George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Avery, 25 September 1799

To John Avery

Mount Vernon 25th Septr 1799


Your letter of the 2d instt came duly to hand;1 but previous thereto, I had written to Mr Jno. Francis of Philadelphia (who report had engaged the houses to, I was building in the Federal City) to know in explicit terms whether he meant to take them, or not, on the conditions I offered them, namely—Seven and an half percent on the whole cost; to which, taxes, if any, and Insurance against fire, were to be added. On lower terms, no person in the Fedl City, or elsewhere that I could hear of, would Let; & but few who would rent on these, as it was but little more than legal and common interest of money, when it is well known that the wear & tare of houses required much more.

I have waited until now, to receive Mr Francis’s answer, without hearing from him; which has been the cause of my not replying to your letter sooner. If his answer is detained much longer, I shall feel my self under no obligation to prefer him, because he was the first applicant, for them.2

Although my house, or houses (for they may be one or two as occasion requires) are, I believe, upon a larger scale than any in the vicinity of the Capital, yet they fall far short of your wishes. The largest room, and that occasionally made so, is not more than 40 feet in length. The houses are three flush stories of Brick, besides Garret rooms: and in the judgment of those better acquainted in these matters than I am, capable of accomodating between twenty & thirty boarders. The buildings are not costly, but elegantly plain. and the whole cost—at a pretty near guess—may be between fifteen & sixteen thousand dollars.3 I am Sir Your Very Hble Servant

Go: Washington

ALS (letterpress copy), NN: Washington Papers.

1Letter not found.

3After receiving Avery’s missing letter of 2 Oct., GW, having heard nothing further from John Francis, wrote Avery on 13 Oct.: “Sir I have received your letter of the 2d instant.

“I never conceived myself under any legal, or even honorary agreement with Mr Jno. Francis (of Philadelphia) ⟨illegible⟩ did, of the Houses I am building in the Federal City. But as he was the first that applied for them, and an idea had gone forth that he was to be the occupant, it was a compliment I thought due to him, to inform him in the first instance of the terms on which they were to be let.

“To my last letter to him, I have received no answer; whether this is to be ascribed to his not having received it, or to his thinking an answer unnecessary, I am unable to decide. Be it either the houses now are equally open to the occupancy of any tenant—or tenants, of respectable character, and ablility to pay the rent, or Rents; for ⟨as I⟩ think I informed you in my last, the exterior, has the appearance of one House, and interiorly, may be so likewise; at the same time by Closing the communication between them within, they become perfectly seperated and distinct.

“As you have already been informed of my terms, and these are so widely apart from your proposal—it is hardly necessary to trouble you with the details, required in your letter; especially as I should be obliged to have recourse to the Undertaker to be furnished with the answer; and still more especially as I am not disposed to rent the Houses for a term of years; thereby impeding the value of them, if (as I believe will be the case) I should find it convenient to part with them.

“After this explanation of my terms; thereof, you may yet wish to have the queries contained in your last, solved; it shall be done upon notice thereof to Sir—Your Very Hble Servant Go: Washington” (letterpress copy, NN: Washington Papers).

On the same day that he wrote his second letter to Avery, GW wrote this private letter of inquiry to Alexander Hamilton: “Dear Sir, Inconvenient as it was to my finances, I have been ⟨induced illegible⟩ to erect convenient to the Capital, in the Federal City, two houses, to aid in the accomodation of members of Congress, which have the exterior of one, but by an arrangement of communication may, according to the desire of the occupant, or occupants—may have all the conveniencies of one, or be entirely seperate & distinct.

“For these buildings a person of the name of John Avery, wishes ⟨a boar⟩ding house in the building erected for the Governors of New York ⟨illegible⟩ for the occupancy of them, ⟨for that⟩ purpose. In person & character he is a stranger to me; wherefore I take the liberty to enquire of you confidentially ⟨illegible⟩ the latter is, and whether ⟨you believe⟩ Rent of about $1200 would be sure on his part. This information (especially ⟨since he seems⟩ to be too full of himself) wd very much oblige My dear Sir—Yrs always Go: Washington” (letterpress copy, NN: Washington Papers).

Hamilton wrote GW on 21 Oct. that “poor Avery is dead of the yellow fever.” The Capitol Hill houses were unfinished and, apparently, unrented at the time of GW’s death.

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