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About Tobias Lear
Thus River Farm became the northernmost of Washington's five farms, and today's River Farm is located on the northernmost division of that property. Although Washington had patiently pursued the acquisition of the property, he never actually lived on or worked this land. Instead, he preferred to rent it, first in 1761 to tenant farmer Samuel Johnson who paid ever increasing amounts of his tobacco crop to Washington for the privilege. The farm was even once offered for sale in 1773, but instead Washington held on to it and later gave its lease as a wedding present to one Tobias Lear whose bride, Fanny Bassett, was Martha Washington's niece and widow of George Washington's nephew, George Augustine Washington.
Lear had come to Virginia in 1786 on the recommendation of a mutual friend to be secretary to Washington and tutor to Martha's two grandchildren. He was treated as a member of the family, taking his meals with them. He served Washington not only as secretary but as a personal confidante at Mount Vernon as well as in Philadelphia and New York while Washington served as the young nation’s first President. He was at Washington's side when he died. In his will, Washington gave Lear use of the farm, rent free, for his lifetime. Tobias' wife Fanny predeceased him, and he installed his mother-in-law and children at the farm while he preferred to reside in Georgetown. It is said he died there, a suicide, in 1816. However, evidence of his spiritual presence at River Farm continues to this day.
Tobias Lear had called the property Walnut Tree Farm. Today, in the meadow below the “ha-ha” wall, three venerable old black walnut trees still stand, reminders of the 18th century landscape that Lear and Washington knew.