Thomas Jefferson Papers

Subscription for Extending the Navigation of the Rivanna, [before 8 November 1790]

Subscription for Extending the Navigation of the Rivanna

[Before 8 Nov. 1790]

Whereas by an act of the General assembly passed in the year 1764. intitled ‘an act for clearing the great falls of James river, the river Chickahominy and the North branch of James river’ Thomas Walker, Edward Carter, Charles Lewis, Nicholas Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, Henry Fry, Nicholas Meriwether, John Walker, John Harvey, Valentine Wood and James Adams were constituted trustees for clearing the Rivanna or North branch of James river from the mouth thereof upwards, and were authorized to receive subscriptions for that purpose, and to do such other acts as were necessary for effecting the same, and the said Trustees having received considerable subscriptions proceeded to have the said river cleared from the mouth up to the mountain falls and it being now desireable that the said navigation should be extended from the said falls upwards as far as may be and the death of several of the trustees, and removal of others rendering it impracticable to procure a meeting of six as required by the act1 for chusing others in the room of those dead and removed it is proposed to sollicit the General assembly to nominate or authorize the nomination of others. But it being expedient that in the mean time subscriptions be opened and other necessary measures taken for extending the said navigation from the said Mountain falls, upwards as aforesaid, we the subscribers do hereby oblige ourselves severally, our several heirs executors and administrators to pay into the hands of [Nicholas Lewis and George Divers]2 gentlemen the several sums of money affixed to our respective names dividing the same into four equal instalments the first of which shall be paid on the [15th.]2 day of [April 1791.]2 and the other three on the same day annually and successively the three ensuing years: and we hereby authorize the said [N.L. and G.D.]2 to demand, recover, receive and proceed to apply the same towards extending the said navigation as aforesaid in such manner as they shall think best until other persons be authorized3 by special act of Assembly to proceed therein [in] which event we oblige ourselves to pay to the said other persons so to be specially authorized the instalments which shall not have been previously paid to the said [N.L. and G.D.]2 and we further consent that the said act of assembly may be so amended as to expedite the recovery of our subscriptions in a course of law in such way as the General assembly shall think best. In witness whereof we have hereto subscribed our names and opposite thereto have expressed the sums we severally subscribe.

Dft (MHi); undated but evidently written just before TJ left Monticello on 8 Nov. 1790.

Two decades had elapsed since TJ’s first effort to organize support for clearing the Rivanna of obstructions to navigation (Vol. 1: 88n.). In this document—possibly drafted as an enterprise to challenge his son-in-law, then about the same age at which TJ had launched the earlier venture—he attempted to rely on methods that had already proved successful. But far more changes had taken place than the death or removal of trustees to make that precedent a realistic one to follow: voluntary subscriptions for public improvements had little appeal for a generation now busily engaged in organizing turn-pike, canal, and manufacturing companies for operation at a profit, often with the aid of foreign capital. Later, in tracing the legislative history of this enterprise, TJ wrote: “The desire to extend the navigation from the Mountain or Milton falls upwards produced in 1791. a new subcription, and in 1794 the act [of General Assembly for clearing the North fork of James river], which it has not been in my power to see. But the rough draught of the subscription paper, still in my possession, informs me that the object was to name trustees with power to receive subscriptions and to ‘extend the said navigation from the said Mountain falls upwards as far as may be.’ But the subscriptions in this case, as in the former, were voluntary: no incorporation was asked, no toll, as, in the course of 10. years following it was found that sufficient funds could not be raised as a free gift, a plan was adopted of forming by subscription a company who should undertake the work, and receive a toll for reimbursement and profit” (“Notes on the several acts of assembly for clearing the Rivanna river,” 1817; DLC: TJ Papers, 211: 37587). But for some years longer TJ clung to his hope of voluntary action through free gifts. His own subscription of £15 was paid on 17 Dec. 1798 (Account Book).

On 10 Sep. 1790 Nicholas Lewis, as manager of TJ’s affairs at the Monticello and other plantations, paid “Colo. G. Thompson in full” for TJ’s “Subscription for clearing the N. River” (Lewis’ Accounts, 1786–1792, ViU). Since Thompson was one of those in charge of the work carried on under the earlier subscription, this payment was probably made toward that and its date may indicate the approximate time at which TJ launched the new plan.

1TJ first wrote: “But four of the said eleven trustees being since dead and several others removed to great distances so as that a meeting of <a majority> six of them cannot be had to fill their numbers,” and then altered the passage to read as above.

2Brackets in MS.

3TJ first wrote: “… may be legally authorized to take the said business out of their hands,” and then altered the passage to read as above.

Index Entries