ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Jeremy Telman
Oklahoma City University
School of Law

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

George Washington and the drunken gardener

George_washington_1 The Father of Our Country dealt with a lot of troublesome things in his time, but one of them—as has sometimes been the case for other employers—was the drinking habits of an employee.

Here, courtesy of Joe Perillo (Fordham), is an employment contract between George Washington and one of his gardeners, one strikingly reminiscent of the classic case of Clark v. West:


April 23, 1787.

Articles of Agreement made this twelveth day of April Anno Domini one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven, by and between George Washington Esqr. of the Parish of Truro, in the County of Fairfax, State of Virginia, on the one part, and Philip Bater, Gardner, on the other Witness, that the said Philip Bater, for and in consideration of the covenants herein, hereafter, mentioned, doth promise and agree 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.

For the true and faithful performance of all and each of these things the parties have hereunto set their hands this twenty third day of April Anno Domini 1787.

Famous Cases | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference George Washington and the drunken gardener:

» Specific Drunkenness from Midwestern Mugwump (mw)2
This contract between George Washington and his gardener (at ContractsProfBlog - the official blog of the AALS Contracts Section - are there unofficial competitors?) made me laugh. [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 12, 2005 12:27:40 PM


Jeez, imagine the pride the Bater family must feel right now. This is a good reason not to look too closely at your own geneology.

Posted by: murphy | Jan 12, 2005 11:31:16 AM

I did look too closely at my own geneology and found a great, great...grandfather who for a pint of cherry brandy and a night with a 'lady' got himself transported to the colony of Maryland in 1737. This far after the event that kind of stuff mutates into bragging rights.

Posted by: Retread | Jan 12, 2005 11:44:25 AM

Being burdened by a public school education, I apologize in advance, but what holiday/event is Whitsontide?

Posted by: Jon Burrows | Jan 12, 2005 12:03:35 PM

Pentecost. Seven days after Easter -- the day the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles.

Posted by: tbob | Jan 12, 2005 12:17:26 PM

Would Washington have called Virginia a 'state' rather than a 'Commonwealth'?

Posted by: Ted | Jan 12, 2005 12:23:42 PM

Wouldn't Washington have recognized in his contracting that Virginia is a Commomwealth, not a state? Though this contract is dated the year before Virginia was admitted to the United States. I am nonplussed.

Posted by: BlogDog | Jan 12, 2005 12:27:20 PM

Sorry to follow you on that one Ted. I started before you posted and finished after.

Posted by: BlogDog | Jan 12, 2005 12:28:18 PM

Hot DAMN! Washington paid for the drink during his prescribed drunken days? How enlightened is that?

Jeez louise, I'd sign the thing.

Posted by: tree hugging sister | Jan 12, 2005 12:32:42 PM

It should be noted that Washington brewed his own beer - more than double the alcohol content of today's beer

Posted by: chris | Jan 12, 2005 12:35:43 PM

Pentecost is 50 days after Easter (thus the "Pente"). Whitsuntide is something different.

Posted by: meep | Jan 12, 2005 12:35:59 PM

Him and Sam Adams ... how many founding fathers did that?

Posted by: anon | Jan 12, 2005 1:03:48 PM

Most everybody was brewing something. Wouldnt want to drink the water ya know.

Posted by: steve | Jan 12, 2005 1:11:06 PM

Re: Timing of Whitsuntide

You're both half-right. Whitsuntide is Pentecost and it's fifty days after Easter.

Posted by: pentecostalgamer | Jan 12, 2005 1:12:36 PM

What is Whitsontide? Ask Jeeves!
Pentecost or Whitsun is observed on the seventh Sunday after Easter. The word Pentecost has its roots in the Greek "pentekoste" meaning the fiftieth day after Easter. Whit Sunday commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit in the form of flames to the Apostles, as recorded in the New Testament.

Posted by: Big Daddy | Jan 12, 2005 1:14:18 PM

As long as we're asking questions: What's a Check Do and a Thread Do? (the former got me lots of free checking advice on Google, the latter a bunch of multi-threaded programming links)

Posted by: mrsizer | Jan 12, 2005 1:33:44 PM

"Do" in the aforementioned contract is a contraction of "ditto" - hence, Check (Shirts), thread (Stockings).

Posted by: vic | Jan 12, 2005 1:54:42 PM

Check Do and Thread Do are probably "two white Shirts; three Check DITTO; two pair of yarn Stockings; two pair of Thread DIITO..." i.e., two white and three checkered shirts; two pairs of yarn and two pairs of thread socks. "Ditto" would have been abbreviated Do with a superscript O.

Posted by: Alex | Jan 12, 2005 1:58:18 PM

Aw, beat to it.

Posted by: Alex | Jan 12, 2005 1:58:48 PM

But did Bater get the benefit (whether fabric for shirts or whatever) of George Washington's hemp crop from which he had noted a failure to seperate mail and female plants?

Posted by: triticale | Jan 12, 2005 2:10:11 PM

A state is an independent country (or similar entity).

"At the time of the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain, the 13 colonies became 13 independently sovereign states. Upon the adoption of the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, the states became a single sovereign political entity as defined by international law, empowered to levy war and to conduct international relations, albeit with a very loosely structured and inefficient central government. After the failure of the union under the Articles of Confederation, the 13 states joined the modern union via ratification of the Constitution, beginning in 1789."

Meanwhile, by 1787 Virginia was manifestly not a colony, which is how one would have referred to it in such contracts before 1775.

I'm not exactly sure whey he didn't say Commonwealth, as it's common in legal documents of the time that I've found, but referring to "this State" or "a free State" or similar references to Virginia also exists in contemporary political literature:

"We the subscribers, citizens of the said Commonwealth, having taken into serious consideration, a Bill printed by order of the last Session of General Assembly, entitled "A Bill establishing a provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion," and conceiving that the same if finally armed with the sanctions of a law, will be a dangerous abuse of power, are bound as faithful members of a free State to remonstrate against it, and to declare the reasons by which we are determined. We remonstrate against the said Bill,"

Both in one ^_^ (ref.

And again, other former colonies (not calling themselves "Commonwealths") were definitely using "State" in reference to themselves and other former colonies, including Virginia specifically:

"Proceedings of the Commissioners to Remedy Defects of the Federal Government, Annapolis in the State of Maryland. September 14, 1786.
they found that the States of New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, had, in substance, and nearly in the same terms, authorized their respective Commissions to [...]"

I suspect that this word choice wasn't a big deal, in the same way that it wasn't a big deal spelling your name in different ways depending on various circumstances, at various points in history... either that, or it was some kind of statement. You know, "I always refer to this in this manner because I want to reinforce that this is how everyone should see it..." Which isn't uncommon today, e.g. people who write "Bushitler" consistently, or who only write "Bubba" when they meant "President Clinton", or who choose "abortion lobby" or "anti-abortion activists" in the place of "pro-choice" or "pro-life".

Posted by: Sarah | Jan 12, 2005 3:04:56 PM

Philip Bater you say?

When young would he have been referred to as the the Young Master Bater?

Posted by: Ken | Jan 12, 2005 6:05:11 PM

Substance, commisions, integrity, divide, reconciliation, forgiveness, humble intervention.

Posted by: theyoungmasterbater | Jan 12, 2005 8:10:43 PM