Not always were his problems so somber as this. Consider, for example, the case of William M. Roberts, an employee who feared that he was about to get the sack. “In your absence to Richmond,” writes anxious William, November 25, 1784, “My Wife & I have had a Most Unhappy falling out Which I Shall not Trouble you with the Praticlers No farther than This. I hapened To Git to Drinking one Night as She thought Two Much. & From one Cros Question to a nother Matters weare Carred to the Langth it has been. Which Mr. Lund Washington will Inform you For My part I am Heartily Sorry in my Sole My Wife appares to be the Same & I am of a pinion that We Shall Live More Happy than We have Don for the fewter.”
In his dealings with servants Washington was sometimes troubled with questions that worry us when we are trying to hire “Mary” or “Bridget.” Thus when Mrs. Washington’s ill health necessitated his engaging in 1797 a housekeeper he made the following minute and anxious inquiries of Bushrod Washington at Richmond concerning a certain Mrs. Forbes:
“What countrywoman is she?
“Whether Widow or Wife? if the latter
“Where her husband is?
“What family she has?
“What age she is?
“Of what temper?
“Whether active and spirited in the execution of her business?
“Whether sober and honest?
“Whether much knowledge in Cookery, and understands ordering and setting out a Table?
“What her appearance is?
“With other matters which may occur to you to ask,—and necessary for me to know.
“Mrs. Forbes will have a warm, decent and comfortable room to herself, to lodge in, and will eat of the victuals of our Table, but not set at it, at any time with us, be her appearance what it may, for if this was once admitted, no line satisfactory to either party, perhaps, could be drawn thereafter.—It might be well for me to know however whether this was admitted at Govr. Brookes or not.”
Considerate and just though he was, his deliberate judgment of servants after a long and varied experience was that they are “necessary plagues ... they baffle all calculation in the accomplishment of any plan or repairs they are engaged in; and require more attention to and looking after than can be well conceived.”
Perhaps the soundest philosophy upon this trying and much debated servant question is that of Miles Standish, who proceeded, however, straightway to violate it.
It is one of the strange inconsistencies of history that one of the foremost champions of liberty of all time should himself have been the absolute owner and master of men, women and children.