George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Johnson, 24 January 1775

From Thomas Johnson

Annapolis [Md.] 24 January 1775

Dear Sr

Our printer assuring us in his last weeks Paper that there would be a further prorogation of our Assembly and the very doubtful State of American Affairs induced me to think that Nothing would probably be attempted in your Assembly the ensuing Session. This Morning about 11 OClock I received your two Letters by Mr Stewart dated the 20 Instant and this Afternoon Mr Ballendine came to see me on the Subject of them I should have needed nothing more than your Desire to have waited on the Gent. at Alexandria on Thursday if it was in my Power but I am so circumstanced that I cannot oblige you1 My Time has been lately so much engrossed with Committee Business and Things of the Kind that I have been obliged for a Week or ten Days past to be plodding over my Law Affairs every Oppertunity with more than common Assiduity and I shall with great Difficulty be able to get my Terms pleading done by the last Day of this Month against which Day they must be finished I believe owing to an Anxiety which I cannot quiet on public Matters I am in but an indifferent State of Health nor could I, if for that Reason alone, just now undertake the proposed Journey with tolerable Convenience I had resolved therefore to send you off my Thoughts tomorrow which I do by Mr Ballendine though the Time will not allow me to reduce them to the full Draft of a Bill and desparing of ever seeing Poto. made navigable on the plan I most wished it you may depend on my best Endeavours to get a Bill passed here similar to yours2 whether upon giving a Fee simple in fiat & invariable Tolls or having the Tolls ascertained anew from Time to Time with an Eye to a limitted profit per Cent on the Cost and Repairs of the Work or giving a Term only with a still higher profit. I may possibly be insensibly led by my own particular Interest to view the Advantages of Navigation on the River as more general and extensive than I ought but I really believe if I had not a Foot of Land above the Falls I should be as warm a Friend to the Scheme—Unless our Assembly will so far assist us as to emit a Sum of Money for Loan to the Subscribers I do assure you I do not think that those on our Side who would most willingly subscribe will be able to do any Thing alone I myself am in such a Situation that I cannot raise any Sum of Money with out selling a part of the very Estate to be benefited by the Scheme on very low Terms at present and many with whom I have spoke on the Subject are circumstanced as myself I should think nothing of risking a good deal and might prudently do it all Chances considered but in these Times many want to borrow and but few to lend Money I do not know where 500£ could be got on the Sec[uri]ty of 5,000.

General Lees plan has been delayed some Time for a plate I am told it is now nearly done & I hope to have the pleasure of sending you some Copies soon3—There has been more Alacrity shewn by our people than I expected but we are but illy prepared with Arms &c. I am apprehensive that the Vigilance of the Govt at Home will make it necessary for us to turn our Thoughts towards an internal Supply of Materials. I am Sr with the greatest Respect Your most obedt Servant

Ths Johnson Junr


1Neither of GW’s letters has been found. After his return from England in the summer of 1774, John Ballendine organized a company of investors from Virginia and Maryland to further his plans for opening the upper Potomac to navigation. For Ballendine’s trip to England to promote his Potomac River scheme, see GW to Boucher, 5 May 1772, n.1. For the earlier involvement of both GW and Johnson in efforts to have Marylanders and Virginians join forces in improving navigation on the Potomac, see the source note in Johnson to GW, 18 June 1770. On 10 Oct. 1774 GW and Johnson were among the twenty-odd men who subscribed money to support Ballendine’s “plan and proposals for clearing Potowmack,” which they found to be a “useful and necessary undertaking” (DLC:GW). GW, who pledged £500 to the Ballendine company, did not attend the meeting of the trustees of the company in Georgetown, Md., on 1 Dec. 1774, but he was at the meeting in Alexandria on 19 Dec., when he joined with fellow trustees John Carlyle, John Dalton, and William Ramsay, among others, in approving the decision to hire 50 “Negro Men” to begin work under Ballendine on the Potomac in 1775 (Virginia Gazette, [Dixon and Hunter; Williamsburg] 7 Jan. 1775). The meeting to which Johnson refers here was scheduled for 26 January. GW wrote in his diary for that day: “Went up to Alexandria to an intended meeting of the Trustees for opening the Rivr. Potomack. None met” (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 3:304). The minutes of a meeting of the Maryland trustees on 16 Nov. 1774, calling for the meeting on 1 Dec. in Georgetown, gave a vote of confidence to Ballendine with the recommendation that they begin clearing obstructions at Shenandoah Falls as well as at “the lower Falls” (MnHi).

2It is not clear whether by “Yours” Johnson is referring to the bill for creating a Potowmack Company which GW shepherded through the Virginia assembly in 1772 (see GW to Jonathan Boucher, 5 May 1772, n.1) or to the bill for the same purpose that George Mason drew up and sent to GW on 8 Mar. to be forwarded to Johnson. Johnson’s “Thoughts” may be the undated ten-page document in Johnson’s hand at MnHi in which Johnson poses questions about Potomac navigation and then answers them. This document may, however, be the “Subscription Paper” he mentions in his 18 June 1770 letter to GW. At MnHi is an undated document entitled: “Heads of an Act for Raising the Sum of 50,000 for the more Effectual Carrying Mr Ballantynes plan of Extending the Navigation of Potomack River into Execution &c. &c. &c.” No such act has been found in 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 , but in June 1775 the House of Burgesses passed and the council approved an act for raising a capital sum of £40,000 sterling for opening and extending navigation on the Potomac (JHB, 1773–76 description begins H. R. McIlwaine and John Pendleton Kennedy, eds. Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia. 13 vols. Richmond, 1905–15. description ends , 249, 274).

3Charles Lee’s “plan” was probably his plan for the organization of American troops which he drew up at about this time. No printed copy has been found, and it is not certain whether GW ever saw a copy of the plan which called for battalions of about eight hundred men organized into five companies. The plan is printed in Ford, Webb Correspondence and Journals description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford, ed. Correspondence and Journals of Samuel Blachley Webb. 3 vols. New York, 1893–94. description ends , 1:85–87. See also Alden, Charles Lee description begins John Richard Alden. General Charles Lee: Traitor or Patriot? Baton Rouge, La., 1951. description ends , 61. Lee and John Ballendine arrived at Mount Vernon on 30 Dec. 1774, and Lee remained until 4 January.

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