ODDS AND ENDS
In an age when organized charity was almost unknown the burden of such work fell mainly upon individuals. Being a man of great prominence and known to be wealthy, the proprietor of Mount Vernon was the recipient of many requests for assistance. Ministers wrote to beg money to rebuild churches or to convert the heathen; old soldiers wrote to ask for money to relieve family distresses or to use in business; from all classes and sections poured in requests for aid, financial and otherwise.
It was inevitable that among these requests there should be some that were unusual. Perhaps the most amusing that I have discovered is one written by a young man named Thomas Bruff, from the Fountain Inn, Georgetown. He states that this is his second letter, but I have not found the first. In the letter we have he sets forth that he has lost all his property and desires a loan of five hundred pounds. His need is urgent, for he is engaged to a beautiful and “amiable” young lady, possessed of an “Estate that will render me Independent. Whom I cannot Marry in my present situation.... All my Happyness is now depending upon your Goodness and without your kind assistance I must be forever miserable—I should have never thought of making application to you for this favor had it not been in Consequence of a vision by Night since my Fathers Death who appeared to me in a Dream in my Misfortunes three times in one Night telling me to make applycation to you for Money and that you would relieve me from my distresses. He appeared the other night again and asked me if I had obeyed his commands I informed him that I had Wrote to you some time ago but had Received no answer nor no information Relative to the Business he then observed that he expected my letter had not come to hand and toald me to Write again I made some Objections at first and toald him I thought it presumption in me to trouble your Excellency again on the subject he then in a Rage drew his Small Sword and toald me if I did not he would run me through. I immediately in a fright consented.”
One might suppose that so ingenious a request, picturing the deadly danger in which a young man stood from the shade of his progenitor, especially a young man who was thereby forced to keep a young lady waiting, would have aroused Washington’s most generous impulses and caused him to send perhaps double the amount desired. Possibly he was hard up at the time. At all events he indorsed the letter thus:
“Without date and without success.”
Many times, however, our Farmer was open-handed to persons who had no personal claim on him. For example, he loaned three hundred and two pounds to his old comrade of the French War—Robert Stewart—the purpose being to buy a commission in the British army. So far as I can discover it was never repaid; in fact, I am not sure but that he intended it as a gift. Another advance was that made to Charles L. Carter, probably the young man who later married a daughter of Washington’s sister, Betty Lewis. Most of the story is told in the following extract from a letter written by Carter from Fredericksburg, June 2, 1797: