George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Daniel Carroll, 13 January 1795

From Daniel Carroll

City of Washington Jany 13th 179[5]1


Your favor of the 7th Instant, affords me an opportunity of mentioning, that the Commissioners are engaged in prepareing a general Statement of all matters respecting the City, in which it is probable some things may be said, which will apply to parts of your Letter with which, I am honord.

They wish to have the report as correct and ample as possible, & are sorry that it cannot be finish’d as soon as they expected.2

I have the pleasure to say, that they entertain the same sentiments you have expressd respecting the impolicy of makeing any more large sales—It was a principal objection to their going so far as was proposd in the treaty with General Stuart, of which he wrote he had informd you. We readily agreed with him to reduce the number of Lots, and at this time do not know any are sold to him, as he has not answerd our last letter, which brought the Subject to a single point, the time of payment—he requireing some months Credit before the 1st payment, & the Commissioners adhering to their demand of the usual payments, of which he was inform’d.3

I beleive more than a moiety of the public Lots are sold, viz. 4500 on the So. W. of Massachusetts avenue & 1500 No. E. of the same to Mesrs Morris & Greanleaf;4 what have been sold besides at public & private Sales, lay on the So. W. of Massachusetts Avenue, which reduces the public stock considerably in that part of the City, where the property is most valuable—at the same time I must observe that the most valuable water Lots remaining belong to the public & original proprietors—You will have tho’ not a full, yet as satisfactory a view on this subject as circumstances will permit, in the report intended. Since the sacrifice which was made by the large sales, it appears to me to be a fair game, to make in future the most of all circumstances, such as adjacent improvements &ca—It is at present to be feard that the remaining public Stock will not reach to the extent necessary for compleating all the public buildings & other requisite improvements in the City, yet I hope it will not be very short, if what remains can be chiefly kept for some time to come—Indeed had we ample funds in hand, the time is short for accomplishing these several great objects Under those impressions, it has been attempted to obtain a Loan thro Mr Greenleaf tho’ not on very favorable terms—There is no expectation of success on that head, & I most earnestly wish some other prospect woud arise in this Country of obtaining a Sum of money for the expenditures of the present year, which I consider as most essential.

The Sale made of 500 Lots for £50,000 I presume is the same I have heard of to a Mr Laws—Circumstanced as matters are I view this Sale as favorable to the City. It may contribute towards makeing Mesrs Morris & Greenleaf puntual in their payments, & must have an evident tendency to raise the remaining funds of the City by the building of 166 Houses according to agreement, and within the time Stipulated.5 Under this idea it is to be wishd further sales coud be made in the course of this year by those Gentlemen—In addition to these remarks I consider the faster they get out of the market of selling Lots, the less is to be apprehended of their keeping down the value of the public property, & that those who bye of them, will of course find it their Interest to approach the prices the public property must be held at—There are yet very few buildings of any kind erected near the public buildings It may reasonably be expected that some will be, in consequence of this last sale, and any others which may be made under similar circumstances.

The Commissioners are all impressd with the same ideas you entertain respecting the imprudence of parting with the Legal title to the Lots (especially on large sales of them) on personal security—On this Subject I beg leave to refer you to what will be in the report.

Your opinion respecting the Capitol, was imparted to the Commissioners by Docr Stuart & myself; they will communicate the measures taken on that subject.

I cannot omit a circumstance which I think will give you pleasure—Mr James Barry, a Mercht in Baltimore has lately purchasd two water Lots on the E. Branch & a small one of Mr Young adjoining one of the Lots to extend the water front—The price of the public Lots at £6 per foot water front, amounts for one of them to £360—the other to £990—on the usual payments to improve within two years as specified—I expect he will enter on that business in the Course of this year—I have for some past wish’d that this Gentleman woud extend his views to the City, which he has now done, not with a view of speculation, but actually carrying on business, which I have reason to think is very extensive—His character as a Gentleman and a man of probity stands very fair—He has informd me that he finds himself compelld in order to comply with his orders to purchase on, & transport from potomac to Baltimore, a very considerable part of his Exports & has taken this Step to enable him to ship such part as he may purchase on potomack immediately to sea.6

Before I conclude—I must mention that a subject is now revivd, which was early talkd of in the commencement of the Business of the City, viz. a Bridge over the E. Branch near the ferry as markd on the engraved plan7—I shall in my private character tho in no ways interested, give every assistance in my power towards forwarding this business—Every facility of access afforded to the City, must be attended with good Consequences—not only adding a value to the property in the City, & thereby encreasing our funds, but likewise improving the Market, an object necessy to be attended too before the removal of Congress—there is now great room for improvement even for the present Inhabitants, tho many even small articles are brought from considerable distances—It appears to me to be sound policy to embrace every circumstance to obtain these great points thro out the City.

I have communicated to my Colleagues yr Letter as I shall this answer. I must close for fear of losing the post, trust to yr Kindness to excuse the manner in which this is written. I have the honor to be with sentiments of the greatest respect, Sir, Yr Most Obt Sert

Danl Carroll


1Carroll wrote 1794, but the letter is correctly docketed as 1795.

