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Potomac Navigation Company records

 Collection — Shelf: 122.H.5
Identifier: RM-1196

Scope and Contents

This collection is comprised of three different types of documents: various accounts from individuals who have worked for the Potomac Navigation Company; lists of all the men employed by the company which details the amount of work that was done; and receipts and invoices.


  • 1785-1786

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research during scheduled appointments. Researchers must complete the Washington Library’s Special Collections and Archives Registration Form before access is provided. The library reserves the right to restrict access to certain items for preservation purposes.

Biographical / Historical

The Potomac Navigation Company was a cooperative project between Maryland and Virginia to expand the Potomac River and establish navigable waterways that would further develop commercial trade. Established in 1785, George Washington was the first major investor as well as the first president of the company. And along with Thomas Johnson, Thomas Sim Lee, George Gilpin, and John Fitzgerald, he was appointed director of the company. The Potomac Navigation Company employed James Rumsey, inventor of the steamboat, to manage the mechanics of building the canals, Richardson Stewart as his assistant, and William Hartshorn as the treasurer. They supervised hundreds of laborers, indentured servants, and slaves to build five canals surrounding major waterfalls in the area: House’s, Shenandoah, Seneca, Little Falls and Great Falls.

Although supported by both the Virginia and Maryland Assemblies, the company was constantly plagued with difficulties and struggled to sell shares to interested buyers. Water levels prevented boats from reaching their destinations, the company had difficulty securing loans, and the locks were in a constant state of repair; despite these hardships, by 1802 they had created 220 miles of navigable waterways between the Savage River and Washington, D.C. By the 1820s, a proposal was passed to build a canal that would travel from Washington, D.C. and to the Ohio River; thus transforming the Potomac Navigation Company to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company.


.5 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



This collection is organized into three series: Accounts, Lists of Workmen, and Receipts. Within each of these series, the collection is in date order. The Lists of Workmen is further defined by region: Seneca Falls, Shanandoah Falls, and Great Falls, all of which are in date order.

Related Materials

The following manuscripts, reproduction files, and books relate to the formation or business of the Potomac Navigation Company.


  1. Bill, Washer Blunt to Potomac Comp[any], 1786 March 20
  2. Letter, Mount Vernon to Judge Michael Jenifer Stone, Charles County, Maryland, 1785 June 15
  3. Letter, Blenhiem to George Washington, 1785 July 10
  4. List of Workmen employed at the Shanandoah Falls from the 4th of August to the 26th of September 1787
  5. List of Workmen at Great Falls 1787 April 11- May 12
  6. Letter, Philadelphia, to Tobias Lear, 1794 December 12
  7. Letter, Philadelphia to Tobias Lear, 1794 December 22
  8. Drawing of an invention for raising and lowering boats over the Great Falls of the Potomac to avoid the construction of locks
  9. Letter, Germantown to William Pearce, 1794 August 17
  10. Letter, Philadelphia to Tobias Lear, 1795 December 26
  11. Letter, Philadelphia to [Tobias Lear], 1795 February 18
  12. Newspaper Article, George Washington’s arrival in Georgetown for a meeting with fellow business associates of the “Potowmack Co.”
  13. Newspaper Article, George Washington’s arrival in Georgetown for a meeting with fellow business associates of the “Potowmack Co.”
  14. Book of Sales and Mount Vernon Property, 1800-1803
  15. Letter, George Town to George Corbin Washington, 1828 May 7
  16. Certificate to Fielding Lewis, 1828 June 3
  17. Bond, George C. Washington and [] to John A. Washington and Bushrod C. Washington (executors of Bushrod Washington, deceased) 1832
  18. Bond, George C. Washington (trustee of Bush. Washington Jr.’s children) and [] to John A. Washington and Bushrod C. Washington (executors of Bushrod Washington deceased), 1832

Reproduction Files:

  1. Broadside, Potomac Company, 4 February 1762
  2. Letter, Mount Vernon to Colonel John Fitzgerald, 26 November 1785
  3. Account, James Rumsey to Archibald Reynolds, 16 July 1785
  4. Letter, Mount Vernon to Colonel Jno. Auge. Washington, 1 October 1786
  5. Letter, Philadelphia to [George Augustine Washington], 12 August 1787
  6. Receipt, Jesse [Lun] Jun. and Jacob Snither to William Hartshorne and Co., 25 June 1787
  7. Letter, Tobias Lear, 14 December 1794
  8. Letter, Mount Vernon to Mr. Archd. McLean, 6 August 1798
  9. Draft, Bushrod Washington to Lawrence Lewis, 6 August 1825
  10. An act to enable Lawrence Lewis to move stock to the Potomac Co., 21 March 1832


  1. Achenbach, Joel, The Grand Idea: George Washington’s Potomac and the Race to the West, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004. Call No. F187 .P8 A23 2004
  2. Bacon-Foster, Corra, Early Chapters in the Development of the Patomac Route to the West, Washington: Columbia Historical Society, 1912 Call No: F187. P8 B13
  3. Bicentennial Notes on George Washington by the Michigan State Commission for the George Washington Bicentennial, 193, No. 5- Washington and the Critical Period, 1783-1789 by Evertt Somerville Brown Call No: E312.15 .M54 1931
  4. Durham, C.J.S., Washington’s Potowmack Canal Project at Great Falls: A Great Falls Park and Nature Reserve: A Proposal for the Preservation of a Natural Area and the Restoration of a Historic Site as a lasting Monument to George Washington at the Great Falls of the Potomac in Virginia, Nature Conservancy, 1957 Call No: P187. M7 D8 1957
  5. Hahn, Thomas F. and Joseph R. Prentice, George Washington’s Canal at Great Falls Virginia, Shepardstown, WV: American Canal and Transportation Center, 1976 Call No: F232. P8 H2 1976
  6. Howlett, Lynn Doney, The Potowmack Canal: From Canal to Consitution, McLean, VA: The Virginia Canals and Navigation Society. Call No: F187. P8
  7. Hyde, Arnout and Ken Sullivan, The Potomac: A Nation’s River, Charleston, WV: Cannon Graphics, 1994 Call No: F187 .P8 H92 1992
  8. Kapsch, Robert J., The Potomac Canal: George Washington and the Waterway West, Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Press, 2007. Call No: F187. P8 K23 2007
  9. Martin, Oliver, The Chesapeake and Potomac Country, The Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company, 1928 Call No: F187 .C5 M4
  10. Metcalf, Paul, Waters of the Potowmack, Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1982.
  11. Pickell, John, A New Chapter in the early life of George Washington, in connection with the narrative history of the Potomac Company, New York: D. Appleton, 1856 Call No: E312.29 .P59
  12. Potomac American Reflections [audiovisual], Robert Cole Films, 1992 Call No: F187 .P8 P68 1992
  13. Stanford, Homer Reed, The Historic Potomac— Beginning with 1740, Newcomen Society of England, American Branch, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1940 Call No: F187. P8 S7 1940
  14. Tilp, Frederick, This was Potomac River, Alexandria, VA: Frederick Tilp, 1978 Call No. F187 .P8 T54
Potomac Navigation Company records
Kaitlyn Tanis, Library Intern
July 2015
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections at The George Washington Presidential Library at Mount Vernon Repository

PO Box 3600
Mount Vernon VA 22121