George Washington Papers
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From George Washington to the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, September 1795

To the Commissioners for the District of Columbia

Alexandria [Va.] 26th Sep. 1795


At this place, yesterday afternoon,1 I received the letter herewith enclosed from Mr Morris, in answer to one I wrote him;2 as much of a private as an official nature.

It is for your information only I send it, to avoid a lengthy detail of its contents: to give which I have not time at present. When you have read it, be so good as to return it3 to Gentlemen Your Obedt Hble Servant

Go: Washington

ALS (photocopy), NjP: Armstrong Collection; LB, DLC:GW.

1The letter-book copyist wrote “last evening” instead of the two preceding words.

2GW enclosed Robert Morris’s letter to him of 21 Sept., which had been in answer to GW’s to Morris of 14 September. Morris wrote: “You will readily believe that I have suffered severe mortification at being in arrears with my payments to the Commissioners of the Federal City, but my Feelings are still more deeply wounded at the Idea of an application from them to You upon this Subject, The only appology I can make for being in that situation, is the impossibility of obtaining Money for the Sale of property or upon Loan, I have long and unceasingly endeavoured to procure it and have offered to make sacrifices that sufficiently prove my anxiety. Mr Law gave me some faint hopes before he went from hence that he might Accomodate me with the Sum necessary to discharge the arrearages of Mr Nicholson & myself of which he was to give me information after his arrival at the City.” The inducements Morris made to persuade Law “were such as I think he will Accept if the Money can be commanded without too much inconvenience to himself.”

Not until Morris received GW’s letter did he become “acquainted with the real necessity there is for Supplying the Commrs With Money.” Previously, he thought a slight delay of no consequence. But GW’s letter placed the issue “in a very different light.” Morris promised immediately to “Commence my remittances & Continue them untill my part of the Arrears are discharged.” He owed $15,000, and Nicholson $25,000. As for the loan in the treasurer’s account, neither of the two men, insisted Morris, had “any thing to do with it, being excepted in our Written Contracts with Mr Greenleaf as I peremtorily refused to engage in the Concern upon any other terms. It is therefore Mr Greenleafs affair solely.”

Morris did not know what had induced the commissioners to make the first contract with James Greenleaf. Greenleaf had made the purchase, and then Morris “agreed to take one third part therein, in the expectation of fullfulling my part of the engagements Specified in the Contract (the Loan excepted) and of gaining a handsome profit upon resales of the Lotts & Houses.” As for the second contract he and Greenleaf had with the commissioners, Morris admitted he had acted as a party to that agreement, and his “letters written on that Subject to the Commrs & Mr Greenleaf Shew what were my Motives & expectations and I will fullfill every obligation that is or can be implied by those letters.

“Nobody can suppose that Mr Nicholson or myself entered into these engagements with an expectation of holding the property It was from the beginning & is now our intention to resell when it can be done to our Satisfaction.” Morris believed that “the interest of the City will be more certainly promoted by interesting a Number of Individuals, than by any One or two Men, continueing to hold a large Number of Lotts.” He added, “by purchasing of Mr Greenleaf we have not encreased the payments we Now have to make to the Commrs.” The money they owed had come due before they had made the purchase, and “future payments are but little encreased thereby; in those we do not expect ever to be delinquent.”

Morris pointed to another reason for their “Embarrassments.” The recent French invasion of Holland had prevented Greanleaf from fulfilling his promise. Morris requested GW’s pardon for “troubling You with these circumstances,” but “sensible as I am of the very Friendly terms & intention of your letter, I thought it due to you & to my self that you should know something of the cause of that delinquency which has called for your interference.” He did not believe the commissioners justified “under existing circumstances” to advertise the property for sale in an effort to discharge the present debt due to them by Nicholson and Morris. He promised GW that the commissioners could rest confident “that our exertions shall possess them of the Money much sooner than they could obtain it by such Sales” (ALS, DLC:GW; copy, DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Received; LB, DLC: Robert Morris Papers).

3At this point, the letter-book copy has “by the post.”

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