George Washington Papers

To George Washington from the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, 23 December 1793

From the Commissioners for the District of Columbia

Washington 23d December 1793.


You will receive inclosed a copy of an Agreement we have entered into with Messrs Morris and Greenleaf for the Sale of three thousand Lots farther, at 35£ a Lot, somewhat modifying the old and stating the whole in this new Contract1—A consideration of the uncertainty of Settled Times, and an unembarrassed Commerce, weighed much with us: as well as Mr Morris’s Capital, Influence, and Activity—the Statement of Funds inclosed,2 may enable the prosecution of the work even in a War; in which Event we should without this Contract have been almost still—Under this Contract as the rest we have entered into, the purchasers cannot claim a Deed or legal Title, till the Terms and Conditions of the Sale are complied with—It may be desireable to Messrs Greenleaf and Morris, to have the legal Title for the purpose of taking up Money on a part of this property, and that they may dispose of parcels to purchasers—we have had some conversation with Mr Greenleaf, especially as to the last; but do not feel ourselves at Liberty to depart from the common mode of our Business in this Instance, without your approbation—Mr Greenleaf has expressed a willingness, that himself Mr Morris and Mr Nicholson should join in a Bond for the payment of the Money, and3 performing the other parts of the Contract; we have intimated that there would be a propriety in joining another such Security as Mr Nicholson, and it appears to us, that in this Business which will be a good while in winding up, if it rests on personal Security, there ought to be a strong probability of having at least two monied Securities to apply to, for the Payment of such large Sums, and the Discharge of such heavy burthens. Should you advise or approve the transferring the Security to personal as mentioned, the inclosed Copy of a Bond may we think answer the purpose.4

Mr Greenleaf had also a conversation with us on the exchange of the ground reserved for a Hospital as he had with you. We have always thought the place reserved improper on several Accounts; and Should advise a Change to a better Site, but we believe, a preliminary step must be, to purchase the Interest of the proprietors in that spot; for on releasing it from the present reserve we are apprehensive it will fall under the general Rule of dividing it into Squares and Lots.5

The Assembly has indulged this place with a Corporation Bank. we wish to bring it into such Credit as to perform the operation, of which a Sketch is inclosed, and by being the Holders of the Shares allowed to be subscribed by the Commissioners they will have not only that power, but a right to discount occasionally which may prevent Embarrassment from Money not being punctually paid.6

We have been Surprized and concerned that Mr Blodget should have proceeded in a new Lottery, not only without our Consent but after a contrary Explanation which took place with him a little before he left this place: he has drove us to tell him frankly that unless he withdraws it we shall disavow it to the public.7

Major Ellicott after his absence great part of the Summer, and all the fall, as we hear in other Service, has returned to us in the Winter: we do not accept his farther Services—the business we believe was going on full as Well without him.8

There has been a discovery of Foundation Stone from the Key of all Keys for a considerable distance this way, which we expect will be valuable9—the price was rising on us, nor could we lately form a new Contract or get an old one executed to our Satisfaction: we have promised Mr Greenleaf to let him have the use of part of it—We wish to act in concert with him and his friends, in aiding eventually and keeping Materials at a reasonable price—with these views we intend to interest him in the quarries at Aquia,10 he benefiting us in the use of the Brick Machine—Messrs Greenleaf and Morris do not bound themselves to the City; they have embraced the Great falls and seem desirous of acquiring on other parts of Potomac.11

Our Attention has been very much taken up and so has Mr Greenleafs in first settling the Outlines of Mr Morris’s Contract and afterwards—Particulars of that and his combined—We had no Information of the building Scheme or a sight of it ’till today after the signing the Contract and therefore have not formed any Opinion of it farther than that which is obvious to every Body that is that every Addition of Capital in Building must add to the Improvement and population of the City. We are Sir most respectfully & truly Your very affectionate Servants

Th: Johnson

Dd Stuart

Danl Carroll

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

Edmund Randolph replied to this letter on 19 Jan. 1794 (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Received, 1791–1802).

1A copy of the contract with James Greenleaf and Robert Morris, dated 24 Dec., was entered into the commissioners’ book of proceedings, DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Proceedings, 1791–1802. The previous contract, for the purchase of 3,000 lots at £25 (Maryland money) per lot, was with Greenleaf and dated 23 September. The payments were to be made in seven annual installments beginning in May 1794.

2This enclosure may have been the undated document in Thomas Johnson’s writing titled “City Funds” (DLC: Records of the U.S. Commissioners of the City of Washington, 1790–1816). That document listed assets of £465,000 (£15,000 from the “last Virginia Donation,” £180,000 from the sale of 6,000 lots to Greenleaf and Morris, and the remainder from two other sales totaling 6,000 lots). Noting that the lots sold “are supposed to make good the Appropriations at £25 per Acre,” and that the land near the bridge and causeway “is expected to return the Money laid out on that Work,” the document listed for 1794 £15,000 from the Virginia donation and £25,714 as one-seventh of the £180,000; and for 1795, “taking in Mr Greenleafs Loan of 12,000 if necessary 37,714 besides Sales.”

