George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 17 May 1785]

Tuesday 17th. Mercury at 60 in the Morning—62 at Noon and 62 at Night.

General Cadwallader went away after Breakfast, and I went to Alexandria to the appointed meeting of the Subscribers to the Potomack Navigation. Upon comparing, & examining the Books of the different Managers, it was found, including the Subscriptions in behalf of the two States, & the 50 Shares which the Assembly of Virginia had directed to be Subscribed for me, (& which I then declared I would only hold in trust for the State) that their were 403 Shares Subscribed, which being more than sufficient to constitute the Company under the Act—the Subscribers proceeded to the choice of a President & 4 Directors; the first of which fell upon me. The votes for the other four fell upon Governors Johnson & Lee of Maryland and Colonels Fitzgerald & Gilpin of this State.

Dined at Lomaxs and returned in the Afternoon.

The law authorizing the creation of the Potowmack Company provided for the subscription of 500 shares at 444 and 4/9 dollars (£100 sterling) each, and stipulated that if at least half the shares were not subscribed by the end of the meeting set for this day the company could not be organized (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 , 11:512). The state governments of Virginia and Maryland each subscribed for 50 shares. In addition, the Virginia Assembly had voted 50 shares (plus 100 shares of James River navigation company stock) to GW as thanks from the state for his services in the Revolution.

Holding firm to his determination to accept no gifts or remuneration for his Revolutionary War services, GW agreed, as here stated, only to hold the shares in trust for the public benefit. By his will GW devised the Potowmack Company shares to a national university, to be established in the District of Columbia (these shares depreciated and became worthless), and the James River shares to Liberty Hall Academy, Rockbridge County, Va., which later became Washington and Lee University (Fitzpatrick, Diaries description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed. The Diaries of George Washington, 1748–1799. 4 vols. Boston and New York, 1925. description ends , 2:376 n.4; FREEMAN description begins Douglas Southall Freeman. George Washington: A Biography. 7 vols. New York, 1948–57. description ends , 6:28–30).

Thomas Sim Lee (1745–1819), son of Thomas Lee (d. 1749) and Christian (Catherine) Sim Lee and grandson of Philip Lee, founder of the Maryland Lees, served as governor of Maryland, 1779–82 and 1792–94, and as a Maryland delegate to the Continental Congress 1783–84. He married Mary Digges (1745–1805), daughter of Ignatius Digges of Melwood, and settled in Frederick County, Md., at Needwood, located about 12 miles west and south of Frederick Town. He had acquired the estate during the Revolution (LEE [5] description begins Edmund Jennings Lee. Lee of Virginia, 1642–1892: Biographical and Genealogical Sketches of The Descendants of Colonel Richard Lee . . .. Philadelphia, 1895. description ends , 306–11; W.P.A. [2] description begins W.P.A. Writers’ Project. Maryland: A Guide to the Old Line State. American Guide Series. New York, 1940. description ends , 347).

George Gilpin (1740–1813) was born in Cecil County, Md., and settled in Alexandria before the Revolution. A wheat merchant, Gilpin was inspector of flour in Alexandria in Mar. 1775 (MERCHANTS description begins Kate Mason Rowland. “Merchants and Mills. From the Letter Book of Robert Carter, of Nominy, Westmoreland County.” William and Mary Quarterly, 1st ser., 11 (1902–3): 245–46. description ends , 246). During the Revolution he was a colonel of Fairfax County militia and a member of the committee of safety. He was one of the most active members of the Potowmack Company and in July 1785 went to Seneca Falls to procure workmen (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 , 713, n.1). He also for many years served as a vestryman for Fairfax Parish (POWELL description begins Mary G. Powell. The History of Old Alexandria, Virginia: From July 13, 1749 to May 24, 1861. Richmond, 1928. description ends , 203–4, 162–63).

John Lomax’s tavern, on the southwest corner of Princess and Water (now Lee) streets, was the site of today’s meeting (Va. Journal, 21 April 1785).

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