New Hampshire

Tobias Lear Writes George Washington Some Bad News

On March 25, 1796, Tobias Lear wrote a disconsolate letter to George Washington telling him his wife had died.

Tobias Lear

Tobias Lear

Lear, born in Portsmouth, N.H., in 1762, served as Washington’s personal secretary for many years. He managed Washington’s expense reports to Congress and tutored Martha Washington’s grandchildren. Lear’s first wife, Mary Long, had died three years after they were married in 1793. Lear remarried Frances Bassett Washington, Martha Washington’s favorite niece, in August 1795. Washington gave them a house and 360 acres of his Mount Vernon estate. The marriage lasted seven months, as she died of tuberculosis in March 1796.

Lear wrote a short, agonized letter to Washington:

Afflicted as I am, I thought it my duty to write the enclosed which will communicate an event that must be distressing to you, my dear friend, as well as myself. The Partner of my life is no more! and I am too much distressed at this moment to add more than to assure you that tho my life is now not worth preserving, yet as it is, it is most Sincerely & devotedly yours.

Tobias Lear
March 25, 1796

Martha Washington wrote back to Lear,

It is the nature of humanity to mourn for the loss of our friends; and the more we loved them, the more poignant is our grief.

Lear rejoined the Washington household and married another of Martha Washington’s nieces, Francis Dandridge Henley.


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