George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Normand Bruce, 13 November 1784

From Normand Bruce

Washington Cou[n]ty [Md.] 13 Novembr 1784


There being many reasons to believe that our Specie has been much lessened not only during the War but ever since the Peace—It is not however to be doubted, but that much has been also imported during these periods, but it cannot bear any proportion to the Exports—Not only the difference of Exchange, which has uniformly since the Peace, been so far above Par, but, the large Exportations of Specie which still continues, seems to demonstrate the Ballance to be much against us, and in favour of all the Manufacturing Countrys with which we Trade—But notwithstanding these reasons as well as the many great and obvious inconveniences evidently arrising from the scarcity of a Circulating Medium amongst us, it is urged by many that our Complaints on this head are imaginary, maintaining that there is more specie amongst us at present, than ever there was at any one Period before—The principle argument aduced in support of this opinion is, it seems, the liberal Prices given for our Comodities, which is by no means conclusive—it may be owing to very different Causes a scarcity of Produce here, but most probably a brisk demand and high prices at the Market of Consumption—However admitting that we have as much specie as before the War—yet when we consider the large quantity of Paper then in Circulation, but now so much wanted, Our present distress will in a great measure be accounted for—Nor is it probable, that the worst is over—The insignificance of our Trade at the time of calling our late large emissions of Paper out of circulation, and for a considerable time after, the Indulgence of paying Taxes in produce, and above all the Laws screening Debtors from Suits, hath hitherto prevented many bad consequences which yet may be dreaded—In short Sir it must appear evident, to every impartial enquirer, particularly from the embarrassed situation of the People, and the uncultivated state of our Lands, without the means of relief usual in all other trading Countrys as well as heretofore in this, that an addition to our Medium, would not only be of general benefite by promoting Industry but so Critical seems our situation, that without some speedy and adequate remedy, we must infallibly be deprived of many of those essential benefits we had reason to expect from a Peace so very favourable—It therefore certainly becomes an enquiry of the utmost consequence to the Trade & Cultivation of these States, how far the Evil may admit of a speedy and effectual cure.

As it seems impracticable under our present circumstances to procure Specie either by Loan or other ways, adequate to our Exigences & encreasing Business⟨,⟩ Paper seems the only resource left us—I am well aware of the strong prejudices imbibed by many against a paper medium, and during the continuance of the War there might be Reason, but since the Peace we surely have it more in our Power than ever to Emit it on Solid & sufficient funds, and having previous to the Revolution experienced (and most other Civilized Nations still experience) Very Salutary Effects flowing from a Prudent use of it, and surely because we may have been nearly Phisecked to death by the unskilfull application of a Medicine, it by no means follows that we should entirely reject it, when convinced that a Moderate Portion thereof, judiciously administer’d, is the only remedy left us for our disorder—The Benefits arising to any State more particularly to such, circumstanced as we are, uncultivated and unimproved, from Public Emissions are apparent, and past Expereince proves the great Advantages flowing therefrom to the Public—a part may be Circulated in discharging Internal Debts, whilst the remainder is lent out in small Sums to Induviduals able to procure Securety for the repayment therof, the annual Interest of which, would not only add to the Public Revenue, but the Sums so lent would give Scope to Industry & Agriculture, the best and surest means of keeping the little specie we have or may hereafter get amongst us, for thereby our Exports would be increased and our Commerce augmented, and a Ballance finally obtained against Those Nations who at present have it against us—For these obvious reasons Public Emissions ought to be preffered by every well wisher of his Country: But the inffluence which some men seems to possess in our Councils, who pretending a Dread of they know not what, have deprived the Public of this benefite and Induviduals of the only seeming rational means of assistance, without it is Emitted on such terms as must Evidently check its Circulation and give the Creditors a very unfair advantage over their Debtors—As therefore we have but little hopes left of seeing Public Emissions the following proposition for Circulating a very small Sum on Private Security, and for Establishing a Bank is submited to your private consideration wether it may admit of such amendment or additions as to be rendered practicable and of Service to the Comunity.

Proposal, That provided the Legislatures of Virginia & Maryland will Emit the Sum of 500,000 Dollars, which they will grant upon Loan to the Subscribers or otherways Vest them with the Priveledge of Emitting and of Circulating such a Sum for and during the term of Ten Years from the date of the Grant or Emission—In consideration whereof they will engage to expend the Sum of [ ] Dollars within the Space of [ ] Years from the date of such Grant towards rendering Potowmack River Navigable from Tide Water, towards its Source, or as far up, as to the nearest convenient Landing for the Westren Waters.

