George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Beverley Randolph, 14 January 1790

From Beverley Randolph

Richmond [Va.] January 14th 1790.


Since my letter of the 18th of December last General Wood at the request of the Executive went to Cape Henry to ascertain the present situation of the materials formerly placed there for the purpose of building a Light house.1 I take the liberty to inclose to you his report upon this subject, and to offer the materials in their present situation so far as Virginia has an Interest in them, to the United States.2 I shall immediately write to the Governor of Maryland to inform him of this measure and have no doubt but that state will unite with us in disposing of the whole.3 If it should be determined not to accept the offer now made, I wish to be informed whether the purchase will be made upon any other terms.4 Igw, have &c.

Beverley Randolph

LB, Vi: Executive Letter Books.

1For GW’s concern about the material at the construction site for the Cape Henry lighthouse, see Thomas Newton, Jr., to GW, 17 July, 24 Oct. 1789, GW to Newton, 12 Oct., 23 Nov. 1789, and Beverley Randolph to GW, 18 Dec. 1789. See also Tobias Lear to Alexander Hamilton, 5 Jan. 1790.

2Lieut. Gov. James Wood’s report to Randolph stated that “in obedience to the advice of Council of the 17th ultimo, he had visited Cape Henry in order to ascertain the present situation of the material placed on the headland of the Cape for the purpose of erecting a Light-House. He discovered from the books of the Commiss’r, and also from information of Col. Thos. Newton (one of them), that Virginia & Maryland had appointed the same commiss’rs; that they had rec’d from Virginia £5,418, 7s, 10½d, and from Maryland £2,489, 16s, 5½d, which sums were expended for stone, fr’t to the Cape, Cartage to the spot which was intended for the sight of the Light-house, and other necesssary expenses. Found the quantity of stone on the spot about 4,036 Tons, which was supposed to be sufficient for an octagon Light-House 72 f’t high, diameter at base 26 f’t, 9 inches, and at top 16 feet, 6 inches; walls to be 6 feet thick at the base, and 3 feet thick at the top; foundation to be 13 feet deep; the building to be divided into seven stories, besides the Lantern.

“The Stone was purchased at a quary on Rappahannock river at seven shillings the perch—Each perch estimated to weigh 3,004 lbs., fr’t averaged 13s, 6d. per ton, and cartage to the spot fixed on for erecting the Light-House 6s, 2½d, so that Each ton stood the public where it now lies, 24s, 4d, Virginia Currency. Thinks that the same stone could not now be purchased and landed at high water on the Cape for less than 20s. per ton. There were 150 Hhd. of Lime placed with the stone, but they Appear to have been Carried off, or rendered useless by the Hhds. falling to pieces, or being buried under the sand.

“The Commissioners estimated the whole necessary expenses of building the Light-house, dwelling house, and Eight buoys to be placed in the Chesapeake at £13,000, Virginia currency. Thinks that nothing at present can be counted on but the stone. The buoys were provided by this state, but the copper was afterwards converted to other state purposes. The whole of the stone is covered by drifting sand 20 to 50 feet deep, & the digging out will probably amount to half its value in expense. He declined making any contract for recovering the stone, as it is not known whether the General Government will build with stone; thinks that an immediate attempt should be made to dispose of it to the Government as it now stands, or recovered from the sand, which Ever should be thought the more advisable” (Calendar of Virginia State Papers, description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds. Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts. 11 vols. Richmond, 1875–93. description ends 5:98–99).

3Randolph’s letter to the governor of Maryland, 18 Jan. 1790, is in Vi:Executive Letter Books.

4GW replied to Randolph’s letter on 29 Jan.: “I have been duly favored with your Excellency’s letter of the 14th instant . . . and have put both the letter and report into the hands of the Secretary of the Treasury, who is authorized by Law ‘to provide by contract, which shall be approved by the President of the United States, for building a Light-house near the enterance of Chesapeake Bay.’ I have also directed him to write to your Excellency upon the subject, and to take such steps in the business as may tend to a speedy accomplishment of the desired object.

“In the first place it will be necessary that a deed of cession of the land upon which the Light-house is to be erected, should be executed from the State of Virginia to the United States; and when this is accomplished, as the building of the Light-house is to be done by contract, it is probable that the person or persons who may contract for the building of it, will make such agreement for the materials as to them shall seem proper; and in this case the expediency of their being purchased immediately by the United States will be superseded” (LS, Vi). Randolph’s letter and the enclosure from Wood were submitted to Hamilton by Tobias Lear on 24 Jan. (DNA: RG 26, “Segregated” Lighthouse Records).

Index Entries