From the Commissioners for the District of Columbia
Monday evening 9th Jany 1792
On Saturday morning we passed the enclosed order to Mr Boaraff, nor suspected that there would be any repugnance to, or delay in carrying it into effect.1 We saw nothing of him again till today, having in the morning heard that he had been in Virginia, had an intercourse with Mr Roberdeau there, returned and was proceeding in the old line. Soon after this he came to our Room to settle the pay roll up to Saturday inclusive. He avow’d his having went to Mr Roberdeau for the purpose of deciding whether to continue the work, or not—that he shewed Mr Roberdeau our order,2 and that he had seen Majr L’Enfant’s order to Mr Roberdeau, under which and Mr Roberdeau’s orders he intended to continue to act—that he expected Mr Roberdeau here this evening nor did he relinquish his intentions till threatened with law suits—We have totally discharged him as well as Mr Roberdeau,3 and ordered the possession and care of the Tools and the like into other hands.
Since our preceding letter, we have adjusted with Mr [Thomas] Orme, who Majr Ellicot intrusted in that business, the progress of surveying the Creeks &c. in the Federal Territory, and we hope he will proceed with deligence. He tells us a piece of ground is marked out at the Presidents Palace for digging brick-clay—we shall endeavour to have it turned up.
Before Majr L’Enfant’s departure we desired him to communicate his wishes respecting the work to be done this winter—It appears, by a letter from the Major that he directed Mr Roberdeau to communicate to us a statement of the business committed to his care, which has not been done, but he proceeded as has been mentioned. We are Sir with the greatest respect & esteem Your most humble Servts
By next Post we expect to be able to send you a full state of the case respecting D. Carroll of Dudn’s house.4
Copy, DLC:GW; copy, DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Sent, 1791–1802. Archivists at both repositories treated their copies of this letter as a dated addendum to Commissioners for the District of Columbia to GW, 7 Jan. 1792. In acknowledging receipt of the now lost original receiver’s copies, however, GW wrote to the commissioners on 17 Jan.: “I have duly received your favors of January 7th & 9th.” Significant differences in the texts of the two copies are noted below.
For the background to this letter, see Pierre L’Enfant to GW, 21 Nov. 1791, editorial note.
1. The enclosed copy of the commissioners’ order of 7 Jan. 1792 to Valentine Boraff, the commissary for the workers employed in the federal district, has not been found. On 6 Jan. 1792 Isaac Roberdeau, Boraff’s immediate superior, went to Aquia Creek, leaving Boraff in charge of the workers, most of whom were preparing the site of the Capitol for construction. According to Roberdeau he encountered on the road commissioner David Stuart, who informed him that he and Thomas Johnson would discharge most of the workers until spring. Stuart also instructed Roberdeau to return to Georgetown, Md., to receive the commissioners’ orders. Roberdeau claimed he referred Stuart to L’Enfant’s orders of 16 Dec. 1791 regarding that winter’s work (see Commissioners for the District of Columbia to GW, 7 Jan. 1792, n.3). Ignoring Stuart’s instructions, Roberdeau continued on to Aquia Creek, later explaining to L’Enfant that “most willingly I would have returned to Georgetown had the Doctor not mentioned the intention to discharge the men. A resolution of that kind I well knew it was impossible for me to prevent and being . . . determined on my part to adhere most strictly to your orders I came on to this place” (Roberdeau to L’Enfant, 7 Jan. 1792, in 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 106–8). On 7 Jan. 1792 the commissioners ordered Boraff to discharge all hands and warned that he and Roberdeau would be “liable to prosecution should any of the tools be used until spring [on] their further orders.” Rather than comply, Boraff rode to Aquia Creek to consult with Roberdeau. Deciding to ignore the commissioners’ order, Roberdeau sent Boraff back to the Federal City with orders to “continue in service all the hands” and informed L’Enfant that he would follow L’Enfant’s orders “until they are countermanded by yourself” (Roberdeau to L’Enfant, 8 Jan. 1792, ibid., 108). The commissioners responded by discharging Boraff and the workers on 8 Jan. 1792 and handing Roberdeau a written discharge when he arrived at Georgetown on 9 Jan. 1792 (see the copies of the discharges in DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Sent, 1791–1802). “The agitation I was thrown into was inconceivably great,” Roberdeau wrote L’Enfant on 9 January. “I rushed into the Commissioner’s apartment and vindicated my conduct most strenuously . . . unfortunately I was thrown off my guard and insulted them in a public and indecent manner.” Afterwards, Roberdeau explained, he apologized to each of the commissioners separately for not having treated them “with politeness as a gentleman.” He assured L’Enfant that if the commissioners refused to reverse their decision, he would “take the most prudent steps to keep in employ your number of men, at all events until I hear from you” (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 109).
2. In the DNA: RG 42 copy this clause reads: “that he had Mr Roberdeaus own order to do it.”
3. The DNA: RG 42 copy reads “We have totally discharged him, as we shall Mr Roberdeau.”
4. See Commissioners for the District of Columbia to GW, 8 Jan. 1792, which was apparently mailed after the commissioners’ letters of 7 and 9 Jan. 1792.