From George Mason
Gunston-Hall March th 1775.
I have at last finished the Potomack River Bill; which I now send You, together with some very long remarks thereon, & a Letter to Mr Johnston; into which You’ll be pleased to put a Wafer, when You forward the other Papers to Him. I also return the Acts of Assembly, & Mr Johnston’s Notes, which You sent Me. This Affair has taken Me five times as long as I expected; and I do assure You I never ingaged in any thing which puzled me more; there were such a Number of Contingencys to provide for, & drawing up Laws a thing so much out of my way—I shall be well pleased if the pains I have bestowed upon the Subject prove of any Service to so great an Undertaking; but by what I can understand, there will be so strong an Opposition from Baltimore, & the Head of the Bay, as will go near to prevent it’s passage thro’ the Maryland Assembly, in any Shape it can be offered.1
I suppose You have heard of the late Purchase made by some north Carolina Gentlemen from the Cherokee Indians, of all the Country between the Great Conhaway & the Tennissee Rivers—I think, considering this Colony has just expended abt £100,000, upon the Defence of that Country, that this is a pretty bold Stroke of the Gentlemen—It is suspected some of our Virga Gentlemen are privately concern’d in it.2
I have always expected that the new fangled Doctrine lately broach’d, of the Crown’s having no Title beyond the Allighany Mountains ’til after the Purchase at Fort Stanwix, wou’d produce a thousand other Absurdities & Squabbles. However, if I am not mistaken, the Crown, at that Treaty, purchased of the six Nations all the Lands as low as the Tenissee River. So now I suppose, we must have a formal Tryal whether the six Nations or the Cherokees had the legal Right; but whether this is to be done by Ejectment, Writ of Enquiry, writ of Partition, or what other Process, let those who invented this curious Distinction determine. The Inattention of our Assembly to so grand an Object, as the Right of this Colony to the western Lands, is inexcusable; & the Confusion it will introduce endless.3
If I knew when You set off for the Convention at Richmond, I wou’d trouble You wth two or three Virga Curcy Bills, to make my second payment to Mr Mozzay, as I may not perhaps have an Opportunity of sending it in April.4
We make but a poor Hand of collecting; very few pay, tho’ every body promises, except Mr Hartshorn, of Alexandria; who flatly refused: his Conscience I suppose wou’d not suffer him to be concern’d in paying for the Instruments of Death. George has been very unwell for some Days past; as soon as He gets well, He intends up into the Forrest, whare He has not yet been.5
The Family here join in their Compliments to Mrs Washington, & the Family at Mount Vernon, with Dr Sir, Your affecte Hble Servt
ALS, DLC:GW. Mason dated the letter “March 9th,” but see Mason’s letter of 9 March.
1. Despairing of raising enough money by private subscription alone for John Ballendine’s company to proceed with the work to make the upper Potomac navigable, Thomas Johnson on 24 Jan. sent GW his “Thoughts” about a bill for public support for a Potomac River company, which GW forwarded to Mason. Johnson and Mason also had been in correspondence about such a bill, for on 25 Feb. Johnson asked GW to return to him “Colo. Masons Estimate his Remarks and the other papers [referring to Potomac navigation] I sent you by Mr [John] Ballandine,” who brought to GW Johnson’s letter of 24 January. Mason began work on the bill sometime after 18 Feb., when he wrote GW that “since I came from Maryland,” he had been able to do nothing “towards the Potomack River Bill.” Mason’s draft of a Potomac River company bill has not been found, but it may well be the bill “for raising a Capital sum of forty thousand Pounds, Sterling, by subscription, and establishing a Company for opening and extending the Navigation of the River Potowmack,” which was referred to a committee of the House of Burgesses on 3 June and passed, with amendments, on 17 June (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 , 181, 191, 229, 249, 274).
3. The Treaty of Fort Stanwix did indeed cede to the British all the land south of the Ohio River as far down as the mouth of the Tennessee River, the Iroquois claiming that the Cherokee had no claim to any of this land. For a discussion of the treaty, see Alvord, Mississippi Valley description begins Clarence Walworth Alvord. The Mississippi Valley in British Politics: A Study of the Trade, Land Speculation, and Experiments in Imperialism Culminating in the American Revolution. 2 vols. Cleveland, 1917. description ends , 2:61–89.
5. For the collection of the tithes for purchasing weapons for the defense of the county, see Resolutions of Fairfax County Committee, 17 Jan., and Mason to GW, 17, 18 February. Alexandria merchant William Hartshorne, although a Quaker, was a member of the Fairfax Committee. “The Forrest” seems to have been a term applied to the heavily forested part of Fairfax County above the Great and Little falls.