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title:“George Mason to John Mason”
authors:George Mason
date written:1789-7-31

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:23 a.m. UTC
retrieved:Nov. 28, 2023, 5:18 p.m. UTC

Mason, George. "Letter to John Mason." The Papers of George Mason. Vol. 3. Ed. A Rutland. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1970. 1162-67. Print.
Recipient's Copy, Mason Family Papers, Library of Congress

George Mason to John Mason (July 31, 1789)

Virginia Gunston-Hall, July 31st. 1789.
This comes by the Ann, Capt. Triplett, a Ship chartered by Capt. Fenwick, to the Address of Fenwick Mason & Compy; and I expect will sail to-Morrow, or next Day. She brings eleven Hhds. of my Tobo. the Nett Proceeds of which, after deducting a few Articles I have now ordered (as list enclosed) is to be placed to the Credit of your Acct. in Part of your Capital; as are all the Remittances I shall make, until the Sum (with what has been already placed to your Credit) amounts to twenty four thousand Livres, equal to £1000. Sterling, the Sum I promised to advance for you; this I hope I shall be able to compleat by the Return of the Ship Washington next Fall, if not before; and after having made you up the said Sum, my Remittances are to remain to the Credit of my own Proper Account.
We have just received an Account of the Ship Beckey's Arrival in Bourdeaux. There are in her thirteen Hhds. of my Tobo. and it will appear from her Manifest & Bill of Loading, that I have in her 1,289 & 1/2 Bushs. of Wheat; but 388 Bushs. of this Quantity belong to yr. Brother William, including 67 Bushs. belonging to my Overseer Wm. Green, which he got your Brother William to ship for him; so that the Acct. of Sales for the said Wheat per the Becky, are to be rendered as follows vizt
For 910 1/2 Bushels to G Mason
for 321 Bushs. to William Mason
for 67 Bushs. to William Green
1298 & 1/2 Bushs. the Quantity per the Beckey
And out of my said Quantity of 910 & 1/2 Bushels, Messrs. Forrest & Stoddert are to have Credit for the Nett Proceeds of 54 Bushels (proportioned to that Quantity per the Measure here) being a Ballance I owe them for Wheat lent me. I have received my Acct. of Sales for my Wheat by the Ship Maryland; which yield a very profitable Price; but had it not sold at an uncommonly high price, besides the Addition of a high Bounty, the extraordinary Loss in the Measure wou'd have made it turn out poorly. At the Rate the french Bosseau is always quoted, vizt. 19 Bousseaus as equal to 40 Winchester Bushels, (which are the same as the American Bushel) my 726 & 1/2 Bushel of Wheat, by the Maryland, instead of 320 Bousseaus [would have] turn'd out 345 Bousseaus; so that I have a Loss of about 53 Bushs. nearly equal to 7 & 1/2 ct. Such a Loss as this is sufficient to discourage the Shipment of Wheat to Bourdeaux, and as soon as the Bounty ceases, to put an entire Stop to it. I beg you will inquire into this, and endeavour to explain it to me: it is the more extraordinary, as Wheat always rather swells than shrinks, in the Passage. I imagine it must be oweing to the Knavery of the french Measures, a Circumstance that shoud be carefully attended to.
It will be necessary that I should be informed of the Amount of Insurance on my Wheat; as soon as Opportunity will permit; that I may know how to settle the Matter Properly in my Books; and in Order to give the proper Credits to the Acct. of Fenwick Mason & Compy. for what has been placed to the Credit of your Acct. I wish to have a Copy of my Acct. Curt.
I wrote you, some time ago that I had mislaid the Acct. of Sales of my 30 Hhds. Tobo. 10 the Union; I have since found it; so that I don't now want another Copy. I hope to receive, by the Becky, the Brandy & other Articles, which I sent for last Spring; and I hope the Brandy will prove better than the last; which tho' the dearest I ever imported, was intollerably bad. This, I believe, will frequently be the Case, if the french Dealers are suffered to send what they Please. I have wrote to the President of the United States, very fully, upon the Subject of appointing a Consul in Bourdeaux; and have warmly sollicited the Office for Mr. Fenwick; with what Success, I am not yet able to judge; the President being very ill (a Circumstance I did not know when I wrote) with a dangerous Infiamation, or Impostume, on one of his Thighs; which has disabled him from sitting up ever since, & has, I imagine, prevented my receiving an Answer. None of the public Offices, in the Appointment of the United States, are yet filled; tho' there are Candidates without Number. Congress