George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Johnson, 14 December 1795

From Thomas Johnson

Frederick [Md.] 14 December 1795.


I heard some Time agoe that a Gent. under Orders from the Executive had been viewing different Situations on each Side of Potomack from the Mouth of Connegochege1 downwards for a Scite for a Cannon Foundery and a Manufactory of Arms for the Public and that one in the Neighbourhood of Leesburgh was reported to be the most proper. I have since heard that it was relinquished and Shannandoah preferred. Not knowing precisely the Object and being interested I would presume no farther, if the Business is not fully fixt, than to request a Situation on the Mouth of the Virga Catoctin lately improved belonging to Colo. Clapham my Brothers and myself may be examined and to induce it I inclose a short and far from exaggerated Discription2 to which I add there are several excellent Springs of Water very near the Furnace one may be easily led into it through Pipes and though so near the River our people have been very healthy these three Seasons past.

The price we expect of a private Man or the public is 20,000£ our Money nor should we gain an unreasonable Profit by that Sum for encouraged by the Surface only we gave 4400£ Virga Curr[enc]y for the Land several Years agoe and the Improvements have since been a constant and heavy Expence—three of the Banks have been opened and I conclude there is Ore enough for a dozen Furnaces for Ages—two of the Banks have been tried they are as productive as common, one of them is very good for Barr Iron and both seem very proper for Castings indeed there are so many Banks that there is a good Chance of some of them making good Cannon.

My Brother Baker and I hold most of the Coal Banks from the Mouth of George’s Creek to the Mouth of Savage3 I have not seen them but am informed the Coal is wonderfully Abundant and to the Waters edge so that it may be loaded in Boats with Shovels from the Banks I need not remark to you on the state of the Navigation of Potomack for you know at least as much of it as I do—if it should be thought a part of those Coal Banks is a desirable Accomodation to Congress we would part from so much as would be fully sufficient for a reasonable Price. I remain sir. With the truest Respect Your most obedt & affectionate Servant.

Th. Johnson

ALS, DLC:GW. The letter is docketed in part “15th Decr 1796” and is filed in 1796, but GW’s reply of 31 Jan. 1796 confirms that 1795 is the correct date.

1Johnson is referring to Conococheague Creek, which enters the Potomac River at Williamsport, Maryland.

2The enclosed description reads: “The Potomack Furnace, newly erected, is washed by the water of the Virginia Catoctin Creek—the Stop is a Dam about 10 feet high of large hewn Loggs filled in with Stone and wellfaced—the water is led in a Tunnel through a Stile about 60 feet underGround, blown all the way through Rock with great Patience and Labour: it did not require any side walling or roofing. After the water passes through the Hill it is led a good Distance in a common spacious open Race to a very powerful Saw-Mill and the Furnace wheel; there are about 25 feet fall gained. The Furnace stands about 150 Yards from the River and Boats may be let up the Tail Race to the Furnace wheel at a moderate Expence. The Creek affords water enough in all but dry Seasons for a good Forge and was actually purchased for that Use: in the driest Seasons it is thought sufficient for the Furnace and to turn several pair of Mill Stones—a place is left to fix a large Merchant Mill on the Race and another Saw Mill or even two may be added to do full work great Part of The Year, for the Tunnel is on a large Scale and every Thing is executed in a superior Stile—1310 Acres of Land belong to the Furnace some of it is very good plough Land and the Bottom between the Race and the River, perhaps 30 A[cre]s will make excellent Meadow.

“There are many Ore Banks from three Quarters of a Mile to one Mile & a Quarter from the Furnace they appear to be inexhaustable—the Carriage from each is easy for the Ground from either is chiefly moderately descending—the Quarry of Limestone used for Flux lies also in the Land within a Mile of the Furnace—there are about 800 Acres in Woods” (DLC:GW).

Catoctin Creek enters the Potomac River from Loudoun County, Va., across from Point of Rocks, Maryland.

Josias Clapham (c.1725–1803) represented Loudoun County in the Virginia legislature in 1771 and from 1775 to 1781, and he was a militia colonel during the Revolutionary War. He became a director of the Potomac Company in 1797.

3Baker Johnson (1747–1811) was an attorney from Frederick, Md., who served in the Maryland conventions from 1774 to 1776.

Georges Creek enters the North Branch of the Potomac River at Westernport in Allegany County, Md.; the Savage River enters the North Branch from the Maryland side, about two miles upriver from Georges Creek.

Index Entries