George Washington dockets a receipt for payment of a slave carpenter to renovate Mount Vernon

    [George Washington] Receipt for Payment. 7.75" x 3", February 15, 1757. This is a receipt for "Colo. George Washington . . . For the Hire of Carpenter James . . . [and] Cr. By 5 yds of Negroes Cotton." The costs have been extended to the far right, but paper loss to the right edge has resulted in the loss of some of the figures. On the verso, Washington has docketed the receipt, "Mr. Thornton's No. 14." adding a date and "T". According to our research, "Carpenter James" likely was a slave carpenter Washington had hired to work on the renovation of Mount Vernon in lieu of another slave carpenter Washington had planned to purchase.

    Washington inherited Mount Vernon when his older brother Lawrence died in 1752. In 1757, he began renovations and additions to the home. Much of the work was done by slaves, and since "Carpenter James" has no surname, it is likely that he was one of those slaves. Other Washington letters, documents, and ledgers of the time, show that Washington had intentions to purchase, not hire, a new slave carpenter. In a letter dated just eight days earlier, Fielding Lewis, Washington's brother-in-law, wrote to inform Washington about a slave carpenter for sale from a Mrs Buckner-but Fielding warned there could be problems with the purchase: "I recd yours by Mr. Buchanan with the Cash to purchase Mrs Buckners Carpenter, but as I am apprehensive there is a Mortgage, or some other incumberance as I well know that Estate is much indebt, it will be prudent to Act cautiously least there should be any dispute hereafter; I have already enquir'd about the Carpenter and have been inform'd that he will be sold some time hence but who has the Selling of him I know not, will be as speedy as possible in letting You know how I succeed." (107). According to Washington's Ledger A (Manuscript Ledger in George Washington Papers, Library of Congress), Washington had sent £107 10s. to Lewis "to purchase a Carpenter." (Earlier in 1755, Washington had purchased a slave carpenter named Kitt.) It seems that Washington, perhaps waiting on developments regarding "Mrs Buckners Carpenter," had decided to hire "Carpenter James" on February 15.

    Charles Washington, the youngest brother of George, has written on the verso two years later,"Recd. 23d of April 1759. The contents of the will. . . [missing text] out for the ease of Mr. Thornton it being in . . . [missing text] of an acct. to the date. [Signed] Chas. Washington." Paper loss to the edge on the right has resulted in the loss of only a few words. "Mr. Thornton" is possibly Colonel Presley Thornton, a representative to the House of Burgesses.

    George Washington's docket appears vertically along the left margin. The paper is scraped, resulting in a few tiny holes; however, traces of the date and characteristic "T" remain. This docketing system is in keeping with other Washington receipts we have previously sold.

    References: W. W. Abbot, ed., The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series 4, November 1756-October 1757 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1984), 107-108; Robert F. Dalzell Jr. and Lee Baldwin Dalzell, George Washington's Mount Vernon: At Home in Revolutionary America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 47.

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    Auction Dates
    September, 2011
    12th-14th Monday-Wednesday
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