George Washington Papers

From George Washington to George Mason and David Stuart, 4 November 1787

To George Mason and David Stuart

Mount Vernon Novr 4th 1787.


In consequence of a resolution which passed at the last meeting of the Potomk company, and in behalf of the Directors, I transmit the enclosed Petition to you, for the consideration of your Honble House.

The Petition is short. We therefore rely on you, if the sentiment shall meet your approbation, for argument in support of it; begging at the sametime (as the sole end is to obtain a more summary mode of recovering the dividends) that you would make such alterations (keeping the object in view) as will entitle it to a favourable reception.

It is, I believe, almost needless to add, that unless some relief is afforded by the Assembly in this instance, that the work will soon stop. The delinquencies are great, & the legal process to enforce payment so slow, that it seems almost endless and unavailing to attempt it by the mode prescribed by the Act of incorporation. Under these circumstances the willing members are discouraged; and too good a pretext is afforded to a third class, who are neither punctual in their payments, nor yet very great delinquents, to with-hold the dividends which have already been required—and to oppose fresh calls, till the old arrearages are paid up. The consequences of all this is easily to be foreseen, if no redress can be had from the quarter it is sollicited.1

Whatever may be the fate of the Petition, I do, in behalf of the board pray, that you would give me the earliest advice of it; because a similar application must be made (but at present it is suspended) to the Assembly of Maryland, when I shall have heard from you on this subject, that the Acts may be in unison.2 With very great esteem & regard I am—Gentn Yr Most Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

ALS, PHi: Dreer Collection; LB, DLC:GW.

1The president and directors of the Potowmack Company met in Alexandria on 1 Nov. and adopted the petition that GW was sending to the Fairfax County delegates in the Virginia general assembly. GW enclosed this letter addressed to the delegates Mason and Stuart along with a copy of the petition in a letter to Stuart on 5 November. On 17 Nov., “A petition of the President and Directors of the Potomac River Company, was presented to the House and read; praying that an act may pass, enabling them to recover by motion in the courts of the counties where the proprietors respectively reside, such sum or sums of money as are now in arrear, or hereafter may become due from the respective proprietors of shares in the said company.” This petition and a petition of the James River Company “to the same effect” were simultaneously referred to the house’s committee of proposition and grievances (House of Delegates Journal, 1786–1790 description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Holden in the City of Richmond, in the County of Henrico, on Monday the Sixteenth Day of October, in the Year of Our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty-Six. Richmond, 1828. description ends ). The committee reported its approval of the petitions on 23 Nov. and was ordered by the house to bring in an appropriate bill. On 3 Dec. the senate reported it had passed “the bill ‘giving a more speedy remedy against delinquent subscribers to the Potomac and James River Companies’” (ibid.). The act provided that the directors of the company could secure payment from subscribers by order of the General Court rather than relying on the individual county courts. No copy of the petition itself has been found, but for the text of the act, see 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 508–9.

2On 9 Dec. GW sent a copy of the act of the Virginia assembly to the two Maryland directors of the Potowmack Company, Thomas Johnson and Thomas Sim Lee. Johnson wrote GW on 11 Dec. that the copy of the Virginia act arrived in the nick of time with the Maryland assembly scheduled to adjourn on 15 December. Johnson had received leave from the Maryland house to bring in an act with the same title as the Virginia act, “An act giving a more speedy remedy against delinquent subscribers to the Potowmack and James river companies,” but he would provide in his bill for the directors of the Potowmack Company to choose in Maryland between the general and county courts in its suits against delinquent investors. See Thomas Johnson to GW, 11 December.

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