George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Tobias Lear, 17 December 1794

From Tobias Lear

George Town [D.C.] December 17th 1794

My dear Sir,

I am happy to inform you that my intended trip to Richmond is rendered unnecessary. An act to prolong the time, for two years, for opening the navigation of the Potomac having been passed in Virginia.1

I went to Alexandria on Monday Evening,2 and was on the point of departing from thence to Richmond when Mr Charles Lee arrived from the Assembly, and informed that the business was finished the day before he left Richmond. The Petition was laid aside for want of the usual formalities, as we had been informed. In this state of the business Mr Lee thought it would be best to bring in a short bill, without having any referrence to the Petition, stating, that, as, for various reasons the navigation could not be completed within the time limited, a further term of two years should be granted to the Company for completing the navigation from tidewater to the head of the River. This has passed both Houses. Mr Lee thought it unnecessary to give information of its being in this train until he should come up himself, which caused the anxiety on the subject expressed in my letter of the 10th.

By the last Mail I had the honor to receive your acceptable favor of the 12th instant, and feel myself much obliged by the liberty you are pleased to give me to have access to your papers relative to the Potomac Company, as well as by the sentiments which you express on that subject.

Deeply impress’d as I am with the necessity and importance of pushing forward the navigation of this River with all possible Vigour, nothing in my power will remain undone to give energy and dispatch to the business. The want of funds is the only ground from which I have any apprehension of delay. This, to be sure, is an important one above all others. The backwardness of many in paying up the several calls has left a deficiency of near £10,000 sterlg on the whole sum; and even when this shall be paid, I conceive it will be short of the demand for completing the work. It will, however, with proper management, do the essentials, and enable the proprietors to receive tolls, and the moment this shall take place the company will find no difficulty in obtaining, on loan, any sum they may want to finish their operations. With respect to Engineers, I am decidedly of opinion that it will be a false œconomy not to obtain the ideas of the best that can be found, on fixing the locks at the Great Falls before the business is undertaken seriously there: and the idea which you suggest of obtaining the opinion of Mr Claiborne’s man & Mr Weston, ought, if possible, to be followed.

I took an occasion to mention to Mr Scott the letter which had been forwarded to the Commissioners from Mr Trumbull;3 and he informed me that it should be immediately answered; but that he did not conceive at present there would be an opening to give that encouragement to the Gentleman mentioned by Mr Trumbull which might induce him to come over. Mr John Trumbull has also written to me on what, I presume, was the subject of the letter which you sent to the Commissioners. This letter I immediately put into the hands of Dr Thornton, desiring him to lay it before the Commissioners, which he informs me has been done;4 and, that the Commissioners conceived that the Gentleman whom Mr Trumbull mentions would be a valuable acquisition to the City; but as the great public buildings are now going on upon approved plans, it was a doubt whether there would be immediately such employment for Mr Hatfield’s talents as could justify them in offering what might be considered as an inducement for him to come over: However, as other public buildings, such as an University and its appendages, Churches &c. &c. would presently be wanting, he could, in these, have an opportunity of originating and superintending, which might make it worth his while to come over; and that they should give the matter a further consideration as soon as they could get through some other business which pressed and demanded their immediate attention, and would then decide upon it. I have written thus to Mr Trumbull and promised the moment any thing should be determined, to inform him thereof.5

I observe by the papers, that a bill is about to pass for carrying on trade, on the public account, with the Indian Nations.6 Should this become a law, and the agency of Individuals or commercial Houses be made use of in this business, I presume that the situation of our establishment here, as it regards locality and other circumstances, would enable us to take a part in its transactions beneficial to the public as well as to ourselves; and we should be glad to do it, provided the conditions are such as would make it an object worthy attention. While on this subject I will beg leave to observe, that the usual price of carriage from Philadelphia is, I am informed, 4⅔ dollas pr Cwt From this place we can have articles carried by land to the navigable water of Kanawa @ 2 dollars pr Cwt, through a safe and good road.

Begging that Mrs Washington may be assured of my best respects, I have the honor to be, with sentiments of the purest respect & gratitude, My dear sir, Your affectionate friend & servant

Tobias Lear.

The enclosed letter, which I received a few days ago, containing some observations on the general state of affairs in Europe & particularly in G.B. & which I beleive to be founded on information from the very first sources, I have taken the liberty to enclose for your perusal.7 The writer is a Doctor Currie, author of a political letter to Mr Pitt under the signature of Jasper Wilson, which I imagine you have seen.8


1Lear was referring to “An Act giving further time for opening the navigation of Patowmack river above tide water,” 12 Dec. (Va. Statutes 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 [Shepherd], 1:329).

2The previous Monday was 15 December.

3Lear was referring to John Trumbull’s letter to Jonathan Trumbull of 23 Sept., which GW had enclosed with his letter of 27 Nov. to the commissioners of the District of Columbia.

4John Trumbull’s letter to Lear of 13 Sept. was received by the commissioners on 1 Dec. (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Received, 1791–1802; DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Proceedings, 1791–1802).

5Lear’s letter to John Trumbull has not been identified.

6On 1 Dec. the House committee formed to consider the proposal about Indian trade in GW’s annual message reported back that the project was feasible with an appropriation of $100,000. The House considered that report on 5 Dec., resolved to appropriate an unspecified amount “for the purpose of carrying on trade with the Indian nations,” and directed a committee to bring in a bill to that effect. The bill was not presented until 22 Jan. (Journal of the House description begins The Journal of the House of Representatives: George Washington Administration 1789–1797. Edited by Martin P. Claussen. 9 vols. Wilmington, Del., 1977. description ends , 7:58, 77, 174). “An Act making provision for the purposes of Trade with the Indians,” 3 March 1795, appropriated $50,000 “to the purchase of goods for supplying the Indians” and directed “that the sale of such goods be made under the direction of the President” (1 Stat. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 443). The House decision to order a bill was reported in the Gazette of the United States and Daily Evening Advertiser [Philadelphia], 8 Dec., and other newspapers.

7The enclosed letter has not been identified.

8Lear was referring to A Letter, Commercial and Political, Addressed to the Rt. Honble. William Pitt, in which the Real Interests of Britain in the Present Crisis Are Considered, and Some Observations Are Offered on the General State of Europe. By Jasper Wilson, Esq. The letter, which was dated 6 June 1793, appeared in three London editions (the later editions with a postscript of 25 July) and multiple Dublin printings before the year was out. John Anderson had sent a copy of the second edition with his letter to GW of 26 Aug. 1793. In addition, the New York Daily Advertiser published an extract on 21 Nov. 1793 and then commenced publication of the full letter in daily segments beginning on 28 Dec. 1793 and concluding on 12 April 1794. The letter expressed opposition to British involvement in the European war.

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