In the fall of 1786 the fifty-four-year-old president of the Potomac Company, George Washington, late commander in chief of the American Army (resigned December 23, 1783, after eight years of active duty) was seriously broke. Majestically, he had refused any salary from the revolutionary American government so seldom in useful Congress assembled. But it had always been agreed that should their cause be victorious, Congress would pay the General's expenses, which it did, with some awe at Washington's meticulous bookkeeping and lavish way of life -- Congress had to cough up $100,000.
Now the General was retired to his Virginia plantation, Mount Vernon. Despite one hundred slaves, Mount Vernon yielded insufficient revenue, while various western lands on the Ohio River were costing the General more than they brought in. Worse, since he was the world's most famous man he was also the most visited at home by both countrymen and wide-eyed Europeans. He was an indulgent host; unfortunately, neither his wealth nor that of his wife, Martha Custis, could pay for so royal a way of life. At one point, he seriously considered retreating north to Niagara; if that did not keep his admirers at bay, he was willing to flee even farther into Canada in order to escape his expensive fame. But a few trips away from Mount Vernon made it clear that there was to be no escape for him anywhere; he was to be famous for life and, probably, for all he knew or suspected, thereafter. Glumly he wrote, "My living under the best economy I can use must unavoidably be expensive." Plainly, Mount Vernon was to be "a well-resorted tavern, (frequented by) and strangers who are going from North to South of from South to North." Yet his crops were sparse. Bad soil. Too little fertilizer. He needed to be, he complained, Midas-like, "one who can convert everything he touches to manure as the first transmutation towards gold."
-Gore Vidal, Inventing a Nation: Washington, Adams, Jefferson