George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Thomas Jefferson, 16 March 1791

To Thomas Jefferson

[Philadelphia, 16 March 1791]

My dear Sir,

Enclosed is the last letter I have received from Messrs Deakins & Stoddart.1 What step had I best take to bring matters to a close with Burn’s, and by declaring at once the Site of the public buildings, prevent some inconvenience which I see may arise from the opinions promulgated by Mr L’Enfont? as much probably from complaisance as judgment.2 Yrs

Go: Washington

ALS, DLC: Thomas Jefferson Papers.

1The enclosure was probably Deakins and Stoddert to GW, 11 Mar. 1791. This letter, referred to in GW to Deakins and Stoddert, 17 Mar. 1791, has not been found. In their letter of 11 Mar. 1791, Deakins and Stoddert apparently informed GW that shortly after L’Enfant’s arrival in Georgetown on 9 Mar. 1791, he had made public statements about the land adjacent to Georgetown that would hamper their efforts to acquire the property on favorable terms, as GW had requested them to do in his letter of 3 Feb. 1791. On 18 Mar. 1791 the Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser reported, under a Georgetown, 12 Mar. 1791, dateline, that L’Enfant had been “employed by the President of the United States to survey the lands contiguous to George-Town, where the Federal City is to be built. . . . He is earnest in the business, and hopes to lay a plat of that parcel of land before the President, on his arrival in this town.” The apparent indiscretion of L’Enfant defeated GW’s purpose in directing him to begin his survey on the Eastern Branch, which was to raise concerns among the Georgetown area landowners that the Federal City might not be located on their land after all. Jefferson drafted GW’s reply to Deakins and Stoddert (see GW to Deakins and Stoddert, 17 Mar. 1791).

2On negotiations with David Burnes, see GW to Deakins and Stoddert, 28 Feb. 1791. On 16 Mar. 1791 Jefferson received a letter from L’Enfant from Georgetown, dated 11 Mar. 1791. In it L’Enfant reported on the progress of his initial survey of the prospective site of the Federal City, which had been hampered by inclement weather. The report confirmed that L’Enfant had not restricted his early efforts to the Eastern Branch, as GW intended, but had already made a general survey of all of the ground between Georgetown and the Eastern Branch. Despite the expectations his activities seem to have raised about the fixing of the principal federal buildings near Georgetown, L’Enfant praised the area between the Eastern Branch and Goose Creek as “a situation most advantageous to run streets and prolong them on grand and far distant point of view.” The land between Goose Creek and Rock Creek, which GW and Jefferson seem to have had in mind for the principal federal buildings, L’Enfant dismissed as “more broken” and “less commendable for the establessement of a city” (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 20:76–78). Jefferson apparently drafted a reply to this letter on 16 Mar. 1791 and conferred with GW about the Federal City on the morning of 17 Mar. (see GW to Thomas Jefferson, 17 Mar. 1791).

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