George Washington Papers

To George Washington from the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, 7 January 1792

From the Commissioners for the District of Columbia

George Town 7th January 1792.


Desirous of answering your letters on particular subjects, we think it best to do it separately.1 With a view to settle all accounts to the first of this month and to form, as far as we might be able, a scheme of the business for the ensuing year, we met here the day before yesterday. many accounts are presented for our examination, the aggregate of which, exceeds our expectation, and many of the particulars, if allowable at all, are admissible on the consideration only that they had arisen before things had taken a settled form. There are other accounts still to be brought in, the amount of which we hope not great.

We have to regret that we had not the assistance of Majr Ellicot or either of his assistants in the settlement of these accounts, or any information directly from any of them. we find it irksome to go into the minutiæ of accounts where the principles were not perhaps first agreed on.2

From what we collect from the Commissary of Provisions, there are now retained in service about 75 Labourers and their overseers in the City, and that Majr L’Enfant has ordered 25 of them to be withdrawn from thence to be employed in the Stone Quarry under the direction of Mr Roberdeau, who has left George Town on that business, though previously told by two of the Commissioners separately, and by the third, on the way, that his presence was desired at the meeting; and we have reason to believe he has thus proceeded to avoid orders from us.3

Independent of this mortifying treatment we think it adviseable, from the nature of the season, to put every thing for the present at least on piece work, and to discharge the hands engaged on time wages and provisions, and employed in digging; for though pains were taken on our part to get brick clay turned up this fall, we have no knowledge or reason to believe, that a spade of clay has been turned up for that purpose, but the labour directed to other objects, which may correspond with Majr L’Enfant’s designs respecting the Capitol and Palace, but we do not conceive there is certainly enough of the adoption of unprepared plans to warrant the cost of digging long, deep, wide ditches in the midst of the winter, which, if necessary at all, might be done much cheaper in any other season. These impressions, though we wish to avoid a step in Majr L’Enfant’s absence which he may possibly think wanting in delicacy, have occasioned us to discharge the hands.4

The produce of our funds and the probable expense, must be brought into view and comparison by us: for supposing as we do, that we are not answerable in our private characters, for debts incurred within the line of our office; our honor is concerned, that engagements entered into with our approbation, should be faithfully complied with; nor can we suffer ourselves to be led from these objects: it will hence be necessary that we should know and approve the thing to be done, and the means and calculation to effect it.

We flatter ourselves we need not declare to you, that we shall be glad to receive advice, as such, at all times; for we are conscious we need that assistance, and that we ever sincerely wish an unreserved intercourse; and are yet disposed to meet in measures to that end: But without running over disagreeable occurrencies, Majr L’Enfant and Majr Ellicot both, must if we do business with them, consult us more in future.5 We are Sir with the highest respect and esteem your Obedient humble Servants

Th: Johnson

Dd Stuart

Danl Carroll

Copy, DLC:GW; copy, DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Sent, 1791–1802. Numerous minor differences in punctuation, spelling, indentation, and capitalization exist between the two copies. The only significant variations in content are given in notes 2 and 5.

For the background to this letter, see Pierre L’Enfant to GW, 21 Nov. 1791, editorial note.

1The commissioners had before them GW’s letters of 18 and 27 Dec. 1791.

2The following appears after this point in the DNA: RG 42 copy: “Majr Ellicot charges five Dollars a day and under the Idea of having all Expenses paid—His Assistants are charged at two and under the same Idea as to expences: from the accounts of that part of the Expences which can be readily seperated they now call attention and will in that Train be serious before the work is finished—If there has been no particular Agreement we wish to know on what terms he has performed like services.”

3Isaac Roberdeau (1763–1829) was the son of brigadier general of the Pennsylvania militia and member of the Continental Congress Daniel Roberdeau (1727–1795) and his first wife, Mary Bostwick Roberdeau. In 1783 Isaac accompanied his father, a wealthy Philadelphia emigrant from St. Christopher, to London and remained in Britain to be educated, while his father returned to America and moved to Alexandria, Virginia. Isaac returned to the United States before 1787 and became a civil engineer. Both father and son apparently visited Mount Vernon in the 1780s. After his dismissal from the work on the Federal City, Isaac moved to Philadelphia, where he married Susan Shippen Blair of Germantown, Pa., in November 1792 and became assistant to the engineer in charge of the state’s canals and other internal improvements (see Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 4:145, 149; Buchanan, Roberdeau Genealogy, description begins Roberdeau Buchanan. Genealogy of the Roberdeau Family, Including a Biography of General Daniel Roberdeau of the Revolutionary Army, and the Continental Congress; and Signer of the Articles of Confederation. Washington, D.C., 1876. description ends 89, 91–92, 104, 107–12). L’Enfant’s instructions of 16 Dec. 1791 to Isaac Roberdeau contain no orders for digging clay but direct the available labor to cut down trees, level ground, and prepare the newly acquired quarries to provide material for the federal buildings (see Kite, L’Enfant and Washington, description begins Elizabeth S. Kite, comp. L’Enfant and Washington, 1791–1792: Published and Unpublished Documents Now Brought Together for the First Time. Baltimore, 1929. description ends 97–100).

4L’Enfant also directed Roberdeau on 16 Dec. 1791 to keep forty to fifty men at work leveling ground on Jenkins Hill “to the level of the lowest part of the ground in the ditch as it now stands” (ibid., 99). These laborers were the ones discharged by the commissioners.

5The body of the letter in the Washington Papers ends at this point in the text. The copy in DNA: RG 42, however, includes the following paragraph before the complimentary close: “We exceedingly regret the necessity we feel ourselves under of interrupting the too few moments you have of Leasure and shall truely lament if it so happens the Loss of Majr LEnfants taste and professional Abilities, of which we with yourself have a high opinion: but we owe something to ourselves and to others which cannot be given up—You will perceive by a Copy of the Declaration of Trust enclosed in our other letter that the Directions of the sales as to all circumstances is left intirely to yourself. Our Ideas agree with what we take yours and all intelligent friends to the City to be, that is that a good deal in point of revenue ought to be sacrificed, to gain friends and Capital to protect and foreward its interest. any thing you are pleased to do will be of right. what you may direct us to do with this View will be attended to by us with pleasure though to enable us to effect your expectations and our wish, it will be necessary that we should, have Majr Ellicot’s work—we hoped and expected to have been furnished with it, it was required of Majr Ellicot a few days before he left this place, that we might be able to do something with Mr Bludget if that business should be mentioned and it was promised, but we cannot learn that any thing of the kind is left for us nor are we informed of any reason for his not leaving it.” The abovementioned declaration of trust has not been found. Andrew Ellicott apparently left the Federal City without giving the commissioners plats of the squares recently laid out along what would become Pennsylvania Avenue (see Commissioners for the District of Columbia to GW, 25 Nov. 1791). Capt. Samuel Blodget (1757–1814) of the New Hampshire militia resigned in 1777 to establish himself as a merchant in Exeter, New Hampshire. He later moved to Boston and, after acquiring a fortune in the East India trade, in 1789 moved to Philadelphia. In the fall of 1791 Blodget approached federal officials with a scheme to develop one of the principal avenues in the Federal City (see Commissioners for the District of Columbia to GW, 25 Nov. 1791).

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