Adams Papers

William Cranch to John Quincy Adams, 16 September 1796

William Cranch to John Quincy Adams

Washington Septr. 16. 1796.—

My dear friend

The want of opportunity, and leisure, has a long time prevented me from writing you. The ship Mary Peggy, from Georgetown for Amsterdam has moved down & now lies in the stream opposite my house, waiting for the wind & tide.1 I have tried for a fortnight past to get a moment’s leisure to write you, but Messrs. Morris & Nicholson are now here and their business together with the settlement & payment of the accounts for ten large brick houses which I have built for Mr. Morris since 25th. June last, has occupied every moment of my time.2 I never knew what full Employment was ’till I came to this City.—

I know nothing of Politics.— It is said & believed that the President will resign.— The two principal Candidates are the present Vice President & Mr. Jefferson.— It is thought that the district to which I belong will vote for the former, and I am led to hope that Virginia will also have a Majority in favr. of the same Candidate, notwithstanding his unpardonable Crime in repeating the odious word “Well-born” in his book upon Government.—3 I have often fell into Company where the Character of this Patriot has been the subject of Conversation, and the only aspertion which democratic violence could suggest was that he used the word “well-born.” The noise about the treaty has nearly subsided, and in the jacobin papers the only cant words are “British Amity,” & “exclusive Patriots.”—4

I had a letter from my Mother of the 7th. Inst. in which she says your father is well & your Mother (whose health has not been good for some time past) is getting better. Our other friends are well. My Brother Norton is like to be starved out of his parish, & will probably have to seek a living elsewhere.—5

This City is an object which undoubtedly attracts the attention of many People in Europe, and you may wish to know it’s present situation & future prospects.— It contains about 100 hansome brick houses the greatest part of which are yet unfinished & of course uninhabited. The price of Lots has been nearly stationary for 18 Months past—the average may be stated at 10 Cents per square foot by retail.— There are also about 100 decent wooden dwelling houses occupied by tradesmen.— These houses are scatter’d about over the whole face of the City and there is yet but little appearance of a town.— The Congress has authorised a loan for the finishing the public buildings, of $300,000—on the Credit of which the Capitol has progressed considerably this season, and one wing of it (which is large enough to accommodate the Congress) will be cover’d by the end of 1797.—6 The Presidents house is nearly ready to receive the Roof.— The Navigation of the Patowmack is also in great forwardness, and the locks at the great falls will probably be completed in the Course of the next year.—7 The rise of the property here has been in some instances 2400 per Cent since 1793.—but in general it has not been so great. It is, however, clear in my opinion that any one who will purchase property here & can afford to keep it 4 or 5 years will make immense profit.— So much for City of Washington.—

My own time has been most completely occupied, but my health & that of all my family has been perfectly good ever since I have been here. We have not had one hour’s sickness.— I have in family Mr. Eliot & his sister Betsy—Doctr. May from Boston & four servants.—8 My Nancy is everything I could wish or hope for, as a Wife & friend.— We have not once had the least difference of sentiment, and neither satiety nor disgust have follow’d from 18 months enjoyment. We have a boy about 9 months old, who is perfect in his limbs & shape, who is as robust a child as I ever saw—is tight & fat, his joints well Knit, & is a full blooded Yankee, begotten on the Banks of Merrimack, in Nature’s fullest Glee. He has a Countenance full of jolly smiles—his mothers forehead & Eyes, a nose compounded of the two & a mouth a little resembling his father when he smiles.— He is often passionate but very seldom cries.— Excuse the father for saying so much of a […] in whom you can have no other Interest tha[n that h]e belongs to me.—

I intend to write a line to my dear friend your brother, but if I should not have time, please tell him I would have written. I have tried much to get some good tobacco for him, but altho’ we live in the midst of a tobacco Country, no one will take the pains to manufacture it.— I have requested a friend of mine to send to Petersburgh in Virginia, (where only the good tobacco can be had) for a Keg, but it has not arrived yet, & the ship is now sailing.9

With every wish for your happiness & that of / your amiable Brother, believe me most / sincerely & affectionately your friend

W. Cranch.10

RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “John Quincy Adams Esqr. / Minister from the United states / of America, resident / at the / Hauge.”; endorsed by TBA: “William Cranch Esqr / 16 September 1796 / 27 Recd. Novr / 29 Do Answd:”; notation: “per ship Peggy.—” Some loss of text where the seal was removed.