goes on slowly; having as yet, passed only two or three Laws. The Regulation & Collection of the Import Duties, & Tonage, has taken up a long Time. You were mistaken in your Suggestion, that the Publication you saw of Mr. Madison's, was a certain Indication of proper Amendments to the Government being obtained. It was indeed, natural enough to think so. But the Fact was, Mr. Madison [knew that he cou]'d not be elected, without making some such Promises. By them he carryed his Election; and in order to appear as good as his Word, he has made some Motions in Congress on the Subject; and to carry on the Farce, is now the ostensible Patron of Amendments. Perhaps some Milk & Water Propositions may be made by Congress to the State Legislatures by Way of th[r]owing out a Tub to the Whale; but of important & substantial Amendments, I have not the least Hope.
I understand you were in Paris at the Meeting of the States-General. Pray give me the best Description you can of their Appearance; their Proceedings, & what is likely to be the Result. I am anxious to hear all I can about them. I have also some Curiosity to hear the Particulars of your Adventure at Chantilly; which you mentioned slightly to your Brother George. I have received your several late letters; one from Paris, one from Amsterdam, and three from London. Before I received your last Letter, I was surprized at your long Stay in London, and am glad you have got the better of the Accident which occasioned it. Drawing a Tooth frequently produces very disagreeable Consequences, & shou'd never be attempted, without absolute Necessity. I am glad to hear, by your last Letter, that you have declined coming to America until next Summer; tho' I have Nothing now to add to the Reasons given in my former Letters.
Capt. Fenwick shewed me a late Letter from his Brother, In which he mentions his having some Intention of coming to America this Summer, or Fall; in Case you decline it. This, in my Opinion, wou'd be a very imprudent Step in him; it cou'd be of little or no Service to your Affairs here, at present, and might injure them in Bourdeaux; as you can't yet be sufficiently acquainted, either with the People, or the Business there, to conduct it properly by yourself. I am more & more convinced of the Necessity of your applying closely to the Affairs of the Company-House, and making yourself thoroughly acquainted with the Business; so as to qualify yourself for taking a Principal Share in the Direction of it: for altho' I believe your Partner, Mr. Fenwick, is a very worthy diligent hones[t] Man, & well acquainted with the Forms of Business; yet, from some late instances (such] as [th]at of Whitesides) I am convinced, he is not a Man of F[ir]mn[ess, & may be inclin']d sometimes apt to adopt Measures, without attentively considering their Consequences; and is liable to be imposed on, by any plausible artful Fellow. In his last Letter to Capt. Fenwick he mentions being upon Terms with Capt. Steward for purchasing two thirds of the Brig Mercury (Capt. Steward still owning the other third) the holding a Ship in Partnership with others, and consequently not having the absolute Direction of her yourselves, or the Power of turning out her Captain, if he deserved it, or at least being liable to Disputes & Litigation, if you did, are Circumstances, which Prudence wou'd dictate to avoid. I am not personally acquainted with the Captain & third Part Owner of this Vessel; but from what have heard of him; he is a negligent & expensive, tho' plausible Man; always busy without doing anything, continually talking about doing a great deal of Business, but never executing any, with Attention or Propriety. An Instance of this appears in Mr. Fenwick's own Letter; when he says "He has been about leaving Bourdeaux every Day for this Month past" or some such Expression. This kind of Conduct, I believe is truly characteristic of the Man. The Mercury had always been an unlucky Vessel; and considering that all luck is generally the Effect of ill Management, and that the same Capt. still continues in the Command, her Unluckiness is a Matter of no small Moment. Mr. Fenwick had written to his brother to buy a Ship here, and he has accordingly bought the Ship Washington; which sailed from hence about the Middle of May. It wou'd surely have been prudent to delay buying in Europe; until he knew whether Capt. Fenwick had purchased a Ship here: paying for two about the same time, may embarrass you; nor do I believe it will be in Capt. Fenwick's Power to load them both this Fall; as they will probably be here too late for the old, and too early for the new Crop. I imagine Steward induced Mr. Fenwick to be desirous of purchasing, by splendid Professions of his interest here, in loading the Ship, and increasing the Consignments of the House; when I much doubt whether he is able to procure, by his Interest, a Single Ton of Tobacco. I hope, however, that the Contract has not been closed: if it has, I am inclined to think, a Voyage or two will demonstrat[e] that [the soon]er you get clear of her, the better; even with the Loss [of some money, though] I wish it may prove otherwise.
