The Private War of George Washington

Trade with the English “tobacco lords”, writes William T. Brigham, brought on a private war which outlasted the American Revolution.

In 1761 James Gildart, merchant and Mayor of Liverpool, received a letter from George Washington, borne by his ship, Johnson, home from its voyage to America via Africa, its holds filled with tobacco from the plantations of Virginia.

‘Williamsburg, April 3, 1761,’ he read, ‘With astonishment did I receive the Acct, of Sales of that Hhd. of Tobo. pr. the Everton where only £8 4. 1½ is rendered for it at the same time that Mr. Cary was selling the like Tobo. at £17 and £18 a Hhd. As to the exceptions which for two or three years past yoa have made to the quality of the, Tobacco, give me leave to say Sir ’tis altogether inconsistent... ’tis unreasonable therefore to expect I can continue a Corrispon-dence (sic) under such obvious Disadvantages. I am Sir, etc. G. Washington.’

Two years before this choleric letter had been composed, George Washington, aged twenty-seven, home from the war on the frontier, and married to the wealthy widow of Colonel Daniel Parke Custis, was ready to throw himself into the tasks of managing her extensive estate and his own broad acres on the Potomac. Thus began a correspondence with merchants of England which was often stormy.

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