George Washington Papers

From George Washington to David Stuart, 5 November 1786

To David Stuart

Mount Vernon 5th Novr 1786

Dear Sir,

Enclosed is a petition from the Directors of the Potomack Company to our Assembly which they request you to present; and to use your endeavors to obtain the prolongation which is therein prayed for.1 The Assembly need be under no apprehension of unnecessary delay. Interest and inclination will equally prompt the Company to dispatch. To shorten the time required may occasion a contrariety in the Acts of the different Assemblies, & would create confusion, trouble & delay in the business. We hope therefore no attempt will be made to do this.

As the petition recites the causes which have given rise to the application, and the facts enumerated are notorious, I shall add nothing in support of it.

I also give you the trouble of a small matter which concerns myself only. It is, if you shall see no impropriety from the lapse of time (which is injurious only to myself) to offer the enclosed certificates when you shall find a fit opportunity, for payment.

The circumstances are these. In the year 1774 I bought a number of Servants, hired many freemen, and sent Negroes to the Ohio for the purpose of saving, and improving my Military Lands, agreeably to the Laws then existing. The Indian disturbances wch obliged Lord Dunmore to embody and March the Militia into that Country, checked my operations; and the seizure of part of my goods (as will appear by these Certificates) compelled me the year following to encounter the same expence, trouble & difficulty I had done the preceeding one. And no Assembly happening that could take cognizance of such Claims before my departure from this State (in May 1775) the Certificates during my absence, and the frequent removal of my papers (to keep them from the hands of the enemy) got so intermixed as not to be found till very lately. If these circumstances which are truely related, are insufficient to obtain compensation for them without subjecting the application to much disputation, I had rather undergo the loss, than the mortification of an opposition to a measure that is merely personal.2

As we are to be made rich by the Magity Bay-Pea, might it not be well for you to enquire how and in what manner this great good is to be effected. Particularly when they are to be sowed— the quantity required for an Acre—Preparation of the ground & nature of the Soil best adapted for them. Whether they are to be plowed in as a manure, and in what stage of their growth; or whether the leaf alone when fallen, is sufficient to answer this purpose. The best method of saving the Seed, and the quantity to be had from an Acre, &ca &ca—Mr Savage, or some of the Gentlemen from the Eastern shore can, no doubt, give full information on all these heads.

Will you be so good as to enquire if spring Barley can be had—in what quantity, at what price, and how it could be got here. The family all join me in best wishes for you—Mrs Stuart who is here, and will put a letter under cover with this, will tell you, I presume, that she and the Children are all well. I am—Dear Sir Yr Most Obedt & Affecte Servt

Go: Washington

P.S. If you could inform me what Sum, and at what time I may depend upon the Estate of Mr Custis for it, you would oblige me. My want of money presses. I must sell something if I cannot receive part of what is due to me.3

G: W——n

ALS, MWiW-C: Gates W. McGarrah Collection of Presidential Autographs;

ALS (photocopy), DLC: McGarrah Collection; LB, DLC:GW. The ALS was offered for sale in 1890 by Libbie, item 956.

1The president and trustees of the Potowmack Company met at the Great Falls of the Potomac on 2 and 3 Oct. and before adjourning on 4 Oct. adopted this petition to the Virginia and Maryland legislatures: “The humble petition of the President and Directors of the Potomac Company, in behalf of the said Company, showeth:

“That in and by the acts of the said ‘Assemblies,’ for opening and extending the navigation of Potomac River, it is provided and enacted, ‘That in case the said company should not begin the work mentioned in the said Act, within one year after the company should be formed; or if the navigation should not be made and improved between the Great Falls and Fort Cumberland, in the manner hereinbefore mentioned, within three years after the said company should be formed, then the said company should not be entitled to any benefit, privilege, or advantage, under the said Act.’

“That your petitioners conceive the intention of the Legislatures in limiting the company to three years, after its formation, for making and improving the navigation between the Great Falls and Fort Cumberland, was to prevent any unnecessary delay in executing the work, and on the presumption that the time allowed was fully sufficient to effect it in the common and usual course of the seasons.

“That the said company have entered on the work, within the time limited, and prosecuted the same, at great expense, with unremitted assiduity, with such prospect of success, that they hope and expect to complete the whole navigation within the ten years allowed; but that the latter part of the summer, and the fall of 1785, were so unfavorable, that the hands employed in the bed of the river, above the Great Falls, were often drove from their work by the rises of the water, and frequently kept out for several days together, so that the work could not proceed as was wished and expected. And the last summer hath proved so very rainy, that the water has constantly kept up too high to permit any work to be done in the bed of the river; though the company retained a considerable number of men in their service through the whole of the last winter, with the view of being prepared to enter on the work with great force, about the 20th of June, the time that the water is commonly low enough for such purpose; and thus, by extraordinary exertion, to retrieve the unavoidable loss of time in the preceding year.

“Your petitioners, therefore, on behalf of the said company, pray that acts of the said Assemblies may be passed whereby the said company may be indulged with time till the seventeenth day of November, 1790, or such other time as to your Honors shall seem reasonable for making and improving the navigation between the Great Falls and Fort Cumberland. And your petitioners, &c. In behalf of the Board, Signed, G. WASHINGTON, President” (printed in Pickell, A New Chapter, description begins John Pickell. A New Chapter in the Early Life of Washington, in Connection with the Narrative History of the Potomac Company. New York, 1856. description ends 177–78). Both legislatures acted promptly. See Thomas Johnson to GW, 7 Dec., and Stuart to GW, 25 December. See also GW to George Gilpin and John Fitzgerald, 1 Sept., and GW to Johnson, 12 November.

2For GW’s attempts to make good his claims to his military lands on the Ohio and the Great Kanawha by sending people out, see Robert Adam to GW, 9 Jan. 1774, n.2, and GW to James Cleveland, 10 Jan. 1775, and notes. For further correspondence at this time regarding these certificates, see Stuart to GW, 8, 13 Nov., 19 Dec, and GW to Stuart, 19, 24 November.

3GW was supposed to receive £525 annually for the dower lands rented by the estate of John Parke Custis. The Custis estate was under the general management of Stuart as the husband of Custis’s widow, Eleanor Calvert Custis Stuart.

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