The True George Washington: Social Life: At Mount Vernon

Updated February 28, 2017 | Infoplease Staff

At Mount Vernon

During the few years that Washington was at Mount Vernon subsequent to the Revolution, the same unbounded hospitality was dispensed as in earlier times, while a far greater demand was made upon it, and one so variegated that at times the host was not a little embarrassed. Thus he notes that "a Gentleman calling himself the Count de Cheiza D'Artigan Officer of the French Guards came here to dinner; but bringing no letters of introduction, nor any authentic testimonials of his being either; I was at a loss how to receive or treat him,?he stayed to dinner and the evening," and the next day departed in Washington's carriage to Alexandria. "A farmer came here to see," he says, "my drill plow, and staid all night." In another instance he records that a woman whose "name was unknown to me dined here." Only once were visitors frowned on, and this was when a British marauding party came to Mount Vernon during the Revolution. Even they, in Washington's absence, were entertained by his overseer, but his master wrote him, on hearing of this, "I am little sorry of my own [loss]; but that which gives me most concern is, that you should go on board the enemy's vessels and furnish them with refreshments. It would have been a less painful circumstance to me to have heard, that in consequence of your non-compliance with their request, they had burnt my House and laid the plantation in ruins. You ought to have considered yourself as my representative, and should have reflected on the bad example of communicating with the enemy, and making a voluntary offer of refreshments to them with a view to prevent a conflagration."

The hospitality at Mount Vernon was perfectly simple. A traveller relates that he was taken there by a friend, and, as Washington was "viewing his laborers," we "were desired to tarry." "When the President returned he received us very politely. Dr. Croker introduced me to him as a gentleman from Massachusetts who wished to see the country and pay his respects. He thanked us, desired us to be seated, and to excuse him a few moments.... The President came and desired us to walk in to dinner and directed us where to sit, (no grace was said).... The dinner was very good, a small roasted pigg, boiled leg of lamb, roasted fowles, beef, peas, lettice, cucumbers, artichokes, etc., puddings, tarts, etc., etc. We were desired to call for what drink we chose. He took a glass of wine with Mrs. Law first, which example was followed by Dr. Croker and Mrs. Washington, myself and Mrs. Peters, Mr. Fayette and the young lady whose name is Custis. When the cloth was taken away the President gave 'All our Friends,'"

Another visitor tells that he was received by Washington, and, "after ... half an hour, the General came in again, with his hair neatly powdered, a clean shirt on, a new plain drab coat, white waistcoat and white silk stockings. At three, dinner was on the table, and we were shown by the General into another room, where everything was set off with a peculiar taste and at the same time neat and plain. The General sent the bottle about pretty freely after dinner, and gave success to the navigation of the Potomac for his toasts, which he has very much at heart.... After Tea General Washington retired to his study and left us with the ... rest of the Company. If he had not been anxious to hear the news of Congress from Mr. Lee, most probably he would not have returned to supper, but gone to bed at his usual hour, nine o'clock, for he seldom makes any ceremony. We had a very elegant supper about that time. The General with a few glasses of champagne got quite merry, and being with his intimate friends laughed and talked a good deal. Before strangers he is very reserved, and seldom says a word. I was fortunate in being in his company with his particular acquaintances.... At 12 I had the honor of being lighted up to my bedroom by the General himself."

This break on the evening hours was quite unusual, Washington himself saying in one place that nine o'clock was his bedtime, and he wrote of his hours after dinner, "the usual time of setting at table, a walk, and tea, brings me within the dawn of candlelight; previous to which, if not prevented by company I resolve, that as soon as the glimmering taper supplies the place of the great luminary, I will retire to my writing table and acknowledge the letters I have received; but when the lights were brought, I feel tired and disinclined to engage in this work, conceiving that the next night will do as well. The next comes, and with it the same causes for postponement, and effect, and so on."

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