John Askew was an indentured joiner that worked for George Washington from 1759 until 1767. Askew immigrated to America in 1754 and was originally indentured to George Mercer of Fairfax County for four years. In return for his labor, Mercer paid Askew's passage to America, equal to ten pounds in Virginia currency. Askew completed his time with Mercer and began working for George Washington at Mount Vernon on September 1, 1759.1
According to the original agreement between Askew and Washington, the joiner was to work from sunrise to sunset at Mount Vernon or any other Washington property or assignment. In the course of doing his job, Askew would also "instruct in the art of his trade" any enslaved people that were working with him during his term. Those articles of agreement were later changed in April 1764 and again in December 1765. According to the amended agreement, Askew was to receive twenty-five pounds Virginia currency as well as provisions and rent-free housing.
Washington seems to have found Askew problematic as an employee. He commented in 1762 to his neighbor, George William Fairfax, that: "the [balance] he [Askew] owes me is for Tools Imported for him, and money actually lent to keep him from starving and from a Goal, from whence (at least the Sheriffs Custody) I have once or twice redeemed him; and lent him money to Cloath and by necessaries for his Family. . .I never desire to see his Face again, if he can fall upon any method of paying what he owes me in money." However, this was not the only time that Askew would work for Washington.
The two men must have worked out their problems; Washington hired Askew again in 1766 to oversee his enslaved carpenters at a salary of thirty-five pounds.2 Askew also supervised the work on George Washington's schooner, which was built in 1765 and launched in February 1766.3
1. “Indenture with John Askew, 1 September 1759,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-06-02-0182.
2. Mesick, Cohen & Waite, Architects, "Building Trades," Mount Vernon: Historic Structure Report, 3 volumes (unpublished report prepared for the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, February 1993), 2-28.
3. The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, Vol. 7, 418n.