Establishment of the Harpers Ferry Armory

Jared Sparks, The Writings of George Washington. Vol. IX (Boston: Charles Tappan, Publishers, 1846), 69-70.

To Timothy Pickering, Secretary of War.

Mount Vernon, 16 September, 1795.


If, when this reaches your hands, there should be no contract or other obligation existing on behalf of the United States for the purchase of land on the Potomac, intended for the public arsenal, I should wish all further negotiation in this business to be suspended, until proper inquiries can be made and information obtained, respecting the property at the junction of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers in this State. It has been represented to me, that this spot affords every advantage that could be wished for water-works to any extent, and that no place is more capable of complete defence at small expense. I am also informed, that from either hundred to a thousand acres of land might be obtained there on reasonable terms. The land at the junction of the two rivers, including what is called Harper's Ferry, has lately been leased for seven years, and the lessee has the right of purchasing whenever it may be sold. Should this spot be fixed upon for the arsenal, the lessee will relinquish his title to the United States, reserving only a small piece of the land for the purpose of building stores and doing business. Six hundred acres of land adjoining this tract is, I am told, offered for sale by Colonel Bull for fifteen hundred pounds, Virginia money. Colonel Bull has a lease of this tract for seventy years at five pounds per hundred acres, and a number of years has been already paid in lease. The fee is in General Henry Lee, who, I have no doubt, will dispose of his right on very reasonable terms.

There is another small tract with a saw-mill upon it, adjoining the two foregoing, which I am told may be also purchased.

From my own knowledge, I can speak of the eligibleness of this situation for a public arsenal; but, as I have never examined it very attentively, I am not able to speak so decidedly as to the advantages of erecting works there. These, however, I am told, are equal at least to any on the Potomac or its branches, having the advantage of a considerable fall in both rivers, which may be brought to operate at this place. At any rate, if the thing is open, it may be well to have inquiry made and prices ascertained, before it becomes known that this spot is in view. I am, &c.

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