George Washington Papers

From George Washington to George Gilpin and John Fitzgerald, 1 September 1786

To George Gilpin and John Fitzgerald

Mount Vernon 1st Septr 1786.


Nothing but sickness would have prevented my attendance at the Seneca Falls on Monday next agreeably to appointment. On sunday last (occasioned by an imprudent act) I was seized by an ague & fever. on Tuesday & yesterday they returned with great violence, with scarce any intermission of the fever. Whether the Doctors efforts will baffle them tomorrow, remains to be determined; but at any rate he thinks it would be improper for me to leave home. The fevers, moreover, have made such havock of my mouth, nose & chin that I am unable to put a razor to my face. Thus circumstanced, I have given up all idea of meeting the Board the 4th instant.1

Besides the business which is the immediate occasion of this meeting, it might be well, as we are every day thrown back in our operations on the bed of the river, to prepare the draft of a Petition which will be necessary to hand to the respective Assemblies for prolongation of the time for that part of the undertaking; and, as there may be difficulties in the way yet unforeseen, I should incline to enlarge it to the greatest extent it is thought we can obtain.2 I submit for consideration also, the propriety (if the waters should get low enough in the course of the Fall) of a thorough investigation of the river, by a skilful person, from the Shannondoah falls to Fort Cumberland at least; that by having the matter fully before us, we may be enabled to form some precise judgment of the difficulties which lie in the way, & prepare for them accordingly.

As I cannot do greater justice to the sentiments of the Company respecting its approbation of the conduct of the Directors, than it conveyed by the Address of the Committee, I have the honor of forwarding a copy of that letter to me, which I beg the favor of you, Gentn, to lay before the Board at the Meeting which is about to take place.3 With great esteem & regard, I am Gentn &c.

G: Washington


1GW sent for Dr. James Craik on Thursday, 31 Aug., and Craik prescribed quinine. The fever, which struck on alternate days, failed to return on Saturday, 2 Sept., which would have been his fourth “fit day.” GW makes no further reference in his diaries to his illness, and on 9 Sept. he wrote Fitzgerald that he was “tolerably well again.” See Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 5:32–34. The two Maryland trustees of the Potowmack Company, Thomas Johnson and Thomas Sim Lee, both also were ill, and so no meeting of the trustees was held on 4 September.

3A committee of the Potowmack Company at Alexandria composed of David Stuart, Charles Simms, and James Keith, directed this address of 15 Aug. to GW at Mount Vernon: “Sir, The Industry & Attention with which the Attempt to make the Potomack navagable, has been prosecuted by you, & the Gentlemen united with you in Office; have excited feelings in the breasts of the Company, which can only be estimated by those, who are acquainted with the extensive national utility of the work, & the unpatriotic Indolence which retards similar designs in this State.

“Be assured Sir, that while the Company is strongly impressed with Gratitude towards the Directors, for their Assiduity, the happy Influence of your Presidency, is deeply engraved on every mind. The fidelity, & accuracy, with which the treasurers accounts have been kept, merit also their Notice, & sincere thanks.

“It is with Pleasure Sir, we impart to you these sentiments in behalf of the Company, & beg you will do us the honour of communicating them to the above Gentlemen” (DLC:GW).

In addition to sending a copy of the address to Gilpin and Fitzgerald, GW on the same day forwarded a copy to the company’s treasurer, William Hartshorne: “Sir, The enclosed Address to me, from a Committee of the Potomac Company, will convey the sense of that company on the fidelity & accuracy with which your accots have been kept, in the fullest & clearest manner. I have great pleasure in communicating these sentiments, & with very great esteem & regard, I am Sir &c. G: Washington” (LB, DLC:GW).

Later in the day Hartshorne responded: “Your favor of the 1st inst. I recd enclosing the Address from a Committee of the Potomac Company to you as president of the directors, in which I think they have expressed the Sentiments of the Company respecting yourself and them—And I think myself highly honored by the obliging manner in which they are pleased to Notice my Services as Treasurer of the Company—It shall be my endeavor to merit a continuance of the same confidence and I return you my thanks for the honor you have done me, in furnishing me with the Address, in which I am mentioned in such terms of approbation as are very pleasing to me” (DLC:GW).

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