George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Edmund Randolph, 2 March 1786

From Edmund Randolph

Richmond March 2. 1786.

Dear sir

The delay, which has hitherto occurred in transmitting to you the inclosed proceedings, will be ascribed, I hope, to its true causes; one of which will be found in my last letter, and the other in the daily expectation of Mr Ross’s visit to Mount-Vernon, in pursuance of our resolution of the 8th of december 1785.

You may possibly be surprized, that a work, which has already expended a considerable sum of money, should be delineated in so few words, as the copies now sent contain, But I beg leave to inform you, that We have detailed in the execution almost the whole of the resolutions.1

For example: We have procured the ascertainment of a precise point, to which the navigation is to be extended; Crow’s ferry being now established, as such.2

We are authorized to borrow money at six per cent, and to extend the number of shares.

Unexperienced as we were, we yet conceived that our duty called for an examination of the ground between Richmond and Westham. The difficulties seemed greater than we at first apprehended. As soon as the report is prepared by a more skilful hand, than we affect to be, it shall be forwarded to you.

The old books of subscriptions are not compleat, as I supposed, when I wrote to you last. Seven shares are still unoccupied; of which we shall reserve the five, which you wished for yourself.3

It was impossible to engage any other labour, than that of blacks: and this necessity has obliged us to bring the labourers into actual service, earlier perhaps than we should have done, in the present state of our imperfect knowledge of canals. But the subscribers would have been dissatisfied, had we not begun in the course of this Year, and negroes, you know, sir, must be hired in January at farthest.

Concerning our progress in this great business, our plans, and future expectations, we beg you to enquire of James Harris, our manager, who will deliver this letter. He is a quaker, of good character, as a man, and a mechanic, formed by nature for the management of water, when applied to mills. He has added nothing to his natural turn, by the view of any very great works. We therefore request, if you see no impropriety, that you would give him such a passport to the Potowmack works, as will enable him to get a thorough insight, into what is there projected. You perceive that Mr Ross was originally intended to be sent to Mount Vernon for this purpose; but he has been for a length of time under a severe disease, and is not yet restored. The office of subordinate manager, mentioned in one of the resolutions, does not exist; it being swallowed up in that of Mr Harris.

It is not improbable, that Mr Harris may continue his journey to the Susquehanna canal. If so, we shall thank you, to furnish him with a certificate of being employed by the James River company in any manner, which may appear most likely to introduce him into an acquaintance with those of that scheme, who may be most intelligent.4

Thus, my dear sir, I have written to you at the desire of my brethren in office a tedious account of our operations. Permit me therefore to return to the contemplation of private friendship, and to assure you, that I am always with the greatest respect and esteem your mo. affte and obliged humble serv.

Edm: Randolph


1Randolph appended the proceedings of the James River Company for the period from 20 Aug. to 22 Dec. 1785 to his letter: “At the public buildings on the 20th day of august 1785. At a meeting of subscribers to the opening of the navigation of James river 287 shares Appeared.

“Resolved unanimously that General Washington be appointed president for three years.

“Resolved that John Harvie, David Ross, William Cabell, and Edmund Randolph be appointed directors for three years.

“James Buchanan laid before the meeting the state of the Subscription in his hands.

“Resolved that it be an instruction to the president and directors to take fit measures by application to the assembly, for vesting a general meeting with power to ascertain some precise point to which the navigation of James River is to be extended or, if this object cannot be obtained, to adopt any other expedient for ascertaining such point.

“Resolved that it be an instruction to the president and directors to prepare and report to the general meeting such amendments, as it may seem expedient to make in the Act for clearing and improving the navigation of James River: and to petition the assembly to make the same, if no meeting should be held on the first day of October next.”

“At a meeting of John Harvie, David Ross [1736–1817; of Petersburg] and Edmund Randolph directors at Richmond.

“27 Septr 1785. A letter from the president was read.

“Resolved that we will to morrow visit the ground between tide water and Ballendine dam at Westham.

“Note: that it appears from the return of William Cabell and Charles Irving commissioners, that they have received subscriptions to the amount of fifty three shares, and of George Clendinen that he has received subscriptions of 35 Shares.

“Septr 28. The directors aforesaid viewed the Ground.

“Septr 29. At a meeting of the said directors at Richmond.

“Resolved that it appears adviseable to use slaves in the common labour.

“Resolved that an advertisement be inserted in the public gazettes for three weeks successively, inviting some person to be manager in general: but whose present business shall be to hire and superintend such a number of slaves as he may be instructed.

“Resolved that contracts be opened without delay for the purchase of such lands and other interests as may be necessary for the accomplishment of the objects of our institution; it being our wish not to resort to any step of coercion without unavoidable necessity.

“Resolved that each share pay on or before the 1st day of december 1785 £3 and on or before the first day of april 1786 the farther sum of £2.

“Resolved that as it is as yet uncertain, what sums may be necessary for our purchases of land or other interests of the like nature, it be recommended to the subscribers to hold themselves in readiness for further payments.

“Resolved that James Buchanan be treasurer.”

“At a meeting of the subscribers at Richmond on Saturday the 1st of October 1785.

“The Proceedings of the directors were read.”

“At a meeting of the directors: i.e. David Ross, John Harvie & E. Randolph Decr 8th 1785.

“A memorial to the general assembly was agreed to in the following words.

“Resolved that the allowance of the temporary and subordinate manager be £100 Per Annum and his expences—If the directors are satisfied with his exertions, they will add £50 pr Annum.

“Resolved that David Ross wait upon General Washington and request his communication of such ideas, as he may think useful to the work: and particularly inform him of the aid which we hope to receive from the skill of an engineer employed by the Potowmac company.

“Resolved that the said David Ross be impowered to bind the company for any expence, which he may think proper, for obtaining the aid of the said engineer; or for any cooperation, which may be established between the two companies.”

“Decr 22d 1785. At a meeting of the directors.

“Resolved that James Harris, who appears to be highly recommended be appointed manager, with a salary of £250 per annum and support for himself and family; with liberty to the directors to remove him at pleasure.

A true copy

Edm: Randolph”

2The Virginia assembly in its recent session passed “An act to amend an act, intituled, An act for clearing and improving the navigation of James river,” which included the provision “That Crow’s ferry, at the mouth of Loony’s creek, shall be forever taken and deemed to be the highest place practicable within the meaning of the above recited act” (12 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 116–17). Looney Creek empties into the James in Botetourt County.

4James Harris, manager of the James River Company, arrived at Mount Vernon with Randolph’s letter on 11 Mar. (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 4:292).

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