George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Gilles de Lavallée, 23 December 1786

To Gilles de Lavallée

Mo[un]t Vernon 23d Decr 1786.


Your letter, Plan & Estimate for establishing a manufacture of Cotton &ca did not reach me ’till within these few days. As the Assembly of this Commonwealth is now sitting, & your proposition would come better before a public body than a private individual, for encouragement, I have transmitted it to the Governor to be laid, if he shall judge it proper, before the assembly. So soon as his answer is received it shall be communicated to you.1 In the meantime, I am Sir &c.

G: Washington


1Gilles de Lavallée, a French textile manufacturer, came to the United States in late 1785 or early 1786 with recommendations from Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. He arrived in Portsmouth, N.H., where in early 1786 he secured the backing of Gen. John Sullivan to set up his looms for the manufacture of cloth. Lavallée’s letter and the other papers that he sent to GW, including a letter of recommendation from Jefferson, have not been found. GW sent to Gov. Edmund Randolph on 25 Dec. Lavallée’s letter and its enclosures, with this covering letter: “Sir, To promote industry and œconomy, and to encourage manufactures, is certainly consistent with that sound policy which ought to actuate every State. There are times too, which call loudly for the exercise of these virtues; and the present, in my humble opinion, may be accounted a fit one for the adoption of them in this Commonwealth.

“How far the proposition which I have the honor to enclose merits Legislative encouragement, your Excellency will determine. As it came to me, you will receive it. The writer is unknown to me; of him, or his plan, I had not the smallest intimation till the papers were handed to me from the Post Office. The document in the hand writing of Mr Jefferson (with which it is accompanied) entitles the latter to consideration, but as an individual it is not convenient for me to afford Mr de la Vallée the aids he requires, or to have him upon my hands till he can be properly established; nor indeed is Alexandria, in my opinion, so proper a situation as a more southern one for the manufacture of Cotton. However, if your Excellency should think his plan not worthy of public attention, or judgg otherwise, it should not find encouragement from the Assembly, I would thank you for returning the letter & papers to me, that I may give Mr de la Vallée an answer as soon as possible—his circumstances seeming to require one. With Sentiments of grt esteem & respect I have the honor to be Yr Excellency’s Most Obedt Hble Servt Go: Washington” (ALS, PHi: Dreer Collection; LB DLC:GW). Randolph returned the papers to GW on 4 Jan. 1787, explaining that it was too late in the session for the delegates to consider Lavallée’s proposals. There is no record of GW’s having written Lavallée after this, and on 13 Mar. 1787 Lavallée wrote that having received no response from GW he was departing that day for Spain, having concluded that “no establishment of European manufacture can succeed” in the United States. See the note in Lavallée to Jefferson, 14 Aug. 1785, in Boyd, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 8:377–79.

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