That the said Sum of 500,000 dollars shall be subscribed for and divided into (either 125 or 250) Shares (which will make each share amount to 4000 or 2000 Dollars) and that no Subscription shall be received for more than [ ] Shares nor for less than ¼ Share.

That every Subscriber shall be entitled to a Loan of one half of the Sum Subscribed by him, upon giving Bond with Sufficient Security for the repayment thereof with Interest Annually.

That the other Moiety or Residue of the Money excepting a Sum not exceeding [ ] Dollars shall be lent out upon Satisfactory Security in Sums not exceeding [ ] Dollars to any one Person at the Annual Interest of 5 prCt.

That one half of the Amount of the Proposed Emissions shall be redeemed and paid off in the year 179[ ] and the other Moiety in the year following; and for the certain and effectual redemption whereof the Subscribers &c. to be liable.

That the Subscribers &c. shall be incorporated by the Name of the Potowmack Company with such other further necessary Priveledges as the respective Legislatures may judge proper for their encouragement and for the effectual securing the repayment of Money lent by them.

That the Proprietors shall meet on the [ ] day of [ ] next and on the same day annually at Alexandria there to Elect by Ballot a Governour [ ] Directors [ ] Treasurer & Secratary.

That the Governour with a Majority of Directors shall meet Quarterly and be empowered to make such further Appointments as may be found necessary, make Contracts fix the Price of Wages, Draw on the Treasurer and give such directions from time to time as may be necessary for executing with Delegence & frugality, the intended Navigation in a Manner which shall be deemed of the greatest Public Utility.

The Treasurer shall give approved Security for a faithfull discharge of Trust reposed in him.

A fair Record shall be kept of all proceedings by the Secratary who shall regularly attend the Annual meetings of the Proprietors and at All meetings of the Governour & Directors.

Every Subscriber or Subscribers of each share shall only have a Vote in the Proceedings and may Vote by Proxy Authorized under Hand & Seal & lodged with the Secretary Previous to Voting.

And to Establish a fund upon which to Circulate Notes payable on demand, Similar to Bank Notes.

That every Subscriber do pay unto the [ ] in Gold or Silver or in Good Bills of Exchange (payable in Europe) on or before the first day of [ ] next a Sum equal to 1/10 of their Subscriptions—the like Sum, at the expiration of [ ] Months from that time, and so on untill half the Amount of the Subscriptions are paid in.

That the Governour & Directors shall be empowred to receive new Subscriptions towards encreasing the Capital Stock on such terms as they may judge Proper.

That Notes shall be Emitted from time to time, not to exceed the Proportion of [ ] Dollars for one Received, as the Payments are made.

That Cash Accounts shall be opened by which every Person upon giving approved Security shall be advanced Cash to a certain Extent, at such times and in such Proportions as he may order, for which [ ] prCt is to be charged from the time the Money is advanced—He also having the liberty of returning such Sums (not less however than [ ] Dollars at a time) as it may suit him, on which the like Interest will be allowed whilst in Bank.

A supposed State agreeable to the above out Lines

Virga Curry
Sum proposed to St⟨rick⟩ 500.000 Dollars 6/. £150.000
10 Years Interest at 5 prCt on £150,000 is £ 75.000
To Be expended on Potowmack supports £40000
10 years Salery to Secretary Treasurer 1500
Governour, Directors, Expences & on Business for 10 years—say 7500
Clerks Overseers &c. Wages for 10 years 7500 56 000

By this state there remains a Ballance of £18 500 out of which however is to be deducted loss by bad debts &c. It seems unecessary to enter into any further Comment on the Benefits arising from the Circulation even of this small Sum—doubtless many Industrious Persons might therefrom be furnished with the means of Prosecuting their Improvements and shall only observe that the Sum being so Small in Comparison to the Trade of Potowmack even in its present State and the number of People who are closely interested in the success of this Beneficial Undertaking, which can never be executed upon more advantageous terms to them selves and Posterity it is but reasonable to Presume that notwithstanding our Prejudices against Paper, there can be no doubt but that this Money will Circulate freely.

