George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Bancroft Woodcock, 11 March 1786

From Bancroft Woodcock

Wilmington Delaware State
11—3 Mo. 1786

Respected Friend
George Washington

As I understand thou art a Lover of Regularity & Order, I take the Freedom to sugjest to thee, (hopeing it will not offend) that from what a person from Allexandra told me, (on seeing his & another Street-Commissioner, laying out the Fronts of Lots, to prevent the Masons from Incroaching on the Streets or on their neighbours) I understand that they are not Building that Town with that Accuracy that we are, & which we have found by Experience to be Absolutely Necessary to prevent Contention & even Lawsuits.

Our Mode is approved & admited by Rittenhous & Lukins, in Preferrence to theirs of Philadelphia.1 In the year 84 we were Appointed to Run our Streets over again, which with an Instrument I Constructed & an Accromattic glass,2 we adjusted & Corrected the Irregularities into which the former Commissioners had Inevitablity run, for want of such Machine, we have now placed Stones from one to Four Hundred weight with a Hole in them in the Center of the Intersections of the Streets, from which all Frunts of Houses, Party Walls & Partition Fences within the Corporation are to be Adjusted & Govern’d according to an Act of Assembly. This Mode I would have Allexandra Addopt, & the sooner the better to prevent Irregularities & Disputes.

If my Assistance will be acceptable, I will bring my Instrument & assist the Street Commissioners of Allexandra, for Tenn Shillings pr Day & my Accomodations.

And my Esteem’d Friend, suffer me to Request of thee, What I have often Pourd out my Tears & put up my Supplycations to the God of my Life for thee as for my self, when I have had to Remember thee, that as the curtain of our Evening Closes, & (metaphorically) our shadows Lengthens, thou & I may Dayly Experience more or less ⟨mutilated⟩ a Well grounded Hope, that when the auful Period arrives, wh⟨en⟩ we must forever be Seperated from all Mundine enjoyments, we may be Admited to Join the Heavenly Hoste, in the full Fruition of that Joy, the foretaste of which was so Delightful to the Soul, whilst in these Houses of Clay. That this may be Favourably received is the Desire of thy Friend

Bancroft Woodcock


Bancroft Woodcock, “Delaware’s foremost eighteenth century silversmith,” was born into a Quaker family in Wilmington, Del., in 1732. He in the 1760s was working as a silversmith in Wilmington with an apprentice, in 1784 was disowned by the Wilmington Meeting of the Society of Friends, and by 1786 owned a considerable amount of real estate in Wilmington and was speculating in lands located in western Pennsylvania. At the end of 1794, Woodcock moved to his land in Bedford County, Pa., and died there in 1817. The fact, however, that another Bancroft Woodcock was buried in 1825 at the Wilmington Friends Meeting House raises the possibility that it was not the clearly very prosperous silversmith, no longer a member of the Society of Friends and 53 years old in 1786, who wrote this letter offering to come to Alexandria and help resurvey its streets for ten shillings a day and keep (David B. Warren, “Bancroft Woodcock: Silversmith, Friend, and Landholder” [Delaware Antiques Show Catalog, 1967]).

1David Rittenhouse (1732–1796), the famed astronomer and mathematician, was also a noted surveyor and instrument maker. John Lukens, surveyor general of colonial Pennsylvania, assisted Rittenhouse in his famous observation of the transit of Venus in 1769. Rittenhouse’s most recent, and final, surveying was done in 1785 when Congress appointed him to take part in running the long-disputed New York-Massachusetts boundary line (Hindle, Pursuit of Science description begins Brook Hindle. The Pursuit of Science in Revolutionary America, 1735–1789. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1956. description ends , 338).

2This is an achromatic lens or telescope.

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