George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Thomas Johnson and Thomas Sim Lee, 18 May 1785

To Thomas Johnson and Thomas Sim Lee

Alexa[ndria, Va.] 18th May 1785


At a meeting of the Subscribers to the Potowmac Navigation held yesterday agreeable to the Acts of Assembly of both States, a President and Directors were chosen, the former I have accepted of, & you two in conjunction with George Gilpin & John Fitzgerald Esqrs. were appointed Directors which I hope will be agreeable to you[.]1 As the Season begins to advance I have thought necessary that we should have a meeting as soon as it can be with convenience & have appointed Monday the 30th Inst. for that purpose.2

I have no doubt of your punctual attendance at that time the place I leave to you to fix upon, & request your answer by return of the Express, which is sent on this special Business[.] You’ll also please mention the Hour you would wish to meet on.3 I have the Honor to be &Ca

Signed G.W.

Copy, NIC.

Thomas Johnson (1732–1819) and Thomas Sim Lee (1745–1819) were both at this time living in Frederick, Maryland.

1The following item appeared in the Virginia Journal and Alexandria Advertiser on 19 May: “Last Tuesday, being the Day appointed by the States of Virginia and Maryland, relative to opening the inland Navigation, of the River Potomack, a Meeting was held at Mr. Lomax’s Tavern, consisting of a very numerous Assembly; of the first People in the respective States.—Daniel Carroll, Esq; President of the Assembly of Maryland, being appointed to the Chair, the Subscription Books were read as the Acts direct, when it appeared that Forty Thousand Three Hundred Pounds was subscribed, a Sum far beyond what was required to incorporate the Company.—The Company was of Course established, and proceeded to the Election of a President and Directors, when the following Gentlemen were appointed: His Excellency George Washington, President; George Gilpin, John Fitzgerald, Thomas Johnson, and Thomas S. Lee, Esquires, Directors.

“The great and important Work is to be immediately begun.—The vast Consequence that must derive to the Middle States when completed, cannot be elucidated but by Time, the Discoverer of all great Events.

“The next General Meeting is appointed to be held at George-Town on the first of August next.”

John Lomax’s tavern was on the corner of Princess and Water streets. Daniel Carroll (1730–1796), who lived in Montgomery County, Md., was a member of the Maryland senate. He was the brother of John Carroll (1735–1815), head of the Catholic church in America. George Gilpin (1740–1813), a native of Cecil County, Md., was a wheat merchant in Alexandria.

On 26 May the Alexandria paper printed the minutes of this first meeting of the Potowmack Company, held at “Alexandria, May 17, 1785”: “This Day, and at this Town, pursuant to the Act of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia for opening and extending the Navigation of Potomack River, and pursuant to the Act of the General Assembly of the State of Maryland for the same Purpose, there was a general Meeting of the Subscribers to the Undertaking, who proceeded to the Choice of a Chairman, and elected Daniel Carroll, Esq.; to that Office, and appointed Charles Lee, Esq.;

Clerk of the Meeting. The Books that had been opened for receiving Subscriptions at the City of Richmond, at the Towns of Alexandria and Winchester, in Virginia; and at the City of Annapolis, at George-Town, and Frederick-Town, in the State of Maryland, being produced and examined, the Subscriptions therein appeared to be as follow, viz.

“In the Richmond Book[s], One Hundred Shares;

“In the Alexandria Books, One Hundred Thirty-Five Shares;

“In the Winchester Books, Thirty-One Shares;

“In the Annapolis Books, Seventy-Three Shares;

“In the George-Town Books, Forty-Two Shares;

“In the Frederick-Town Books, Twenty-Two Shares;

“Amounting in all to Four Hundred and Three Shares, which made a Capital of Forty Thousand and Three Hundred Pounds, Sterling Money.

“On a Motion made and seconded, Resolved, That the Subscribers now present in Person, together with those represented by Proxy, proceed to the Choice of a President and Directors of the Potomack Company, and that the President and Directors, now to be chosen, shall continue in Office until the First Monday in the Month of August, which shall be in the Year One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty-Six.

Resolved, That at every General Meeting, in taking the Votes of the Proprietors, each Proprietor shall give in his Vote or Votes at the Clerk’s Table in Writing, and where the Vote or Votes shall be given by Proxy, that the Name of each Constituent be also inserted.

Ordered, That Charles Simms and James Keith be a Committee, to examine the Deputations to act and vote as Proxy, and to make Report thereof to this Meeting; who having made Report accordingly,

Resolved, That the Deputations from Thomas Blackburn to William Brown, from Thomas Johnston to Abraham Faw, and from John Lynn to Abraham Faw, to act and vote for them respectively, appearing to have been executed before one Witness only, are illegal and insufficient, and that the said Thomas Blackburn, Thomas Johnston, and John Lynn, be not admitted to vote by their respective Proxies aforesaid.

“The Proprietors present in Person, as well as the absent Proprietors by their respective Proxies, having given in their Votes in the Manner before mentioned for the Choice of a President and Four Directors of the Potomack Company, and the said Votes being duly examined and accounted, a Majority of Votes as in Favor of his Excellency George Washington to be President, and in Favor of Thomas Johnston, Thomas Sim Lee, John Fitzgerald, and George Gilpin, Esquires, to be Directors; and thereupon his Excellency George Washington was declared by the Chairman to be elected President, and the said Thomas Johnston, Thomas Sim Lee, John Fitzgerald and George Gilpin, Directors of the Potomack Company.

