George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Stephen Sayre, 15 October 1784

From Stephen Sayre

Georgetown [Md.] 15th Octo. 1784


When I did myself the honor of laying before your Excellency such thoughts as then occur’d to my imagination on the importantance of opening this River, it was not my Intention to have given you the trouble of a Reply; but I am not ashamed to acknowledge myself happy in the honorable Correspondence.1

It is my wish, that every Idea, leading to accomplish the great Object may be made public, and have reason to beleive the money may sooner be raised by Tontine, than in any other way, not only from the success such a mode has generally met with in Europe, but from the approbation of every Individual I have conversed with on the subject. Nor is there any other method which so fairly discharges posterity from the Toll, doing equal Justice to Creditors. I conceive also, that the early profits or enviable payments which the Toll will make to the Lenders will create an ardent disposition in the public to see Inland navigation extended to its utmost stage of improvement. It is reported, and I hope truly, that your Excellency will be at Annapolis; about the 1t of novr 2 I propose being there also at the same time, when I shall, unreservedly communicate my Ideas, and I trust, prove to conviction, that as to the work, nothing is more practicable than a good, safe, & convenient navigation thro the great & Little Falls, without a single Lock—to my understanding, all Idea of Locks ought to be renounced & exploded forever—perhaps in all cases of navigation; but surely in this River.3 The single difficulty, in case the two States agree, is to raise the Funds. I am clearly persuaded that £50000 Maryland Cury would make a good navigation, & upon a plan that would never require repairs. I am, most respectfully Yours &c. &c.

Stephen Sayre


2GW accompanied Lafayette to Annapolis at the end of November, at which time he consulted with members of the Maryland legislature about forming a company to improve navigation on the Potomac. See particularly GW to Joseph Jones and James Madison, 3 Dec. 1784. Although there is no diary record of his movements after his return from his journey to the West, it is almost certain that GW did not make an earlier trip to Annapolis in the fall (see his cash accounts, Ledger B description begins General Ledger B, 1772–1793. Library of Congress, George Washington Papers, Series 5, Financial Papers. description ends , 201).

3In hopes of adding “Vigor to the great Design of improving our inland Navigation,” the Virginia Journal and Alexandria Advertiser on 16 Dec. 1784 printed an “Extract of a Letter from London, dated September 20, to Stephen Sayre . . . from a Character, who is consulted in all Europe on all Objects of public Improvements.” The letter begins: “I like your Description of America—What an amazing Country—what noble Rivers—I am glad you recommended, and pray insist in advising G. W. to sink or deepen upper levels .. . Discourage Locks—Encourage Ballast Work—deepening Shallows, and removing Rocks. . . .”

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