George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Alexander Hamilton, 3 December 1792

From Alexander Hamilton

Treasury Departmt 3d Decr 1792.

The Secretary of the Treasury has the honor to submit to the President a communication of the 30th of Novemr relating to some additional objects which have been executed towards the completion of the Lighthouse Establishment on Cape Henry.1

The Secretary, according to the best information in his possession, considers them as necessary objects, and respectfully submits it as his opinion that it will be advisable to confirm the Contracts which have been entered into by Mr Newton, in the first instance.

The Secretary, from experience, entertains a confidence in the discretion & judgment of that Gentleman which induces a reliance on the view taken by him of the subject on the spot, with the advantage of a knowledge of local, which cannot be possessed by any person here. A submission to arbitration might not be altogether free from hazard of an increased allowance and it is so apparent that the whole work has been accomplished upon such moderate terms, & so probable that it may not even have afforded a due degree of benefit to the Undertaker, as to create a claim on the liberality of the Government in regard to collateral Contracts.2 All which is humbly submitted

Alexander Hamilton Secy of the Treasury.


1Commissioner of the Revenue Tench Coxe wrote Hamilton on 30 Nov. to report “the completion of the light House, Keepers house, oil Vault, and platform on Cape Henry in the state of Virginia.” The “additional objects” involved two unapproved contracts between John McComb, Jr., the builder of the lighthouse, and Thomas Newton, Jr., one of the Virginia commissioners who had been appointed a trustee for the site. Newton, Coxe said, had decided that the project needed a platform constructed “to prevent injury to the foundations from the blowing away of the sand and frequent inconvenience, attended with labor and expence in removing it from the passages to the doors of the dwelling house, Vault and light house.” The contract for construction of the platform and another contract for the extension of the foundation in depth and width were in addition to the original contract for the lighthouse (DNA: RG 58, Letters Sent by the Commissioner of the Revenue and the Revenue Office, 1792–1807). In the supplementary contract of 29 July 1791 for the extension of the foundation, McComb agreed “that in case his demand agreeably to an Estimate hereunto annexed, should appear too high in the opinion of the President, That the Extra work shall be determined by three disinterested persons to be mutually chosen” (DNA: RG 26, Lighthouse Deeds and Contracts, 1790–1812). For background on the construction of the Cape Henry lighthouse and the awarding of the original building contract to McComb, see Hamilton to GW, 5 Jan. 1791, source note, and notes 1 and 2.

2For GW’s approval of the additional construction costs, see Tobias Lear to Hamilton, 6 Dec. 1792.

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