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Washington, George (1732-1799) to Henry Knox

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC02437.09406 Author/Creator: Washington, George (1732-1799) Place Written: Mount Vernon, Virginia Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 5 January 1785 Pagination: 5 p. : docket ; 30.7 x 18.7 cm.

Summary of Content: Complains of applications, letters of compliment, and enquiries which occupy his time and deprive him of exercise. Plans to hire someone to deal with the drudgery of this troublesome correspondence. Assures Knox that his letters are valued, as Washington enjoys corresponding with those he loves. Discusses the extended navigation of United States rivers, hoping that the legislatures will agree. Proposes to employ adventurers to first navigate the rivers, and later to impose tolls as river traffic increases, noting that the enterprise will not begin at the expense of the public. Expresses satisfaction at the rise of rents in Alexandria, and relates tentative plans to build another house for the purpose of letting. Notes the differences between building with stone versus oyster shell lime and asks Knox to inquire in the Boston area about terms with contractors to supply lime. Reports that the Marquis de Lafayette is well pleased with his reception in America. Send his and Martha's love to Henry and his wife Lucy, and congratulates the Knox family on the recent birth of another child.

Background Information: Signer of the U.S. Constitution.

Full Transcript: Mount Vernon 5th. Jan. 1785
My dear Sir,
About the beginning of last month I wrote you a pretty long letter, & soon after, received your favor of the 23d. of November. ...- It is not the letters from my friends which give me trouble - or adds ought to my perplexity. - I receive them with pleasure, and pay as much attention to them as my avocations will admit. - It is references of old matters with which I have nothing to do. - Applications, which oftentimes cannot be complied with. - Enquiries, which would employ the pen of a historian to satisfy. - Letters of compliment, as unmeaning perhaps as they are troublesome, but which must be attended to. - And the commonplace business, which employs my pen & my time; - often disagreeably - .
Indeed, these with company, deprive me of exercise, and unless I can obtain relief, may be productive of disagreeable consequences - I already begin to feel the effect. - Heavy, & painful oppressions of the head, and other disagreeable sensations, often trouble me. - I am determined therefore to employ some person who shall ease me of the drudgery of this business. - At any rate, if the whole of it is thereby suspended, I am resolved to use exercise. - My private concerns also, require infinitely more attention than I have given, or can give, under present circumstances. - They can no longer be neglected without involving my ruin.
This [2] This, my dear Sir, is a friendly communication - I give it in testimony of my unreservedness with you - & not for the purpose of discouraging your letters; - for be assured that to corrispond [sic] with those I love is among my highest gratifications, and I persuade myself you will not doubt my sincerity when I assure you, I place you among the foremost of this class. - Letters of friendship require no study, the communications are easy, and allowances are expected, & made. - This is not the case with those which require researches - consideration - recollection - and the de_l knows what to prevent error, and to answer the ends for which they are written. -
In my last I informed you that I was endeavouring to stimulate my Countrymen to the extension of [inserted: the] inland Navigation of our Rivers; and to the opening of the best and easiest communication for Land transportation between them and the Western Waters. - I am just returned from Annapolis to which place I was requested to go by our assembly (with my bosom friend Genl. G -tes, who being at Richmond contrived to edge himself into the Commission) for the purpose of arranging matters, and forming a Law which should be similar in both States, so far as it respected the River Potomack, which seperates them. - I met the most perfect accordance in that legislature; & the matter is now reported to ours, for its concurrence.. -
The two Assemblies (not being in Circumstances to undertake this business wholly [3] wholly at the public expence) propose to incorporate such private Adventurers as [shall] associate for the purpose of extending the navigation of the River from the tide water as far up as it will admit Craft of ten Tons burthen & to allow them a pertual toll & other emoluments to induce them to subscribe freely to a Work of such magnitude; whilst they have agreed (or, I should rather say, probably will agree, as the matter is not yet concluded in the Virginia Assembly) to open, at the public expence, the communication with the Western territory. - To do this [inserted: will] be a great political work - May be immensely extensive in a commercial point - and beyond all question, will be exceedingly beneficial for those who advance the money for the purpose of extending the Navigation of the river, as the tolls arising [therefrom] are to be held in perpetuity, & will encrease every year. -
Rents have got to such an amazing height in Alexandria, that (having an unimproved lot or two there) I have thoughts, if my finances will support me in the measure, of building a House, or Houses thereon for the purpose of letting. - In humble imitation of the wise man, I have set me down to count the cost; and among other heavy articles of expenditure, I find lime is not the smallest. - Stone lime with us, owing to the length of (Land) transportation comes very high at that place. - Shell lime, from its weakness, & the consequent quantity used, is far from being low. - These considerations added to a report that this article may [4] may be had from your State by way of Ballast, upon terms much easier than either can be bought here, inclines me without making an apology, to give you the trouble of enquiring from those who might be disposed to enter into a contract therefor, & can ascertain the fact with precision,
1st. - At what price by the Bushel, a quantity of slaked stone lime could be delivered at one of the Wharves at Alexandria (freight & every incidental charge included), or to a Lighter opposite to my own House.
2d - At what price burnt lime stone, but unslaked (if it be safe to bring such) could be delivered as above.
3d - At what price unburnt lime stone, could be delivered at the latter place
In the last case, it might I should suppose, come as Ballast very low. - In the second, it might also come as Ballast, and (tho' higher than the former, yet) comparatively, cheap, if the danger of Waters getting to it, and its slaking & heating in the Hold, would [inserted: not] be too great - In the first case, their would be no certainty of its goodness, because lime from the late Judicious experiments of a Mr. Higgens, should be used as soon as it slaked; and would be still better, if it was so, immediately after burning; as air as well as water, according to his observations, weakens & injures it. -Your information upon these points from those who might incline to Contract, and on when dependance could be placed, would much oblige [5] oblige me - and the sooner I get it the better, as my determination is suspended. -
Our amiable young friend the Marquis de la Fayette could not be otherwise than well pleased with his reception in America. - Every testimony of respect, affection & gratitude has been shewn him, wherever he went; - if his heart therefore has not been impressed with these [inserted: expressions] (which I am far from supposing) the political consequence which he will derive from them must bear them in [inserted: his] remembrance, & point to the advantages wch. must flow. -
You informed me that Mrs. Knox had got another - but left me to guess, boy or girl. - On the birth of either Mrs. Washington & I sincerely congratulate you both; & offer our best wishes for you all. - Hoping the good health which Mrs. Knox & the Children enjoyed at the time your letter was written, may be of long continuance. -
The report of my coming to Boston was without foundation - I do not at this time, know when, or whether ever, I may have it in my power to do this, altho' to see my compatriots in War, would be great gratification to my mind. -With every sentiment of esteem and friendship,
I am , My dear Sir,
Yr. most Obedt., & Affect. Ser
Go: Washington
General Knox.

from his Excell Genl Washington
5 Jany. 1785

No 25 -
See More

People: Knox, Henry, 1750-1806
Washington, George, 1732-1799
Lafayette, Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert Du Motier, marquis de, 1757-1834
Washington, Martha, 1731-1802
Knox, Lucy Flucker, 1756-1824
Lafayette, Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert Du Motier, marquis de, 1757-1834

Historical Era: The New Nation, 1783-1815

Subjects: Office SeekerPresidentGovernment and CivicsMount VernonFriendshipTravelTransportationCongressFrontiers and ExplorationFinanceInfrastructureBuilding ConstructionLandlord and TenantIndustryRevolutionary War GeneralFranceFirst Lady

Sub Era: Creating a New Government

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