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Washington in Domestic Life

Library of Alexandria
The manuscript or paper here published was prepared from a collection of original letters from General Washington on matters, for the most part, purely domestic and personal, addressed to Colonel Tobias Lear, his private Secretary for a part of the time he was President; and then, and during periods much longer, his confidential friend. They came into my hands through the voluntary kindness of Mrs. Lear, of the city of Washington, the estimable relict of Colonel Lear, and niece of Mrs. Washington, whose friendship it was my good lot and that of my family to enjoy; as we did that of Colonel Lear while he lived. The latter died in Washington in 1816. Mrs. Lear first informed me of these letters ten or twelve years ago when in Washington, and offered them to my perusal and examination, telling me to take them home and retain them as long as I chose, and use them as I thought best, for she knew I would not abuse this privilege. I brought them home as requested, being then too much engaged in the business of the Smithsonian Institution as one of the Regents on its first organization, to examine them while in Washington. She afterwards read, approved, and for some time had in her hands the paper I drew up from them. It consisted of notices of, and extracts from these original letters, the matter being abridged, connecting links used, and omissions made where the great author himself marked them private or from parts otherwise not necessary to go before the world. So guarded and prepared, and with a commentary interwoven, Mrs. Lear left its publication to my discretion. I returned the original letters, in number more than thirty, in the state I received them from her. I never allowed any one of them to be copied; but gave one away, or two, for I am not at this day certain which, to Mr. Polk while he was President of the United States, having first asked and obtained Mrs. Lear’s consent for that purpose. She also gave me two of them not very long before her decease, which I prize the more as her gift. I have other original letters from the same immortal source, the valued donation in 1830, of the son of Colonel Lear, Lincoln Lear, Esquire. This excellent lady, who long honored me with her friendship and confidence in the above and other ways, after surviving Colonel Lear forty years, died last December in Washington. There she had continued to live as his widow; being all this time in possession of, and as I supposed owning, these original letters. There she lived, beloved as a pattern of the Christian virtues, and enjoying the esteem of the circle around her as an interesting relict of days becoming historical; but ever elevating in the associations they recall. Now that she is gone, I am induced to give to the public the paper in question. In doing so I have the best grounds for believing that I perform an act that would have been grateful to her were she living. She was fully informed of my intention to publish it and could not but be sensible that the long respect and affectionate attachment of General Washington which her husband enjoyed, as so indelibly stamped upon these letters, is a record of his probity, capacity, and sterling worth, than which none could ever be more precious, or be likely to endure longer. This consideration it might be thought affects only the descendants of Colonel Lear or others devoted to his memory; but I have ventured to think that the publication may not be wholly unacceptable on broader grounds. Nothing, indeed, in authentic connection with Washington’s great name can ever be unwelcome to the American people; and although it may have happened that some few of these letters have heretofore found their way into print in whole or in part, the number, as far as was known to Mrs. Lear, is believed to be very small. Hence the publication need not be forborne on that account; more especially if it should be found to carry with it the slightest general interest in the form now presented. In regard to the narrative of Arnold’s treason as given by the great Chief at his table at Mount Vernon and afterwards written down by Colonel Lear, which I have appended to the synopsis of the letters, it was not within Mrs. Lear’s knowledge, nor is it within mine at present, that it has ever been in print before