Major H: Lee

Westmoreland Court house



Baltimore 4th Sept 1816



You will perceive by the foregoing, that Mr Lowell is much intent to the purchase of lands, but as to myself I think we could do just as well by leasing.

He calculates that only 14 full grown tree, i. e., averaging 48 inches circumference, can be found in an acre of land, that such a tree will yield 30 cubic feet, as, allowing 2 inches for the saw scarf 300 feet board measure, therefore 120 trees a day is required for the mill, to furnish not 30000 feet board measure, or the full produce of 10 acres of land reckonning,—only 200 working days in the year makes a total of 2000 acres for the year

He supposes that nothing worth mentioning can be cut for those 2000 acres, for 10 years to come, consequently, to work the mill constantly 20,000 acres should be required, but I am much inclined to believe that half that quantity, and, even less, would be sufficient for I should suppose, that a tree, of 4.5 inches, which we would deem too small to cut would grow in 3 years, to 48, and so on allowing one inche growth a year, however, we must try to have as much land as we can, but if we can secure 6000 acres, that will secure as work for three years, and trust to chance for the rest

I have ascertained that this steam saw mill of Mr [S___?], that he mention is a very profitable undertaking here, tho’ he is at $50 daily expenses for the mill and $75 for Purchase of Timber an aggregate of $12.5 a day, for on our calculation of 4000 feet of saw of a produce of 6000 feet of board,—which our Establishment on the scale laid down by Mr. Lowde, of 30 blacks, 6 whites, &c would not amount allowing near $8000 unforeseen charges to $60 a day, for 30,000 feet of board. So if Mr S[____?] profits by his mill, which engages as capital of near $50,000, we must without almost five times as much without almost every consideration paints it out, as the most desirable more to be pursued. Should it not be possible, to secure the most desirable lands by purchase; it will be proper to obtain a lease of them, for 20, or 30 years if possible, with the exclusive right to cut the timber for sawing, during that time—here the price for cutting only timber for sawing, which will be full grown, ought to be considerable less than for cutting indiscriminately.

Within 4 months, sawing may commence, alth’ the whole of the frames should not be compleated; within 6 Months the whole of the saws may be put in opperation.

The quantity of land requisite, to produce the quantity of timber estimated, for delivering from the Mill yearly 6,000,000 feet of lumber, board measure, must also be taken in view. Say, that an Acre of land, will afford every tenth year, twelve full grown Trees; this is as much as may reasonably be expected. Then to secure a constant supply of timber for the Mill, ten times as much land is necessary, as will supply the Mill for one year. A cubic foot of timber, allowing for the saw=scarfs, will produce about ten feet board Measure; then, the 30,000 feet of lumber produced every day, will require 3,000 feet of logs. Allowing each tree to produce 30 cubic feet, the number required for one day, will be 120 Trees, or, the full grown Tree’s of ten Acres. Allowing the Mill to work but 200 days in the year, this calls for 24,000 logs, or the produce of 2,000 Acres yearly.—from which, if ten years is calculated to bring forward the first cut lands, 20,000 Acres will be required for a Mill of the force here stated.

Should such a body of lands be found more than can be had, the force of the Mill, can be reduced, or turned to advantage some other way.

In taking a view of the price that might be allowed for the lean of such lands, provided they can not be purchased, and considering the little injury they would receive; anything about the legal interest, on the Amount of their present value, may be looked on as reasonable on both sides. From their comparative value, with lands of that kind on the Maryland side, say from $3 to $6 per Acre; from 300$ to $400 per 1000 Acres yearly rent, provided they promise to afford, 10 or 12 well grown tree’s per Acre. This price would answer our purpose well, but not knowing the views of the proprietors H. Aquitan Esq.

Being unacquainted with the value of pine lands on the Virginia side of the Potomac, I can not say what may be offered; but I should suppose, they are not of more value than those on the Maryland side, termed forrest lands, generally estimated from $3, to $6 per Acre.

In an establishment of this kind, there would be a great difference between the leaning, or purchasing the right to Cut the timber for a given time; or, the purchase in fee simple.

