George Washington Papers

To George Washington from George Mason, 17 February 1775

From George Mason

Gunston-Hall Febry 17th 1775.

Dear Sir.

I return’d from Maryland but last Night, not being able to leave Mrs Eilbeck sooner, & don’t know how quickly I may be called there again, as I think She is far from being out of Danger, & the Doctor has some Apprehensions of a Mortification. I will if I can, be at Alexandria on Monday; but it is uncertain, as well for the reason above mentioned, as that I am at this time unwell with a bad Cold & a little Pain in my Breast.1

I can’t conceive how Mr Harper cou’d make such a Mistake as to buy double the Quantity of powder wanted for this County, when He had the Order in Writing sign’d by You & Me: if there is any Ambiguity in the said Writing (for I don’t now recollect the words) by which Mr Harper might be led into such a Mistake, I think We are in Honour bound to take the whole off his Hands; otherwise it does not appear to Me that He can reasonably expect it; tho’ I am exceedingly concern’d that any kind of Misunderstanding shou’d happen in an Affair, which must have given Mr Harper a good deal of Trouble, & which I am convinced was undertaken by him merely from public Motives, & a Desire to oblige the Committee. I remember Your mentioning, in Conversation, to Mr Harper, an Application made to You from Loudoun County to procure a Quantity of powder for their Committee, upon six Months Credit, & telling Him if it cou’d be purchased in Philadelphia upon such Credit, You wou’d see the Money paid when it became due; to which He answered that Powder was generally a ready-Money Article there, & at this time in particular, He did not imagine it cou’d be got upon Credit. I speak from Recollection (having had no Concern in that Affair) but as nearly as I can remember, this is the Substance of what passed between You & Him respecting the Loudoun Committee, & may possibly have occasioned the Mistake; at least I can account for it no other Way.2

I have already paid Messrs McCrae & Maise half their Acct and my half the Money due to Mr Harper for the Articles ordered for Fairfax County, is at any Minute ready, having kept a Sum in Gold by Me for that Purpose, that Mr Harper shou’d not be disappointed in the Payment; but if it will be attended wth no Inconvenience to Him, it will suit Me better to make the Payment ten Days hence than now; because I think in that time I can collect good Part of the Money from the People, and as the Collection will be partly in Paper Dollars & Pensilvania Money, which from Mr Harper’s Connections to the Northward, may suit him as well, or perhaps better than Gold, Yet it will not replace the Gold wth equal Convenience to Me; I mention this only as Matter of mutual Convenience, at the same time making a Point not to disappoint Mr Harper; & I must beg the favour of You Sir to communicate this to him, that I may send up the Money whenever He wants it, without giving him any Trouble on the Subject.

I shall send my Son George out imediatly to make what Collection He can, being furnish’d with a List of Tytheables for that Purpose: if you incline to do any thing of that kind, You shall have a Copy of the List, distinguishing those who have paid to Him. I think this method will reimburse us sooner, & save Commissions & Trouble to the Sherif.3

I had gone a good Way thro’ the Bill for improving the Navigation of Potomack, before I went to Maryland, & am happy in finding that I had fallen into many of Mr Johnston’s Sentiments, tho’ I was a Stranger to them, ’til I recd yr Letter upon my return last Night.4 I wish it was in my Power to spend a Day wth him on the Subject. some of his Remarks are not so intelligible to Me as they wou’d be, if I had all the Queries which He seems to answer. What He mentions of some kind of Jealosy least the Virginians shou’d have some advantage, & that there shou’d be some Equality between the Maryland & Virga Subscriptions, I can have no Idea of. What Matter is it whether the Majority of the Subscribers are Marylanders or Virginians if their property is put upon an equal Footing, & the Work is of general advantage to both Provinces? Nor can I think his notion of proportioning the Tolls to the average profits can well be reduced to practice: a sufficient Sum can’t be raised by those only who are locally interested; Men who are not, will not advance their Money, upon so great a Risque but wth Views of great & increasing profit, not to depend upon future alterations: the Tolls, to be sure, must be moderate, such as the Commodities will bear, with advantage to the makers; it is probable for some Years they will yield very little Profit to the undertakers, perhaps none; they must run the Risque of this, as well as of the utter Failure of the Undertaking, & surely if they succeed they have a just Right to the increased Profits; tho’ in Process of Time they may become very great: if I am not misinform’d, this is the Principle upon which every thing of this Nature has been succesfully executed in other Countrys.5 My Paper will not permit me to add more at present, than that I am Dr Sir Yr affecte & obdt Servt

G. Mason


1On Monday, 20 Feb., GW “Went up to Alexandria to the Choosing of Delegates to go to Richmond” to the meeting of the Second Virginia Convention on 20 Mar. (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 3:309).

2The Loudoun County freeholders’ meeting on 14 June 1774 had elected a county committee and declared a moratorium on trade with Britain, but nothing has been found regarding their decision to order gunpowder and other war supplies (Powell, “Loudoun Resolutions,” description begins [Burr Powell]. “Resolutions of Loudoun County.” William and Mary Quarterly, 1st ser., 12 (1904): 231–36. description ends 232–34). An invoice in the hand of John Harper appeared in Charles Hamilton’s catalog (auction 97, item no. 294, 3 June 1976); it lists 80 casks of gunpowder, 10,000 musket flints, paper, and other items totaling about £350. On the bottom half of the invoice GW wrote and signed the receipt: “Alexandria Feby. 18th, 1775. Then received from George Washington the sum of one hundred and forty pounds six shillings and six pence being his part of the above acc’t—as also the further sum of twenty one pounds twelve sh[illing]s for 8 Quarter Casks of Powder . . . from Philadelphia, being part of the twenty which I order’d from thence by mistake.” See also Cash Accounts, February 1775, where the amount differs slightly. The £350.16.6 charged was in Pennsylvania currency, while the amount GW paid was in Virginia currency.

3McCrea & Mease was an Alexandria mercantile firm. See Cash Accounts, February, n.9, for GW’s payment to McCrea & Mease. See Resolutions of Fairfax County Committee, 17 Jan., for the method determined on to raise money for weapons and ammunition for the use of the county. An account kept by George Mason of money collected by the levy and spent by GW and Mason for the weapons is in Rutland, Mason Papers description begins Robert A. Rutland, ed. The Papers of George Mason, 1725–1792. 3 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1970. description ends , 1:228.

4GW’s letter has not been found. See Thomas Johnson to GW, 24 January. For Mason’s Potomac River bill, see Mason to GW, 8 March.

5Thomas Johnson’s “Remarks” have not been found. See Johnson to GW, 24 January.

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