Ordinary Lives in George Washington’s Papers

Three groups of unpublished papers, once in the possession of George Washington, create a record of the experience of the ordinary people he encountered during the Revolutionary War and afterward.

The first two date from the Revolutionary War. One is a set of notes made by Washington’s aides on their interrogations with approximately 168 British deserters, undertaken in New York in 1782 and 1783. The deserters were diverse in their backgrounds and motivations, and included British soldiers and sailors, Americans pressed into British service, Hessian mercenaries, and Americans serving in loyalist regiments.

The second is a group of 185 receipts submitted to Washington from the operators of small businesses, many of them women, who supplied him and his household with bread, wine, household furnishings, laundry, tavern meals, and more as he pursued the war through New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware between April, 1776 and November, 1780. Washington’s housekeeper, Mary Smith, and steward, Caleb Gibbs, kept these so that Washington could submit them to Congress for reimbursement after the war. One of the two copies Washington made of his expense account, based on these receipts, is also in his papers.

The newest addition to this campaign is a collection of approximately fifty farm reports sent to Washington by a succession of farm managers after the war. These weekly reports record the weather as well as the work done by the plantation’s free and enslaved labor force. The reports offer information on the lives as well as the labor of enslaved people and Washington’s efforts at agricultural experimentation at Mount Vernon.