George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Andrew Ellicott, 20 August 1789

From Andrew Ellicott

Moore Street No. 6 [New York] August 20th 1789

Sir

My former appointment to run the Line between the Western boundary of the State of New York, and the Lands belonging to the United States, added to the considerable expense I have already been at under that appointment in making the necessary Astronomical Instruments, and commencing the business by forwarding the Baggage to the Tyoga; together with my expenses in this City for three months past, occassioned by the claim of Mr Gorham, which is at length set aside, I expect will be a sufficient recommendation to procure a reappointment: I shall therefore not trouble your Excellency with any recommendatory testimonials on this occassion.1

In bringing this Subject forward for an investigation in Congress, it became necessary for me as an Officer of the Union, to give such information as I was possessed of, which I have done with freedom. If that information has given umbrage to Mr Gorham, and his Associates, I hope it may be remembered should they object to my reappointment, that the execution of this business will depend intirely upon Scientific, and Mathematical Principles, and therefore cannot possibly be affected by either prejudice, or interest; both of which I am however a stranger to in this case. For the propriety of my conduct relative to this business, I would gladly appeal to the Members of both Houses of Congress, or the Committees to which the Memorials were referred.2 I have the Honor to be Your Excellencies Humble Servt

Andrew Ellicott

ALS, DLC:GW.

1For Ellicott’s application for a public appointment, see his letter to GW, 16 May 1789.

2On 6 June 1788 the Confederation Congress passed a resolution ordering a survey of the boundary line between the United States and New York and Massachusetts. Since Geographer Thomas Hutchins and his deputy Ellicott had already run the line between Pennsylvania and Lake Erie, they were then ordered to survey land lying west of that line so that the Board of Treasury could proceed to the sale of the tract (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 34:202–3). In February 1789 Ellicott wrote the secretary of Congress that Hutchins’s illness, soon to prove fatal, and a lack of the proper surveying instruments had delayed the enterprise and he had returned east to await the orders of Congress (Ellicott to Charles Thomson, 18 Feb. 1789, DNA:PCC, item 78). On 6 July Ellicott sent a petition to the new Congress asking for funds to carry out his assignment under the resolution of 6 June 1788 (DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972—. description ends 3:105, 107, 115, 120–21; DNA: RG 233, Record of the Reports of Select Committees). During his stay in the East in the spring and summer of 1789 Ellicott had evidently become involved in the attempt by land speculators Oliver Phelps and Nathaniel Gorham to protect their interests on the frontier from congressional action. The government’s involvement in running the Pennsylvania boundary had important implications for Phelps and Gorham, who had recently purchased from the Massachusetts legislature vast quantities of land in the western part of the state, including land on the New York—Pennsylvania frontier. In late 1788 and in 1789 the two speculators were busy trying to secure title to the tracts from the Indians, to defend their controversial purchase in the Massachusetts legislature, and to raise the sums necessary to complete their purchase from the state. Part of Phelps’s and Gorham’s plans had included a sale to Pennsylvania of a portion of the land around the Erie Triangle (see Bernard Hubley to GW, 28 July 1789, n.3). Congress’s resolution of 6 June 1788 signaled the general government’s assertion of its claim to the area. On 24 July 1789 Gorham presented a petition to Congress stating that his and Phelps’s purchase would be “materially affected by the line directed to be run between the United States and the state of New-York, and praying that such measures may be taken therein as shall be consistent with a due regard to the rights of the said Phelps and the petitioner.” The Gorham petition was tabled by the House (DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972—. description ends 3:122, 122–23, 129; DNA: RG 46, Petitions and Memorials, Various Subjects).

The House considered a committee report on Ellicott’s petition on 10 Aug., resolving that the survey ordered by the resolution of 6 June 1788 be carried out and that “the President of the United States be requested to appoint a fit person to complete the same” (DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972—. description ends 3:143, 157, 169–70; DNA: RG 46, Messages from the House; ASP, Public Lands, description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends 1:7–8). On 26 Aug. the House journal notes that “a message was received from the President of the United States, notifying that the President approves of the resolve for executing the survey directed by an act of the late Congress, of June the sixth, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, and has this day affixed his signature thereto” (DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972—. description ends 3:169–70). GW appointed Ellicott to the survey sometime before 4 Sept. (see his letter of that date to Henry Knox). For Nathaniel Gorham’s alarmed reaction to the 26 Aug. resolution, see his letter to John Jay, 29 Sept. 1789 (DNA: RG 59, Correspondence of George Washington with the Secretaries of State). On 5 Sept. GW issued the following certificate concerning Ellicott’s mission: “Whereas on the sixth day of June in the year of Our Lord 1788, the said United States then in Congress assembled, did, among other things, Resolve, that the Geographer of the said States be, and he thereby was directed, to ascertain by himself, or by a Deputy duly appointed for the purpose, the boundary line between the United States and the States of New York and Massachusetts, agreeably to the deeds of cession of the said States, and further, that the said Geographer or his Deputy, having run the meridian Line between Lake Erie and the State of Pennsylvania, and marked and noted down in his field book proper land marks for perpetuating the same, should proceed to make a survey of the land lying west of the said line, between Lake Erie and the State of Pennsylvania so as to ascertain the quantity thereof, and make return of such survey to the Board of Treasury.

“And whereas the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States by a concurrent resolution, passed by the latter on the 10th and concurred in by the former on the 19th of august last did provide ‘that the survey directed by Congress in their aforesaid act of the 6th June 1788 be made and returned to the Secretary of the Treasury without delay, and that the President of the United States be requested to appoint a fit Person to compleat the same’ Now know ye, that in pursuance of the said request I have appointed, and by these presents do appoint Andrew Ellicott a Citizen of the State of Maryland to compleat the said survey as directed in and by the said act of Congress of the 6th June 1788 and by the concurrent Resolution of the Senate and House of Representatives abovementioned” (DNA: RG 59, Correspondence of George Washington with the Secretaries of State).

Index Entries