A fascinating volume of correspondence between George Washington and a prominent English agronomist, illustrated by Washington’s own map of his Mount Vernon estate.
Following his retirement from active service in 1783, Washington devoted much of his time to the maintenance and improvement of his vast estate of Mount Vernon. Soon thereafter he began an extensive correspondence with Arthur Young (1741-1820), a well-known English writer of dozens of books on agriculture, politics and political economy, and travel. Young offered Washington advice and supplied him with seeds and equipment. Washington’s letters to Young, written between August 1786 and December 1793, addressed the latter’s considerable curiosity about American agriculture and husbandry, particularly as practiced in the Middle States.
The letters are accompanied by A Map of General Washington’s Farm of Mount Vernon from a Drawing transmitted by the General (engraving and etching, 14.5”h x 20.25”w, uncolored). The map is a facsimile of one drawn by Washington himself to accompany the final letter, of Dec. 12, 1793. There he outlines his wish to rent out much of Mount Vernon:
“from my present situation, from my advanced time of life, from a wish to live free from care, and as much at my ease as possible, during the remainder of it, and from other causes, which are not necessary to detail, I have, latterly, entertained serious thoughts of letting this estate also, reserving the mansion-house farm for my own residence, occupation, and amusement in agriculture.” (pp. 160-161)
The very long letter elaborates on the map and provides a great deal of information describing the estate—“No estate in United America, is more pleasantly situated than this.”
Washington was of course an accomplished surveyor, so the map is presumably based on his own surveys of his extensive property along the Potomac. The map depicts in great detail the estate’s topography, roads and paths, dwellings and other structures, as well as the boundaries of its constituent fields and farms. Among these are the four farms Washington sought to rent out—Union, Dogue Run, Muddy Hole, and River–representing in aggregate some 3260 acres. At the upper left are several notes in a facsimile of Washington’s own handwriting. In addition to its connection with Washington and his famed estate, this map is notable as one of the earliest large-scale maps to be published of any location in Virginia.
This copy of the Letters bears the ownership markings of General Robert Taylor (1760-1839), an Irish soldier and MP.
A wonderful little volume conveying Washington’s own views on farming in general and the Mount Vernon plantation in particular, illustrated by his own remarkably detailed map of the estate.
Howes, U.S.-Iana, #W-138. Sabin #101719. Phillips, Maps of America does not list the 1801 printing but does mention what appears to be an 1876 edition of the map (The 1801 map is however held by the Library of Congress.) Ownership stamp identified with help of the University of Toronto’s British Armorial Bindings web site.