George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Benjamin Harrison, 6 January 1785

From Benjamin Harrison

Rich[mon]d [Va.] Jany 6th 178[5]

My Dear Sir

It gives me great pleasure to inform that the assembly yesterday without a discenting voice complimented you with fifty shares in the potowmack company and one hundred in the James River company. of which I give you this early notice to stop your subscribing on your own account. As this compliment is intended by your country in commemoration of your assiduous <cares> to promote her interest I hope you will have no scruples in accepting the present and thereby gratifying them in their most earnest wishes 1—I most sincerely tender you and your good lady the compliments of the season and many happy renewals of it and am Dr Sir your affet. Servt

Benj. Harrison

ALS, DLC:GW.

1Gov. Patrick Henry sent GW on 5 Jan., in a letter now missing, official notification of the vote of the Virginia general assembly to vest in GW 50 shares in the Potowmack Company and 100 shares in the James River Company. Harrison enclosed a copy of “An act for vesting in George Washington, esq. a certain interest in the companies established for opening and extending the navigation of Powtowmack and James rivers” (11 Hening description begins William Waller Hening, ed. The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619. 13 vols. 1819–23. Reprint. Charlottesville, Va., 1969. description ends 525–26). After receiving notice of the action of the assembly from Harrison and Henry, and from others as well, GW began writing to friends and former associates expressing in agonizing terms his doubts about the propriety of his accepting the shares and of his uncertainty in what manner he should reject the gift if he became certain that is what he should do. See, for examples, GW to William Grayson and to Benjamin Harrison, both 22 Jan.; to Lafayette, 15 Feb.; to Thomas Jefferson, 25 Feb.; to George William Fairfax and Patrick Henry, both 27 Feb.; and to Henry Knox, 28 Feb. 1785. On 25 April GW wrote William Grayson that his “present determination” was “to hold the shares . . . in trust for the use & benefit” of the public, and he confirmed this in more formal terms with further explanation in a letter to Edmund Randolph on 30 July. It was not, however, until 29 Oct. 1785, early in the fall session of the Virginia legislature, that GW made his formal response to Governor Henry. After offering his “fervent acknowledgements to the Legislature for their very kind sentiments and intentions,” he asked that “their Act, so far as it has for its object my personal emolument, may not have its effect.” Instead, the legislature would, he hoped, “turn the destination of the fund vested in me from my private emoluments, to objects of a public nature.” The ensuing act of the legislature, which included a copy of GW’s letter to the governor, provided: “That the said shares with the tolls and profits hereafter accruing therefrom, shall stand appropriated to such objects of a public nature, in such manner, and under such distributions, as the said George Washington, esq. by deed during his life, or by his last will and testament, shall direct and appoint” (12 Hening description begins William Waller Hening, ed. The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619. 13 vols. 1819–23. Reprint. Charlottesville, Va., 1969. description ends 42–44).

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