To Thomas Johnson and Thomas Sim Lee
Mount Vernon 10th Septr 1785.
Your favor of the 30th ulto did not reach me until the 8th instant; I went the next day to Alexandria & laid it before Colos. Fitzgerald and Gilpin, who with myself, acceded fully to the propriety of your proposal of buying servants. Of this, the Secretary was directed to inform you; also of our sentiments respecting the hire of Negroes by the year, & to ask your opinion of the number necessary, & of the terms on which to employ them.1
Colo. Gilpin has lately seen Mr Stuart, who informed him that fifty hands were then employed at Seneca, & in his opinion going on very well until the waters were swelled by the late rains. He & I, (if I am not prevented by company which I have some reason to expect about that time) intend to be at Seneca on Wednesday the 21st—& at the Great Fall at Eight o’clock next morning; where we are to meet Colo. Fitzgerald for the purpose of viewing for our private satisfaction, the place talked of fer the Canal; & the water between the Great & little falls. Mr Stuart informed Colo. Gilpin that he had never seen the Butcher from Fredk town; nor had he received an ounce of provisions from him.2
I am sorry to receive so unfavourable a report from Shenandoah as your letter contains; I hope it will mend, or the cause must be removed. If the health of Mr Johnson, and the circumstances of Mr Lee would permit them to visit that place now & then; it would, I am persuaded, have a happy effect: the eye of a Director will be of service to the Conductors. With very great esteem & regard I am Gentn &c. &c.
1. The letter of 30 Aug. from the two Maryland directors of the Potowmack Company, Johnson and Lee, has not been found. At the meeting in Alexandria on 9 Sept. GW and the two Virginia directors, John Fitzgerald and George Gilpin, found “that the Hands employed in the work of opening the Navigation of the River are irregular and disorderly in their Behaviour” and voted to buy “sixty Servants” in Baltimore or Philadelphia (DNA: RG 79, Records of the Potomac Co. and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Co., item 159). The three met again in Alexandria on 26 Sept. and recorded that Stewart & Plunket of Baltimore and John Maxwell Nesbitt of Philadelphia had been written about the purchase of servants for the company and would be written to again. They passed accounts totaling £182.8.3, including £88.11.7 for the wages of the workers hired by the company from 19 Aug. to 17 September. (A list of the laborers employed under Richardson Stewart from 19 Aug. through 26 Sept., giving the number of days each man worked and the total that he earned, is privately owned, and a transcript of it appears in CD-ROM:GW). GW and the directors instructed James Rumsey to rehire the good workers, and they voted that he and Richardson Stewart should be informed of the next meeting of the board of directors of the Potowmack Company scheduled for 17 Oct. (DNA: RG 79, Records of the Potomac Co. and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Co., item 159). A full meeting of the board of directors of the company was held at Great Falls on 17–18 Oct. (see Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 4:207–8). In the meantime, Thomas Johnson had written GW, on 21 Sept., urging the preferability of hiring slaves to the purchase of indentured servants, “common white Hirelings,” and at the full meeting of the board at Great Falls on 18–19 Oct., the directors voted to hire one hundred slaves. For the minutes of the directors’ meeting of 8 Aug., see GW to James Rumsey, 8 Aug., source note.
2. GW left home for his inspection of the Potomac between the Great and Little falls on the afternoon of 20 Sept. and returned to Mount Vernon on the morning of 23 September. For his description of his trip, see Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 4:195–97.