George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Simeon DeWitt, 12 January 1784

From Simeon DeWitt

New Windsor [N.Y.] January 12th 1784


I have enclosed to Your Excellency a Copy of a Letter to the President of Congress containing such proposals respecting the publication of Maps from the Surveys we have made during the War As I thought would be the least objectionable—I wish some Additions could be made to them, but as the Expence which would attend them was probably the reason why my first proposals were not accepted I have now made them otherwise.1 If any other mode practacable with me could be suggested I would with pleasure adopt it.

I thought it necessary to give this information to clear myself in Your Excellency’s Opinion if the Country loose the satisfaction of seeing our works published.2I am with the Greatest esteem Sir Your Excellency’s Most Obedient Humble servant

S: DeWitt


Simeon DeWitt (1756–1834) became in 1778 an assistant to Robert Erskine, geographer and surveyor general to the Continental army. Following Erskine’s death on 2 Oct. 1780, Congress on 4 Dec. named DeWitt “geographer to the army, in the room of Robert Erskine, deceased” (JCC, description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends 18:1118), and on 16 Dec. GW informed DeWitt of his appointment as “Surveyor of the Army.” Congress resolved on 11 July 1781 that the titles of both DeWitt and Thomas Hutchins, who was made geographer to the southern army on 4 May 1781, would be changed to “Geographer to the United States of America” (ibid., 20:738). After the war, on 13 May 1784, DeWitt replaced Gen. Philip Schuyler as surveyor general for the state of New York, a position he held until his death. He was one of the most important mapmakers in the early Republic.

1After receiving a letter from DeWitt dated 4 June 1783, Jonathan Trumbull, Jr., talked to GW on behalf of DeWitt, “to obtain permission for publishing a Map of the Seat of War in America” (Trumbull to DeWitt, 8 June 1783). Trumbull on 8 June assured DeWitt of GW’s strong support for the project. DeWitt wrote Elias Boudinot, president of Congress, on 17 June 1783, proposing that he use the surveys he had made for the army and make some additional ones for drawing a map of the region within “the Meridians of Philadelphia and Stanford in Connecticut And the Parallels of Philadelphia and Fishkills.” Such a map, he said, would include the main actions of the war and yet be of manageable size. If allowed to hire two surveying assistants, he proposed to have his drawings of the maps ready for the engravers by winter (DNA:PCC, item 78). On 20 Oct. 1783, a committee headed by Hugh Williamson reported to Congress: “That though a map of the principal theatre of war in the middle states from actual surveys on a large scale is much desired, such a work cannot in prudence be undertaken at the public expence in the present reduced state of our finances” (JCC, description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends 25:711). The text of DeWitt’s letter to Thomas Mifflin of this date, which he enclosed in this letter to GW, is: “When His Excellency General Washington was the last time at West Point I requested a discharge from him in case the Public should not stand in need of any farther services from me, which I was inclined to Judge since I had not any hopes that Congress would accede to the proposals I made last summer respecting the publication of a Map from the surveys in my possession of the principal seat of the late war. He answered that the nature of my office being such as that Congress might possibly still have Occasion for my services he did not think himself Authorised to grant the discharge I requested but advised me to make a final Application to know if my proposals would be agreed to or my continuance in Office be any longer Necessary.

“If the expence of bringing my maps to a farther degree of perfection by additional surveys be Judged to be needless, I have this proposal to make. I will undertake to compleat in the best manner I can from the materials I have as much as shall be conveniently contained in one Plate and publish it at my own risque, provided I can be furnished with Cash from the Continental Treasury sufficient for the purpose on account of the pay now due to me from the United States. Probably a Thousand Dollars would be sufficient. I make this stipulation with the greater assurance as I have not had the indulgence extended to me by which Others of the Army Who like myself were not patronized by any particular State have recieved on the settlement of their Depreciation Accounts considerable proportions of the Balances due them. From the impressions of one Plate I shall be able to Judge whether it shall afterwards answer to undertake any more. At present it will be a precarious business on Account of the quantity of spurious productions which can be manufactured with such ease in Europe and are imposed on the ignorant here.

“If a New State is to be laid off adjoining Pensylvania and Virginia as has been expected I have hopes that from the parity of the Office I now hold and that of a surveyor general to such a State Congress will be inclined to transfer me to that Department, especially if it be allowable to suppose them influenced by a predelection in favour of their old servants who have done their duty with reputation under all the difficulties with which the American Army had to encounter, and Who have lost permanent places of employment by being engaged in a military Life—I would be willing to undertake the Surveying in a New State either under the denominat. of the Office of Geographer as I now possess it or simply with the emoluments of a Surveyor to the State if fixed in a permanent manner, for the two Offices so far from being incompatible would rather be assistant to each other.

“I must now Request Your Excellency to lay this before Congress and beg they may take the proposal I have made as well as my Application respecting the Surveyorship of a New state into consideration . . .” (DLC:GW). The ALS is in DNA:PCC, item 78. DeWitt’s request for discharge is dated 16 Nov. 1783, and GW’s response is dated 17 Nov. 1783.

2GW wrote DeWitt on 3 Mar. 1784 heartily endorsing the project, and on the same day he wrote Thomas Jefferson in Congress commending both DeWitt and DeWitt’s proposal. Jefferson replied on 6 Mar. that DeWitt’s petition was being considered by a committee of which he was a member (see note 1).

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