If you please to give my love to Aunt Washington. I am my dear Uncle Your affectionate Neice
Harriot WashingtonP.S. Aunt Lewis desirers me to give her love to you and say’s she would have wrote to you but she had not time.
H.W.

George Washington sent “Money for Harriot” in a letter to his sister later in January. According to local newspapers a ball was planned to commemorate George Washington’s birthday. Lutestring is a glossy fabric used for women’s dresses and ribbons.

Betty Washington Lewis wrote to her brother George on January 29, 1793 saying she had received the money for Harriot and she provided a few details about Harriot’s situation.

My Dear Brother
Your letters of Januy the 6the and 14the of this Month came duly to hand, the enclosed letter to my son Robert met with a speedy conveyance the same day, the other with the Money for Harriot, which I shall see that no part of it shall be laid out but in those things that is really necessary, it is unfortunate for her my living in Town for many things that could be wore to the last string in a Cuntry Place, will not do here, where we see so much Company, I must say less would be more agreeable to me.

I must in justice to Harriot say she Payes the strictest regard to the advice I give her and really she is very Ingenious in makeing her Clothes and altering them to the best advantage. . . . Harriot desir’s me to thank you for your Kindness to her, and Joins me in returning your Compliment, by wishing you many happy New Years. I am with sincear love to you and my sister [Martha] Your Affet. Sister
Betty Lewis

Citation: “To George Washington from Harriot Washington, 5 January 1793,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-11-02-0373. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 11, 16 August 1792 – 15 January 1793, ed. Christine Sternberg Patrick. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2002, pp. 590–591. “To George Washington from Betty Washington Lewis, 29 January 1793,” founders Online pp 60-81.

posted June 26th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Clothes, Lewis, Betty Washington, Washington, George, Washington, Harriot

“It is the easiest instrument to learn on”

In answer to George Washington’s letter (see previous post) HARRIOT WASHINGTON thanks him for his advice and promises to learn to be a help to her cousin Fanny Bassett Washington, the wife of George Washington’s nephew, George Augustine Washington, in running the household. In a subsequent letter Harriot again requests a “guittar”.

Mt Vernon May 28 1792I now take up my pen to write to my dear Uncle, I hope you arrived safe in Philadelphia, and at the time you exspected, If my dear Uncle finds, it convenient to give me a guittar, I will thank you if you will direct it to be made with key’s and string’s both, as they are easier to lear[n] to play on, and not so easy to be out of order, but if one with key’s, is dearer than without, I shall be much obleiged to you for one with string’s, I should not trouble you for a guttar, if I was not certain that I could learn myself, every person that I have asked say’s that It is the easiest instrument to learn on that is, and any body that can turn a tune, can play on a guittar, but Mrs Bushrod Washington, has been so kind as to offer to teach me if I could not learn myself.

If you please to give my love to Aunt Washington[,] Nelly and Washington. I am My dear Uncle Your affectionate Neice
Harriot Washington

Washington acceded to Harriot’s wishes this time. On June 27 he paid $17 for a guitar for her. (From Decatur, Private Affairs of George Washington, 273, quoted in source cited below.) Bushrod Washington was the son of George Washington’s brother John Augustine. His wife was Julia Ann Blackburn whose portrait (above) by Chester Harding hung in the JFK White House; it was photographed by Robert Knudson. Bushrod inherited Mount Vernon upon the death of Martha Washington.

“To George Washington from Harriot Washington, 28 May 1792,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-10-02-0275. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 10, 1 March 1792 – 15 August 1792, ed. Robert F. Haggard and Mark A. Mastromarino. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2002, pp. 425–426.]

“the folly of misspending time”

HARRIOT WASHINGTON, the orphaned daughter of George Washington’s brother Samuel, lived at Mount Vernon under the care of Frances [Fanny] Bassett Washington from 1785 until 1792 when she was sent to live with George Washington’s sister, Betty Washington Lewis, in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Washington was not happy with Harriot’s comportment and feared for her future. He could be quite severe on occasion and was certainly not adverse to giving advice when he felt it was warranted. The President wrote to her from Philadelphia on October 30th, 1791:

…. You are just entering into the state of womanhood without the watchful eye of a Mother to admonish, or the protecting aid of a Father to advise and defend you; you may not be sensible that you are at this moment about to be stamped with that character which will adhere to you through life——the consequence of which you have not perhaps attended to, but be assured it is of the utmost importance that you should.

Your Cousins, with whom you live are well qualified to give you advice, and I am sure they will if you are disposed to receive it——But if you are disobliging——self willed and untowardly it is hardly to be expected that they will engage themselves in unpleasant disputes with you, especially Fanny, whose mild and placid temper will not permit her to exceed the limits of wholesome admonition or gentle rebuke. Think then to what dangers a giddy girl of 15 or 16 must be exposed in circumstances like these——To be under but little or no controul may be pleasing to a mind that does not reflect, but this pleasure cannot be of long duration, and reason, too late perhaps, may convince you of the folly of misspending time. You are not to learn, I am certain, that your fortune is small——supply the want of it then with a well cultivated mind. with dispositions to industry and frugality——with gentleness of manners——obliging temper——and such qualifications as will attract notice, and recommend you to a happy establishment for life.

You might instead of associating with those from whom you can derive nothing that is good, but may have observed every thing that is deceitful, lying, and bad, become the intimate companion of and aid to your Cousin in the domestic concerns of the family.

Many Girls before they have arrived at your age have been found so trustworthy as to take the whole trouble of a family from their Mothers; but it is by a steady and rigid attention to the rules of propriety that such confidence is obtained, and nothing would give me more pleasure than to hear that you had acquired it——The merits and benefits of it would redound more to your own advantage in your progress thro’ life, and to the person with whom you may in due time form a matrimonial connexion than to any others——but to none would such a circumstance afford more real satisfaction than to Your affectionate Uncle
G. Washington

Note that uppermost in Washington’s mind was that Harriot develop “qualifications” that will make her attractive as a potential marriage partner, especially since she did not possess a substantial dowery. An advantageous marriage was the goal of most girls of good family.

“From George Washington to Harriot Washington, 30 October 1791,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-09-02-0074. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 9, 23 September 1791 – 29 February 1792, ed. Mark A. Mastromarino. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2000, pp. 130–131.]


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