Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO MAJOR-GENERAL KNOX. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. X (1782-1785)
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TO MAJOR-GENERAL KNOX. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. X (1782-1785) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. X (1782-1785).
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TO MAJOR-GENERAL KNOX.
I am equally uninformed of the motives, which induced the Assembly of Virginia to open a canal between Kemp’s and the Northwest Landings, but presume territorial jurisdiction must have been the governing principle.
Mount Vernon, 20 March, 1784.
My dear Sir,
From an attentive examination of the Great Dismal Swamp, I have been long satisfied of the practicability of opening a communication through Drummond’s Pond between the rivers, which empty into Albemarle Sound, and the waters of Elizabeth or Nansemond River. Once, for the purpose of forming a plan for reclaiming the lands, more than with a view to the benefit of navigation, I traversed Drummond’s Pond through its whole circuit; and at a time when it was brimful of water. I lay one night on the east border of it, on ground something above the common level of the swamp; and in the morning, I had the curiosity to ramble as far into the swamp as I could get with convenience, to the distance perhaps of five hundred yards; and found that the water, which, at the margin of the lake (after it had exceeded its natural bounds) was stagnant, began perceptibly to move eastward; and at the extent of my walk it had deepened, got more into a channel, and increased obviously in its motion. This discovery left not a doubt in my mind that the current was descending into one of the rivers of Albemarle Sound. To ascertain it, I directed our manager to hire persons to explore it fully. To the best of my recollection, he some time afterwards informed me, that he had done so, that it was found to be the head of the northwest river, that to the place where the water had formed a regular channel of considerable width and depth did not exceed four miles, and that from thence downwards to the present navigation of the river there was no other obstruction to small craft than fallen trees. What I have given as coming under my own knowledge, you may rely upon. The other I sufficiently believe, and have no doubt but that the waters of Perquemins and Pasquotank Rivers have a similar, and perhaps as close a communication with Drummond’s Pond, as those of the northwest.
Your letter of the 21st ultimo did not reach my hands till yesterday. Having the governor here, and a house full of company, and the post being on the point of setting out for the eastward, I must confine the few lines I shall be able (at this time) to write, to the business of the Cincinnati.
My researches at different times into and round the swamp (for I have encompassed the whole) have enabled me to make the following observations; that the principal rivulets, which run into the Great Dismal, if not all of them, are to the westward of it, from Suffolk southwardly, that Drummond’s Pond is the receptacle for all the water, which can force its way into it through the reeds, roots, trash, and fallen timber, with which the swamp abounds; that to these obstructions, and the almost perfect level of the swamp, are to be ascribed the wetness of it; that, in wet seasons, when the banks of the pond are overflowed by the assemblage of waters from the quarter I have mentioned, it discharges itself with equal difficulty into the heads of the rivers Elizabeth and Nansemond, and those which flow into Albemarle Sound; for it is a fact, that the late Colonel Tucker of Norfolk, on a branch of Elizabeth River, and several others on Nansemond River, have mills, which are, or have been, worked by the waters which run out of the swamp.
From what you have said of the temper of your Assembly respecting this society, from the current of sentiment in the other New England States thereon, and from the official letter, which I have lately received from the Marquis de Lafayette on this subject, I am more than ever of opinion, that the general meeting at Philadelphia in May next ought, by all means, to be full and respectable. I was sorry to find these words, therefore, in your letter, after naming the delegates from your State,—“Probably only two will attend.”
Hence, and from a canal, which the Virginia Company opened some years since, I am convinced, that there is not a difference of more than two feet between one part of the swamp and another; that the east side and south end are lower than their opposites; and that a canal of that depth, when the water of Drummond’s Pond is even with its banks, and more or less in the proportion it rises or sinks, will take the water of it, and, with the aid of one lock, let it into either Elizabeth River or Nansemond; neither of which, from the best information I have been able to obtain, would exceed six or seven miles. Admitting these things, and I firmly believe in them, the kind of navigation will determine the expense, having due consideration to the difficulty, which must be occasioned by the quantity of water, and little fall by which it can be run off.
I think not only the whole number chosen should attend, but the abilities of them, should be coolly, deliberately, and wisely employed, when met, to obviate the prejudices and remove the jealousies, which are already imbibed, and more than probably, through ignorance, envy, and perhaps worse motives, will increase and spread. I cannot, therefore, forbear urging in strong terms the necessity of the measure. The ensuing general meeting is either useful or useless; if the former, the representatives of each State society ought to be punctual in their attendance, especially under the present circumstances; if it is not, all ought to be exempted; and I am sure none can give the time, which this journey and business require, with less convenience to themselves than myself.
To attempt, in the first instance, such a canal as would admit any vessel, which the Bay of Albemarle is competent to, would in my opinion be tedious, and attended with an expense, which might prove discouraging; whilst one upon a more contracted scale would answer very valuable purposes, and might be enlarged as the practicability of the measure, and the advantages resulting from it, should be unfolded; appropriating the money, which shall arise from the toll, after principal and interest are fully paid, as a fund for the further extension of the navigation, which in my opinion would be exceedingly practicable, and would be found the readiest and easiest plan to bring it to perfection.
By a letter, which I have just received from General Greene, I am informed that himself, General Varnum, and Major Lyman are chosen to represent the society of the State of Rhode Island; that he intends to be in South Carolina before the meeting; and it is not expected that more than one will attend it! I wish this could be otherwise, and that General Greene would attend. Private interest or convenience may be a plea for many, and the meeting thereby be thin and unfit for the purpose of its institution.
If this method should be adopted, I would very readily join my mite towards the accomplishment, provided the canal, which the State of Virginia is about to cut, should not render it an unnecessary or unprofitable undertaking. A more extended plan would be too heavy for my purse.
I have heard nothing yet from New Hampshire, New York, or New Jersey, to the eastward, nor any thing from the southward; to the last, duplicates have long since been sent.
I agree in sentiment with you, that, whenever the public is disposed to reimburse principal and interest to the corporation, and will open a free passage of the canal, the charter should cease; but I do not think eight per cent is adequate, I mean sufficiently inviting, nor ten either, unless government, in the act for incorporation, were to guaranty the expense, and be at the final risk of the success, and would have, though not an exorbitant, yet a fixed toll, and one which should be judged fully competent to answer the purpose; because it is not less easy than pleasing to reduce it at any time, but it would be found difficult and disgusting, however necessary and urgent, to increase it.
As there can be no interruption of the post by bad weather now, and there is time for it, pray let me hear more fully from you on the subject of this letter by the return of it; particularly what the committees of your Assembly have reported. * * *
In other respects, my opinion differs not from yours, or the propositions you enclosed to, Sir, your most obedient, &c.