George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Beverley Randolph, 10 July 1790

From Beverley Randolph

Richmond [Va.] July 10th 1790


At the request of the Proprietors of the Lead Mines in this State,1 I take the liberty to forward to you, the inclosed copy of a certificate,2 declaring their present situation. Mr Stephen Austin,3 one of the Proprietors, will deliver this. He proposes to ask of the general Government, some encouragement, to enable him to prosecute with success the Undertaking.4 He also expressed to me a wish to contract with the United States for such quantity of Lead as may be necessary for their Magazines &c. I believe from every information which I have received, that these mines, if worked to their full extent, are capable of producing such a quantity of good Lead as would yield the United States a full equivalent for the support which will be desired.5

I have the Honour to be with the highest respect your obt Servant

Beverley Randolph

LS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, Vi.

1The lead deposits at the mouth of Cripple Creek on the New River in Wythe County, Va., were discovered by Col. John Chiswell in the mid–1750s. The mines, taken over by the state during the Revolution and worked with slaves and military prisoners, provided a major supply of lead for Virginia and Continental forces.

2The enclosed certificate of Arthur Campbell, Robert Sayers, and William Migomry to the governor and council of Virginia from “Lead Mines” on 23 June 1790 reads: “We, professing ourselves friends to the promotion of American Manufactures, especially those of Necessary Articles, and being requested by mr Stephen Austin to view the present State of the Works now Carrying on at the Lead Mines, Do certify, that there are between fifty and sixty men employed as miners, Artificers and labourers; that there are seven pits sunk, of about seventy feet in depth, which are so productive, that from six to eight tons of Ore, may be raised in a day; that the Appearances give Confidence to conclude, that the bodies of Ore, that may be found in the Hill is inexhaustible; that at present a very simple but improved manner of beating and Washing the Ore are adopted; that there are in forwardness materials for erecting a New furnace, which may be ready for use in less than two Months, but that built by the late Colonel Chiswell is now so repaired that above one ton and an half of Lead may be smelted every day while it stands.

“From these beginnings and from the Activity and professed Views of the Owners, we are sanguine enough to believe, that with a small encouragement from the general Government, so as to Compensate in a degree for so distant a land Carriage, that Lead will be produced and Manufactored in the Course of the ensuing year, Sufficient for the Consumption of the United States.

“It has been mentioned to us that a duty of one Cent per Pound on all foreign Lead imported will operate as an ample encouragment to bring about a completion of their Views. We are not so well acquainted with the Commercial Interests of the United States as to urge the adoption of such a proposition; but wish to remind our Rulers, that the time has been, that much depended on the preservation and success of this same Manufacture: That similar Occasions may ha⟨ppen⟩ in the Course of future Events, that will show the goo⟨d⟩ policy of being independent of all the World for so Necessary an Article” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

3Stephen Austin (1747-1809), a native of Durham, Conn., was a merchant at Hartford during the Revolutionary War. In 1782 he moved to Philadelphia, where he established Stephen Austin and Company. His youngest brother, Moses (1761–1821), soon followed him and opened a dry goods shop on Market Street in 1783. In February 1784 Moses formed a partnership with Manning Merrill, opening a wholesale store on Front Street. Stephen was an investor in that firm. In August 1784, Moses opened an independent branch of the firm in Richmond as Moses Austin & Company. Merrill died in February 1785, and Moses left affairs in Philadelphia to Stephen. In 1788 Stephen decided to liquidate his business in Philadelphia and move to Richmond. The brothers signed a ten year lease for the Wythe County mines in May 1789, and in 1792 the brothers bought the mines and established Austinville. Because of financial pressures, including a failure of the lead roof that Moses had contracted to put on the Virginia Capitol building, Stephen sailed to England in 1794 to try to sell the mines. But once there he was arrested and imprisoned for a debt incurred by Merrill and Austin. Although he was able to pay the debt, he was unable to sell the mines.

In June 1797 the two brothers reorganized the mining operation as a new firm, Stephen & Moses Austin, under the direction of “Confidential Persons,” and Moses agreed to “proceed to the Province of Louisianne under the Government of King of Spain and there take up such lands Lead Mines etc and there make such Establishment of the lead Mine Bussiness as he may find for Interest of the Concern and to Carry it on for the[ir] joint advantage” until 1 Jan. 1800. After an exploratory expedition in 1795–96, Moses moved his family to Mine à Breton (Burton) in Missouri in 1798, leaving the Virginia mining operation in Stephen’s care. Stephen’s son Charles apparently leased the lead mines at Austinville and lived there at least a year before James Newell leased and operated them. The Austin brothers still owed the state nineteen tons of lead in 1806 when the Virginia chancery court decreed an auction sale of the mines. Moses’s inability to repay Stephen the thousands of dollars he had advanced and the failure of the Virginia venture left Stephen disappointed, and he was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1801 (William Chauncey Fowler, History of Durham, Connecticut. . . [Hartford, 1866], 288; Barker, Austin Papers, description begins Eugene C. Barker, ed. The Austin Papers. 3 vols. Washington, D.C., 1924–28. description ends 1 [pt. 1]:1, 2, 7–8, 10, 11, 13–15, 19, 21, 22, 35–36, 40–47, 57–59, 60–65, 87; David B. Gracy II, Moses Austin: His Life [San Antonio, Tex., 1987], 11, 15, 17, 19-21, 28-29, 34-37, 40, 43, 46, 67-68, 87-88; The Independent Gazetteer; or, the Chronicle of Freedom [Philadelphia], 31 July 1784, 12 Feb. 1785; Calendar of Virginia State Papers, description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds. Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts. 11 vols. Richmond, 1875–93. description ends 4:372; Journals of the Council of State of Virginia, description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds. Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia. 5 vols. Richmond, 1931–82. description ends 5:86, 160; Wythe County Historical Review, 14 [1978], 1–3; 15 [1979], 41; 17 [1980], 16–21).

4On 7 July 1790 John Dawson wrote a letter of introduction for Stephen Austin to James Madison, noting: “Hi[s] wish is to get assistance from the general goverment” for his Richmond shot manufactory. Three days later Gov. Beverley Randolph introduced Austin to Thomas Jefferson, enclosed a copy of the above certificate (which was published in the New York Daily Advertiser on 23 July 1790), and wrote that Austin “proposes to make application to the Congress . . . for some encouragement in order to enable them to furnish this Country with manufactured Lead” and “also wishes to contract with the general government to supply such Quantity of Lead as may be wanted.” On 12 July John Harvie, Jr., also wrote to Jefferson from Richmond, introducing Moses Austin and discussing the Austins’ mining and manufacturing operations and their desire for federal assistance, to which Jefferson replied on 25 July: “Mr. Austin shall certainly receive every aid I can give him. That which he asks from Congress I suppose very doubtful. No body can say where such a precedent would carry them. A contract to supply government with the lead it may want I should think him entitled to on principles of sound policy” (Rutland, Madison Papers, description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds. The Papers of James Madison, Congressional Series. 17 vols. Chicago and Charlottesville, Va., 1962–91. description ends 13:266; Boyd, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 17:23–24, 270).

Congressman John Brown, representing the Kentucky District of Virginia, successfully motioned on 16 July to insert into the act making further provision for the payment of the debts of the United States a new duty of one cent per pound on lead imports. GW signed the act into law on 10 Aug. 1790 (DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972–. description ends 3:564, 6:2039, 2040; Boyd, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 17:24).

5GW acknowledged the receipt of Randolph’s 10 July letter to him but never responded to it (GW to Randolph, 24 Aug. 1790).

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