Washington eagerly studied the works that have been mentioned, and much of his time when at Mount Vernon was devoted to experiments designed to ascertain to what extent the principles that were sound in England could be successfully applied in an American environment.
A FARMER’S RECORDS AND OTHER PAPERS
Washington was the most methodical man that ever lived. He had a place for everything and insisted that everything should be kept in its place. There was nothing haphazard about his methods of business. He kept exact accounts of financial dealings.
His habit of setting things down on paper was one that developed early. He kept a journal of his surveying experiences beyond the Blue Ridge in 1748, another of his trip to Barbadoes with his brother Lawrence in 1751-52, another of his trip to Fort Le Boeuf to warn out the French, and yet another of his Fort Necessity campaign. The words are often misspelled, many expressions are ungrammatical, but the handwriting is good and the judgments expressed, even those set down when he was only sixteen, are the mature judgments of a man.
A year after his marriage he began a formal diary, which he continued until June 19, 1775, the time of his appointment to command the army of the Revolution. He called it his Diary and later Where, & how my time is Spent. In it he entered the happenings of the day, his agricultural and other experiments, a record of his guests and also a detailed account of the weather.
His attention to this last matter was most particular. Often when away from home he would have a record kept and on his return would incorporate it into his book. Exactly what advantages he expected to derive therefrom are not apparent, though I presume that he hoped to draw conclusions as to the best time for planting crops. In reading it I was many times reminded of a Cleveland octogenarian who for fifty-seven years kept a record twice a day of the thermometer and barometer. Near the end of his life he brought the big ledgers to the Western Reserve Historical Society, and I happened to be present on the occasion. “You have studied the subject for a long time,” I said to him. “Are there any conclusions you have been able to reach as a result of your investigation?” He thought a minute and passed a wrinkled hand across a wrinkled brow. “Nothing but this,” he made answer, “that Cleveland weather is only constant in its inconstancy.”
We would gladly exchange some of these meteorological details for further information about Washington’s own personal doings and feelings. Of the latter the diaries reveal little. Washington was an objective man, above all in his papers. He sets down what happens and says little about causes, motives or mental impressions. When on his way to Yorktown to capture Cornwallis he visited his home for the first time in six weary years, yet merely recorded: “I reached my own Seat at Mount Vernon (distant 120 Miles from the Hd. of Elk) where I staid till the 12th.”