Colonel Tobias Lear, V

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Colonel Tobias Lear, V's Geni Profile

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Colonel Tobias Lear, V

Also Known As: "Toby Lear", "Tobias Leer", "Tobias Leah"
Birthdate: (54)
Birthplace: Portsmouth, Rockingham County, New Hampshire, United States
Death: October 11, 1816 (54)
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States (suicide)
Place of Burial: Congressional Cemetery Washington District of Columbia District Of Columbia
Immediate Family:

Son of Captain Tobias Lear, IV and Mary Lear
Husband of Frances Dandridge Lear; Mary "Polly" Lear and Frances Washington
Father of Benjamin Lincoln Lear
Brother of Mary Lear and Dorcas Lear

Occupation: personal secretary to President George Washington
Managed by: Seth Wheatley, III
Last Updated:

About Colonel Tobias Lear, V

Diplomat. He was hired in 1784 to be the personal tutor to the children of Martha Washington. He quickly became George Washington's personal secretary, and moved to New York City with Washington when the latter became President. He left the President at the start of his second term to start his own company. His business venture failed, and Lear went into debt. Returning to the President with an apology, Lear was given the rank of Colonel under Washington in the army. Lear was with Washington at the time of his death, recorded the President's last moments and planned the funeral. When Thomas Jefferson became President, he appointed Lear as a commercial agent in Santo Domingo, a post from which Lear quickly retreated from because of a slave rebellion on the island.

In 1803 Jefferson appointed Lear Consul General to the North African Coast. In this capacity, Lear was the primary negotiator of the Treaty of Tripoli which ended the First Barbary War. Under President James Madison Lear served as a secretary in the War Department. During this tenure the British burned the capital. Lear committed suicide for reasons unknown. (bio by: Dan Silva) 

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.


1762 - 1816

Tobias Lear became a trusted friend and secretary to George Washington. He was from New Hampshire and attended Harvard University before he toured Europe. While at Harvard, Lear met a military friend of George Washington, Major General Benjamin Lincoln. Lincoln suggested to Washington that he hire Lear as a tutor for his grandchildren and a personal secretary for himself.

Lear became the best bookkeeper Washington ever had, and the President paid him $800 a year (more than any other secretary). He answered countless letters and handled much of the President's correspondence. Washington chose Tobias Lear to get the President's House ready for his family and coordinate the move from New York to Philadelphia. Lear managed the movement of all the furniture, the décor, the construction of a new "bow" window (making the room oval), construction of a new servant's hall and converted a "cow house" into more stables. He conferred with the President on all the sleeping arrangements in the house as there would sometimes be 30 people living there.

In April of 1790, Tobias married Mary Long. They moved in with the President and his family, and Mary Lear and Martha Washington became dear friends. In March of 1791, Mary had a baby in the President's House. The Lears named the baby Benjamin Lincoln Lear. The family lived on the third floor where Tobias's office also was located. Tobias worked closely with the President and was his most trusted secretary.

In July of 1793, Lear's wife Mary got yellow fever and died. This left Tobias with a small baby alone in the President's House. He left the baby in the care of his mother and took several jobs in Europe as an ambassador. He got the best "letters of introduction" to new employers imaginable: they were from George Washington! When Tobias Lear got remarried, Washington gave him a house and 360 acres of his Mt. Vernon estate as a wedding present.

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Colonel Tobias Lear, V's Timeline

September 19, 1762
Portsmouth, Rockingham County, New Hampshire, United States
Age 29
October 11, 1816
Age 54
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States
October 11, 1816
Age 54
Congressional Cemetery Washington District of Columbia District Of Columbia