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if the matter is delayed, have settlers upon it, an intermixture with whom might not be agreeable.
The number of families, which these tracts aggregately, or each one separately, would accommodate, depends more upon the views of the occupiers, than on any other circumstance. The soil is capable of the greatest production, such as Europeans have little idea of. For mere support, then, the smallest quantity would suffice; which I mention in this place, because a plan for the settlement of them, under the information here given of the quantity, quality, and situation, can be as well digested in Europe, as on the land itself, so far as it respects support only; and is to be preferred to a waste of time in ascertaining on the spot the number it would receive, and what each man shall have before the association is formed.
I will make no apology, my good Sir, for the length of this letter, presuming from your inquiries, when I had the pleasure of seeing you last in Philadelphia, that you would not be displeased at the information I now give you, and might have a wish to communicate it to others. My best wishes attend you. With sentiments of great esteem and respect, I am, Reverend Sir, &c.
TO HUGH WILLIAMSON, IN CONGRESS.
Mount Vernon, 31 March, 1784. Dear Sir, The last post brought me your favor of the 24th. The sentiments I shall deliver in answer to it must be considered as coming from an individual only, for I am as unacquainted with the opinions, and know as little of the affairs and present management of the Swamp Company in Virginia (though a member of it) as you do, perhaps less, as I have received nothing from thence, nor have heard any thing of my interest therein for more than nine years. *
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.
* In January, 1764, a company was formed, and chartered by the legislature of Virginia, for the purpose of draining and rendering fit for cultivation the Great Dismal Swamp, which lies between Norfolk and Albemarle Sound. Washington was one of the company. In October, 1763, he penetrated the swamp, and examined it in various parts.
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.
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
* A small lake or pond, near the centre of the Great Dismal Swamp.
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.
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.
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.
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 necessary or unprofitable undertaking, A more extended plan would be too heavy for my purse.
I agree in sentiment with you, that, whenever the public is dis
Subsequent measurements proved this opinion to be erroneous. The pond is said to be about twenty feet higher than the margin of the swamp. The canal, which has been greatly enlarged since the above was written, runs quite through the swamp, being twenty-one miles in length, and having seven locks. It passes within three miles of Lake Drummond, and is fed by a small canal connecting it with that lake.
posed to reimburse principal and interest to the corporation, and will
open 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.
In other respects, my opinion differs not from yours, or the propositions you enclosed to, Sir, your most obedient, &c.
TO WILLIAM GRAYSON, IN CONGRESS.
Mount Vernon, 25 April, 1785. Dear Sir, I will not let your favor of the 15th go unacknowledged, though it is not in my power to give it the consideration I wish, to comply with the request you have made ; being upon the eve of a journey to Richmond to a meeting of the Dismal Swamp Company, which by my own appointment is to take place on Monday next; and into that part of the country I am hurried by an express, which has just arrived with the account of the death of the mother and brother of Mrs. Washington.
To be candid, I have had scarce time to give the report of the committee, which you did me the honor to send me, a reading, much less to consider the force and tendency of it. If experience has proved, that the most advantageous way of disposing of land is by whole townships, there is no arguing against facts; therefore, if I had time, I should say nothing on that head; but, from the cursory reading I have given it, it strikes me, that, by suffering each State to dispose of a proportionate part of the whole in the State, there may be State-jobbing; in other words, that the citizens of each State may be favored at the expense of the Union; whilst a reference of these matters to them has, in my opinion, a tendency to set up separate interests, and to promote the independence of individual States upon the downfall of the federal government, which is already too feeble, and much too tottering to be supported
It is scarcely to be imagined, that any man or society of men, who may incline to possess a township, would make the purchase without viewing the lands in person, or by an agent. Wherein then lies the great advantage of having the sale in each State, and by State officers ? From a parity of reasoning, there should be different places in each State for the accommodation of its citi
Would not all the ostensible purposes be fully answered by suflicient promulgation in each State of the time and place of sale, to be held at the nearest convenient place to the land, or at the seat of Congress ? Is it not highly probable, that those, who may incline to emigrate, or their agents, would attend at such time and place? And, there being no fixed prices to the land, would not the high or low sale of it depend upon the number of purchasers, and the competition occasioned thereby; and are not these likely to be greater at one time and place than at thirteen? One place might draw the world to it, if proper notice be given; but foreigners would scarcely know what to do with thirteen, to which to go, or when.
These are first thoughts, perhaps incongruous ones, and such as I might myself reprobate upon more mature consideration. At present, however, I am impressed with them; and (under the rose) a penetrating eye and close observation will discover through various disguises a disinclination to add new States to the confederation westward of us, which must be the inevitable consequence of emigration to, and the population of, that territory; and as to restraining the citizens of the Atlantic States from transplanting themselves to that soil, when prompted thereto by interest or inclination, you might as well attempt (while our governments are free) to prevent the reflux of the tide, when you had got it into your rivers. As the report of the committee goes into the minutiæ, it is not minute enough, if I read it aright. It provides for the irregular lines, and parts of townships, occasioned by the interference of the Indian boundaries, but not for interference with Lake Erie, the western boundary of Pennsylvania (if it is governed by the meanders of the Delaware), or the Ohio River, which separates the ceded lands from Virginia ; all of which involve the same consequences.
I thank you for the sentiments and information given me in your letter of the 10th of March, respecting the Potomac navigation. The present determination is, to hold the shares, which this State has been pleased to present to me, in trust for the use and benefit of it. This will subserve the plan, increase the public revenue, and not interfere with that line of conduct I had prescribed to myself. I am, &c.