George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Charles Carroll (of Carrollton), 21 July 1799

To Charles Carroll (of Carrollton)

Mount Vernon July 21st 1799

Dear Sir

Having received a printed letter myself, from the President & Directors of the Potomack Company dated the 2d instant the presumption is, that it is a circular Address to the Stockholders: and much indeed is it to be wished that all of them would attend in person, rather than by substitution.1

Greatly is it to be regretted that an Undertaking productive of—or rather promising such immense advantages to the States of Virginia & Maryland particularly the latter; and of such pecuniary emoluments to the Proprietors; should be suffered to progress so limpingly, as this work has done for some years back.

If this Navigation was completed and it is susceptible of being so in a short time; and the Shenandoah opened which is a work neither difficult or expensive and will as certainly follow the other as Night follows day, being suspended only thereby, I wo[ul]d predict, without fear of having my judgment arraigned by the result, that it wd be found one of (if not) the most productive funds (with the least risk to the Stockholders) of any Legalised Institution in the United States.

I speak within bounds, when I give it as my decided opinion, that it cannot fall short of 50 prCt pr Ann. The best credence I can adduce of my thorough conviction of this fact, is, that if I had the means, and was anxious to provide for those who may step into my Shoes, when I go hence, I would not hesitate a moment to complete the work at my own expence receiving proportionate Tolls.

It might be as unjust as improper, to censure the conduct of the Directors, or any of them, but if the means can be obtained I shall declare for having the residue of the Work executed by Contract (under the Inspection of the Directors)—fixing the sum, and stipulating the time to be employed thereon.2

I propose to be at the Genl Meeting of the Co. at George Town the 5th of next month, & should be happy to find you there,3 being with much esteem Dear Sir—Your Most Obedt Hble Servt

Go: Washington

ALS (letterpress copy), NN: Washington Papers.

1The printed circular letter from the president and directors of the Potowmack Company, a copy of which is in DLC:GW, is dated 2 July, from Great Falls on the Potomac. The letter was signed by James Keith as president of the company and by John Mason, Josias Clapham, Isaac McPherson, and Daniel Carroll of Duddington as directors. It reads: “Sir ENTRUSTED as we are, with the interests of the Potomack Company, we deem it a duty incumbent on us, at this time, to give you, as a Stockholder, as general a view of those interests as the short compass of a letter will admit of. It is known to you, that the Capital of the Company, at first, consisted of five hundred shares of the value of one hundred pounds sterling each; since which an additional hundred has been created by the Stockholders, rated at one hundred and thirty pounds sterling, the whole of which, except some inconsiderable balances owing by insolvent characters, has been collected. These sums have been expended in improving the navigation of the River from George’s Creek, twenty-eight miles above Fort Cumberland, and two hundred and eighteen above tide water, into tide water; which, at this time, is in such a state, that at certain seasons, boats loaded with an hundred barrels of flour and upwards, can safely navigate that whole extent, except five hundred feet at the Great Falls. The difficulty and expence have proved much greater than at first contemplated: At Shenandoah and Seneca Falls, extensive Canals have been formed, by which boats are enabled to avoid the rocks and sudden descents in the bed of the river; at the great and Little Falls, similar canals have been constructed—but at those places, it has been found that Locks were indispensable: at the Little Falls, three have been made, through which, boats from the foot of the great Falls pass with the greatest ease and safety into tide water: at the Great Falls one Lock has been formed—four more are requisite, the seat of one of those is nearly excavated; to aid the intercourse till the work is compleated, at this place, a machine is constructed to pass articles from the waters above, to the waters below, which is found to answer extremely well; but the experience of two years has convinced us, that so long as any obstacle remains to a free passage into tide water, the navigation will not prove so serviceable to the public, or beneficial to the proprietors, as has been generally expected and now certainly known it will prove to be, when those are wholly removed. Independent of those four principal Falls, comprizing altogether two hundred and twenty four feet nine inches, there is, from the head of the Shenandoah Falls, fifty five miles above tide water, to George’s Creek, a continued succession of smaller Falls and Ripples, forming in the aggregate a fall of eight hundred and seventy four feet four inches, these have been so far removed and improved upon, that boats safely pass them. In the execution of these works, the whole stock of the Company has been expended, except twenty-nine shares.

“From the best and most accurate estimates which have been formed, it is supposed that the cost of the remaining work at the Great Falls will not exceed sixty thousand dollars, and that it may be effected in the course of twelve months from the time funds are provided. Various expedients have been recommended by the stock holders to the Board of Directors to procure money by. They have all been tried without producing the effect, only the small sum of four thousand two hundred and eighty one dollars and eighty six cents has as yet been obtained, this sum was partly applied in the discharge of some debts contracted in the construction of the lock at the Great Falls, the residue in the repair of breaches made in certain parts of the extensive works. Other debts contracted in the course of the work still remain unsatisfied. The works, unless properly finished and regularly inspected, will go to decay, and may prove nearly as expensive in the repair as the first formation. Having had recourse to every measure suggested to raise money by, without effect, fully informed of the heavy advances made by the stockholders; seeing those advances wholly unproductive, and knowing that they will remain so until the work is fully executed, (the absolute necessity of doing this must be apparent to every person interested) the Board of Directors, to raise the necessary funds for that purpose, take the liberty of suggesting the only measure, which to them, seems to hold out a prospect of success, that is for the stockholders to make a further advance upon each share of the stock, subject to the same regulations the original subscriptions were, one hundred dollars upon each share will raise the sum supposed sufficient for the purpose. As this advance must be a voluntary act, the assent of each stockholder must be obtained, and acts of the legislatures procured to carry the same into effect. Should a considerable majority of the stockholders approve of the measure, and others refuse to accede to it, provision will be applied for and no doubt granted by the legislatures, to enable those stockholders, making additional advances, to draw from the tolls in proportion to those advances. This provision will be made before any of the advance agreed upon will be called for. It is requested that you will communicate your sentiments upon this proposition so as to be laid before the stockholders at their annual meeting, to be held at the Union Tavern in Georgetown, on the first Monday in August next, also that you give your personal attendance at that time, if convenient, if not, that you, without fail, appoint a proxy to represent you, with full power to act upon this proposition. Your sentiments, if not personally delivered may be communicated either by your proxy, or by yourself to Mr. William Hartshorne, treasurer of the company.”

