Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO EDMUND RANDOLPH. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. X (1782-1785)
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TO EDMUND RANDOLPH. - 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 EDMUND RANDOLPH.
The great object, for the accomplishment of which I wish to see the inland navigation of the rivers Potomac & James improved & extended, is to connect the Western Territory with the Atlantic States; all others with me, are secondary. Tho’ I am clearly of opinion that it will greatly increase our commerce, & be an immense saving, in the article of transportation, & draft cattle, to the Planters & Farmers who are in a situation to have the produce of their labor water borne.
Mount Vernon, 16 September, 1785.
These being my sentiments, I wish to see the undertaking progress equally in both rivers; & but for my local situation, & numerous avocations, my attention to each should be alike:—what little I do for the advancement of the enterprise in this river, is done, as it were en passant; and because I think the difficulties greater than in the other—and not because I give it the preference—for both in my opinion have their advantages, without much, if any interference with each other. The advantages arising from my patronage of either, is probably more ideal than real; but such as they are, I wish them to be thought equally distributed:—my contribution to the works shall be the same. I have already subscribed five shares to the Potomac navigation; and enclosed I give you a power to put my name down for five shares to that of James river.—
It was not in my power to obtain the enclosed in time, to forward them by the last mail; but they will, I hope, reach you seasonably for your intended meeting on the 26th—by the present mail.
With respect to acting as President to the Board of Directors for that Company, it is a delicate subject for me to speak to:—every person who knows how much my time (by company & other matters) is occupied, must also know that it would be impossible for me to discharge the duties of the office, as they should be:—even here, where the business for the most part is, and will continue to be done at Alexandria, or George-town (eight miles further from me) it was so evident to me that I could not perform the duties of President with that diligence and propriety which I thought necessary, that I wish to decline it, but could not get excused:—How much more would this be the case with James river, where the journey to it alone would be a work of time and labor:—and besides, let it not be forgotten my Dr. Sir, that tho’ some of the Subscribers may wish to see me at the head of the Board of Directors;—yet there may be others who would feel disappointed and hurt if they are over looked and this might have an influence on their connexions—I mention these things to you with the candor and frankness of a friend, and under the rose; after which your own judgment and those of your friends, must dictate for the best.—I am persuaded all of us have the same object in view, and what ever shall be deemed, by the concurrent voice of the subscribers, the best means to effect it, shall meet my hearty approbation.—
I feel very sensibly, the honor and confidence which has been reposed in me by the James river company; and regret that it will not be in my power to discharge the duties of the office of President of the Board of Directors, with that punctuality and attention which the trust requires.—Every service however that I can render, compatible with my other avocations, shall be afforded with pleasure, and I am happy in being associated in the business with gentlemen so competent to the purposes of their appointment—and from what I have heard of the navigation, and seen of the Falls, I think your work may be soon and easily accomplished—and that it will be of great public utility, as well as private emolument to the subscribers when done:—for the advantage of both, tho’ I believe the business lies in another line, I would earnestly recommend it to you to press the execution of the survey between James river and the navigable waters of the Kanhawa, and a proper investigation of the latter.—It will be a source of great commerce with the capitol and in my opinion will be productive of great political consequences to this country:—the business of a similar nature, as it respects this river, is at an entire stand.—Mr. Massey who was first appointed on the part of this State, having declined acting; the Maryland Commissioner knows of no other in his room, and is unable, tho’ ready to proceed.
My last letter was written to you in such haste, that I apprehend I was not sufficiently explicit to be understood.—It was not my intention to apply for a copy of the Governor’s instructions releasing him from the restriction of the King’s Proclamation; but for the order of Council consequent thereof, directing or permitting Warrants to issue on military rights, agreeably thereto:—because if the date of this order had been found to be antecedent to the occupancy of my adversaries, it would remove them from their grand Fort—for on possession, before I took any legal steps—I know they mean to place their sole defence.—
Besides what appears in the minutes, which are enclosed, it is in contemplation by the Board of Directors of the Navigation of this river, to endeavor to hire a number of Slaves next year as laborers thereon,—and as the Great Falls are tremendous, and the navigation thereof, in whatever manner it is attempted, will require much skill and practical knowledge in the execution; we propose, before this is undertaken, to invite a proper person from Europe, who has been employed in works of this kind, as a superintendant of it:—With respect to the other parts of the river, tho’ what are called the Shanandoah Falls are as difficult in my opinion as the Falls of James river, at Westham, we seem to have confidence enough in ourselves to undertake them; and mean to do so without having recourse to either canals or Locks.—Thro’ all the Falls and rapids above the Great falls, we mean to attempt nothing more than to open a strait passage to avoid, as much as possible, currents;—giving sufficient depth, and as much smoothness as may be to the surface;—and if Rumsey’s project fails (of which he has not the smallest apprehension) to pull the Boats up by chains floated by buoys:—the latter, when Ice begins to form, may be slipped and thereby saved; whilst the former rivoted to rocks at bottom, may remain during the intemperate season undisturbed and without injury.
The Patent, & thousands of Warrants are evidences that the restrictions respecting military settlers was taken off; but they do not ascertain the time.—My Patent, if I recollect right, was dated in July, 1774;—but the occupants, according to their own accounts, possessed the Land in the October. preceding;—if therefore I could have obtained a certificate of the loss of the Council Books; and any circumstance could have been recollected by which it should appear (as unquestionably the fact is) that the recognition of military rights was previous to October 1773, and so intimated in the certificate aforesaid; it would have been useful:—Without this indeed, the matter is so clear, in my judgment, as not to admit of dispute before an impartial Jury;—but an impartial Jury I do not expect—& much less since I have heard that the high Sheriff of the County (lately chosen) is of the fraternity of my competitors, & interested in the decision,—so far at least as similar circumstances, & the suffrages of these people in his election, can bias him—Indeed I have lately been told that the decision of this case will be interesting to numbers whose rights are disputed on similar grounds.—
Upon an estimate of the expence of those chains and Buoys, we (that is, the Directors of the Potomac navigation and myself) are of opinion, without having an eye to the probable advantages which are expected to be drived from Rumsey’s mechanical discovery, that it will be infinitely less than what must arise from cutting canals, building Locks, making track paths, &c., as was the design of Ballendine and others; and will have this advantage over them, that when once done, that is when the passage is opened in a straight direction in the natural bed of the river, it is done as it were forever, whereas canals and Locks, besides the natural decay of them, are exposed to much injury from Ice, drift-wood, and even the common freshes;—in a word, are never safe where there are such sudden inundations and violent torrents, as the rivers in this country are subject to.
I am, &c.
It has so happened that Thursday the 22d inst. is a day of my own appointing to meet the Directors at the Great Falls of this river, for the purpose of examining the place proposed for a canal; and the river and ground from thence to tide water, on which business I expect to be employed (at least to be from home) four or five days.