George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Uriah Forrest, 20 January 1793

To Uriah Forrest

Philadelphia Jany 20th 1793.


Previous to the receipt of your letter of the 10th inst. enclosing a copy of Mr Elli[c]ott’s answer to the attempt wh. you made to dissuade him from quitting the business in wh. he is engaged,1 I had learnt, with concern, that there had been some altercation between him & the Commissioners of the federal District, relative to the time & money which had been expended in running & marking the lines within the City; and indeed, as I passed through George Town last fall, I understood that some of the proprietors expressed a dissatisfaction at the tardiness with which that business appeard to be executing.2 I was then in hopes, that there might be no substantial cause for complaint on that score, but that the dissatisfaction arose more from the impatience of those persons who were interested in the completion of the business, than from any improper delay or tardiness on the part of Mr Ellicott;3 and I flattered myself that I should never hear more of the subject. But sorry I am to find that I have been disappointed in this hope, and that the matter has occasioned a serious difference between the Commissioners & Mr Ellicott.

I perfectly agree with you, Sir, “that the City has infinitely more to dread from the discord & want of union among its friends than from all the power of its enemies”—and am therefore persuaded, that every considerate person, who is interested in its establishment, will use his influence to heal differen[c]es & promote harmony among those engaged in the execution of the work.4

The dispute between Mr Ellicott & the Commissione[r]s is, I beleive, but little known at present out of the circle of George Town, and I am therefore convinced, that if Mr Ellicott’s sole object is to make its merits known, as far as a knowledge of its existance extends, he could do it as well, or better, by other means than he could by a news paper publication, which would only tend to promote personal disgust and hurt the progress of the City.5 And if Mr E. is serious in the declaration of his attachment to that spot, as the permanent seat of Government, he cannot but give up a determination which will be manifestly productive of much detriment to the establishment. With great esteem I am Sir, Your most Obedt Set

Go: W——n

Df, in Tobias Lear’s writing, DLC:GW; LB, DLC:GW.

1For surveyor Andrew Ellicott’s undated letter to Uriah Forrest, see Forrest to GW, 10 Jan. 1793, n.4.

2For GW’s prior knowledge of the D.C. commissioners’ dissatisfaction with Ellicott’s demeanor and the slow pace of his work, see David Stuart to GW, 10 Dec. 1792, and D.C. Commissioners to GW, 9 Jan. 1793. On the progress of Ellicott’s survey of the federal district and for his letter of resignation of 4 Jan., see D.C. Commissioners to GW, 5 Jan. 1793, and notes 1, 2, 3, and 8. When GW returned to Philadelphia in October 1792 in order to be present for the second session of the Second Congress, he stopped in Georgetown to attend the sale of lots in the Federal City (Broadside: Sale of Lots in the Federal City, 8 Oct., GW to Anthony Whitting, 14 Oct. 1792).

3Ellicott also claimed that certain proprietors blamed him for the commissioners’ dismissal of Pierre Charles L’Enfant, after which Ellicott had taken charge of laying the plans for the Federal City (see Ellicott to D.C. Commissioners, 18 Jan. 1793, DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Received).

4When the dispute between Ellicott and the commissioners resulted in the surveyor’s dismissal in March, Forrest followed GW’s advice and attempted to convince the commissioners not to fire Ellicott (see Forrest to D.C. Commissioners, 14 Mar. 1793, DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Received, 1791–1802). The commissioners informed Forrest that “a proprietor has now Right than any other private person to interfere, with the Conduct of the Commissioners, having taken our Resolution with respect to Majr Ellicott and on a very different State of Facts than he has communicated to you” (D.C. Commissioners to Forrest, 14 Mar. 1793, DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Sent). For GW’s intervention in the dispute between Ellicott and the commissioners, see GW to D.C. Commissioners, 3 April; Ellicott to D.C. Commissioners, 4 April 1793, DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Received.

5For Ellicott’s proposal to publish details of his dispute with the D.C. commissioners, and GW’s knowledge of it, see, respectively, Ellicott to Jefferson, 9 Jan. 1793, 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 25:41–42, and JPP, description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends 15.

On 29 Jan. in the Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser, an anonymous writer charged Ellicott with malicious intent and enormous errors in his surveys and lauded the surveyor’s announcement that he soon would quit. Using his own name, Ellicott replied in the same newspaper on 8 Feb., calling his anonymous detractor’s wit “puerile,” and describing the accusations as “invective” and “pusillanimous insinuations.” He alleged that “the accuracy of the work executed can only be judged of properly by those acquainted with such business,” although he did admit one “trifling error made by the engravers.” In a letter to the commissioners of 29 Jan., Ellicott demanded a “speedy investigation of my conduct,” because of the accusations against him (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Received). For the commissioners’ continued difficulties with Ellicott, as well as more public debates, see David Stuart to GW, 18 Feb. 1793, and note 1.

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