Ordered, That the names of the Proprietors who were present in proper Person, and also of those who voted and acted by Proxy at this Meeting, with the Names of such Proxies respectively, be inserted on the Minutes.

“Present in proper Person. His Excellency George Washington, Daniel Carroll, Robert Peter, Samuel Davidson, William Deakins, jun., Charles

Worthington, Thomas Beall of George, Henry Townsend, James M. Lingan, Benjamin Stoddert, John Boucher, Bernard O’Neill, Lyonel Bradstreet, Thomas Cramphin, George Digges, James Johnston, Abraham Faw, Horatio Gates, Peter B. Bruin, Edward Beeson, Edward Smith, Joseph Holmes, John Gunnell, Charles Little, Roger West, Lund Washington, William Hepburn, Henry Lyles, William Lowry, Benjamin Shreve, John Harper, William Scott, Daniel M’Pherson, William Brown, William Hartshorne, George Gilpin, Leven Powell, Charles Simms, Robert T. Hooe, William Ellzey, Samuel M. Brown, Joseph Janney, Daniel Roberdeau, John Allison, Baldwin Dade, Benjamin Dulany, James Lawrason, James Keith, Alexander Henderson, David Stewart, William Lyles, John Potts, jun. William Herbert, Dennis Ramsay, Richard Conway, John Fitzgerald and Charles Lee.

Present by Proxy.—Jaquelin Ambler, Agent for the Commonwealth of Virginia, by his Excellency George Washington, Joseph W. Harrison by Dennis Ramsay, Richard Harrison by Robert T. Hooe, Thomas Lewis by Charles Simms, Robert Macky by Edward Smith, Henry Ridgely, jun. by William Deakins, jun. William Baley by William Deakins, jun. George Scott by Robert Peter, and James Rumsey by Peter B. Bruin.—Also, Baker Johnston, George Schnitzell, Thomas S. Lee, Joseph Chapline, Philip Thomas, Thomas Beaty, Joseph Sim, John F. Ameling, Thomas Gauntt, Thomas Hawkins and Patrick S. Smith, severally and respectively by Abraham Faw; also, Alexander White, Philip Pendleton, William Drew, Moses Hunter, William Bready, William M’Kewan, James Campbell, Henry Bedinger, George Scott, George Hite, Walter Baker, Abraham Shepherd, Benjamin Beiler, and Cornelius Wynkoop, severally and respectively by Horatio Gates.

Resolved, That the Writings concerning the Deputations to act and vote as , Proxy, be delivered, together with the Subscription Books and the Minutes of this Meeting, to the President and Directors; and that a general Meeting of the Potomack Company be held at George-Town, in the State of Maryland, on the First Monday in August next. Charles Lee, Clerk of the Meeting.”

2At some point GW made a list of the powers and duties with which the Potomac River bill endowed the company’s president and trustees. It would have been out of character for GW to have made this “Abstract from the Potomac Bill” before he was elected president of the company on 17 May; it would have been very much in character for him to make the abstract very soon after he took office. The text of the undated memorandum, in GW’s hand and initialed by him, is: “The President and Directors to conduct the Undertaking & manage all the Company’s business & concerns.

“Directors to agree on behalf of the Company with any person or persons to cut Canals, & open Locks, or perform other Works to the highest part of the No. Branch.

“Directors to appoint a treasurer, Clerk, Managers &ca &ca as they shall judge requisite & agree for & settle their Wages.

“Directors to establish rules of proceeding, and to transact all the business of the Company between the General Meetings.

“Directors to be allowed such a sum of money for their trouble as a Gen[era]l Meeting shall direct.

“Treasurer to give Bond in such penalty and with such security as the Presidt & Directors shall direct.

“His allowances not to exceed three pounds in the hund[re]d for the disbursemts by him made.

“Directors have full power to call from time to time for money, as it shall be wanted. sign orders for that purpose—direct at what time—and in what proportion the Proprietors shall advance—giving 1 Months previous notice at least in the Virg[ini]a & Maryl[an]d Gazettes—To order the said sums to be deposited in the hands of the Treasurer.

“Treasurer to pay on the order of the President & Directors, or a Majority of them.

“If any of the Proprietors shall refuse, or neglect to pay their said proportions within one Month after the same is ordered & advertised as aforesaid—The Presidt & Directors or a majority of them may sell at Auction & convey to the Purchaser giving one Months notice of the Sale in the V. & M. Gazettes.

“President & Directors before they act to take an oath for the due execution of their Office.

“The President & Directors to make report to the Annual general Meeting of the Comp[an]y & render just & distinct accts of all their Proceedings & obtain a certificate thereof.

“Upon any emergency in the Intervals of the General Meetings the Directors may call a Genl Meeting giving a Months previous Notice in the V. & M. Gazettes.

“Presidt & Directors to agree with the owners of Land for passage through the same or to obtain a condemnation in case of disagreement.

“And the deficiency of the 500 Shares in whch Shares as first offered a certificate of which to be returned by them to the Genl Courts. Go: W——n” (ICU).

3The following was added at the bottom of this copy of GW’s letter of 18 May printed here: “Thomas Johnson Esqr. May 19th 85[.] Since the letter which accompanies this was wrote by Genl Washington I have found a private oppy (Mr Huff of this Town) who is to return immediately to this place & have to Save expence to the Company committed it to his care If you find it necessary to Send an express to Mr Lee the expence Shall be paid at the meeting.”

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