Mr. Fenwick, in his last Letters to his Brother, also mentions his having been very near chartering a Ship or two, to come hither. When a Ship is chartered here, it is always with a Certainty, or at least a fair Prospect, of being quickly loaded; this can only be judged of, with any Degree of Precision, on the Spot; but when a Ship is chartered in Europe to load here, it is almost impossible to judge, whether she can be loaded within the Time contracted for; and there must always be a Risque of her interfering with the loading of some other Vessel chartered here. Chartering Ships, therefore, in Bourdeaux, to send here, must generally be precarious, & dangerous. I have mentioned these things so particularly, to shew you how necessary it is, that you shou'd qualify yourself for taking a principal Share in directing the Business in Europe. Capt. Fenwick, I verily believe, conducts the Business of the House here, with as much Industry, Frugality, & Discretion as any Man can do; he is also much esteem'd by his Acquaintance. Your large Shipments, this Year, prove it. He may, perhaps, be a little at a Loss, in methodising his Accounts; but Care, the Assistance of a tollerable Clerk, and a little Habit, will soon enable him, I conceive, to keep proper Accounts in the Department under his Management.
Your Friends in, & about, Colchester are grumbling exceedingly at their Brandys not having Yet arrived, when so many Ships have come lately from Bourdeaux. Was it not ill-judged to lodge it in the Isle of Rhea; from whence the sending it here proved so precarious, and where it is liable to be tamper'd with, or changed for Worse? The Delay will subject them to the new Duty; which takes place on the first of August; tho' it is not so high, as was expected.
You are now, I trust, in a fair Way of having extensive Business, & making a Fortune; Yet every thing depends upon Diligence, Frugality, and Prudence; for without these, the fairest Prospects will quickly dwindle into Nothing. I have, I thank God, entirely recovered from the very severe Fit of the Gout, which I had in the Spring; and enjoy, for [my] T[ime of] Life toiler[able] Health. Your Brothers & Sisters, and their [families, have moved, and] none remain at Gunston, but your Brother William, & Your Sister Betsy, so that the Family here is reduced to a small one.
Advise me, in time, of your coming to America next Year, your intended Rout, and what Letters you wish me to furnish you with. In the mean time, let me hear from you fully, by every Opportunity; and believe me, dear John, Your most affecte. Father
P. S. Don't forget to return me Mr. Anthony's Letter, for the Reasons mentioned in a former Letter.
List of sundries to be sent to G. Mason by the first Ship to Potomack River.
1/2 [. . .] of dyed in Grain Silk, bright Colours, of different Shades
(a good deal of green) for Tambour Work
a Set of Tambour Needles-
50 lbs. of Prunes-
2 ozs. of fresh Cawlyflower Seed—
half a Gross of Claret, at about 30s. per Bottle.
half a Gross of cheaper Claret, at from 245. to 26s. per Bottle.
half a Gross of white Wine, at from 24s. to 26s. per Bottle.
I desire that the best Wine may be got, that can be procured for the above Prices; the last Claret I had from Bourdeaux, being but indifferent, & the white Wine little better than common Virginia Cyder. I have been told that there is a cheap kind of white Wine, & pretty good, made at Tours.
I shall be much obliged to my Son John to send me a few young Trees of the best kinds of Pears & Plums, by any Ship to Potomack River, that sails between the Middle of October & the first of February; they will not bear the Passage at any other Season of the Year; also a few young Grape Vines, of good kinds; the Roots shou'd be carefully covered with Moss, or some such thing, or set in Boxes of Earth. And, l[et there] be nea[tly packed . . .] Stones of the best kinds of Plums, Apricots, & Cherries, & so[me peach] es; & send them to me by some careful Captain [. . . pro] bably been dried in an Oven, or a Kiln; which [. . . . ]

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