Washington's Secretary - Tobias Lear Records the President's Last Words

Washington's Secretary - Tobias Lear Records the President's Last Words

As personal secretary to George Washington, Tobias Lear was as close to the President as any other person.

Before establishing himself as a diplomat, Lear was with Washington on his deathbed and kept a record of the General’s last words.

Tobias Lear

Tobias Lear was from an established family in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Instead of joining the war effort, the young man spent 1779-83 attending Harvard college.

After graduating, he was recommended by family friend Benjamin Lincoln to George Washington.

Washington’s Secretary

Washington had just returned home from a successful overthrow of the British Government when he hired Lear.

Lear had two main tasks...tutor Washington’s grandchildren and serve as his personal secretary.

Tobias performed well enough in his duties that five years later, when Washington became President, Lear joined him at the executive mansion.

The New Government

Lear continued with Washington through his first term.

He often dined with the Commander-in-Chief as well as contributed to his personal correspondence. We can only imagine the personal conversations the two men shared.

When Washington’s second term began, a now-31-year-old Lear decided to strike out on his own.

Tobias attempted several business ventures but none panned out.

Death of a President

In December of 1799, Lear was in Virginia visiting George Washington in retirement.

Sadly, he was there when the General passed away.

Lear recorded Washington’s final moments in his diary:

“About ten o'clk, Saturday December 14, 1799, Washington made several attempts to speak to me before he could effect it, at length he said,—"I am just going. Have me decently buried; and do not let my body be put into the Vault in less than two days after I am dead." I bowed assent. He then looked at me again and said, "Do you understand me?" I repd "Yes." "'Tis well" said he.”


After the funeral, Lear joined the Jefferson Administration as a diplomat.

He briefly went to the Caribbean but was recalled after Napoleon’s troops arrived to suppress the Haitian Revolution.

Later, Lear went to North Africa where he served as a Peace Negotiator. His work ended the First Barbary War.

Unfortunately, Tobias Lear suffered from depression most of his life. This coupled with poor financial decisions and left him feeling left without options.

At 54-years-old, Lear shot himself with a pistol and ended a life that was once at the center of the American Founding.

Here are some other daughters of the American Revolution:

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Tobias Lear does have a biography about him, but I think a better recommendation today is a book about the last few years of Washington’s life.

‘Washington’s End’ discusses the two years the General lived after his presidency, during which Lear plays a large role.

If you’d like a copy you can get one through the Amazon affiliate link below (you’ll support this site, but don’t worry, Amazon pays me while your price stays the same).

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