George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Andrew Ellicott, 28 February 1794

From Andrew Ellicott

Philadelphia Feby 28th 1794


With this you will receive a copper-plate map of the territory of Columbia, which I find requires much larger paper than can be met with in this country, except amongst drafts-men who have imported it for their own use. It would therefore be necessary if the maps are intended for sale, to have some paper manufactured for that purpose of a proper size. I am in hopes the map will be found sufficiently correct, however if it should not, I have only to lament that it has been long out of my power to render it more accurate, in consequence of the original, together with my field notes, being more than a year ago privately carried away from the office.1

Although being one of those with whom the City of Washington may be said to have originated, I feel no desire of resuming my former station at that place, being convinced from severe experiance that no mans reputation can be safe, when in the power of men, who avail themselves of their right to censure, and remove from office, without allowing the object of their resentment the benefit of a scientific enquiry.2 This has been my case; and nothing but a very extensive acquaintance with gentlemen of letters, and competent judges of my professional character, prevented its being sacrificed to the private, and I may confidently add, misguided resentment of the commissioners for the public buildings in the City of Washington, without, (so far as I can see,) the possibility of redress. “There are some subjects so circumstanced, that time alone can correct where man errs.” I am willing to suppose my dispute with the commissioners are of that class, and feel entire confidence, that the injustice which I have experienced, will not only at some future period be manifest; but perhaps sap the foundation, and injure the whole business of the City in its infancy.

I think it my duty for your own satisfaction, to assure you, that the accuracy of the work is infinitely superior to any thing of the kind heretofore executed, and the methodical arrangement of the papers in the Office was not any where exceeded, when the commissioners for the second time, removed them for the City into Geo. Town! But notwithstanding this systematic arrangement of the papers, it will be found impossible for any person unacquainted with the detail of the business; however competent his abilities might have been to the execution of the plan of the City, to take up the work in its present state, and do justice to the public, and that part already completed. I have mentioned this circumstance for the purpose of preserving the character of the person who may be appointed to succeed me, and who will probably be charged with ignorance, and neglect of duty, on account of difficulties which will naturally arise out of the present state of the work.

I trust that my attachment to the City of Washington will be sufficiently manifest, when it is remembered that I declined entering into land concerns with some of the first characters in the U.S., (which would before this day, have secured to me ease, and independence,) for the express purpose of aiding an object, which I conceived of importance to the union: In return I have experienced the weight of private resentment, exercised officially by the commissioners, for the purpose of injuring my professional reputation!

I am informed that Mr Dalton is about resigning the office of Treasurer to the Mint. If this information should be true, I shall take the liberty of offering myself as a candidate for that appointment, and from the following consideration, (Viz.,) having undertaken to publish a Map of the U.S. I should thereby be enabled, tho’ the salary is small, to discontinue my vocation for the present, which obliges me not only to be generally from home; but likewise to prolong the completion of that important work:3 And I do not apprehend, that the business in the mint can possibly require so much time, as to preclude an attention of two, or three hours every day, to the compilation of the Map. With sentiments of gratitude for the klnd attention which I have received from you, I am Sir, Your Hble Servt

Andw. Ellicott.


1The enclosed copper plate was for a typographic plan of the “Territory of Columbia.” In a letter to the D.C. commissioners of 9 Dec. 1793, Ellicott wrote that this map “has been some months in the hands of an engraver, and will be finished early in the spring; but in order to make it useful, it will be necessary to have it accompanied with an explanation, and discription of the country, with the several advantages for atlantic commerce, and inland navigation” (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Received, 1791–1802). The engraver has not been identified. The copper plate was copied in the early nineteenth century in order to produce the map featured in David B. Warden, A Chorographical and Statistical Description of the District of Columbia [Paris, 1816]). On the removal of papers from Ellicott’s office, see D.C. Commissioners to GW, 13 March 1793, n.3, and 23 March 1794 (second letter).

2On the dismissal in December 1793 of Ellicott as the chief surveyor for the District of Columbia, see D.C. Commissioners to GW, 23 Dec. 1793, and n.8.

3For Tristram Dalton’s resignation and the appointment of Nicholas Way as his successor, see Dalton to GW, 24 April, and GW to the U.S. Senate, 19 May 1794. Although Ellicott did not acquire the position at the U.S. Mint, he did publish The American Atlas Containing the Following Maps.—Viz.-–1. North-America 2. South-America 3. United States 4. New-Hampshire 5. Province of Maine 6. Massachusetts 7. Vermont 8. Rhode-Island 9. Connecticut 10. New-York 11. New-Jersey 12. Pennsylvania 13. Delaware and Maryland 14. Virginia 15. Kentucky, with the Adjoining Territories 16. North-Carolina 17. South-Carolina 18. Georgia 19. Tennessee 20. West-Indies (New York, 1796).

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