Tobias Lear

1762 - 1816

Tobias Lear

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.

Top: Image of Tobias Lear courtesy of Portsmouth Historical Society.

Image of General Benjamin Lincoln courtesy of Independence National Historical Park.

Back to the President's Household