George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Tobias Lear, 15 July 1792

From Tobias Lear

New York July 15th 1792


I have the honor to inform you that we arrivd here last evening after a pleasant journey from Phila. and shall sail for Providence in about an hour. I have thought it best, & upon the whole most œconomical to take a water carriage to Providence.

The principal object in troubling you with a letter at this time is to mention that while I was on board the Packet this morning engaging a passage I met with Colo. Stevens of this place & in the course of conversation upon general subjects he made enquiry respecting the federal City, and from thence took occasion to observe that he had been applied to to superinte[n]d the new manufacturing town to be built in Jersey, but he did not think the compensation offered (2000 dols./ per Annum) a sufficient object to induce him to leave his business in this place; and at the same time observed that a business of this kind was peculiarly suited to his genius & inclination & that he should not have hesitated one moment about accepting the offer made him if the compensation p⟨mutilated⟩ equalled his p[r]esent business. He asked if a person was engaged to superintend the public works to be carried on at the city, in the place of Major L’Enfant, I told him I did not know of any one who was absolutely engaged.1

I have just mentioned this conversation, Sir, that if a person of Colo. Stevens’ character shoud be wanted for the purpose of superintending the works at the City, your thoughts might thereby be called to him, as otherwise he might not occur—His fitness you are able to judge of from your Knowledge of him during the war.2

Mrs Lear & our little boy are in good health and unite with me in respec[t], gratitude, and Sincere prayers for the health & happines of yourself, Mrs Washington & the family. With truth & sincerity I have the honor to be Sir Your most obedt & grateful Servt

Tobias Lear.

ALS, DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Received.

Lear, who had doubted as recently as mid-June that he would be able to visit New England this summer, left Philadelphia on 12 July to gauge popular support for GW’s reelection, find a teacher willing to set up a school in the U.S. capital to educate GW’s step-grandson, and as he wrote Benjamin Lincoln in early September 1792, “to establish my mother . . . in a situation where she may reasonably expect to spend the remainder of her days in a comfortable & independent manner” (Brighton, Checkered Career of Tobias Lear, description begins Ray Brighton. The Checkered Career of Tobias Lear. Portsmouth, N.H., 1985. description ends 104–6). Lear and his family returned to Philadelphia on 7 October. For the other letters exchanged between GW and Lear during the latter’s tour of New England, see Lear to GW, 21 July, 5 Aug., 23 Sept., 7 Oct. 1792, GW to Lear, 30 July, 21 Sept., 1 Oct. 1792.

1After Pierre L’Enfant’s resignation the D.C. commissioners appointed Andrew Ellicott to head the surveying department. In the summer and fall of 1792, Ellicott and his assistants made a survey of the boundary of the federal district and began laying out the Federal City.

2GW forwarded Lear’s letter to the D.C. commissioners on 23 July with the comment that Ebenezer Stevens was apparently “a Sober, honest & good tempered man—Very industrious—Fertile in invention & resources—and great at execution.” Nothing came of Stevens’s application, however.

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