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Object Spotlight: Washington Notes on Farming

Looking at George Washington’s notes is a little bit like peering into the first president’s brain. Sometime between 1785 and 1799 Washington took pen to paper and wrote down a few things he thought were important from a book he owned by Charles Varlo titled, “A New System of Husbandry.” It was a read on some of Washington’s favorite topics: farming and best practices in agriculture.

The page of these notes that Mount Vernon has on display through Feb. 10 shows that Washington was copying passages and summarizing experiments that struck him. He makes note, for example, that soaking corn, wheat and barley seeds in a complex “pickle” of liquor and oil enlarges the size of the seeds and helps prevent insects, rodents and birds from preying upon them. Washington takes particular care to write the chapter and page number of each passage he draws his notes from.

This leaf of notes was part of Washington’s “Compend of Husbandry,” a notebook in which he recorded observations from his readings in agriculture and “new husbandry,” the 18th century buzzword for agricultural reform. After Washington’s death, his nephew Bushrod Washington inherited Mount Vernon and most of Washington’s papers including the notebook. Bushrod removed some pages to give as souvenirs to Washington admirers.

Today this sheet is the only one from the “Compend of Husbandry” notebook in Mount Vernon’s collection. The sole other extant section from the notebook to describe Varlo’s “New System of Husbandry” known to our curatorial staff was sold by Christie’s in 2002.

Because of the document’s fragile nature, it will be off exhibit for at least seven years when it comes down from our “Bringing Them Home” exhibition in the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center on Feb. 10.

Object Spotlight is a regular feature on George Washington Wired that highlights some of the household belongings that Washington came into contact with in his daily life. For more of Washington’s belongings, see Mount Vernon’s eMuseum.

Purchased by the A. Alfred Taubman Fund, 2003 [MS-5716]

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One Response to “Object Spotlight: Washington Notes on Farming”

  1. Dustin Call Says:

    It seems to me that not only was Washington a great leader and man of government, but also an avid farmer. It says that he noted several ways of treating barley and we also know that he had a large still at Mt. Vernon. It is a great piece a history to be able to find things such as this that belong to Washington. It gives us a great insight to his life beyond government.

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Kids holding George Washington Portrait

Mount Vernon recently invited K-12 schools nationwide to request framed portraits of George Washington to display in a respectful, prominent place.

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Where has George Washington gone back to school? Click here to see!

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