3Intending to set up his brother Adam Murray Stewart in Washington, Philadelphia merchant Walter Stewart wrote the commissioners on 6 Nov. to inquire about “the Lowest terms per Acre, or per Lot, on which you will let me have Ten or Twelve Squares in the City” that he would designate. He later designated “upland” squares 19, 32, 38, 75, 119, 222, 291, 380, and 459 and waterfront squares 2 and 10. The commissioners responded the next day that “In general it is the wish of the board not to sell any one person so much property as your Ideas extend to,” but that they would make an exception in his case. Stewart, however, found their terms higher than expected and asked for time to consider and to consult with his brother and his brother’s partners. During subsequent negotiations, Stewart claimed that James Greenleaf and Robert Morris were willing to offer him better terms on some of the property they now controlled in the city, but “advised by the President not to haggle at the price mention’d by you,” he offered to purchase the two waterfront squares and the public halves of squares 75, 119, and 222 on their terms (4 Dec.). Further negotiations involved Stewart’s desire to dispense with the building requirement (which the commissioners conceded) and to delay down payment (which they did not). The last letter to which Carroll referred was of 1 January. Stewart replied to that letter on 13 Jan., and after another exchange of letters, the sale was made on 12 February. For this sale, see the commissioners to Stewart, 7 and 11 Nov., 9 and 18 Dec. 1794, and 1 and 22 Jan. 1795 (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Sent, 1791–1802); Stewart to the commissioners, 6, 9, and 20 Nov., 4 and 25 Dec. 1794, 13 Jan. and 3 Feb. 1795 (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Received, 1791–1802); and the entry of 12 Feb. 1795 in DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Proceedings, 1791–1802.

Stewart wrote in his letter to the commissioners of 20 Nov., “I last evening had an interview with the President, to whom I communicated the intention I had of making a Considerable purchase in the City, and such observations as had struck me during my stay there & in its neighbourhood. I press’d the necessity of Mr Weston immediately going down, and the completion of the Canals as expeditiously as possible.”

4Carroll was referring to the commissioners’ sale of 6,000 lots to Greenleaf and Morris on 24 Dec. 1793 (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Proceedings, 1791–1802).

5The commissioners’ agreement with Greenleaf and Morris of 24 Dec. 1793 required that Morris build in the next seven years seventy “Brick Houses of two Stories each, and each House covering Twelve hundred square feet,” and specified that Morris “should not” before 1 Jan. 1796 “sell or contract for the sale of any of the said Lots, but under and upon the express Condition that one such House at the least should be built and erected on every third Lot within four years next after such sale” (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Proceedings, 1791–1802).

6A native of Ireland, James Barry (c.1755–1808) had been recognized since 1791 as the Portuguese vice-consul for Virginia and Maryland. In Baltimore at this time, he maintained a store on Market Street and a warehouse at Bowly’s Wharf, and he was a director of the Office of Discount and Deposit of the Bank of the United States at Baltimore (Freeman’s Journal; or, The North-American Intelligencer [Philadelphia], 9 Nov. 1791; Baltimore Daily Intelligencer, 22 Oct. 1794; Federal Intelligencer, and Baltimore Daily Gazette, 26 Nov. 1794; Gazette of the United States and Evening Advertiser [Philadelphia], 8 Feb. 1794).

Barry’s purchase was recorded in the commissioners’ proceedings for 5 January. The terms were “one fourth on the water front, to be paid on receiving the Certificate of Purchase, and the remainder in three equal annual payments with Interest under the Condition of improvement on each lot by a Stone or brick building covering not less than 1200 Square feet within two years” (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Proceedings, 1791–1802).

By late 1795 Barry had begun construction of a wharf on the Eastern Branch, and by early 1796 he was involved with a project for the construction of a Washington canal from the Potomac River to the East Branch Harbor. At the same time, he maintained his business at Baltimore, where he was a founder of the Baltimore Insurance Company. Barry relocated from Baltimore to Washington in 1800, and in 1802 he was elected to the first Washington city council. After one term, he declined to seek a second, citing frequent absences from the city. By 1807 Barry had relocated again, to New York, and he was appointed the Portuguese consul for New York and states eastward (Allen C. Clark, “Captain James Barry,” Records of the Columbia Historical Society, 42–43 [1940–1941]:1–16; Aurora General Advertiser [Philadelphia], 16 Feb. 1796; Federal Intelligencer, and Baltimore Daily Gazette, 18 Sept. 1795; Federal Gazette & Baltimore Daily Advertiser, 16 Jan. 1796, 23 Aug. 1800; New-York Commercial Advertiser, 6 April 1807).

7Pierre Charles L’Enfant proposed a bridge across the Eastern Branch (Anacostia River) above Evans Point, which in turn was about a half mile above the ferry (memorandum of L’Enfant, 26 March 1791). Carroll evidently was referring to the plan of the city engraved by James Thackara and John Vallance in late 1792, 500 copies of which were sent to the commissioners by then–secretary of state Thomas Jefferson (Jefferson to the Commissioners of the Federal District, 13 Nov. 1792, 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 , 24:612). That plan shows a bridge where Pennsylvania Avenue meets the branch.

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