As the Nature of Banking may not have come under your Consideration, I thought that a few observations on that Subject might not be construed as an intrusion on Your Patience but at Present I am unavoidably called off, and altho after this delay it seems strangely ridiculous to offer an excuse for the hurry and incorrectness with which this is wrote yet such has been my case that this is the first day of rest I have enjoy’d not having been two days in a Place since I had the pleasure of seeing you—I trust that I shall not from the freedom which I have taken in communicating my Sentiments incure Your Censure as a Projector—The Profit which the Public might reap from the Circulation of Paper is apparently considerable, I have therefore ever thought that the States only ought to possess these Advantages and enjoy the Monopoly, But as there is reason to fear that the Public Benefite may be overlooked amidst that encreasing eagarness with which Induviduals amongst us seems to prosecute their Particular Interests, I have therefore been induced to trouble you, hoping that as the Sum here intended to be Circulated is so trifling and the services proposed to be rendered of such Public Advantage & Utility that this Money would be received with avidity and Circulated freely in which case it might also prove a means of effacing our prejudices against Paper and pave the way for future Emission should you however Sir deem the proposal in consistant I have inclosed the outlines of another mode of Executing this important Business upon the same principles, that Works of this kind are most commonly undertaken and executed 1—I remain, most Worthy Sir with perfect Respect and Esteem your very Obdt Servt

Normd Bruce

ALS, MnHi.

Normand Bruce (d. 1811), a Scot by birth, lived in Frederick County, Maryland. He had large landholdings in that county and also in Montgomery, Prince George’s, and Washington counties, Maryland. In 1783 the Maryland legislature had him and Charles Beatty look into and report on the feasibility of “opening, clearing, and making navigable the River Potomack” to the Maryland line (Md. Senate Proceedings, description begins Votes and Proceedings of the Senate of the State of Maryland. May Session, 1781. Being the Second Session of this Assembly. [Annapolis, 1781]. description ends 443; see also GW’s notes on the Bruce-Beatty report in note 1). When at Bath in September 1784, GW talked at length with Bruce about connecting the upper reaches of the Potomac to the Ohio River by means of other streams and short land portages. GW also had access to the Bruce-Beatty report of 1783, on which he made notes (see Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 4:11–14).

1The text of Bruce’s alternate plan is: “Proposals of opening the Navigation of Potowmack for which purpose the Sum of 150,000 dollars shall be subscribed & divided into Seventy five Shares of 2000 dollars each.

“No Subscription shall be taken for more than [ ] Shares nor less than ¼ of a Share.

“The Subscribers to be incorporated by Acts of the Virga and Maryld Legislatures by name of the Potomack Company with an Exclusive right to them, their Heirs, Assigns &c. to all the Water they may think propper to collect into their Canals and the Lands through which the same may run shall be condemned for their use and that they shall have power to Levy on all Boats Rafts &c. Passing thru their Cannals a Toll not exceeding [ ] pr Ton.

“The Proprietors shall meet on the [ ] Day of [ ] next at Alexandria and on the same day Annually and then Elect by a Majority of Votes a Governour and [ ] Directors a Treasurer Secretary for the year.

“The Governour with a Majority of Directors shall have Power to make Contracts fix the Price of Wages and Employ such Persons to direct & Oversee the Work as they shall find necessary & Draw on the Treasurer for Money.

“The Treasurer shall give Security for discharge of Trust.

“The Company to be impowred by the Legislature of the Two States to Emit & Circulate a Sum not exceeding Sixty thousand Dollars which shall pass & be receivd in payment of Taxes & Public dues untill the year [ ] when the sum shall be called in & paid off by the Compy.

“Each Subscriber shall pay into the Hands of the Treasurer such parts of his share and at such times as the Governour & Directors shall order.

November 1784

“The Holder or Holders of each share shall only have a Vote in the Proceedings & May Vote by Proxy Authorized under the Hand & Seal & Lodged with the Secratary Previous to receiving such Votes.

“The Secratary shall attend the Meetings of the Proprietors & of the Governour & Directors & keep a fair Record of all their Proceedings and Lay the Same before the meetings of the Proprietors.

“P.S. The above Estimate is made upon a supposition that 150,000 dolls. is component for the work—It exceeds the Sum mentioned in the Returns of C. Beatty & myself to the assembly of this State—but the manner in which we were obliged to make the Survey rendered much of the Value of the Business to be done Guess Work” (AD, MnHi).

