George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Jacob Welsh, 17 November 1791

From Jacob Welsh

[Philadelphia] Nov. 17. 1791.


Living in a part of the united States abounding in people, I beg leave to propose to engage 50 or 100 sober, industrious young men in new England, artists in the several branches and employments necessary, in the new City on Powtomac, to go on by water early in the spring and be engaged for a year under the direction of Majr Le’Enfant.1

I offer my service as Superintendant of the men so to be engaged—with them to be under the same direction—One Idea further is suggested the propriety of having a person with Mr L’Enfant who can comprehend his plans, assist his views, and capable to continue his Ideas should he by any casuality be removed.

Sir—if these ideas meet your aprobation any comands in relation to the business will be immediately obey’d.2 I have the honor to be with every sentiment of esteem, Sir, Your respectful fellow citizen and Obedient humble Servant,

Jacob Welsh

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

Jacob Welsh (1755–1822) of Lunenburg, Mass., was the son of Boston merchant John Welsh. He attended Dummer Academy in Byfield, Mass., and graduated from Harvard College in 1774 before serving as an ensign and second lieutenant at Fort Ticonderoga in 1776 and as an artillery officer in the Continental army from 1777 until his resignation in November 1778. Welsh then traveled to Europe and smuggled a carding and spinning machine out of England, unsuccessfully petitioning the state legislature in June 1786 for a patent on its exclusive use to compensate for his risk and trouble (see Journal of the Honourable House of Representatives [of Massachusetts], 31 May 1786–3 May 1787, M-Ar, 57) .In 1791 he requested Fisher Ames to present a similar petition to Congress. Lunenburg minister Rev. Zabdiel Adams asked his cousin John Adams on 4 Oct. 1791 to introduce Welsh, “a gentleman of good morals,” to “the knowledge of the supreme authority of these States, so that upon the first opening of a sutable birth,” preferably in Massachusetts, “he may have such an appointment under Congress, as will put him into reputable employment, & procure him the means of comfortable subsistence: for at present, by a series of misfortunes, he is very far from being opulent, & besides has an increasing family” (MHi: Adams Papers; see also Candidates for Army Appointments from Massachusetts, 9–28 Dec. 1798, in Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 22:320–39). Welsh attended the first sale of lots in the Federal City on 17–19 Oct. and purchased five lots on behalf of Samuel Blodget, Jr. (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Proceedings, 1791–1802). Welsh seems not to have settled in the new Federal City or shortly returned to Lunenburg, which he represented in the General Court of Massachusetts in 1795 and 1800 (see Commissioners of the Federal District to Thomas Jefferson, 10 Dec. 1791, Thomas Johnson to Jefferson, 29 Feb. 1792, 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 , 22:388–89, 23:164–67; GW to Jefferson, 15 Feb. 1792). By October 1809 Welsh had moved to Shirley, Mass., and the following year he settled in Geauga County, Ohio, where his father had purchased 3,000 acres from the Connecticut Land Company in 1798.

1It is unclear whether or how Welsh’s proposal to bring a party of workmen to the Federal City was connected with Samuel Blodget, Jr.’s ambitious proposal to develop a street there. For Blodget’s involvement in the Federal City, see Commissioners for the District of Columbia to GW, 25 Nov., n.5. On 14 Feb. 1792 Welsh presented GW with a memorial (not found) that apparently included proposals for constructing the aqueducts and canals of Pierre L’Enfant’s plan and the leveling of streets in the city. On 29 Feb. 1792 Thomas Johnson reported to Thomas Jefferson that he had received a letter from Welsh on this subject and described it as a scheme seeming “to refer . . . closely to Majr. L’Enfant’s Ideas on Works of Ornament.” Johnson noted that Welsh’s plan was predicated on a loan of $1 million (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 , 23:164–67), which was the figure L’Enfant had previously proposed to GW (see L’Enfant to GW, 17 Jan. 1792). Welsh most likely developed this proposal in cooperation with L’Enfant in Philadelphia in the first weeks of 1792, but L’Enfant’s dismissal at the end of February made Welsh’s proposals irrelevant.

2No reply to this or any of Welsh’s letters has been found. Welsh apparently sent this letter to Tobias Lear on this date, writing: “When I was yesterday presented to the President by the president of the Senate I had some communications to make but could find no Opportunity amidst the crouded Visitors of the hour—if this Method is not improper I beg you to present the enclosed, and to be so Kind as to inform of its reception as soon as your convenience will admit. I wait only for the result to determine my journey for Georgetown. . . . I have been at the City & am decided to remove there with my family as soon as can make it convenient” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

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