The principle value attached to the proposed establishment is, the securing a sufficient body of Woodland, will timber to ensure a certain supply for the Mill; this can not be said to be done by leave, besides, in a concern of the magnitude which this admits, every method, saving immediate, or alternate expense ought to be followed as near as circumstances will admit.

Take into view, the advantages that offer, without any risk, (for the lands will always, even without the aid of this invention, be worth full as much as they will cost) then let prudence determine, how far we may venture.

No Saw Mill, working a gang of Saws, has ever been known here; one reason perhaps is, that in the Low Country, where the timber is; no streams of water, with sufficient power can be had.

What may be understood by working a gang of saws, is, one frame with 8, 10, or 12 Saws for boards, or plank; one frame with 3 or 4 Saws for Joist, Scantling &c; and generally about 4 single frames, for Slabbing &c.

In a works of this kind, 15 saws at least would be employed; each Saw employed must deliver at a very moderate estimation 2,000 feet per Day, making in the whole 30,000 feet per Day. Altho’ there are more than 300 working days in a year, say, that the Mill is not actually employed more than 200 Days; the quantity of lumber that ought to be delivered, will be 6,000,000 of feet per year; this, at $20 per 1000 feet, is $120,000.

From this, deduct the expence of 30 Blacks, & 6 Whites, including 1 Manager, 1 Blacksmith, 1 Mechanic as overseer at the Mill, and 1 Overseer to direct the Cutters, Carters & Rafters, Horses, Oxen, & incidental expenses; the whole of which must be far short of $20,000 but say $20,000.

The reason why the expences are so small in proportion, on the proposed plan, is, that the Mills employed in the low Country, on a small scale, purchase their timber in rafts; Now what would it cost, to supply the timber to produce the above 6,000,000 of feet, purchased in rafts, at 125 Cents per 100 feet board Measure, the common price, it would amount to $88,750

Here it will be seen, that the Money expended for timber, will in 2 years purchase more woodlands, than is necessary to keep the Mill constantly employed, for ever; besides; a ballance of $31,250 per year, remaining for expenses, & profit.

At the end of 2 years what would a stack of this kind be worth. If the Steam Saw Mill of Mr Job Smiths in this place, can even be kept in opperation, working 2 Saws & occasionally 3, at a standg expense of $50 per Day, and purchasing the timber at 125 Cents per 100 feet board measure, what may be expected from the plan proposed, where 5 times as much lumber ought to be produced; where the expences would not be as much as Mr S; and where the timber ought not to stand in one fourth of what it is purchased at here.

As from the proposed mode of Working the Mill, any power required may be had, when sufficient reservoirs can be formed; there can then be no doubt but where there is power, more Machinery than is stated, can be kept in opperation; and if so, with proper Management, more than is contemplated here, ought to be performed.

In the direct purchase of lands, the establishment is made permanent. There can be no doubt, but lands thus situated must be more than double their present value, the moment this establishment is formed. If a Body of lands can be secured, sufficient for one tenth part, to furnish the Mill every year, with full growth timber; at the end of ten years, the first tenth part cut would be ready again, by which means the lands would not be destroyed, but always be sufficient for the purposes of the Mill. In a lease, these advantages are lost.

In regard to the extent of the purchase, provided the lands are well situated, well timbered, and contiguous to a good scite for the Mill; the greater the amount, the greater the advantage, provided they can be had on a reasonable Credit. As to the sale of the Lumber, there can be no doubt; the Mouth of the Potomac being equally convenient for the places on that River, as well as those above and below it on the Bay; also for Shipping to foreign Markets.

Admitting, that from any cause, or accident, the yearly produce, of Lumber, should fall short even one half of what is estimated tho’ it ought to exceed its stile, there will be a sufficient amount, to make large payments within two or three years.—

Therefore, if purchase’s of the lands can be made, or any mode adopted to secure to the concern the Ultimate fee simple of the Lands no sum can be stated.—

I Am Sir

Yo’ mo’ obedt

Th: Powell


Baltimore 29th Augt 1816


Source: The Archives of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation, Papers of the Lee Family, M2009.124


Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2016 August 18