George Washington Papers

From George Washington to William Deakins, Jr., and Benjamin Stoddert, 17 February 1791

To William Deakins, Jr., and Benjamin Stoddert

⟨Philadelphia the 17th Feby 1791⟩


I have recieved your favors of the 9th & 11th ⟨instant,⟩ & shall be glad if the purchase from ⟨Burns⟩ should be concluded before you receive this at £15 or £⟨17⟩ as you ⟨illegible.⟩ but as you mention that should he ask as far as £20 or £25 you will await further instructions before you accept such an offer: I have thought it better, in order to prevent delays, to inform you, that I could wish his lands to be purchased even at those prices, rather than not obtain them.1

The Maryland assembly has authorized a certain number of acres to be taken without the consent of the owners, or making compensation as therein provided. this will be principally useful as to the old lots of Hamburg.2 however by purchasing up these ⟨lots,⟩ or as many as we can, we shall be free to take on the terms of the act⟨,⟩ so much of any other lands in our way, & consequently those whose proprietors refuse all arrangement. I will therefore beg the favour of you to take measures immediately for buying up all the lots you can in Hamburg on the lowest terms you can not exceeding the rate of twenty five pounds the acre.3 I leave it to yourselves to dispatch a private agent for this purpose to treat with the proprietors wherever to be found, or to do it by any other means which in your discretion shall appear not too expensive, & which may not excite suspicions of their being on behalf of the public. I am with great esteem, Gentlemen, your most obedt humble servt

Copy, in Thomas Jefferson’s hand, DLC:GW.

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

1No letters from Deakins and Stoddert dated 9 or 11 Feb. 1791 have been found. These letters probably included reports from Deakins and Stoddert on their efforts to purchase land for the Federal City as requested by GW in his letter to Deakins and Stoddert of 3 Feb. 1791. Robert Peter (c.1726–1806), on whose land it was rumored the capitol would be located, owned a considerable amount of property along Rock Creek adjacent to Georgetown. Peter was born in Scotland and emigrated to Maryland as a young man, settling in Georgetown in 1752. He established himself as a tobacco merchant and amassed a considerable fortune (Ecker, Old George Town, description begins Grace Dunlop Ecker. A Portrait of Old George Town. Richmond, Va., 1951. description ends 14). In 1795 his son Thomas (1769–1834) married Martha Parke Custis, Martha Washington’s granddaughter. The efforts of Deakins and Stoddert to acquire Peter’s property by purchase proved unsuccessful. Peter joined other proprietors of land in the federal district in signing an agreement to cede property to the federal government in return for just compensation (see Agreement of the Proprietors of the Federal District, 30 Mar. 1791).

2On 22 Dec. 1790 the Maryland legislature passed a law allowing the condemnation of up to 130 acres of land on which the Federal City was to be established, in order to facilitate the seizure of Hamburgh lots from owners who were absent or unwilling to sell (see John Eager Howard to GW, 22 Jan. 1791; see also Deakins and Stoddert to GW, 9 Dec. 1790).

3Deakins and Stoddert obtained an agreement from Hamburgh proprietors living in Washington County, Md., to convey their land to the federal government (see GW to Deakins and Stoddert, 17 Mar. 1791). They also conferred with Hamburgh property owners in the Georgetown area. In a document dated 21 Feb. 1791, a group of nineteen Hamburgh proprietors, owning forty-eight lots among them, agreed to convey their Hamburgh lots to the federal government in return for reasonable compensation. The signers were mostly Georgetown merchants and property owners; the group included James Lingan, Uriah Forrest, Benjamin Stoddert, Robert Peter, Thomas Beall, and Anthony Holmead. The main text of the agreement is in Benjamin Stoddert’s hand; some of the signatures were witnessed by Stoddert and others by Deakins (Agreement of the Proprietors of Hamburgh, 21 Feb. 1791, DNA: RG 42, General Records, 1791–1931, Deeds and Other Records Relating to Property of the Original Proprietors . . . ). This document apparently was prepared to render condemnation proceedings unnecessary. Stoddert noted at the bottom of the page that he and Forrest jointly owned eight lots, “two of which are improved, the value of the improvements must be paid. & may be ascertained by any person apppointed by the President.” Deakins and Stoddert separately purchased several lots from Hamburgh proprietors after this date, but they did not acquire a substantial number. The Hamburgh lots ultimately were neither condemned nor purchased by the commissioners; in 1793–94 owners of lots in Hamburgh and Carrollsburgh were assigned comparable lots in the Federal City (see Assignment of Lots in the Federal City for Lots in Carrollsburgh and Hamburgh, 26 June 1794, DNA: RG 42, General Records, 1791–1931, Deeds and Other Records Relating to Property of the Original Proprietors . . . ).

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