George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 12 April 1791]

Tuesday 12th. In company with the Governor, The Directors of the James River Navigation Company—the Manager & many other Gentlemen. I viewed the Canal, Sluces, Locks & other Works between the City of Richmond & Westham. These together have brought the navigation to within a mile and half, or a Mile and ¾ of the proposed Bason; from which the Boats by means of Locks are to communicate with the tide water Navigation below. The Canal is of Sufficient depth every where but in places not brought to its proper width; it seems to be perfectly secure against Ice, Freshes & drift Wood. The locks at the head of these works are simple—altogether of hewn stone, except the gates & Cills and very easy & convenient to work. There are two of them, each calculated to raise & lower 6 feet. They cost, according to the Manager’s, Mr. Harris acct. about £3,000 but I could see nothing in them to require such a sum to erect them. The sluces in the River, between these locks and the mouth of the Canal are well graduated and easy of assent. To complete the Canal from the point to which it is now opened, and the Locks at the foot of them Mr. Harris thinks will require 3 years. Received an Address from the Mayor, Aldermen & Common Council of the City of Richmond at Three oclock, & dined with the Governor at four Oclock.

In the course of my enquiries—chiefly from Colo. Carrington—I cannot discover that any discontents prevail among the people at large, at the proceedings of Congress. The conduct of the Assembly respecting the assumption he thinks is condemned by them as intemperate & unwise and he seems to have no doubt but that the Excise law—as it is called—may be executed without difficulty—nay more, that it will become popular in a little time. His duty as Marshall having carried him through all parts of the State lately, and of course given him the best means of ascertaining the temper & dispositions of its Inhabitants—he thinks them favorable towards the General Government & that they only require to have matters explained to them in order to obtain their full assent to the Measures adopted by it.

GW was president of the James River Company 1785–95, but in name only. Edmund Randolph, one of the original directors of the company, acted as president from 1785 to 1789, when another director, Dr. William Foushee, assumed those duties. Besides Foushee, the current directors were John Harvie and David Ross. James Harris continued as manager (see entries for 17 May 1785 and 11 Mar. 1786).

GW and his party began today’s tour at Harris’s home and ascended the canal “in 2 fine new Batteaus of David Ross, who had his Watermen dressed in red Coaties on the Occasion.” The boats, according to Dr. James Currie of Richmond, “took . . . 7 Minutes & 4 seconds by a stop watch” to pass through the canal’s two locks (Currie to Thomas Jefferson, 13 April 1791, DLC: Jefferson Papers). The address from the Richmond city officials and a copy of GW’s answer are in DLC:GW. The mayor was George Nicholson (CHRISTIAN description begins W. Asbury Christian. Richmond: Her Past and Present. Richmond, Va., 1912. description ends , 44).

Edward Carrington, having been appointed United States marshal for Virginia 26 Sept. 1789 and supervisor of the federal revenue for the state 4 Mar. 1791, was now undertaking to perform the duties of both offices (Carrington to Alexander Hamilton, 4 April 1791, HAMILTON [2] description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 8:240).

assumption: State debts incurred during the War of Independence were to be assumed by the federal government under terms of a plan established by “An Act making provision for the [payment of the] Debt of the United States” (1 STAT. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 138–44 [4 Aug. 1790]). The Virginia General Assembly objected to this scheme on two principal grounds: that it would enlarge the powers of the federal government at the expense of state powers and that it would oblige Virginia, which had discharged much of its war debt, to pay part of the heavy debts that some northern states still had outstanding. Declaring the act warranted by “neither policy, justice, nor the constitution,” the assembly petitioned Congress on 16 Dec. 1790 to revise the act generally and in particular to repeal the part relating to the assumption of state debts (ASP, Finance, description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends 7:90–91). excise law: “An Act repealing, after the last day of June next, the duties heretofore laid upon Distilled Spirits imported from abroad, and laying others in their stead; and also upon Spirits distilled within the United States, and for appropriating the same” (1 STAT. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 199–214 [3 Mar. 1791]).

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