George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 6 September 1784]

6th. Remained at Bath all day and was shewed the Model of a Boat constructed by the ingenious Mr. Rumsey, for ascending rapid currents by mechanism; the principles of this were not only shewn, & fully explained to me, but to my very great satisfaction, exhibited in practice in private, under the injunction of Secresy, untill he saw the effect of an application he was about to make to the assembly of this State, for a reward.

The model, & its operation upon the water, which had been made to run pretty swift, not only convinced me of what I before thought next to, if not quite impracticable, but that it might be turned to the greatest possible utility in inland Navigation; and in rapid currents; that are shallow. And what adds vastly to the value of the discovery, is the simplicity of its works; as they may be made by a common boat builder or carpenter, and kept in order as easy as a plow, or any common impliment of husbandry on a farm.1

Having obtained a Plan of this Town (Bath) and ascertained the situation of my lots therein, which I examined; it appears that the disposition of a dwelling House; Kitchen & Stable cannot be more advantageously placed than they are marked in the copy I have taken from the plan of the Town; to which I refer for recollection, of my design; & Mr. Rumsey being willing to undertake those Buildings, I have agreed with him to have them finished by the 10th. of next July. The dwelling House is to be 36 feet by 24, with a gallery of 7 feet on each side of the House, the whole fronts. Under the House is to be a Cellar half the size of it, walled with Stone, and the whole underpined. On the first floor are to be 3 rooms; one of them 24 by 20 feet, with a chimney at the end (middle thereof)—the other two to be 12 by 16 feet with corner chimneys. On the upper Floor there are to be two rooms of equal sizes, with fire places; the Stair case to go up in the Gallery—galleries above also. The Kitchen and Stable are to be of the same size—18 by 22; the first with a stone Chimney and good floor above. The Stable is to be sunk in the ground, so as that the floor above it on the North, or side next the dwelling House, shall be level with the Yard—to have a partition therein—the West part of which to be for a Carriage, Harness, and Saddles—the East for Hay or Grain—all three of the Houses to be shingled with [ ] 2

Meeting with the Revd. Mr. Balmain at this place, he says the distance from Staunton to the Sweet Springs is 95 Miles; that is, 50 to what are commonly called the Augusta Springs & 45 afterwards. This differs widely from Captn. Strodes acct., and both say they have travelled the Road.3

From Colo. Bruce4 whom I also found at this place, I was informed that he had travelled from the North Branch of Potomack to the Waters of Yaughiogany, and Monongahela—that the Potomk. where it may be made Navigable—for instance where McCulloughs path crosses it, 40 Miles above the old fort (Cumberland), is but about 6 Miles to a pretty large branch of the Yohiogany, but how far it is practicable to make the latter navigable he knows not, never having explored it any length downwards5—that the Waters of Sandy Creek, which is a branch of Cheat River, which is a branch of Monongahela, interlocks with these; and the Country between flat—that he thinks (in order to av[oi]d passing through the State of Pensylvania) this would be an eligable Rout using the ten Miles C[ree]k with a portage to the Navigable Waters of the little Kanhawa; which from report he says, are only 10 Miles apart.6 He adds that the distance from the North branch to Cheat Rivr. is great—and from the South branch greater, but it is to be observed that most of this information is from report—vague and not much to be depended upon. I therefore endeavoured to prevail upon Colo. Bruce to explore the Country from the North Branch of Potomack at McCulloughs path, or the highest practicable navigation on it to the Nearest Waters of Yohiogany—thence to Sandy Creek, & down that to its junction with the Cheat River—laying the whole down by actual surveys & exact measurement; which he has promised to do, if he can accomplish it.7 On my part I have engaged, if a Surveyor can be obtained, to run the Water of the little Kanhawa from the Mouth to the highest Navigation—thence across to ten miles Creek on the Monongahela, & up that to the Mo[uth] of Sandy Creek, in order to connect the two Works together, & form a proper plan with observations and even to continue up the Cheat River further, to see if a better communication cannot be had with the Potomack than by the Sandy Creek.