3The text from this point through the word “intimated” was omitted from the letter-book copy.

4The enclosed copy of the bond has not been identified. Randolph replied for GW that while GW did not doubt that Morris and Greenleaf could fulfill the contract, “he does not conceive himself authorized, to approve a departure from the common mode of retaining the legal title, until payment.” He did, however, “wish, that every facility, short of abandoning your hold, should be afforded to the objects, which those gentlemen have in view” (Randolph to Commissioners, 19 Jan. 1794).

5For Greenleaf’s ideas about the hospital site, see GW to Daniel Carroll, 16 December. Randolph replied that GW believed the hospital site marked on the plan was not “irrevocably appropriated to that use,” so that there was no necessity to exchange land with Greenleaf. GW would, however, “make no decision on this head, until he shall hear again from you” (Randolph to Commissioners, 19 Jan. 1794).

6The enclosure has not been identified. Article IV of the “ACT to establish a bank in the district of Columbia,” passed by the Maryland legislature, allowed the District of Columbia commissioners to subscribe, in their capacity as commissioners, for up to 2,000 shares in the bank (Md. Laws 1793 description begins Laws of Maryland, Made and Passed at a Session of Assembly, Begun and held at the city of Annapolis on Monday the fourth of November, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three. Annapolis, [1794]. description ends , ch. 30). Randolph responded that it was “somewhat difficult to discover how to authorize” such a subscription and that it was “very questionable, whether the style of execution, in the event of a possible delinquency on your part, will comport with the interest of the city.” He requested the commissioners’ “sentiments upon these topics” for submission to GW (Randolph to Commissioners, 19 Jan. 1794).

7Samuel Blodget advertised in November his plan to hold a second lottery after the conclusion of the much-delayed first lottery: “By this Lottery the Commissioners will be enabled to give an elegant Spicimen of the private Buildings to be erected in the City of Washington.—Two Beautiful Designs are already selected for the entire Fronts on two of the Public Squares; from these Drawings it is proposed to erect two Centre and four corner Buildings, as soon as possible after this Lottery is sold, and to convey them, when complete, to the fortunate Adventures” (Virginia Chronicle And, Norfolk & Portsmouth General Advertiser, 23 Nov.).

The commissioners wrote Blodget on 16 Dec. asking him to “stop this Business as soon as possible and not drive us to the necessity of a public disavowal of it” (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Sent, 1791–1802). Despite the commissioners’ disapproval, Blodget continued his plans for a second lottery, issuing a broadside on the subject dated 1 Jan. 1794, which stated that the money raised would go to the planned national university (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Received, 1791–1802). When Blodget visited Philadelphia in January, GW had Randolph give him “explicit” instructions to “instantly suspend all further proceeding therein until the sanction of the Commissioners should be unequivocally obtained” (GW to Thomas Johnson, 23 Jan. 1794). With Blodget returning to the Federal City “in order to settle with” the commissioners “what he calls a mistake,” GW directed the commissioners to “prevent the progress of this second scheme, unless you can obtain the most complete security, that there will be a perfect punctuality in furnishing Satisfaction for the prizes” (Randolph to Commissioners, 19 Jan. 1794).

On 18 May 1794 the commissioners approved a letter, dated 17 May, declaring “that we have given no Countenance to the publishing or carrying on this Lottery nor will have anything to do with the conduct of it” (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Proceedings, 1791–1802; printed in the Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser, 23 May 1794). Nonetheless, on 30 Aug. 1794 Blodget published a formal announcement of the lottery, to “commence as soon as the Tickets are sold, or at all events on Monday, the 22nd of December next” (Gazette of the United States and Daily Evening Advertiser [Philadelphia], 3 Sept. 1794). The lottery drawing was never completed.

8For some of the commissioners’ disagreements with the surveyor Andrew Ellicott, see their letters to GW of 5 Jan., 11–12 March, and 13 March; and Andrew Ellicott, Benjamin Ellicott, and Isaac Briggs to GW, 29 June. The commissioners wrote Ellicott on 17 Dec. telling him that his resumption of duties “we expected would depend on our request,” and adding that, not having had his services when “they might have been most useful,” the commissioners would “not add to an establishment in Winter” (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Sent, 1791–1802). After a further exchange, Ellicott responded on 21 Dec. with a long resignation letter defending his conduct, which, he informed the commissioners in his cover letter of the same date, “is for the Public” (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Received, 1791– 1802). Randolph responded, “The subject of Mr Ellicott, the President leaves to your own judgment” (Randolph to Commissioners, 19 Jan. 1794).

9The Key of All Keys, also known as Braddock’s Rock, was a large rock formation jutting into the Potomac River. It was located to the left of what is now 23rd Street at the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge ramp.

10Sandstone quarried from along Aquia Creek in Stafford County, Va., was used in the construction of the White House and Capitol, among other buildings.

11The remainder of the LS is in the writing of Thomas Johnson.

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