George Washington Papers
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From George Washington to Timothy Pickering, 16 September 1795

To Timothy Pickering

Mount Vernon Sepr 16th 1795

Sir

If, when this reaches your hands, there should be no contract or other obligation existing on behalf of the U.S. for the purchase of land on the Potomac, intended for the public Arsenal—I should wish all further negociation in this business to be suspended until proper inquiries can be made and information obtained respecting the property at the junction of the Potomac and Shanandoah Rivers in this State; for it has been represented to me that this spot affords every advantage that could be wished for water works to any extent, and that no place is more capable of complete defence at a small expense; and I am also informed that from 800 to 1000 Acres of land might be obtained there on reasonable terms. The land at the Junction of the two Rivers, including what is called Harper’s ferry, has lately been leased for 7 years—and the lessee has the right of purchasing whenever it may be sold. Should this spot be fixed upon for the Arsenal, the Lessee will relinqu[i]sh his title to the U.S. reserving only a small piece of the land for the purpose of building stores & doing business.1 Six hundred Acres of land adjoining this tract, is, I am told, offered for sale by Colo. Bull for fifteen hundred pounds Virga money. Colo. Bull has a lease of this tract for 70 years @ £5 pr 100 Acres, & a number of years have been already paid on the lease.2 The fee is in Genl Henry Lee who I have no doubt will dispose of his right on very reasonable terms, There is another small tract, with a saw mill upon it, adjoining the two foregoing, which I am told may be also purchased.

From my own knowledge I can speak of the eligibility of this situation for a public Arsenal; but as I have never examined it very attentively I am not able to speak so decidedly as to the advantages of erecting works there. These, however, I am told, are equal at least to any on the Potomac or its branches—having the advantage of a considerable fall in both Rivers which may be brought to operate at this place. At any rate, if the thing is open it may be well to have enquir⟨ies⟩ made & prices ascertained before it becomes known that this spot is in view.3 I am—&ca

G. W——n

DfS, in the hand of Tobias Lear, DLC:GW; LB, DLC:GW.

1In a document of 15 May 1823 titled “Memdum’s relative to the purchase of the site for the armory at Harpers ferry” (DNA: RG 156, Records of the Office of the Chief of Ordnance, Letters Received, box 24), the following information is recorded under the date 17 Oct. 1795: “Col. Lear leased of John Wager the tract called Harpers ferry, two islands in the Potomac, and the land on the opposite side of the Potomac belonging to said tract, with the ferry, for seven years, at a rent of $800 pr acre. The term of the lease to commence on the 1st Decr 1795.

“This lease appears to be on the private account of Col. Lear; and the U. States had no concern in it.”

2John Bull (1730–1824) served during the Revolutionary War as colonel of a Pennsylvania regiment and then as adjutant general of that state’s militia. In 1798, when he sought unsuccessfully to become superintendent of the armory at Harper’s Ferry, he was residing in Northumberland County, Pa. (Joseph Nourse to James McHenry, 30 June 1798, DNA: RG 94).

3The federal government purchased 125 acres on the Harper’s Ferry site in 1796 and began construction of the arsenal three years later.

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