Retirement Series: Volume 1

DATE March – December 1797

This is the first volume of a four-volume Retirement Series, covering the interval between Washington’s retirement from the presidency on 4 March 1797 and his death on 13 December 1799. Except for a trip to Philadelphia in 1798, Washington stuck close to home, only occasionally going from Mount Vernon into Alexandria or across the river to Georgetown and the new Federal City. The management and improvement of his farms at Mount Vernon was his major concern, and the pressing need for money forced him to give particular attention to the disposition of his large landholdings in the West.

As Father of his Country he found himself not only entertaining a constant stream of visitors but also responding to a steady flow of letters from friends and strangers, foreign and domestic. From the start, senators, congressmen, Adams’s cabinet members, and diplomats kept him informed of political developments. Washington’s absence from the public state, never much more than a fiction, came to an end in July 1798 when his growing alarm over French policy and the bitter divisions in the body politic arising out of it led him to accept command of the army, with the promise to take the field in case of a French invasion. And in 1799 Washington for the first time became deeply involved in partisan electoral politics.

During the first ten months of his retirement, with which this volume deals, Washington was, as he said, busier than ever before, breaking in a new farm manager, repairing and refurbishing long neglected buildings, hiring new overseers and a new gardener from Britain, and most difficult, and perhaps most important of all, getting a proper cook for Mrs. Washington.


W.W. Abbot, ed., The Papers of George Washington: Retirement Series volume 1, March – December 1797. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 1998.