To compare Bruce’s two alternate plans for a Potomac River company with the one adopted by the Virginia and Maryland legislatures in December 1784 and January 1785, see Enclosure I in Beverly Randolph to GW, 15 December. Bruce also enclosed a map that he had drawn, which GW docketed: “Sketch of the Country between the Waters of the Potomack—And those of Yohiogany—& Monongahefla].”

It is not known whether it was before or after receiving Bruce’s letter that GW made the following notes on the report that Bruce and Charles Beatty made to the Maryland legislature in 1783, which GW heads: “Taken from Messrs Charles Beatty, and Normd Bruces report & estimate, respecting the opening the Navigation of the River Patomack from Fort Cumberland to tide water”:

“No actual Survey of the River has been made by them.

“The North branch of the River may easily be made Navigable a considerable distance above Fort Cumberland.

“The object would be, to shorten the Portage between it and the western waters.

“These are yet to be explored—& the communication between.

“The Estimate therefore is from Fort Cumberland only.

“The River Potomack runs over a hard firm bottom & penetrates many mountains & ridges of Land which occasion Falls & Rapids.

“All of which may be rendered safely navigable except at three places in the Channel of the Rivr.

“Viz. at the Shannondoah Falls—which from the Beginning thereof to Harpers Ferry about one Mile is 20 feet. 2 Locks on the Virginia Side; a narrow space to cut through, none on the Maryld side, the Mountn butting close down. Shannondoah Rivr coming in here, the channel of the River (Potk) must be used till it is passed—Then in another mile 10 feet fall requiring one Lock on the Maryland Shore. but removing some obstructions, & swelling the water in other places this last may be made Navigable for Batteaus & Rafts—The estimated distance of these falls from Fort Cumberland—is about 110 or 20 miles.

“The Seneca Falls, distant from these about 60 Miles continues about a mile; & is nearly 10 feet, the principal channel much encumbered with rieffs of Rocks but by means of some Islds on the Virginia side may easily be made navigable & with safety, without a Lock.

“The great Falls distant from the last about 6 miles, & only a trifling impediment in the way, is about 80 feet in the course of a mile—and requires 8 Locks on the Virginia Side.

“From hence to the lower Falls is abt 6 miles in wch distance there are several Rapids, but wch may be easily made passable as it only requires to remove stones wch are thickly intersperced in the bed of the River in a detached manner.

“From the upper end of the rapids at the lower falls to tide water may be about 2 miles—and 40 feet fall requiring 4 locks on the Maryld shore to be taken out opposite the lower end of an Island above into a cove below at some distance below the flowing of the tide which is necessary for the security of the Locks against floods & Ice.

“The River between Fort Cumberland and the Shannondoah Falls is rapid & impetuous in places, yet, during the moderate floods admits rafts to pass with safety and is navigated in its pres[en]t state by small Vessels in the Spring, & beginning of Summer. afterwards, the Waters getting low & spreading over a wide bed become too shallow.

“There are also several Rapids between the Shannondoah & Seneca falls which are not easily passed in dry weather—the most considerable of them is the Catoctan which are dangerous in their present state, but may easily be renderd navigable.

“Vessels of 6, & not exceeding 10 Tons burthen, are recommended tho’ the Canals should be made to suit larger Vessels, & Rafts drawing 3 feet water & 60 feet long.

“It appears very difficult to them to render this river navigable for heavy Vessels from the many rapids.

“Are of opinion (under all circumstances) that the navigation from Fort Cumberland to the great falls may be completed in two years.

“Recommends the beginning with this part of the river for several reasons.

“Three years more might finish the remainder of the work—to tide water.

“Expence Dollars
From Fort Cumberland to the Shannonh Falls 12,000
Cutting a Canal at Do 1 mile long & 20 feet wide 3½ feet deep 4,000
Making 2 Locks in ditto 6,000
Removing Rocks, swelling the water &ca in sundry places betwn Harpers Ferry & the Seneca Falls 4,000
At the Seneca falls 3,000
Total, from Ft Cumbd to the Gt Falls 29,000
Cutting a Canal 1 Mile long at the G. Falls 8,000
Erecting 8 Locks—difficult grd 26,000
Betwn the Great & little Falls 6,000
Cutting a Canal at the little Falls 3 Miles long 9,000
4 Locks 16 feet wide, 3½ deep, & 60 feet in length 11,000
Makg a Dam & ca to regul[at]e the Water 3,000
Whole amount 92,000”

(AD, MHi: Jeremiah Colburn Papers).

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