George Washington Papers

To George Washington from David Stuart, 10 December 1792

From David Stuart

Hope-Park [Fairfax County, Va.] Decr 10th 1792

Dear Sir,

Your letter of the 30th of last month, which I ought to have recieved in Ge: town, I only got on Saturday on my return from thence in passing through Alexandria. It will therefore be impossible for me to comply with your request at present, in sending you a list of the lots which have been actually sold. But it shall be done at the next meeting.1 If I was not setting off tomorrow for New-Kent [Va.], I would have gone to Ge: town for that express purpose. Your ideas respecting a Superintendant living on the spot coincide perfectly with those entertained by the Commissioners. From our conversation with Mr Blodget on this subject, we expected as soon as it was known how far it met with your approbation to have heard from him. It was at his request, we mentioned it to you, to give him an opportunity of explaining himself more fully to you, than his time would permit him to us, when at Ge: town. There were some accts at our late meeting, that he was expected down with his family to settle at Ge: town, and we attributed our not hearing from him to this determination. That he would be the most agreeable person to the Proprietors, there can be no doubt. From the little opportunities I have had of judging of him, he appears to me to be well fitted for the office, both in point of temper, and fertility of genius. Tho’ he may not be so thorough an Architect as some others, he has certainly turned his attention much to that subject, and may I think be justly allowed to have a very pretty taste for it. And more perhaps is not so very necessary, if Mr Hallet is employed in the same line for the execution of the Capitol, in which Hoben is for the President’s house; which I should suppose very proper—I believe he fully deserves the high opinion Mr Jefferson entertains of him—If this is done, I cannot but think that Mr Blodget will be found to possess the other qualities necessary for a Superintendant, in a higher degree than Major L’Enfant—For the Major, besides the objection to his temper, has no turn for œconomy, and no acquaintance with accounts, which are both indispensably necessary. Besides, he could not have the same influence with the Eastern people, which tho’ it may be considered as an adventitious circumstance, is certainly very desirable.2

We are well apprized of Mr F: Ct[’]s attempts: But from the light in which we are informed, he is considered by his Countrymen, have no doubt but he will be disappointed: particularly since Mr Templeman and his Companions from Boston, who became purchasers in the city, will join most heartily in counteracting his misrepresentations. It seems when the Gentlemen arrived at Ge: town, he gave them a most unfavourable account, both of the works carrying on in the City, and the Potowmac Canal. After viewing both places, they expressed the highest satisfaction; mentioning to Mr Blodget, what a different representation Ct had given them. Templeman has bought a house in Ge: town and means to be down early in the Spring with his Family.3 Mr Hallet informs us, his plan will be ready by our next meeting, when we propose to send it up to you. From the judgement I could form of it, in it’s unfinished state, I entertain very sanguine hopes that it will meet with approbation. You will have I expect by this time, a plan of Doctor Thornton’s sent to you. Nothing further has been done towards the foundation of the President’s house, than Laying the first corner stone. No Masons were to be got, ‘till very lately. There are at present about fifteen at work on the Acquia stone, polishing and preparing it against the next Spring. These have come chiefly from the Northward. Mr Williamson tells us, that two or three drop in every week from thence. But I fear we shall not be able to get the number to be wished for, by the Spring.4

Excepting a fiew lots to our workmen, we have made no sales since the public one. At that time we had an offer from a Mr Ford of Philadelphia, to buy 500 at 3o£. a piece. As many of these were to have been water lots, and in very eligible situations, we thought it much too low. This too was the opinion of Mr Blodget, with whom we communicated freely on the subject. It was besides I think, unaccompanied with any conditions to improve any part of them, in a short and reasonable time, which is certainly very important.5

We have not yet fixed on the time for another sale, but shall do it at the next meeting.6 As a preparatory step towards it, we ordered our Secretary at the late meeting, to put an advertisement in the papers, calling on the Proprietors of lots in Carrolsburg & Hamburg to come in, & subscribe, otherwise, we should proceed according to law—It appears to me that the 20th of June will be the most convenient time, to fix on; the crops of all kinds being by that time fixed—In our late letter to Mr Jefferson, we informed him that we expected to be able at the next meeting, to send in our report respecting the outlines of the territory. Our authority for this, depends on verbal information from Mr Ellicot. We are much in the dark, as to every thing which concerns this department, which has been, and must be very expensive, as long as it continues—Tho’ we entered into a resolution early in the Summer, that reports should be made to us monthly of the progress, we have never had but one and that very unsatisfactory, consisting of only about three lines. By his own acct, he is up by star light every morning. Allowing him to be so it is I think, to but little purpose. How to remedy it I know not. Perhaps, some hints from Mr Jefferson, whom he considers as a great Mathematician, and good judge of such kind of business, as he is engaged in, might be of use.7

