George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 14 April 1791]

Thursday 14th. Left Richmond after an early breakfast & passing through Manchester received a salute from cannon & an Escort of Horse under the command of Captn. David Meade Randolph as far as Osbornes where I was met by the Petersburgh horse & escorted to that place & partook of a Public dinner given by the Mayor & Corporation and went to an assembly in the evening for the occasion at which there were between 60 & 70 ladies.

Petersburgh which is said to contain near 3000 Souls is well situated for trade at present, but when the James River navigation is compleated and the cut from Elizabeth River to Pasquotanck effected it must decline & that very considerably. At present it receives at the Inspections nearly a third of the Tobacco exported from the whole State besides a considerable quantity of Wheat and flour—much of the former being Manufactured at the Mills near the Town. Chief of the buildings in this town are under the hill & unpleasantly situated but the heights around it are agreeable.

The Road from Richmond to this place passes through a poor Country principally covered with Pine except the interval lands on the [James] River which we left on our left.

The small town of Manchester, established in 1769, was “a sort of suburb to Richmond,” lying on the south bank of the James River across from the city (CHASTELLUX description begins Marquis de Chastellux. Travels in North America in the Years 1780, 1781 and 1782. Translated and edited by Howard C. Rice, Jr. 2 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1963. description ends , 2:427).

David Meade Randolph (c.1758–1830), who lived at Presque Isle on the James River near Bermuda Hundred, was a captain of dragoons during the War of Independence. In the fall of this year GW named him to succeed Edward Carrington as United States marshal for Virginia (HENDERSON description begins Archibald Henderson. Washington’s Southern Tour, 1791. Boston and New York, 1923. description ends , 59–62).

GW’s welcome to Petersburg was apparently a tumultuous one. “So great was the desire of the people to see him,” reported Edward Carrington, who accompanied GW to the town, “that by the time of his arrival, there were not less than several thousands after him” (Carrington to James Madison, 20 April 1791, DLC: Madison Papers). At the dinner, held at Robert Armistead’s tavern on Sycamore Street, “a number of patriotic toasts were drank, attended by a discharge of cannon,” and it was probably there that Mayor Joseph Westmore presented GW with yet another civic address (Dunlap’s American Daily Adv. [Philadelphia], 29 April 1791). The text of Petersburg’s address and of GW’s brief reply are in DLC:GW. The evening assembly was at the Mason’s Hall in Blandford, which had become part of Petersburg in 1784. The town fathers had decided against a general illumination for fear of fire among the many wooden buildings (SCOTT AND WYATT description begins James G. Scott and Edward A. Wyatt, IV. Petersburg’s Story: A History. Petersburg, Va., 1960. description ends , 44–47, 133–35). Petersburg’s population in 1790 was 2,828.

Plans to link the Elizabeth River, a branch of the James, with the Pasquotank River in northeastern North Carolina by digging a canal through the Dismal Swamp were approved by the Virginia General Assembly in 1787 and by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1790 (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 , 12:479–94, 13:145–46; N.C. STATE REC. description begins Walter Clark, ed. The State Records of North Carolina. 16 vols., numbered 11-26. Winston and Goldsboro, N.C., 1895–1907. description ends , 25:83–93; brown [3], 31–39).

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