WASHINGTON, George, President. Autograph endorsement and signature ("Go:Washington"), countersigned by Cols. George Gilpin and John Fitzgerald of the Potomac Company. n.p., 5 August 1786. 1 page, a slightly irregular oblong (95 x 212 mm. approximately), a few minor smudges, otherwise fine.
THE RETURN OF "RUN-AWAY SERVANTS" EMPLOYED ON THE POTOMAC CANAL
A receipt covering payment for the costs of pursuing and recapturing an unspecified number of "run-away servants," who were most likely white indentured servants engaged in the construction of the Potomac Canal, a project which Washington enthusiastically backed. He, Gilpin and Fitzgerald were associated with the Company. The receipt, written and signed by Daniel Neale, reads: "Received of James Ru(a?)msey Six Shillings for going with Michel Bowman twelve miles in pursuit of Run-away Servants June 9th 1786 Daniel Neale." On the verso, at the top of the sheet Washington has written "Allowed this 5 Aug. 1786. G:o Washington." Beneath are the counter-endorsements of George Gilpin and John Fitzgerald, plus James Ramsey's signed endorsement "Rec./sd the Contents."
Work on the Potomac Canal, a project of which Washington was a fervant supporter, involved extensive excavations and the construction of locks; most of those engaged on the work were indentured servants, some skilled in various trades. In a letter of 5 June 1786, Washington had informed Fitzgerald, one of the supervisors, that "whatever number of Servants you and Col. Gilpin may think it advisable to purchase in behalf of the Potomac Company from the Ship which has gone up [the Potomac] shall meet with my approbation; and I shall readily concur with you in price. There is a Black-smith on board highly recommended, and one or two stone masons which may be useful at our works..." (Fitzpatrick 28:453-454). Indentured servants, bound for a given number of years, sometimes in exchange for passage to America, were "purchased" from the ship's owners; attempts to escape once landed were quite common. The previous September, Washington had also discussed the possibility of hiring free negroes by the year (Fitzpatrick 28:260), reflecting the urgency of the Potomac project.