George Washington Papers

To George Washington from the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, 25 November 1791

From the Commissioners for the District of Columbia

[Georgetown, Md.] Novr 25th 1791


We are sorry to be under the disagreeable necessity of mentioning to you an Occurance which must wound your feelings. On our meeting here to day, we were to our great astonishment informed that, Majr L’Enfant, without any Authority from us, & without even having submitted the matter to our consideration, had proceeded to demolish, Mr Carroll’s house,1 Mr Carroll who had received some letters, from the Majr on the subject, fearing the consequences obtained an injunction from the Chancellor, for him to desist: With a summons to Majr L’Enfant to attend the Court of Chancery in December, to receive his decision on the subject, but before his return the houses was in part demolished. Tho’ this circumstance is sufficiently unfortunate of itself its is particularly so with respect to the time at which it had happened—We had just sent up a memorial to the Assembly, on several subjects which we had deemed of importance to the Federal City2—We therefore fear it may produce unfavourable impressions in the members respecting the several matters prayed for, Tho’ we have taken every step in our power to prevent it—As soon as we met we issued directions to Majr L’Enfant and the persons acting under him in his absence, to disist till he received our instructions which might have obtained, what was proper in the Case, without any disagreeable consequences—As he cannot pretend to have Acted from any authority from us, we have been much hurt at insinuations, that he acted by X X authority from you—Being fully convinced that these were unfounded, we have not hesitated to declare that they were so—The Majr is at Dumfries, so that we have had no opportunity, of communicating, with him on this subject or learning his reasons and justifications,3 Anticipating your feelings on this subject, and fully apprised of the Majrs fitness for the work he is employed in, we cannot forbear expressing a hope that the affair may be still so adjusted that we may not Lose his services—Your letter to Mr Stuart which has been laid before us, has given us the greatest satisfaction—We hope as far as good intentions and diligence on our part, can promote the great work, never to be found deficient in either—We shall give immediate notice to Mr Ellicot to lay out squares agreeable to your directions; so as to be in readyness for as early a sale as possible4—We shall also attend to the Ideas suggested by Mr Jefferson in his letter just received5—We some time ago contracted with Mr Fendall for the delivery of four thousand perches of foundation stone:6 And this day compleated a contract with two persons for the two thousand Wharf logs to be delivered by the 1st of June so that we hope at the next sale. there will be every proof of our being in earnest—we hope soon to be able to inform you, of a contract for quarries7—We are &c.

Da. Stuart

Dl Carroll

LB, DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Sent, 1791–1802.

For the background to this letter, see Pierre L’Enfant to GW, 21 Nov., editorial note.

1L’Enfant informed the commissioners on 21 Nov. that the previous day he had directed workmen to demolish the house of Daniel Carroll of Duddington (Kite, L’Enfant and Washington, description begins Elizabeth S. Kite, comp. L’Enfant and Washington, 1791–1792: Published and Unpublished Documents Now Brought Together for the First Time. Baltimore, 1929. description ends 82–83).

2On 18 Nov. the commissioners sent a memorial and proposed bill, both drafted on 8 Sept., to the Maryland general assembly requesting it to confirm the boundaries of the federal district by a formal act of cession, to confirm the agreement between the proprietors of land in the Federal City and the federal government, and to give the terms of this agreement legal force over the lots in the undeveloped towns of Carrollsburgh and Hamburgh (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Proceedings, 1791–1802).

3Acting on instructions from the commissioners, L’Enfant had gone to Richmond and Stafford County, Va., where he examined the sandstone quarries on Aquia Creek, and then to nearby Dumfries, where he negotiated with John Gibson for the use of the quarries on his land (see Commissioners for the District of Columbia to GW, 21 December).

5Thomas Jefferson wrote to the commissioners on 21 Nov. that “A Mr. [Samuel] Blodget has a scheme in contemplation for purchasing and building a whole street in the new city, and any one of them which you may think best. The magnitude of the proposition occasioned it to be little attended to in the beginning. However, great as it is, it is believed by good judges to be practicable. It may not be amiss therefore to be ready for it. The street most desireable to be built up at once, we suppose to be the broad one (the avenue) leading from the President’s house to the Capitol. To prepare the squares adjoining to that, on both sides, in the first place, can do no harm: because if Mr. Blodget’s scheme does not take effect, still it is part of a work done, which was to be done: if his scheme takes effect, you will be in readiness for him, which would be desireable. The President therefore desires me to suggest to you the beginning at once on that avenue, and when all the squares on that shall be laid off, they may go on laying off the rest of the squares between that and the river, from Georgetown to the Eastern branch, according to an idea he has suggested to you in a letter not long since. This however is but a suggestion for the good of the undertaking, on which you will decide as you think proper” (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 , 22:311–12). Jefferson inquired of Andrew Ellicott the same day about how long surveying the squares along the avenue would take, and Ellicott replied on 30 Nov. that he would try to complete the work from Georgetown to the Capitol, but that the rest of the work would have to wait until after the spring thaw. Ellicott wrote to Daniel Carroll and David Stuart on 10 Dec. that he was working on the squares “between the Presidents House, and Capitol,” but he added that the squares to the east of the Capitol would be completed in the early spring (ibid., 22:312, 356, 389).

6The contract of 21 Oct. with Philip Richard Fendall to bring foundation stone from Great Falls is in DNA: RG 42, General Records, Letters Received, 1791–1867. See also Commissioners for the District of Columbia to GW, 21 December.

7Wharves were needed to receive the building stone quarried at Aquia Creek.

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