George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Uriah Forrest, 10 January 1793

From Uriah Forrest

Georgetown 10th January 1793.


Having at heart the growth & prosperity of the federal City I have for many months made it a point to promote all in my power whatever appeared to be the views of those directing its improvement even in instances where my judgement could not be convinced the measures were quite proper[.] Because from the altercation which took place betwixt the commissioners and major L’enfant and in which I with other proprietors interfer’d perhaps improperly but certainly too intemperately I was led to reflect perhaps more than I had otherwise done & from that reflexion & from observation I am convinced the City has infinately more to dread from the discord and want of Union in its friends than from all the power of its Enemies[.]1 Thus impressed you will not wonder at my endeavouring to heal the breach between the Commissioners and mr Ellicot on the first intimation I had of it[.]2 I suggested to one of the commissioners it was better to overlook any waste of time or trifling expence of money which I understood was objected to the Surveyor than to suffer him to be discontented much less that it should be generally known there existed new differences between those directing & executing the business of the City and to Mr Ellicot I urged every thing in my power[.] But on Tuesday I heard with great concern it had been ineffectual for on the morning of that day it was pretty generally spoken that He intended to attack their conduct in the public prints and had given them notice to provide a successor.3

He had left Town before I received this information and I therefore sent out to the City to try and dissuade him from it[.] I inclose herein copy of his answer[.]4 I understand several letters have passed between the commissioners & him[.] I have not seen any of them nor have I been particularly informed the contents more than that in general they contained much acrimony.

I consider the Event and particularly the Time of it as very unfortunate and have thus early troubled you respecting it in the hope that some expedient may be fallen on to effect an accommodation or if that cannot be brought abou⟨t⟩ to guard as much as possible against any ill effects from i⟨t⟩.

I confidently trust You will accept of the Motives which have induced me to trouble you on the occasion as a sufficient apology for the freedom I have taken and pray you to beleiv⟨e⟩ that of the whole number of those who respect & esteem you there is not one more sincere than Sir Your most Obedient very humble Sert

Uriah Forrest

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

1For background on events leading to the dismissal in February 1792 of architect and engineer Pierre L’Enfant as surveyor general and supervisor of the construction of the new capital, see L’Enfant to GW, 21 Nov. 1791, editorial note; see also GW to L’Enfant, 28 Feb. 1792. For support of L’Enfant by Forrest and other D.C. proprietors, see D.C. Commissioners to GW, 21 Dec. 1791, note 5.

2For earlier mention of the commissioners’ dissatisfaction with the work of surveyor Andrew Ellicott and for Ellicott’s show of “Temper” in “Verbal intercourse” with the commissioners, see, respectively, David Stuart to GW, 10 Dec. 1792, and D.C. Commissioners to GW, 5 Jan. 1793, and note 1.

3For Ellicott’s letter of resignation, see D.C. Commissioners to GW, 5 Jan. 1793, n.1.

4The enclosed undated copy of Ellicott’s letter to Forrest reads: “According with You in opinion that an immediate Attack on the conduct of the Commissioners, may be attended with some disadvantag⟨e⟩ to the City, and conceiving that delaying it till may, the time I shall certainly leave the city, Cannot effect my reputation, I have determined to postpone till that period, A newspaper investigation, but as to Your request & Recomendation that I should rescind my resolution of quitting all concern with them, & with the city, while under their Government, it is quite out of the Question—This resolution I have not taken up from any sudden impulse, but from a conviction of some months Standing, that delays will attend the execution of the plan of the City, and blame must be the portion of those to whom the work is intrusted, when directed by men unacqua[i]nted with its principals, and the nature of such busin[e]ss—My early opinion in favor of the permanent residence, being fixed at this place, must be known too well to admit of a doubt, this opinion has produced an attachment, which added to a desire of Compleating the permanent lines, and fixing some principal points in the City, on which its bueaty Materially depends, are of the reasons, why I continued in the Employ, after receiving directions from one of the Commissioners, to quit the work which I had just begun on the Eastern Branch and lay out the Canal, Intended to Join the Tiber & St James Creek, It was by obeying this order, that the sale of lots on that Valuable river was prevented, and for which I have been so undeservedly Censured.

“An Attempt to execute so complex a plan, in small detached pieces, which has hitherto been the System, directed by the Commissioners, will not only be attended with delay, but—produce innumerable inaccuracies, The Commissioners, although, from their appointment intended to overlook (or at least if possible to comprehend in some measure, the nature of) the different branches of business, carrying on in the City, could never Yet be prevailed upon, by any arguments of mine, to go over one work; and rather than take the trouble, of examining the permanent lines, they reported without seeing them—Those who are concearned in preserving the bueaty of the plan, will do well in using their endeavors, to obtain some good Mathematitian, well acquainted with the use of Instruments to complete it: Otherwise some person, or other, unacquainted with the bussiness, and too mean to act with independance, will probably be appointed to finish a work begun and forwarded by Major L’Enfant & myself” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

On 15 Jan., Tobias Lear wrote Thomas Jefferson: “As the Secretary of State may be about to write to the Commissioners respecting the addition of the City to be marked in the survey of the federal territory, the President sends him the enclosed w[hic]h he has just received from Mr Forrest, that he may see more particularly the situation ⟨of⟩ matters between Mr Ellicott & the Commissioners” (DLC: Jefferson Papers).

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