George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James Rumsey, 29 March 1786

From James Rumsey

Great falls March 29th 1786

Dr General.

This will be handed to you by Mr Brindley, we have had the pleasure of his, and Mr Harris’s Company Since yesterday, and they Boath approve of what is Done and proposed Here.1

On Sunday Evening the 26th of this Inst. I Receivd your fovor of the 20th Respecting The Conduct of the people working here,2 It Distress me that you had Accation to Write on Such a Subject. what follows is as near what has hapened Since I Came Down as I am Able to Relate.

On my way Down I heared great Complaints Against the people of the falls, But as Such Complaints has been freequent when no outrages Has bee Cammited, I thought But Little of them, I was But a Short time at the falls before I Set Out for alexandria, and Mr Stuart with me for Baltimore During which time they Behaved themselves Very well, On my Return from alexandria to This place the Complaints that was made to me was Shocking, that no person Could Come on their Lawfull Buisness But what got Abused, and that Officers of Justice durst not go on the ground to Execute their Office—In Consequence of these Complaints I Immediately Set up adertisments Leting the Neighbours know that they Should be treated well when they Came to the place, and the Officers that they Should be protected In the Execution of their office, for which I pledged myself to them[.]3 notwithstanding these advertisements, The Officer that had Mr Jacksons warrants Summined fifty men to Come here on monday Last to aid and assist him, This Expedetion was Intended private which was the Reason your Letter was not Handed to me Sooner, But I was Luckey enough to Meet with Mr Stanhope at Mr Wheelers on Sunday and he Informed me of it and where they ware To meet I Sett out on monday and met them, all Armed, within a mile of the falls. I beged them to Stop, Expostulated withem for Sum time, and gave them Every ashorance in my power that if they would Stop I would take the officer alone and Bring any men they would name they at first agreed to it But Soon Changed their minds and the most of them moved on again I Beged them to Listen to me and more Expressed my Desire to Convince them that the men was Under good Diciplin, and at Lenth By the Exertions of Mr Stanhope & Mr Gunnel I Carryed my point So far that they the Justises and the officer was to go with me to the works while the Rest was To go to the Buildings where I was to perade the Hole of the men, I had preveous to my Seting out Let the men know that an officer was to Be with them that Day to take a number of them, and I Charged them to Behave well—when we Came on the works, they accordingly Did, I ordered them all To the House and made them form in a Line untill the officer Called out what he wanted, all this was Done without a murmer, the number taken was About Sixteen they ware then Caryed off and put upon tryal which I attended and Mr Stuart Returned Before it was Over, The Hole of Mr Jacksons afair amounted to this, that his Son was In Company with a number of them at a Mr Conns that they threatened Sumbodey Very hard that he beleived It to be him, that he Borrowed a horse and rode home for his gun and Returned Shortly with it and presented it and Swore that he would kill The first man that afended him, on which they ⟨to⟩ok after him, and Doged him Sum time, and finaly ⟨th⟩at he made his Excape, the men was Sentenced to have Sum Lashes, that Mr Stanhope, Coleman, and Gunnel, prevailed with mr Jackson after the Judgment was passed to Remit the Hole punishement which he Did with a great Deal of Reluctance There was tow Servants got five Lashes apeace for Sum offence to a woman that Lives at Mrs Bauguses, I Shall Endeavor, and I make no Doubt But the men Can Be kept in good order4

I am Sir With Sincere Regard your most Obt and Very Hbl. Servt

James Rumsey


1GW wrote William Moultrie on 25 May: “Mr [James] Brindley, nephew to the celebrated person of that name [James Brindley; 1716–1772] who conducted the work of the Duke of Bridgewater [Francis Egerton, 3d duke of Bridgewater; 1736–1803] & planned many others in England, possesses, I presume, more practical knowledge of Cuts & Locks for the improvement of inland navigation, than any man among us, as he was an executive officer (he says) many years under his uncle in this particular business: but he is, I know, engaged with the Susquehanna company, who are I believe (for I saw Mr Brindley about six weeks ago) in a critical part of their work.” Moultrie wrote the engineer of the Susquehanna Company in August 1786 asking him to come to South Carolina for consultation, and Brindley went down from Pennsylvania in early 1787, visiting Mount Vernon en route (see Moultrie to GW, 7 Aug. 1786, and Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 5:92). See also Samuel Purviance, Jr., to GW, 6 March.

2Letter not found.

3Rumsey’s advertisement, dated 25 Mar., reads: “Whereas a Great number of the Inhabitants of this Neighbourhood Has Made Complaint to me—that they have been Insulted and ill treated When they come to this Place About their Lawful Business and that Officers of Justice has been so Intemidated by threats that they Do not think it Safe to come to the Place to Execute their Office—

“I therefore think it my Duty as Superintendent of the Business to Pledge myself that all Persons for the future may Come hear unmolested to do their Lawfull Business of what Ever kind it may be And that all Persons that Conceive that they have been Injured Shall have Redress upon Making it Clearly Appear” (“Letters of James Rumsey,” description begins James A. Padgett, ed. “Letters of James Rumsey.” Maryland Historical Magazine 32 (1937): 10–28, 136–55, 271–85. description ends 21).

4Most of the people to whom Rumsey refers in this account of the outcome of the fracas involving his Potowmack Company workers at Great Falls and a young inhabitant of the area named Jackson are difficult to identify with certainty. Mr. Stuart is Richardson Stewart, the assistant manager of the Potowmack Company who was soon to replace Rumsey as manager. John Jackson, who probably was the John Jackson who rented land from Bryan Fairfax in 1772 (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 3:110), now owned part of the John Semple tract in Loudoun County at the Great Falls and land in Fairfax County on Difficult Run which flows into the Potomac south of the Great Falls (Mitchell, Beginning at a White Oak, description begins Beth Mitchell. Beginning at a White Oak . . . Patents and Northern Neck Grants of Fairfax County Virginia. Fairfax, Va., 1977. description ends 198). He in 1798 was a trustee of the town of Turbeville in Fairfax County near the Little Falls of the Potomac. Mr. Gunnell was probably one of the sons or grandsons of the William Gunnell who in 1730 secured a grant of 966 acres on Difficult Run in Fairfax County. He left the lands to his sons, William and Henry, who remained in the area as did the Gunnells of the next generation (ibid., 185–86). This may be Henry Gunnell who was a trustee of Turbeville along with Jackson in 1798. Mr. Stanhope may have been William Stanhope who witnessed duels for William Gunnell in 1790 and became a justice for Fairfax County in 1798 and sheriff in 1800. Samuel Wheeler lived on a plantation in Fairfax County on the road to Difficult Run bridge. James Coleman owned land on Difficult Run; Mr. Conn may be Hugh Conn who in 1790 bought 110 acres of the Semple tract near Great Falls (ibid., 149, 135). Mrs. Bauguses may be Mary Boggess who in 1783 contested the will of Henry Boggess, the owner of land in Fairfax County and across the line in Loudoun County.

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