[Document Signed by George Washington as President of the Potomac Company, Authorizing Payments to Return Escaped Slaves]

Alexandria, Va. November 1, 1787. 8.75 x 6.75 inches, framed to 25 x 17 inches. Old fold lines, very light spotting, signatures slightly faded. Very good. Item #4959

A fascinating and rare signed manuscript document that links George Washington to the use of slave labor in the construction projects of the Potomac Company and the retrieval of enslaved people attempting to escape captivity. In the present manuscript document, dated October 1787, Washington adds his signature as president of the Potomac Company to a list of expenses for the return of Hugh Taylor, a fugitive slave, from Alexandria upriver to Great Falls.

After the Revolutionary War, George Washington and various Virginia and Maryland-based politicians believed that making the Potomac River navigable would facilitate trade between the East and West and strengthen the Union. With this aim in mind, Washington and others founded the Potomac Company in 1785, and Washington was named president of the Company. The Company’s progress was slow, as it suffered from labor shortages and financial difficulties. In 1789, Washington was elected president of the United States and stepped away from the Potomac Company, with future Supreme Court Justice Thomas Johnson taking his place. The company ceased operations in 1828 after it gave its charter rights to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company. The Potomac Company stands as one of the first major early infrastructure projects in the U.S, and an important predecessor to canal systems, wagon road turnpikes, railroad systems, and other ambitious inland transportation ventures. 

In order to make the Potomac navigable, the Potomac Company sought cheap labor to clear rocks and debris and construct locks. “During the life of the [Company], workers included a mixture of hired hands, indentured servants, and enslaved people. The work was dangerous and many of the men were inexperienced in the use of explosives; several were injured and some died. Often workers' rations and their acquisition of basic equipment were delayed because contracts were not fulfilled” -- Mount Vernon (online).  In April 1787, Washington, Gilpin, and Fitzgerald approved a payment, docketed for “expenses after runaways” (i.e. enslaved people), which included “The bringing of Corn McCarthy & Hugh Taylor from the town of Alexandria to the Great Falls.” This document, which concerns the same Hugh Taylor, is transcribed as follows: 

“October 26, 1787. / the Potomok Companay. / To Jacob Moore. / to taken Hugh Taler £3.0.0. / to fining of him five weeks provisens} 2 0 0 / to his passgs from Norfolk to Alexandra} 1 8 0 / £6 - 8 0.” In another hand: “Alexandria October 27th 1787. Received Six pounds Eight Shillings for amt of the above acct.” signed “Jacob Moore.” Perpendicular to this bill and receipt is docketed in unknown hand “Jacob Moore / for taking up H. Taylor / £6.8 pd Octr. 27th 1787.” And “Pass’d Novemr. 1st 1787” below which Washington, Gilpin, and Fitzgerald signed. Potomac Company co-directors John Fitzgerald (1740-1799) and George Gilpin (1740-1813) were both wartime aids for Washington during the Revolutionary War. Fitzgerald was elected president of the Potomac Company in 1793 and held the position for three years. Gilpin was one of George Washington’s pallbearers.  Material firmly associating Washington with the institution of slavery and its practices is quite rare on the market.

Price: $30,000.00