1This was possibly the bark Peggy, Capt. Henry Lunt, which made multiple trips between Georgetown and Amsterdam between 1795 and 1797 (Philadelphia Finlay’s American Naval and Commercial Register, 1 Jan. 1796; Philadelphia American Daily Advertiser, 11 July; Baltimore Federal Gazette, 29 March 1797).

2John Nicholson (d. 1800), the former comptroller general of Pennsylvania, was a principal investor in the Washington, D.C., land speculation firm Morris, Nicholson & Greenleaf, reconfigured as Morris & Nicholson after James Greenleaf’s exit from the venture in May 1796. In June the firm began construction of twenty two-story brick houses along the square on South Capitol Street between M and N Streets. William Cranch, whose services had been retained after Greenleaf’s departure, initially oversaw the construction, but both Nicholson and Robert Morris came to Washington in September to lend their weight to the project and to attend to their firm’s financial affairs in the capital (DAB description begins Allen Johnson, Dumas Malone, and others, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–1936; repr. New York, 1955–1980; 10 vols. plus index and supplements. description ends ; Clark, Greenleaf and Law, description begins Allen C. Clark, Greenleaf and Law in the Federal City, Washington, D.C., 1901. description ends p. 71; Bryan, Hist. of the National Capital, description begins Wilhelmus Bogart Bryan, A History of the National Capital from Its Foundation through the Period of the Adoption of the Organic Act, New York, 1914–1916; 2 vols. description ends 1:278–280).

3JA uses the phrase “well-born” several times throughout his Defence of the Const., description begins John Adams, A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, London, 1787–1788; repr. New York, 1971; 3 vols. description ends and the words would become part of the attacks against him leading up to the election. JA’s most cogent use of the term, however, is to argue against a unicameral government: “The rich, the well-born, and the able, acquire an influence among the people, that will soon be too much for simple honesty and plain sense, in a house of representatives. The most illustrious of them must therefore be separated from the mass, and placed by themselves in a senate: this is, to all honest and useful intents, an ostracism. A member of a senate, of immense wealth, the most respected birth, and transcendent abilities, has no influence in the nation, in comparison of what he would have in a single representative assembly” (JA, Defence of the Const., description begins John Adams, A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, London, 1787–1788; repr. New York, 1971; 3 vols. description ends 1:xiii; Elizabethtown New-Jersey Journal, 2 Nov.; Halifax North-Carolina Journal, 7 Nov.).

4On 29 March under the title “BRITISH AMITY!” the Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser offered an example of the depredations being committed against American shipping by British vessels. These “EVIDENCES OF BRITISH AMITY” became regular features across the Democratic-Republican press throughout the summer; see, for example, Elizabethtown New-Jersey Journal, 11 May; Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, 28 June; and Boston Independent Chronicle, 12 September.

“Exclusive patriots” initially referred to populist groups in France that acted in opposition to the Directory during the spring of 1796. In the United States, the term became a pejorative adopted by the Federalist press to describe their Democratic-Republican opponents; see, for example, New York Herald, 25 June; Boston Columbian Centinel, 13 Aug.; and Philadelphia Gazette of the United States, 5 September.

5Jacob Norton was dissatisfied with his salary as minister of the First Church of Weymouth. On 11 Oct. he addressed a letter to his congregation stating that due to the “diminution of the value of money, for several years past” he had not been able to “furnish my-self and family with several of the comforts, and even of the necessaries of life.” His initial appeal appears to have been denied, but on 27 Feb. 1797 he submitted a similar letter to his congregation with better results. Elizabeth Cranch Norton recorded in that day’s diary entry that a parish meeting was held during which the congregation voted her husband “the use of the parsonage, while he remains their minister—& 15 Cords of wood a year free [of] all expence” (MHi: First Church [Weymouth, Mass.] Records, 1724–1839; Jacob Norton Papers, Elizabeth Cranch Norton Diary, 1796–1797).

