George Washington Papers

From George Washington to James Rumsey, 5 June 1785

To James Rumsey

Mt Vernon 5th June 1785.


Your letter of the 10th of March came safe, but not in a short time after the date of it. The reason which you have assigned for giving me an order on Mr Ryan, is perfectly satisfactory. I wish that that or any other expedient would have extracted from him what he owes you. From the accot given of his circumstances & conduct, I fear you have incurred a bad debt with the manager of the Theatre.1

As the Car[ria]ge house you was to build for me, was in such forwardness at the date of the above letter, & as you expected to have had it raised by the first of May last; I am very well satisfied with the advance it has made, & that it should continue, provided you can make it convenient to wait a while for your money; but I should be wanting in candor were I to give you assurances of speedy payment. The Kitchen & stable I would gladly have finished as soon as possible & what ever the cost of them amounts to, I will settle for without delay.2

It gives me much pleasure to find by your letter that you are not less sanguine in your Boat project, than when I saw you last; and that you have made such further discoveries as will render them of greater utility than was at first expected: you have my best wishes for the success of your plan.3

Inclosed are the proceedings of the Directors of the Potomac navigation—I pray you to have them set up at some public place. If the manager advertised for, can come well recommended, liberal wages will be given him.4 It were to be wished that the following qualities could be readily combined in the same person—integrity—Abilities—indefatigable industry—& if he has not experimental knowledge of this particular kind of work, at least that he may be possessed of a genius which may soon fit him for it.

Mr Ryan’s Note is enclosed,5 & I am with great esteem, Sir, &c.

G: Washington

LB, DLC:GW. GW wrote Rumsey on 2 July that he had sent this letter “under cover to my brother in Berkely,” Charles Washington.

1For Dennis Ryan’s “bad debt,” see GW to Alexander Henderson, 20 Dec. 1784, n.1, and references.

2See Rumsey’s discouraging report on the progress he was making on GW’s house at Bath in Berkeley County, 24 June 1785. For even worse reports about what Rumsey did and did not do in building the house at Bath, see George Lewis to GW, 25 Aug. 1786, and Jean Le Mayeur to GW, 28 Aug. 1786; see also Rumsey to GW, 5 Sept. 1786.

4This copy of the minutes of the meeting of the president and directors of the Potowmack Company, 30–31 May, is included in DNA: RG 79, Records of the Potomac Co. and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Co., item 159: “At a Meeting of the President and Directors of the Potowmack Company in Alexandria on Monday the 30th Day of May 1785 were present Genl George Washington President Geo. Gilpin John Fitzgerald Thomas Sim Lee and Thomas Johnston Directors[.]

“George Gilpin administered the Oath of Office prescribed by the Acts of Assembly of Virginia and Maryland to George Washington, John Fitzgerald, Thomas Sim Lee and Thomas Johnston, and John Fitzgerald administered the Oath of Office to George Gilpin.

“William Hartshorne of Alexandria appointed Treasurer under the Allowance of three ⅌ Cent, he giving Bond in the Penalty of ten thousand Pounds Sterling with two good and sufficient Securities, such as this Board shall approve.

“It is the Opinion of this Board that it is the most eligible to employ two sets of Hands, one of them in opening and improving the Navigation from the great Falls to Payne’s Falls and the other from the upper part of the Shanadoah Falls to the highest place practicable on the North Branch.

“That each Sett of Hands consist of 50 Men to be under the general Direction of one skilful person who shall have a proper Assistant as well as three Overseers with each Party.

“Adjourned till tomorrow.

“May 31st present as Yesterday.

“Mr John Potts Junr of Alexandria appointed Clerk to this Board, to be paid twenty one Shillings Sterling for each Day he shall attend this Board, besides his reasonable Expences when he occasionally attends out of Alexandria and thereby incurs an extraordinary Expence.

“By the President and Directors of the Potowmack Company, May 31st 1785

“Ordered, that the Proprietors of the said Company pay into the Hands of William Hartshorne Treasurer of the said Company on each Share five pounds Sterling on or before the fifteenth Day of July next and also the further Sum of two pounds ten shillings Sterling on or before the first Day of October next.

Go: Washington P.

Ths Johnston

Thos S. Lee

George Gilpin

John Fitzgerald

“Four hundred and three of the five hundred Shares in the Potowmack Company having been subscribed Books are now opened at Mr William Hartshornes Treasurer in Alexandria to recieve the first Subscriptions that may be offered to make up the ninety seven remaining Shares.

“Ordered, that Advertisements be inserted in the Alexandria, Baltimore and some one or more of the Philadelphia Papers giving Notice that this Board will meet at Alexandria on the first Day of July next to agree with a Skilful Person to conduct the opening and improving the Navigation of the Potowmack River from the great Falls to Payne’s and from the upper part of the Shanadoah to the highest place practicable on the North Branch, and also to agree with two Assistants and overseers—Also that liberal wages will be given to any Number not exceeding one hundred good Hands with provisions and a reasonable Quantity of Spirits; that a further Encouragement will be given to such as are dextrous in boring and blowing Rocks in which Service a proportion of the Men will be employed and that the Conductor of the Work or some other person authorised will attend at Seneca on the third Day of July next and at Shanadoah on the sixth Day of July next to contract with the Men who may offer for this Service.

“Ordered, That the Clerk write a Letter to Captn Abraham Sheppard of Sheppards Town requesting him to contract for the building two very strong Boats for the Use of the Company each to be thirty five feet long, Eight feet wide or upwards and not less than twenty Inches deep in the common Manner of the Flats used at the Ferries on Potowmack above Tide Water.

“That a like Letter be written to Col: Josias Clapham to contract for the building two other such Boats as above.

“It is the Opinion of this Board that a View and Examination of Potowmack River by the President and Directors assisted by the Conductor of the Work may promote the great End of the Institution of the Potowmack Company and therefore they resolve to proceed in such View and Examination immediately after the general Meeting in August next.”

The advertisement was printed in a number of newspapers. See, for example, the issue of 9 June of the Virginia Journal and Alexandria Advertiser.

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