George Washington Papers

To George Washington from the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, 28 January 1794

From the Commissioners for the District of Columbia

City of Washington January 28. 1794


Major Ellicotts return in November, after being absent great part of the Summer, and soon after we had employed his Brother Joseph, was so plainly calculated to be heavy on the Funds, that we could not submit to it, and discharged him at our last Meeting:1 we flattered ourselves, that we should have more expedition and Quiet too with his Brothers, but he has continued here, and has, we believe, worked like so much Levin in the Surveying Department; for the paultry press in this Town, has constantly since teemed with lies and abuse, in which the young men have been Instruments or Volunteers—Nothing of Consequence has been done in the Field, in the fine weather past, and the Idea seems to be, that little is to be done till the Spring but to count the time—We have on the whole, done now, what perhaps had better been done long ago—discharged the whole for there is evidently a want of Industry, and there are so many Instances of a total absence of probity and Honor, that we can no longer bear with the Corps.2 As to the meer laying out the City we do not fear any difficulty. But the levelling the City and marking out the proper Drains, approach so quick, that a Man of real abilities in that Line, will be soon wanted, and perhaps the Time is not very distant, when it will be proper to have a real Enginier here in the public service. Unless you have some Gentleman in contemplation whose abilities recommend him to your Confidence, we think of inviting Mr Rivardi3 hither—when he came as a Companion to Dr Thornton, he made a strong impression on each of us, in the two or three Days he staid with us; we should not presume to lead his expectations farther, than to the levelling part, and a general view of the Surveying Department, which we think might both be attended to by him; as each must be done, if well done, on the same intimate knowledge of the Ground, and Design of the City.4

Mr Rivardi is not a Shewy man, but he seems to us one of those Characters, who maintains the Ground he has gained; we wish him to be introduced to you—It is said, that Mr Rittenhouse is well acquainted with him.5 We are sir very respectfully Your mo. obedt Servts

Th. Johnson

Dd: Stuart

Danl. Carroll

LS, DLC:GW; LB, DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Sent, 1791–1867.

1On the dismissal of chief surveyor Andrew Ellicott in December 1793, see D.C. Commissioners to GW, 23 Dec. 1793, and n.8.

2The commissioners met at Georgetown, D.C., from 24 to 31 January. During these deliberations they settled their financial accounts with surveyors Andrew, Benjamin, and Joseph Ellicott (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Proceedings, 1791–1802). They also wrote a letter of termination on 28 Jan. to Benjamin and Joseph Ellicott, asking them to relinquish all official papers in the surveyor’s office (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Sent, 1791–1802).

3An “R” has been written over an “L” at both mentions of this name; the letter book has retained the original but incorrect spelling at both places.

4John Jacob Ulrich Rivardi (d. 1808) was a Swiss engineer. He served in the Russian Army prior to 1790, when, accompanied by William Thornton, he went to the West Indies island of Tortola to convalesce (Harris, William Thornton Papers description begins C. M. Harris, ed. Papers of William Thornton: Volume One, 1781-1802. Charlottesville, Va., 1995. description ends , xlvi, 1:124–26). Rivardi may have accompanied Thornton when the latter met with the D.C. Commissioners in April 1793 to discuss the design and construction of the Capitol (D.C. Commissioners to GW, 9 April 1793 [first letter]). Rivardi’s first employment by the federal government was not by the D.C. commissioners, but rather by the War Department as an engineer for new coastal fortifications proposed at Alexandria and Norfolk, Va., and at Baltimore (GW to D.C. Commissioners, 11 April 1794). In 1795, GW appointed Rivardi a major in the U.S. Army’s Corps of Artillerists and Engineers (GW to U.S. Senate, 25 Feb. 1795, LS, DNA: RG 46, Third Congress, 1793–95, Senate Records of Executive Proceedings, President’s Messages—Executive Nominations; LB, DLC:GW).

5David Rittenhouse was director of the U.S. Mint.

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