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Lot 343

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George Washington Makes Loan to the Potomac Company

GEORGE WASHINGTON, Autograph Endorsement, ca. June 1798, on William Hartshorne, Autograph Letter Signed, to George Washington, May 30, 1798, Alexandria, Virginia. 2 pp., 7.75ʺ x 13.25ʺ. Expected folds; general toning, some staining on verso; very good. Also includes “The Presidents of our Great Republic” engraving with vignette of and early use of the term “The White House,” ca. 1861-1865, published by Charles Magnus, New York.

Complete Transcript
Alexandria 5th mo 30 98
General Washington
Respected Friend
I wish I had been at home when thou called yesterday – however I now enclose an obligation for the 6⅌ Ct Stock thou proposes Lending to the Poto Co and wish thou would examine the same. I intend to wait on thee tomorrow or the day after tomorrow in the afternoon (unless in the mean time I should be informed thy business will occasion thy coming here) when we can both sign it and finish the business.
I am with respect & regard
Thy Assured Friend
Wm Hartshorne

[docketing on verso in Washington’s hand:]
From the Treasurer of the Potomac Compy / 30th May 1798. / Enclosing Deed of Conveyance of 16 shares in said Company for the sum of $3,271 36/100 money lent

Historical Background
The members of the Potomac Company met in Georgetown on February 8, 1798, and decided to ask that stockholders transfer up to one hundred shares of stock in the company to its directors for two years, so that the directors could mortgage the stock to secure desperately needed funds. Washington agreed to transfer twenty of his shares to the company.

On March 4, Washington’s personal secretary and President of the Potomac Company Tobias Lear wrote to Washington, “I enclose a deed for the Potomac Shares which you subscribed for the use of the Potomac Company, which you will be so good as to execute whenever it may be convenient. The form of the Receipt to be given to those who convey their Shares is also enclosed, which will be given when the deed shall be delivered. It was thought best to have those shares conveyed to the President of the Company rather than to the Presidt & Directors—to facilitate the mortgage of them to those who may lend money or Stock thereon.”

Washington later decided to make an additional monetary loan to the Potomac Company. On May 28, 1798, Washington wrote to his broker Clement Biddle (1740-1814), “Enclosed you will receive my Power of Attorney to sell the sum of three thousand four hundred and ninety four dollars and thirty one cents, Six pr Cent stock of the United States, which stands in my name on the Books in Philadelphia, and also the certificate of sd Stock. This stock is loaned by me for the use of the Potomack Company, and in the application thereof you will be pleased to follow the advice of Mr William Hartshorne, of Alexandria, the Treasurer of that Company.”

Potomac Company (1785-1822) was created to make improvements in the Potomac River and improve its navigability for commerce. It was designed to link the East Coast with the Northwest territory of Ohio. The company built five canals around the major falls of the Potomac River, including the Patowmack Canal around the Great Falls, fourteen miles upstream from Washington, D.C. In 1784, George Washington urged the governments of Maryland and Virginia to cooperate to develop the Potomac River as a transportation route to the trans-Appalachian West. The Virginia General Assembly appointed Washington, Horatio Gates, and Thomas Blackburn as commissioners to seek Maryland’s agreement. The company was incorporated in Maryland in 1784 and in Virginia in 1785. It was the first project that connected different regions and required the cooperation of multiple state governments. Washington served as president of the company until 1789. In 1822, the company became part of the newly formed Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company.

William Hartshorne (1742-1816) was born in New Jersey into a Quaker family and became a merchant. He began a business in Antigua in 1761. He later formed a partnership in Alexandria, Virginia, with local merchant John Harper, and in the 1780s, Hartshorne started his own general store. He served as a member of the Alexandria town council in the 1780s and early 1790s. He was also active in the Quaker movement against slavery. Hartshorne served as treasurer of the Potomac Company from 1785 to 1800.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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