George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Alexander Contee Hanson, 2 August 1790

From Alexander Contee Hanson

Annapolis August 2, 1790


Mr Joseph Clark1 of this city, being desirous of an employment as architect surveyor or master-builder of the public works, which, he supposes, are about to be erected for the general government, has requested me to recommend him, so far as, in my opinion, his merits will justify.

Mr Clark, as I have been informed, was regularly bred to his profession in England; but on that circumstance I lay very little stress; as I consider the public works, which in this city he has planned, superintended, and conducted, to be monuments of superiour taste, judgement, and skill.2 From those works; from his drawings, which I have seen; from his activity & attention to business, which I have frequently remarked; from the manner, in which he exercised his authority; from the attachment and obedience of his workmen; in short, from every thing, which I have either seen or heard, I do not scruple to declare, that I believe no man on the continent better qualified than Mr Clark to act in that line, in which he is ambitious of serving the United States.

As I have always conceived it my duty, at the request of a fellow citizen, to give my testimony of those qualifications, concerning which I have had an opportunity to judge for myself, or to be accurately informed by others, I have taken the liberty of thus addressing you;3 and have the honour to be, with profound veneration Your most obedient servant

A. C. Hanson


1Joseph Clark (Clarke; d. 1798) may have been the son of Joseph Clarke of Braintree, Essex County, England, and apprenticed for seven years to joiner Jack S. Ding of London in December 1742. From at least 1785 to the early 1790s, he was employed by Maryland as an architect at Annapolis. Although Clark visited GW at Mount Vernon in November 1790 and personally presented his plans and proposals for the Federal City to the president, he did not receive the appointment he desired, GW having instead chosen Pierre Charles L’Enfant as surveyor and designer of the new city early in 1791. Clark nevertheless temporarily relocated to the embryonic capital on the Potomac, where as a prominent Freemason, he delivered the main oration at the ceremonies celebrating the laying of the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol in September 1793. After his permanent removal from Annapolis in 1794, he cofounded the Architects and Carpenters Society of the Territory of Columbia and contracted with Morrison, Nicholson & Greenleaf to build houses in the federal city (Clark to GW, 5 Dec. 1790; Pierre L’Enfant to GW, 11 Sept. 1789, source note; Bob Arnebeck, Through a Fiery Trial: Building Washington, 1790–1800 [Lanham, Md., and London, 1991], 175, 214, 225, 329, 651, n.4).

2In the 1780s Clark was hired by the state of Maryland to supervise work on the state house at Annapolis, as well as the conversion of the former governor’s mansion there into St. John’s College. His daughter claimed after his death that the state owed him £17,000 Maryland currency when he left Annapolis in 1794 (Morris L. Radoff, Buildings of the State of Maryland at Annapolis [Annapolis, Md., 1954], 21, 79, 91–92).

3In a 10 Nov. 1790 letter of introduction that Clark apparently presented to GW at Mount Vernon in November 1790, Maryland chancellor Alexander Contee Hanson repeated his opinion that “there is no person in America better qualified for executing the trust, or employment, which he sollicits” (DLC:GW; see also Clark to GW, 5 Dec. 1790). On 9 Nov. 1790 Thomas Johnson, the chief judge of Maryland’s General Court, also wrote to GW, introducing Clark as “a very ingenious Architect of this Place [who] has an Ambition to lay before you Plans of a Fœderal City and public Buildings” (CtY: Miscellaneous Collections-Wetmore).

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