George Washington Papers

To George Washington from the Commissioners for the Federal District, 14 April 1791

From the Commissioners for the Federal District

George Town—14th April 1791


We take the Liberty to inclose you a rough Plat of the lands between the Eastern Branch and Rock Creek with several different back lines, and a copy of an Entry of this Day in our proceedings, which will perhaps Sufficiently explain our present Circumstances—But as the inclosed Letter was addressed to us with a view of its being laid before you, we also send that and a Copy of the Written agreement.1

It is much to be regretted that your endeavours, and our Attendance here since Tuesday should produce no happier Effect; yet our anxiety to forward this Business could not prevail on us to accept of Limits which might narrow your Views and add to your Embarrasment—Any instruction you may be pleased to give shall have instant attention. but our difficulties follow you rather from our desire that you should have time to consider them, than any expectation that your time and situation will permit you to come to a final resolution and communicate it to us.

Majr LEnfant and Majr Ellicot are to proceed according to their Ideas of your Instructions as if the Conveyances had been made in the utmost Extent. We are Sir with the highest Respect Your Most obedt Servts

Thos Johnson

Dd Stuart

Danl Carroll

P.S. Since writing the above we have recd another Letter for the extention of the limits which we also inclose.

Copy, DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Sent.

For background to this letter, see Agreement of the Proprietors of the Federal City, 30 Mar. 1791 and source note, and GW to the Commissioners for the Federal District, 3 April 1791 and notes 1 and 2.

1The enclosed plat has not been found; nor has the enclosed extract from the commissioners’ proceedings for 14 April, in which they recorded that, instead of receiving conveyances from the proprietors, they were met with protests from landowners who contended that the commissioners had exceeded the spirit of the agreement of 30 Mar. (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Proceedings). Also enclosed were a copy of that agreement and copies of two letters (see postscript). The enclosed letters have not been located, but the copy of the first one among the records of the commissioners reads: “When the President communicated his Ideas to the Proprieters of land within both the offers, of the insufficiency of either, and the necessity of an union of Interests⟨:⟩ He was requested to explain his views with respect to the form & extent of Territory he would wish, for the Federal City—and his reply was, to the best of our recollection—‘that he would desire to begin at Evans’s point on the Eastern Branch, & run from thence over Goose Creek some distance above the Fording place, to intersect the road leading from Geo. Town to Bladensburg about half a mile from Rock Creek—thence to Rock Creek, & with the Creek River & Branch, to the begining—supposing that about 3500 Acres was to be comprehended—but upon some explanations by some of the Proprietors, it seemed to be understood, that more would be included, & probably 4000 Acres or upwards.[’] In compliance with the views of the President, an agreement was prepared, in which the lines as mentioned by him, were omitted to be inserted, in the fullest confidence that though not mentioned in the agreement, they would be adhered to—or at least, if they were varied, it would not be include any considerably greater quantity of land, which we conceive, besides taking land, we never had it in contemplation would be required, would only tend to lessen the value of the rest, without any real benefit to the Public—As the price of lots would diminish in proportion as the number for sale increased. The Deed which you now present for signing goes far beyond our Idea of what was the Spirit of the Agreement—we would therefore wish to decline signing it—and hope it will answer every purpose of the President, to confine the lines of the City, agreeably to his explanation on the right of the Union of Interests, when there will be no difficulty on our part to making the proper conveyances” (Robert Peter, Notley Young, James M. Lingan, and Forrest & Stoddert to the Commissioners for the Federal District, 14 April, DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Sent). The copy of the second letter, in the same record group, reads: “We are extremely Sorry to find, you are at this time prevented, from taking Deeds and Conveyances, of the lands granted to the President of the United States, by the respective proprietors, who Signed and Sealed the Agreement made with him on the 30th day of March last; owing to Some of these gentlemen, now alledging that, they had conceived, the President Should be confined to certain bounds and limits, as well as extent of territory, in laying out the Federal City. We however conceiving that, according to the beforementioned Agreement, the President has a right to lay out the City upon our lands, where and in what manner he pleases, are ready and willing on our part, fully to confirm by Deed and Conveyance, what we have already ratified by our hands and Seals: And we confide that, you will not Accede to any System, that may mutilate, disfigure, or render inconvenient the great Metropolis of America. Whatever might drop from the President in course of conversation, concerning the lands to be Occupied by the City, we do not consider conclusive; as it could not then be expected, he could with precision determine, what might be proper to include within its limits; the great object in view, being the founding an elegant, convenient, and agreeable Capital for the Union—Indeed it was our expectation, that after the different interests of Georgetown and Carrolsburgh were happily reconcilled, that no future cause of discontent would arise; neither did we expect, that it was ever imagined, the President Should be excluded from Accepting of Such grants as Should be made him, for the purposes of erecting the public buildings. We hope therefore, that nothing will be done to frustrate the views of the President, in Accomplishing the important Object of establishing the residence of Congress upon the Patowmack” (Charles Beatty, George Walker, Thomas Beall of George, and Samuel Davidson to the Commissioners for the Federal District, 14 April).

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