George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Thomas Jefferson, 1 February 1791

To Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday Evening [1 February 1791]

My dear Sir,

Nothing in the enclosed letter superceding the necessity of Mr Ellicots proceeding to the work in hand—I would thank you, for requesting him, to set out on thursday; or as soon after as he can make it convenient: also for preparing such instructions as you may conceive it necessary for me to give him for ascertaining the points we wish to know; first, for the general view of things—& next for the more accurate & final decision.1 Yrs sincerely & Affly

Go: Washington


For the background to this letter, see GW to Jefferson, 2 Jan. 1791, editorial note.

1The enclosure may have been Ellicott’s letter to GW of this date in regard to surveying the line specified by the treaty with the Creeks. At GW’s direction Jefferson wrote a letter instructing Ellicott “to proceed by the first stage to the Federal territory on the Potomac, for the purpose of making a survey of it. The first object will be to run the two first lines mentioned in the enclosed proclamation”—the lines from the courthouse in Alexandria believed (inaccurately) to terminate at Hunting Creek. “The termination of the Second line being accurately fixed, either on the creek or river,” Jefferson continued, “proceed to run from that as a beginning the four lines of experiment directed in the proclamation. This is intended as the first rough essay to furnish data for the last accurate survey. It is desirable that it be made with all dispatch possible and with only common exactness, paying regard however to the magnetic variations.” Jefferson further instructed Ellicott to prepare a plat of this rough survey noting the position of the mouth of the Eastern Branch and the intersection of a line drawn due southwest from the northern cape of the mouth of the Eastern Branch with the first line of experiment; this would fix the southern limit of the federal district if Congress should refuse to amend the Residence Act in accordance with GW’s proclamation of 24 Jan. 1791. See also GW to Jefferson, 2 Jan. 1791, editorial note. Ellicott was also instructed to note the relationship of the second line of experiment to the canal around Little Falls, as well as the position of Georgetown and the mouth of Goose Creek. In closing Jefferson noted that he would enclose a draft on the mayor of Georgetown to cover Ellicott’s expenses, but apparently after consulting with GW, Jefferson added a postscript that “The President writes by Post to Mr. Beall Mayor of Georgetown to furnish you with money for your expenses for which therefore you may apply to him without further order” (Jefferson to Ellicott, 2 Feb. 1791, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 19:68–70). GW wrote to Thomas Beall on 3 Feb. 1791: “In consequence of your letter of the 26th of January to Daniel Carroll Esquire informing him that the order of the President of the United States upon you, as Mayor of George Town, would be paid on sight, I have to request that you will answer the demands of Andrew Ellicot Esquire, within the sum of fifty guineas, as he may have occasion to make them without further advice from your most obedient Servant” (LB, DLC:GW).

Ellicott apparently left Philadelphia on 3 Feb. 1791 (see George Gilpin to GW, 28 Jan. 1791) and arrived in Alexandria on on 7 or 8 Feb. 1791, but cloudy weather prevented him from making meridional observations to fix the latitude of Alexandria, the calculation that formed the basis of the survey, until 11 Feb. 1791. By 14 Feb. 1791, when he wrote a letter to Jefferson, Ellicott had made this observation and completed his survey of the “first object”—the point on Hunting Creek where the survey of the ten-mile square was to begin—and had discovered the innaccuracy in the courses described in GW’s proclamation of 24 Jan. 1791 (Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 19:70–71). This inaccuracy had been previously reported to GW by George Gilpin and William Hunter in their letters of 28 Jan. 1791, but these letters were apparently delivered to GW after Ellicott left Philadelphia. Ellicott began the preliminary survey of the district lines beginning at Jones Point on 14 Feb. 1791. On 23 Feb. 1791 the Georgetown Times, and Patowmack Packet reported that he had completed the preliminary survey of the first line (running northwest from Jones Point) and had crossed the Potomac below Little Falls on the second line (quoted in Davis’s Virginia Gazette [Richmond], 9 Mar. 1791; no extant copy of the Georgetown Times, and Patowmack Packet for 23 Feb. 1791 has been found). Ellicott completed the preliminary survey in time to present a plat to GW when he arrived in Georgetown on 28 Mar. 1791 (see Agreement of the Proprietors of the Federal District, 30 Mar. 1791).

Ellicott was unimpressed by what he regarded as the poverty of the northern Virginia countryside through which the line ran. Writing from his surveyor’s camp on the district line in Virginia, he commented to his wife that “As the President is so much attached to this country, I would not be willing that he should know my real sentiments about it. . . . This country intended for the Permanent Residence of Congress, bears no more proportion to the Country about Philadelphia, and German-Town, for either wealth or fertility, than a Crane does to a stall-fed Ox!” (Ellicott to Sarah Ellicott, 26 June 1791, in Mathews, Andrew Ellicott, description begins Catharine Van Cortlandt Mathews. Andrew Ellicott: His Life and Letters. New York, 1908. description ends 88–89).

Index Entries