Having hired three Pack horses—to give my own greater relief—I sent my Baggage of this day about one oclock, and ordered those who had charge of it,8 to proceed to one Headricks at 15 Miles Creek, distant abt. ten miles, to Night, and to the old Town next day.9

1James Rumsey (1743–1792) of Bath was a handsome and engaging jack-of-all-trades. Born in Cecil County, Md., he moved to the Warm Springs area from Baltimore about 1782, and although a man of relatively limited means and education, he had soon become owner of a sawmill and bloomery, partner in a store, contractor for building new bathhouses, and operator with Robert Throckmorton (Throgmorton) of a new boardinghouse “at the Sign of the Liberty Pole and Flag” (Md. Journal, 15 June 1784, 25 June 1784; NEWBRAUGH description begins Frederick T. Newbraugh. Warm Springs Echoes About Berkeley Springs and Morgan County. 1967. 2d ed. Hagerstown, Md., [1971]. description ends , 1:15; TURNER description begins Ella May Turner. James Rumsey: Pioneer in Steam Navigation. Scottdale, Pa., 1930. description ends , 3–7).

GW lodged at the boardinghouse (Cash Memoranda, DLC:GW), and there probably met Rumsey, whose chief interest, he found, was not business, but mechanical invention. The small model of the mechanical boat that GW saw today was designed somewhat paradoxically to be propelled forward by the force of the current against which it was to move. The “boat” actually consisted of two boats with a paddle wheel mounted between them. As the wheel turned with the current, it operated poles that were supposed to push against the river bottom, making the vessel “walk” upstream (Rumsey to GW, 10 Mar. 1785, GW to Hugh Williamson, 15 Mar. 1785, DLC:GW).

Before leaving Bath, GW gave Rumsey a certificate attesting to the potential value of the invention and his faith in its ultimate success (7 Sept. 1784, DLC:GW). Rumsey promptly had the certificate published in several prominent newspapers, and soon obtained exclusive rights from the legislatures of Virginia, Maryland, and several other states to make and operate his mechanical boat, a necessary step to protect his invention in the absence of any national patent office. A modified full-scale version of the vessel was tried 9 and 13 Sept. 1786 on the Potomac River near Shepherdstown with little success. The poles slipped on the bottom on the first occasion, and the current was too slow to operate the poles on the second one (Rumsey to GW, 19 Sept. 1786, DLC:GW). Rumsey then abandoned this particular invention, having previously decided on developing a steamboat, a decision that led him in a more fruitful direction, but involved him in much controversy.

2In 1777 Fielding Lewis had secured lots 58 and 59 in the new town of Bath for GW at a cost of £100 15s. Virginia money (deed of trustees of Bath to GW, 25 Aug. 1777, GW ATLAS description begins Lawrence Martin, ed. The George Washington Atlas. Washington, D.C., 1932. description ends , pl. 10; GW to Samuel Washington, 27 Oct. 1777, PHi: Gratz Collection). To maintain title to those lots, GW was now obliged by law to build “a dwelling-house twelve feet square at least” on each one by 1 Nov. 1785 (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 , 9:247–49, 460, 10:108–9, 11:26). The kitchen and stable mentioned here, being placed on separate lots, would evidently fulfill that minimum requirement, giving GW freedom to locate his main house to best advantage with regard to the terrain. Rumsey never built the main house, because in April 1785 a fire burned his sawmill as well as all the lumber that he had cut for GW’s buildings (Rumsey to GW, 24 June 1785, DLC:GW). Fortunately for GW, the Virginia General Assembly extended the deadline for building on lots in Bath to 1 Oct. 1787 (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 , 12:214–15). Rumsey built a kitchen and stable in the summer of 1786, but little was accomplished beyond satisfying the law, both structures being log cabins 17 by 19 feet, “badly built, and of bad timber” (George Lewis to GW, 25 Aug. 1786, DLC:GW). Rumsey received £73 1s. 4d. for his efforts (General Ledger B description begins General Ledger B, 1772–1793. Library of Congress, George Washington Papers, Series 5, Financial Papers. description ends , folio 210).

