J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

“Four Dollars at Christmas” for Philip Bateman

In early 1773, Philip Bateman (also spelled Bottiman) arrived at Mount Vernon as a gardener. As that historic site’s online encyclopedia says, in March George Washington recorded paying a man to bring Bateman from Leeds, now Leedstown. He had “bought” the gardener for £35 from a Mr. Hodge.

Bateman was apparently an indentured servant, not a slave. He continued to work at Mount Vernon after serving whatever time he had left in his contract. In 1786 Bateman received £20 as a year’s wages, but he enjoyed other benefits.

Three years earlier, plantation manager Lund Washington (1737-1796) wrote to his cousin, the general:

As to Bateman (the old gardener) I have no expectation of his ever seeking Another home—indulge him but in getg Drunk now and then, and he will be happy—he is the best Kitchen gardener to be met with.
In April 1787, the estate formalized that indulgence. Someone wrote a contract for the gardener, referring to him as “Bater.” The gardener promised:
to serve the sd. George Washington, for the term of one year, as a Gardner, and that he will, during said time, conduct himself soberly, diligently and honestly, that he will faithfully and industriously perform all, and every part of his duty as a Gardner, to the best of his knowledge and abilities, and that he will not, at any time, suffer himself to be disguised with liquor, except on the times hereafter mentioned.

In Consideration of these things being well and truly performed on the part of the sd. Philip Bater, the said George Washington doth agree to allow him (the sd. Philip) the same kind and quantity of provisions as he has heretofore had; and likewise, annually, a decent suit of clothes befitting a man in his station; to consist of a Coat, Vest and breeches; a working Jacket and breeches, of homespun, besides; two white Shirts; three Check Do; two pair of yarn Stockings; two pair of Thread Do; two linnen Pocket handkerchiefs; two pair linnen overalls; as many pair of Shoes as are actually necessary for him; four Dollars at Christmas, with which he may be drunk 4 days and 4 nights; two Dollars at Easter to effect the same purpose; two Dollars also at Whitsontide, to be drunk two days; A Dram in the morning, and a drink of Grog at Dinner or at Noon.
Bateman’s name remained in the Mount Vernon accounts until 1789.

It’s not clear who wrote that Bateman could “be drunk 4 days and 4 nights…at Christmas.” The general’s nephew and manager George Augustine Washington (1759-1793) wrote out the contract. The general’s secretary Tobias Lear witnessed it and may have had more leeway to be frank. (Incidentally, after G. A. Washington’s death, his widow married Lear.) But George Washington himself usually gets the credit for approving the terms.

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