Adams Papers

William Cranch to John Adams, 18 Apr. 1797

Washington April 18th.1797.

Dear sir

I was extremely gratified by your kind letter of 23d. ulto. truely, I did not expect an answer to my last, as I supposed your time must have been too much occupied by the great Events of the present important Crisis,—I should have replied sooner to your <esteem> enquiries, but the deep embarressments of Mr Morris & Mr. Greenleaf; for both of whom I have been the Agent, have demanded my whole attention.

Mr. Scott has not removed his family into the City yet: It really has appear’d to me a hard Case to insist on this point. When the Commissioners were appointed, I believe there was no obligation on them to reside here. Mr. Scott purchased 50 acres of land adjoining the bounds of the City, and has built an elegant brick dwelling house and Out-houses, garden’s &c on this land, <and >commanding a view of the whole City and the Patowmack to Alexandria. Had he placed his house 1/4 of [a] mile south of it’s present situation it would have been in the City; indeed it might have been in the City and yet much farther from the Commissioners office than it is at present. Under these Circumstances it seems hard to oblige him to pay rent for a house in the City, while perhaps his own house must stand empty. But there is another difficulty; I do not know of a house to be rented, suitable for his family; and it can not be expected that with [only] $1600 p Annum, he can build one.

The superior advantages of the Eastern Branch [water Lots] over the Patowmack water Lots are, that the eastern branch affords a much better harbour. The channel has 30 feet of water all the way from Alexandria to the place [in] which the bridge is intended; whereas the channel of the Patomack next the City has, at the point 27 feet, from thence gradually decreasing in depth;—opposite square No. 503 it has but 15 feet, and continues that depth to square No. 471, from thence a middle Channel [carrying about 10 feet] runs over to the Virginia shore and joins the main Channel of the Patowmack just below Masons Island. From square No. 471 a small Channel having about 7 feet of water runs along near the shore quite up to the lower end of Masons Island.—All this shore is exposed to the <winds> S.— <S.E.>—S.W.—<and> [West and] N.W. Winds which are the most prevalent and are often very severe, and in Winter is much troubled with Ice, and freshes.—

The Eastern branch is navigable only to Bladensburg, 8 miles above the City, where the stream is so small that it is forded at all seasons of the year, and the stages constantly drive thro’ it—It is therefore subject to no Current excepting the gentle Ebb and flow of the tide which rises about 5 feet. It is guarded from all winds, being land lock’d by Addison’s [point] which projects into the Patowmack just at the mouth of the Eastern branch. Its waters are always tranquil. Whether the number of warm springs which run into it, or its muddy bottom, or being guarded from the winds, prevents the forming of the ice, it is certain that [it] never freezes so soon nor so hard as the Patowmack, and opens sooner in the spring. It was navigable last season, six weeks longer than the Harbour at Georgetown. This however is not common, the difference being generally about a fortnight or 3 weeks, in favour of the Eastern branch. Mason’s Island which lies <just below> [partly below and partly opposite ]Georgetown, stops the Ice which forms in Cakes, and if the weather is cold enough it is there cemented into a solid body, and <hold> is held fast by the Island until it gradually melts away in the Spring. The passages between this Island and Georgetown on one side and the Virginia shore on the other are very narrow; consequently when there is a fresh in the river it is difficult and dangerous for ships to attempt to pass through them, and if a vessel is caught there in the Winter she is in great danger of being cut to pieces with the Ice, even when lying at the wharves; whereas if a vessel chances to get frozen in the eastern branch she lies perfectly secure.—A ship of 400 tons has this week loaded at Barry’s wharff in the Eastern branch, with flour and ship bread and sail’d yesterday for the Havanna or Porto-rico. Barry’s wharf is on square 771, at the lower end of N. Jersey Avenue in which Mr. Law has built 3 respectable houses and a number of small temporary houses. Mr. Barry has on his wharff a large wooden store, a bake house with 4 ovens which he keeps employd in baking ship bread, and a Coopers shop; a ferry boat also lands at the wharff and a small packet runs from thence to Alexandria. Near the wharff Mr. Barry has a 3 story brick dwelling house and a grocer’s store kept by his nephew. These improvements, together with the natural Advantages of the Eastern branch, lead me to conclude that the eastern side of the City will be the first settled, and [that] Barry’s wharff will [be] the Center from which the natural growth of the City will extend, and Lots begin to acquire a real and permanent value. Hitherto their value has been merely speculative. But now the partial Monopoly of Lots by Morris, Nicholson and Greenleaf is breaking to pieces [and] the lots will soon be distributed among a vast number of <builders> proprietors. Messrs. M & N are dayly giving security on their property here, in some Cases with the power to sell in Case of delinquency, so that in a short [time] a great number of Lots will be brought into market, and their price will fall untill they get into hands who [can] afford to hold them. The situation of these Gentlemen is such that altho’ I am here as the Agent of Mr. Morris at the salary of $1800 p Annum, yet I see no way of geting bread for my family, but by returning to the practise of the Law, which I am determined to do as soon as I can raise the means of replacing my library which was burnt in the ship with Mr. Dalton’s furniture. It is a fact that for 3 or 4 months past I have not had one dollar, although I have had plenty of promises from Mr. M—which it has not been in his power to perform.—However I do not absolutely despair of receiving some money soon, altho my faith has not been so strong as to [prevent me from] securing myself from all debts contracted by me on his account.—

I have been insensibly led to mention my own affairs which I beg you to excuse, and to believe me / with the most affectionate Respect / Dear sir your obedt.servt.

W. Cranch.

RC (MHi: Adams Papers).

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