Washington, George
A REMARKABLE CACHE OF 56 MANUSCRIPT DOCUMENTS SIGNED BY GEORGE WASHINGTON AS PRESIDENT AND DIRECTOR OF THE POTOMAC COMPANY
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250,000350,000
LOT SOLD. 257,000 USD (Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium)
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Washington, George
A REMARKABLE CACHE OF 56 MANUSCRIPT DOCUMENTS SIGNED BY GEORGE WASHINGTON AS PRESIDENT AND DIRECTOR OF THE POTOMAC COMPANY
Estimate
250,000350,000
LOT SOLD. 257,000 USD (Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium)
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Fine Books & Manuscripts, Including Americana

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Washington, George
A REMARKABLE CACHE OF 56 MANUSCRIPT DOCUMENTS SIGNED BY GEORGE WASHINGTON AS PRESIDENT AND DIRECTOR OF THE POTOMAC COMPANY
56 manuscript documents, written in a variety of clerical hands, signed by George Washington ("Go: Washington") and other officers of the Potomac Company, primarily John Fitzgerald and George Gilpen, Alexandria, Virginia, and elsewhere, 15 October 1785 to 5 August 1786, mostly 2 pages on single leaves or slips of papers of various sizes, but one 3-page and two 4-pages documents, several of the workmen lists composed of two or more sheets joined vertically; one document with a clean tear, another slightly faded, but withal very fine, fresh condition. Accompanied by 15 related Potomac Company documents of the same period, not signed by George Washington.
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Catalogue Note

The Potomac—or, originally Patowmack—Company was organized in 1785 for the purpose of improving the navigation of the upper Potomac River and creating a waterway connection between it and the Ohio River. George Washington's role as a founding incorporator and eventual president of the Company marked his return to public life and after a brief retirement to Mount Vernon following the Revolutionary War. Washington had been intrigued by the idea of using the Potomac to link the Atlantic seabord states with the Western territories since the early 1770s. The genesis of the Potomac Company as constituted began with Washington's tour across the Alleghenies and into Pennsylvania in 1784. Upon his return, he wrote a lenghty letter to Governor Benjamin Harrison of Virginia, 10 October 1784, describing his long-held conviction "that the shortest, easiest & least expensive communication with the invaluable & extensive Country back of us, would be by one, or both of the rivers of this State which have their sources in the apalachian mountains." (The James was the other river Washington referenced.) Washington suggested that the Virginia Assembly fund the effort, but after lobbying both that House and the Maryland Legislature, it became clear to him that the proposed improvements would have to be funded by private investors. At its first meeting, 17 May 1785, in Alexandria, Washington was elected president of the Potomac Company, a position he held until 1789, when he was elected to another presidency, that of the United States.

Actual work on the project began in the summer of 1785, with a short canal, with locks, around the Great Falls, near the present site of the District of Columbia. Work was slow, however, and while local navigation was improved, the grander vision of the Company was not realized, and in 1828 it was subsumed by the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company. The documents in the present archive date from the very beginning of the venture and provide a wealth of information, including the names of the overseers and laborers, their rates of pay, and the wages they actually received. The careful bookeeping of the Potomac Company reflects Washington's resolution, as articulated in his 8 August 1875 letter to James Rumsey, the principal supervisor of work on the project, that as president of the Company he was to receive as much information as possible regarding expenditures "least any Disappointment should happen in the ready Payment of the Company's Debts, which by all means is to be avoided."

The documents are numbered, running non-consecutively from 29 to 208, with three unnumbered. The receipts and other documents span a wide range of activities and provide an extraordinarily detailed view of the operations of this early attempt to improve the infrastructure of the United States. The documents fall into two main categories: 14 Lists of the workmen who were employed at various locations along the proposed canal, including Seneca Falls, Shanandoah Falls, the Great Falls, including in some instances a record of inches bored by each worker; and 42 payrolls, pay slips, and receipts to individuals for various goods and  services rendered, including rum, whiskey, beef, mutton, flour, canoe timber, shoes and stockings, felt hats, carpentry tools, bar iron, gunpowder, hauling coal and wood, “apprehending & Securing in Gaol, one of the Company’s Servants,” and, of course, “sundries.”

A complete inventory of the documents is available on sotheby's.com, as well as from the New York Book and Manuscript Department.

Fine Books & Manuscripts, Including Americana

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New York