James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Henry Lee, 22 April 1790

From Henry Lee

Alexa. April 22d. 1790.

Dear Sir

I got here last night from a trip to the great falls, & met your letr. of the 4th.1

It is really lamentable publicly & privately that a gift of Nature so useful should be locked up for the want of 3000 £ this currency.

Was I in possession I verily beleive that the money would be returned in the course of one year.

Col. Bull formerly of Pensylvania now of Berkeley,2 who was with me yesterday, & who has critically examined the advantages of the place for water works, of which he is reputed a first rate judge, pronounces it to exceed any spot that he ever saw or heard of. He has engaged a lot on the conditions which Col. Gilpin & a mercantile house in this town took one, viz of paying what the adjoining lot may sell for, whenever a title can be made. To Use the property in this way Mr. Fairfaxs consent is requisite. Col. Gilpin has obtained his consent & has erected a warehouse which is now in daily use by the farmers of the upper country in conveying their produce to market. He is building a store house. I have taken this method of bringing the property into use, least the habit of landing the upper products at other places may be injurious for a while in the effect.

The more I see the more I hear concerning the navigation of the potomac, the temper of the upper people & the desires of the commercial interest, the more I am persuaded that the value of the seat at the great falls exceeds the most sanguine expectations of its owners & friends. Indeed sir the real worth cannot be estimated—& now is the moment. You think money cannot be obtained on loan in N york. In this you are mistaken. If you would labor for two days as much for yourself & friend, as you have done from early life for the public, the cash would soon be in your possession; or good bills which is the same thing. Hamilton could & would get it for you.

I would mortgage two thousand Acres of land in Berkeley containing a most valuable ore bank on potomac river—1200 acres of land in Loudon on the river considered as valuable as any land in this state with one island & the half of another adjoining & in cultivation. 1600 acres of land at the little falls Twelve miles from this town partly rented & partly used by my own people & agree to repay the money in five years, one fifth every year with the interest on the ballance.

2000 acres in Berkeley at 40/. 4000
Friends ore bank 2000
1200 acres sugar lands at 3. .10. 4200
1600 acres at the falls at 3 4800

a negro plantation with stock on each of the tracts to be all included in the mortgage if required—the rents annually accruing exceed 200 £ this currency. All the above or any part is subject to your use in producing the desired object.

Set about the matter & you will see how readily it can be effected.

If Mrs. Lees health did not demand my constant attention & a trip to the sweet springs, I would soon be with you & soon do the business. To borrow on mortgage would be more advantageous than to admit a fourth owner—tho the latter I would agree to sooner than delay longer.

With respect to politics not a word, never until this important object is completed. In June I must depart for the springs. Before I go I wish to be able to take possession & place an agent on the spot to sell lots & mill seats &c. Yours affy. & truely

Henry Lee.

Why will you not work sometimes for yourself—our object is just & proper & absolutely important to our country.

Mr. Bull thinks that many in Philada. would advance the money to be admitted an owner of one sixth.

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM.

1Letter not found.

2John Bull (1731–1824), a colonel of the Pennsylvania Continental line during the Revolution, moved to Berkeley County during the 1780s. He later returned to Pennsylvania and resided in Northumberland County (Heitman, Historical Register Continental description begins F. B. Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution (Washington, 1914). description ends , p. 131; Lyle, James Nourse and His Descendants, pp. 26–28).

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