George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Deakins, Jr., and Benjamin Stoddert, 9 December 1790

From William Deakins, Jr., and Benjamin Stoddert

Geo. Town [McL] 9. Decr 1790


Immediately after we had the honor of seeing you on your way to Philadelphia, we sent up to Jacob Funk in Washington County for a particular state of the situation of the Lotts in Hamburg, and never ’till yesterday received his answer.1 We find there are 287 Lotts laid out upon 130 Acres of Land; and as far as we can Judge from the Book of Sales kept by Funk which he sent us, the whole of the Lotts are in the hands of about 150 Proprieters, principally Dutch men residing in Frederick & Washington Counties, and in Pennsylvania, who have heretofore held them in but little estimation; and we have reason to believe that the far greater part of them might now be purchased at little more than the original cost, which was five pounds each Lott; tho’ there can be no doubt, that if the Seat of Government should be fixed so as to comprehend these Lotts, a much higher value would be instantly set upon them. And on this account, we had once determined to commence an immediate purchase of them, meaning to accomodate the Public without any private advantage, but we were deterred from carrying this into effect, by the consideration, that if they should not be wanted by the Public, they would remain a considerable loss upon our hands.2 To leave nothing undone that we could consistently do, we are now making application to our Legislature through the Delegates from this County, for a Law to pass, condemning any Land that may be chosen for the Seat of Government, at the reasonable valuation of disinterested men, in cases where the Proprieters will not agree to the terms offered, and where they reside at a distance—And as like difficulties occur at almost every probable place on the River, we have no doubt such a Law will pass, and we imagine in the course of next Week, there being a disposition in the majority of both Houses to promote the residence on Patowmack.3 We have the honor to be with the highest respect and esteem sir yr most Obedt Servts

Will. Deakins Junr

Ben Stoddert


For an identification of William Deakins, Jr., see William Deakins, Jr., to GW, 3 Nov. 1790. Benjamin Stoddert (1751–1813) was born in Charles County, Md., and apprenticed to a merchant. He served as an officer with Pennsylvania troops in the Continental army and after the war established himself as a merchant in Georgetown, Maryland. As a partner in the firm of Forrest, Stoddert, & Murdock, Stoddert prospered and invested heavily in large tracts of land in what would become the District of Columbia. Together with his partner Uriah Forrest, he owned nearly 1,000 acres north of Georgetown. He was also a shareholder in the Potowmack Company. GW had been acquainted with Stoddert since at least the mid–1780s (see Stoddert to GW, 21 June 1785). Stoddert later served as first secretary of the navy in the Adams administration. GW apparently conferred with Deakins and Stoddert regarding the Hamburgh land on 22 Nov. 1790 as he made his way toward Philadelphia.

1Jacob Funk (c.1725–1794), a farmer and land speculator of German ancestry, was the proprietor of Jerusalem, or Funkstown, in Washington County, Md., just south of Hagerstown. Funk represented Frederick County in the Maryland legislature in 1773–75 and Washington County in 1785–88. In 1768 Funk laid out a town site called Hamburgh (sometimes Funkstown) on land he owned on the Potomac just below the mouth of Rock Creek in Prince Georges County, Maryland. In 1791 Funk removed to Jefferson County, Ky., where he remained for the rest of his life (Biographical Dictionary of the Maryland Legislature, description begins Edward C. Papenfuse et al., eds. A Biographical Dictionary of the Maryland Legislature, 1635–1789. 2 vols. Baltimore, 1979–85. description ends 1:334).

2The town site of Hamburgh was located on a roughly square tract of some 130 acres fronting on the Potomac just below Rock Creek, between present 18th and 24th streets and south of Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. Funk had acquired the land in 1765 and subdivided it into 287 lots, each with a frontage of about 100 feet and a depth of about 200 feet. Lots in the planned town were mostly purchased by Germans from western Maryland and Pennsylvania and by local investors, including some of the Georgetown area landowners with whom GW was negotiating. Among the signers of the Agreement of the Georgetown, Md., Property Owners, 13 Oct. 1790, James M. Lingan owned nine lots, business partners Uriah Forrest and Benjamin Stoddert owned eight, Robert Peter owned four, Anthony Holmead owned two, and Thomas Beall owned one. In 1784 a committee of Congress identified a tract of about 750 acres, including the Hamburgh site, as a suitable location for the federal seat, but this sign of congressional interest did little to stimulate development. By the end of 1790, only a few buildings had been erected on the site (Arnebeck, Through a Fiery Trial, description begins Bob Arnebeck. Through a Fiery Trial: Building Washington, 1790–1800. Lanham, Md., and London, 1991. description ends 29; Bowling, Creation of Washington, D.C, description begins Kenneth R. Bowling. The Creation of Washington, D.C.: The Idea and Location of the American Capital. Fairfax, Va., 1991. description ends 57–58, 112, 123).

3On 22 Dec. 1790 the Maryland legislature passed a law facilitating the condemnation of up to 130 acres of land on which the Federal City was to be established. The provision limiting the amount of land that could be condemned in this manner to 130 acres, the size of the Hamburgh tract, strongly suggests that the law was passed to facilitate the seizure of Hamburgh lots from owners who were absent or unwilling to sell (see GW to William Deakins, Jr., and Benjamin Stoddert, 17 Feb. 1791).

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