6The Residence Act of 1790 made no provision for public funding toward the establishment of the national capital, although Section 4 empowered the president to receive grants of money to defray the expenses of land and buildings. George Washington negotiated with landowners to receive free of charge the land necessary for streets, parks, and other public reservations, while land allocated for public buildings was conveyed at a price of £25 per acre. The remaining building lots were then apportioned equally between the landowners and the government, the latter of which sold its share to finance the public buildings. By the end of 1795 these avenues of funding had been exhausted or were impractical, and in Jan. 1796 Washington submitted to Congress a loan appeal on behalf of the district commissioners. The resulting loan of $300,000 was approved by the House on 31 March and by the Senate on 4 May (First Fed. Cong., description begins Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789 – March 3, 1791, ed. Linda Grant De Pauw, Charlene Bangs Bickford, Helen E. Veit, William C. diGiacomantonio, and Kenneth R. Bowling, Baltimore, 1972– . description ends 6:1767–1768; Washington, Papers, Presidential Series, description begins The Papers of George Washington: Presidential Series, ed. W. W. Abbot, Dorothy Twohig, Jack D. Warren, Mark A. Mastromarino, Robert F. Haggard, Christine S. Patrick, John C. Pinheiro, and others, Charlottesville, Va., 1987– . description ends 8:24; Bryan, Hist. of the National Capital, description begins Wilhelmus Bogart Bryan, A History of the National Capital from Its Foundation through the Period of the Adoption of the Organic Act, New York, 1914–1916; 2 vols. description ends 1:264–270; Annals of Congress, description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States [1789–1824], Washington, D.C., 1834–1856; 42 vols. description ends 4th Cong., 1st sess., p. 79, 825–840).

7From the 1750s Washington had envisioned the Potomac River as a means of connecting eastern shipping to the western frontier, and in 1785 he was a driving force behind the organization of the Potomac Company, founded to improve the river’s navigation. The greatest impediment to continuous navigation of the river from Cumberland, Md., to the tidewater 184 miles downriver at Georgetown was Great Falls, 14 miles from Georgetown, where a 76-foot drop over one-half mile made the river impassible. Excavation of a skirting canal had begun in 1791 and preparatory work for the lift locks was under way by 1795, but challenges in design, funding, and labor delayed completion of the locks until 1802. By 1797, however, a system of inclined planes was in place whereby cargo could be lowered from vessels upriver of the falls to those downriver (Robert J. Kapsch, The Potomac Canal: George Washington and the Waterway West, Morgantown, W. Va., 2007, p. 10, 14, 17, 86–87, 90, 107). See also Descriptive List of Illustrations, No. 8, above.

8Samuel Eliot Jr. (1772–1822) and his sister Elizabeth (1774–1847) were the children of Boston merchant Samuel Eliot Sr. and Elizabeth Greenleaf and the nephew and niece of Nancy Greenleaf Cranch (Walter Graeme Eliot, A Sketch of the Eliot Family, N.Y., 1887, p. 43, 122–123; Greenleaf, Greenleaf Family, description begins James Edward Greenleaf, comp., Genealogy of the Greenleaf Family, Boston, 1896. description ends p. 73–74). For Dr. Frederick May (1773–1847), see CFA, Diary, description begins Diary of Charles Francis Adams, ed. Aïda DiPace Donald, David Donald, Marc Friedlaender, L. H. Butterfield, and others, Cambridge, 1964– . description ends 1:45.

9For TBA’s 8 April 1795 letter to William Cranch requesting tobacco, see vol. 10:407.

10JQA replied to this letter on 29 Nov. 1796 offering his congratulations on Cranch’s “felicity” and thanks for Cranch’s description of the capital’s development. JQA then gave a brief review of France’s recent military failures and its various peace negotiations, and he offered a mocking summary of the French influence on politics in the Batavian Republic (LbC, APM Reel 128).

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