George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Benjamin Stoddert, 24 October 1792

From Benjamin Stoddert

Geo. Town 24 October 1792


I should apoligize for taking the liberty of addressing this letter to you, but the best apoligy I can make is to trespass as little as possible on your time; and though I have no doubt every person interested in the City of Washington would chearfully Join in the observations I shall make, I write alone considering it most respectful, as it will be less irksome to pass unnoticed the trifling opinions of an individual, than of many persons combined.

I beg leave to premise, that I have not the slightest enmity to either of the Commissioners—on the contrary, I esteem them all—and wanting neither contracts, nor employment under them and of course not being disappointed it affords me no pleasure to remark that the business of the City might certainly be better managed.1 I know of but few things under their direction which go on so well as they might do—the Comrs who I am well satisfied have every disposition to do right, meet too seldom, & remain too short a time together, to obtain that kind of information, & intimate knowledge of the affairs of the City, so requisite to be possessed by those who have not only the general superintend⟨e⟩ncy, but the direction of the execution of every part of a business, requiring undivided & unremitted attention. Many facts could be adduced to shew the Justice of my observations, I will mention only one, & that, not as a charge against the Comrs, for I have no desire to be their accuser, particularly their secret accuser, but merely to prove that there is something wrong in the present system of management. and I believe would so continue, let who would be Comrs, until the gentlemen either reside on the spot, & each takes his particular department of the business, or until some person of Industry & talents is employed under their direction, to superintend in their absence & to bring before them at their stated meetings the proper objects, whose duty it should be to see, & to know every thing about the City. Something like this opinion, as to a superintendent, the Comrs took up at their last meeting, & in consequence wrote a letter to you Sir by Mr Blodget who was willing to be employed in this Character—they do not go into particulars, but refer to Mr Blodget, who from motives of delicacy I have reason to think will not go into the communications so freely as they expected—It is on that acct only, that I have taken the freedom to write this letter.2

The instance of mismanagement I mean to adduce respects the Bridge over Rock creek—It might have been completed by Novr—It will not be completed till the Spring. The Comrs preferred the plan of a single Arch because it appeared cheapest—after some progress had been made in the work—too much to admit of correcting the Error without delaying the completion of the Bridge, & incurring some additional expence, it was apprehended a single Arch would not vent the water of the Creek, & two more were in consequence agreed for—the mistake arose from the Comrs not Judging for themselves, from an accurate knowledge of the place where the Bridge was to be thrown over & all the attending circumstances—Whatever errors they have committed have proceeded from the same cause, want of sufficient attention to acquire the proper information—the fact is, that the Bridge of three arches with its appendages, is actually cheaper than one of one arch, with its appendages would be, and this either of the Gentlemen would have known, had it been only his duty to have known it. The money lost by getting right at last instead of at first, is not worth a thought—the delay occasioned, is in many accts of more importance.3

I beg to be permitted to add, that ⟨mutilated⟩ Public sales interested but very few persons who were not be⟨mutilated⟩ested in the fate of the City—and afforded no evidence of that diffusion of confidence so much to be wished for—Mr Blodget having authority from the Comrs sold 12 or 14 Public lots at private sale, during the few days he remained here, to four or five people from Phila. & the Eastward, one of whom, a man of property will move his Family here in the spring from Boston—and from Mr Blodgets General acquaintance, it is the opinion here he would be able to sell more lots in a few months, than the Comrs would in a year. I have communicated with Mr Deakins, who is the warm Friend of the Comrs & their officer; whose sentiments accord with mine—this I mention to remove from myself the suspicion of being actuated in what I have said, by any improper motive.4 I have the honor to be with the greatest respect & esteem sir Yr most Obed. Servt

Ben. Stoddert


1David Stuart, Thomas Johnson, and Daniel Carroll were the current commissioners for the federal district.

2Stoddert, a Georgetown merchant, was not alone in his conclusion that the federal district needed a supervisor. GW expressed similar thoughts in his letter to the commissioners of 13 Nov. 1792. The commissioners appointed Samuel Blodget, Jr., to this position on 5 Jan. 1793 (see D.C. Commissioners to Blodget, 5 Jan. 1793, DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Sent; to GW, 5 Jan. 1793).

3On 30 Mar. 1792 the commissioners wrote Thomas Jefferson that “we determined on the immediate errection of a Bridge over Rock Creek,” and on 5 April, Jefferson notified Baltimore builder Leonard Harbaugh that the “President of the U.S. has approved the contract of the Commissioners of the federal building with you, for erecting a bridge over Rock creek” (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 23:350, 379). Problems with the original one-arch design prompted the commissioners to conclude a second agreement with Harbaugh on 1 Sept. for construction of two additional arches (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Proceedings).

4For the results of the October 1792 sale of lots in the Federal City, see D.C. Commissioners to GW, 13 Oct., nn.1–2. For a list of buyers from “the Eastward,” see David Stuart to GW, 10 Dec., n.3. Fellow Georgetown merchant William Deakins, Jr., served as treasurer for the commissioners from 1791 until 1796.

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