3Alexander Balmain, or Balmaine (1740–1821), was an Anglican clergyman whose past duties had required him to travel widely and often in western Virginia. Born in Scotland, he came to Virginia as a young man to tutor Richard Henry Lee’s sons. He was ordained in England in Oct. 1772 and in the following year became assistant to the rector of the extensive frontier parish of Augusta. A staunch Patriot, he served on the committee of safety in Augusta County and during the War of Independence was a chaplain in the Virginia line. He was chosen rector of Frederick Parish in 1785 and served until his death (MEADE [1] description begins [William] Meade. Old Churches, Ministers and Families of Virginia. 2 vols. Philadelphia, 1857. description ends , 2:95, 285–86, 319; EATON description begins David W. Eaton. Historical Atlas of Westmoreland County, Virginia Patents: Showing how Lands were Patented from the Crown & Proprietors of the Northern Neck of Virginia . . .. Richmond, 1942. description ends , 23). Balmain’s distances to the springs are accurate for the roads of the time.

4Normand Bruce served 1775–79 as a colonel in command of a battalion of Frederick County, Md., militia and for a time was county lieutenant (FREDERICK COUNTY description begins “Journal of the Committee of Observation of the Middle District of Frederick County, Maryland. September 12, 1775–October 24, 1776.” Maryland Historical Magazine 10 (1915): 301–21; 11 (1916): 50–66, 157–75, 237–60, 304–21; 12 (1917): 10–21. description ends , 11:58; MD. COUNCIL, 1778–79 description begins William Hand Browne, ed. Journal and Correspondence of the Council of Maryland, April 1, 1778–October 26, 1779. Baltimore, 1901. In Archives of Maryland, vol. 21. description ends , 416–17, 546). On 1 Aug. 1783 the Maryland State Council, acting in accord with a resolution of the General Assembly, appointed him and Charles Beatty of Montgomery County “to examine, and report their Opinion of opening, clearing and making navigable the River Potomack . . . to the Line of this State, the Time the work would take, and the Expences” (MD. COUNCIL, 1781–84 description begins J. Hall Pleasants, ed. Journal and Correspondence of the State Council of Maryland, 1781–1784. Baltimore, 1931. In Archives of Maryland, vol. 48. description ends , 443; GW’s undated notes on their report are in MHi: Jeremiah Colburn Papers). Bruce wrote to GW 13 Nov. 1784 outlining a proposal for a Potomac Navigation Company, to be financed by issuing paper money, circulation of which, he argued, would greatly benefit the general economy (NUTE description begins Grace L. Nute. “Washington and the Potomac: Manuscripts of the Minnesota Historical Society, (1754) 1769–1796 I [and] II.” American Historical Review 28 (1922–23): 497–519, 705–22. description ends , 706–10).

5McCullough’s Path, named for an early Indian trader, was a rough trail running from Winchester to a point near the junction of the Cheat and Monongahela rivers. Crossing the South Branch of the Potomac at Moorefield, Va. (now W.Va.), it went through the Allegheny Front at Greenland Gap and over the North Branch of the Potomac near present-day Gormania, W.Va. In Maryland it crossed the Youghiogheny west of present-day Oakland and then passed again into Virginia, crossing Big Sandy Creek at present-day Bruceton Mills, W.Va. (MCCULLOUGH’S PATH description begins “McCullough’s Pack Horse Path.” Glades Star 1 (1941-49): 297–99. description ends , 297–98; W.P.A. [5] description begins W.P.A. Writers’ Project. West Virginia: A Guide to the Mountain State. American Guide Series. New York, 1941. description ends , 98). GW traveled most of the northern part of McCullough’s Path 25–26 Sept. 1784.

6Tenmile Creek in Harrison County, W.Va., is a branch of the West Fork River.

7GW later obtained a rough sketch map of this region from Bruce (GW ATLAS description begins Lawrence Martin, ed. The George Washington Atlas. Washington, D.C., 1932. description ends , pl. 25).

8GW engaged drivers with the horses (Cash Memoranda, DLC:GW).

9Fifteenmile Creek flows into the Potomac River in eastern Allegany County, Md. In 1784 the main road to Fort Cumberland crossed the creek near its mouth and continued on 19 miles to Col. Thomas Cresap’s Oldtown settlement and then 15 miles farther to the old fort (SCHARF [3] description begins J. Thomas Scharf. History of Western Maryland. Being a History of Frederick, Montgomery, Carroll, Washington, Allegany, and Garrett Counties from the Earliest Period to the Present Day; Including Biographical Sketches of Their Representative Men. 2 vols. 1882. Reprint. Baltimore, 1968. description ends , 2:1328; GRIFFITH description begins Dennis Griffith. Map of the State of Maryland . . . June 20th, 1794. Philadelphia, 1795. description ends , map).

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