2At its meeting in Georgetown on 5 Aug., which GW attended, the Potowmack Company “determined that for the purpose of compleating the Navigation of the Potomak River, it would be expedient that each Share held in the said Company should pay an additional Sum of at least One hundred Dollars.” The stockholders were to make such payments “at such times, and by such Installments, as the President & Directors shall hereafter direct; provided that no payment shall be Compelled untill the sum of Forty Thousand Dollars be subscribed; and untill the Legislatures of Virginia & Maryland shall pass Laws to enforce the payments so agreed to be made by us the Subscribers.” The list of the subscribers is headed by GW, the largest shareholder: “Go: Washington—in his own right,” twenty-three shares; Robert Peter, “by direction,” seven shares; Notley Young, two shares; Gustavus Scott, eleven shares; Samuel Davidson, two shares; Alexander White, one share; Tristram Dalton, two shares; Thomas Law, four shares; “Francis Deakins Executor of Wm Deakins Junr Deceased on one Share belonging to the Estate of Wm Deakins”; Daniel Carroll of Duddington, seven shares; Wallace, Johnson & Muir (firm), nine shares; James Barry, eight shares; John Laird, five shares; Daniel Jenifer, two shares; James Keith, three shares; William H. Dorsey, one share; Thomas Beall of George, one share; Charles Worthington, one share; James Keith, “as proxy for Leven Powell,” one share; James Keith, “as proxy for Charles Simms,” one share; John Mason, seven shares; William Campbell, “by his proxy J. Mason,” nine shares; John Barnes, “by his Proxy J. Mason,” one share; Richard Barnes, “by his Proxy J. Mason,” one share; Thomas Mason, one share; Charles Carroll of Carrollton, “by his proxy Danl Carroll of Dudn,” eleven shares; Marsham & Henry Waring (firm), one share; Waring & Millard (firm), one share; Forrest & Stoddert (firm), three shares; Charles Phillips, “by Wm Hartshorne his Attorney,” two shares; Corbin Washington, “by Wm Hartshorne his Attorney,” two shares (NIC).

For the steps GW took to insure that John Fitzgerald attended the meeting of the company as the legal representative of the state of Virginia, see GW to John Fitzgerald, 27 July, and GW to William Berkeley, 29 July. For GW’s plea after the meeting that the state of Virginia provide aid for the project, see GW to William Berkeley, 11 Aug. 1799. For the action taken by the state of Maryland, see John Mason to GW, 4 Dec. 1799, and President and Directors of Potowmack Company to GW, 8 Dec. 1799.

3Carroll did not attend the meeting of the stockholders of the company on 5 Aug., but on that day he wrote to GW from “Doughoragen,” his home in Maryland: “I did not receive your favor of the 21st past until yesterday. The pleasure of seeing you at George Town would have been a strong inducement to me to attend the meeting of the Company to be held there this day, even on so short a notice of yr intention of giving yr attendance, had I not learnt at the same time I got your letter, that you have been lately much indisposed. Mr Law however, from whom this disagreeable intelligence came, concluded his letter, I am told, by saying you was then on the recovery. I anxiously hope & wish you may be speedily restored to perfect health.

“I have written to my relation Mr Dan. Carroll of Duddington & authorised him to subscribe on my behalf one hundred dollars for each of the shares I hold, provided the sum of forty thousand dollars be subscribed. The circular letter of the Directors states that 60,000$ will certainly complete the navigation from above fort Cumberland to tide water; a less sum therefore than 40,000$, I conceive, if subscribed, and paid would be doing little or nothing; no person, who could be depended on, would undertake by contract a work for twenty or thirty thousand dollars, the completion of which according to accurate estimates, would require 60000$. I entirely coincide with your opinion that what remains to be done to perfect the navigation of the Potomack, should be done by contract under the inspection of the directors, or of one or two confidential & intelligent persons, to be by them appointed to superintend the contractor.

“I have, Sir, an opinion equally sanguine as yours of the eventual productiveness to the Stock[h]olders, and utility to the Publick of this great undertaking, but I fear, it will not be completed for some years from the want of funds & the inability of the stockholders to furnish them to the extent estimated & required⟨.⟩ This State, to judge from the transactions of the two last Sessions of its Legislature will advance no more money towards that object, & similar causes may produce the same effects in the Legislature of Virginia” (PHi: Sprague Collection).

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