We had information at our late meeting, from Messrs [Benjamin] Stoddert & Threlkeld, members of the Assembly at Annapolis, that a motion had been made, in the House that Maryland should withhold her future payments on her donation; ‘till Virginia should pay up hers; taking it for granted, that Virginia had been applied to, and refused—It is probable I think, that Mr Corbin’s idle talk gave rise to this belief—But idle and extraordinary as it was, it only failed by 13.

We are likely to have a dispute with the Proprietors, respecting those squares which tho’ not appropriated to any particular purposes, are nearly cut up by the intersection of different streets. They contend that the streets terminate at the commencement of the squares. We think, that as the streets run in different directions through the squares, still bearing their respective names, they must be fairly comprehended, in the exception they have made in their deeds, of recieving no consideration for streets. Mr Burns has allready given us information, that he will sue us, for his land in that situation—I have proposed, that if upon more mature consideration, it still continued to be our opinion that they were not entitled to be paid for such ground, as not being an appropriation, to leave it to reference. I have reason to believe, they will all be satisfyed with this, except Burns, who is a weak and troublesome man. By an inspection of the squares thus situated in the plan, I expect you will readily comprehend the nature of the dispute, tho’ I may have failed in explaining my meaning.

Thus Sir, you see, we have upon the whole, a most vexatious time of it, and have full as much cause to pray for a Superintendant, as any of the Proprietors. I am with the greatest respect Your Affecte Serv:

Dd Stuart.


1Stuart received GW’s letter on Saturday, 8 December. The commissioners for the federal district next met in Georgetown between 1 and 8 Jan. 1793. For an account of those meetings, see DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Proceedings. Stuart enclosed a list of lots sold in his letter to GW of 7 Jan. 1793.

2The commissioners notified Samuel Blodget, Jr., of his appointment as the district superintendent in their letter to him of 5 Jan. 1793 (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Letters Sent). For the employment of Stephen Hallet and James Hoban to supervise, respectively, the construction of the Capitol and the President’s House, see GW to Stuart, 30 Nov., notes 7 and 9. For background on Pierre L’Enfant’s dismissal in February 1792 as surveyor general and supervisor of the construction in the federal distict, see L’Enfant to GW, 21 Nov. 1791, editorial note, and GW to L’Enfant, 28 Feb. 1792.

3For earlier concerns about the activities of Francis Cabot, see GW to Stuart, 8 Mar., 30 Nov. 1792. The commissioners wrote Thomas Jefferson on 5 Nov. that since the public sale of lots in the Federal City in October, “we have sold by private bargains fifteen lots at one Hundred pounds each.” They enclosed a list of those fifteen lots and the names of the purchasers, whom they described as “Men of large property and from the Eastward.” Besides Samuel Blodget, Jr., the listed buyers were John Templeman, Nathan Bond, Thomas Ketland, Peter Gilman, Thomas Mitcalf (Metcalf), and Benjamin Blodget. Most of those lots were in the vicinity of the site designated for the President’s House. John Templeman, who became a prosperous shipping merchant in Georgetown and a leading investor and proponent of development in the federal district, served as a director of the Potowmack Company, and in 1793 he and Samuel Blodget, Jr., were among the founders of the Bank of Columbia, the second bank established in the district. In 1800 Templeman built a house on lot 8 of square 253, one of the lots purchased in 1792, slightly east of the President’s House, at present-day 1333 F Street, N.W. This house was home to James Madison during his service as secretary of state in the Jefferson administration. See Columbia Historical Society Records, description begins Records of the Columbia Historical Society. Washington, D.C., 1895–. description ends 8:10–11, 10:100, 15:179, 184; Harris, William Thornton, description begins C. M. Harris, ed. Papers of William Thornton: Volume One, 1781-1802. Charlottesville, Va., 1995. description ends 538, 560; Madison Papers, Secretary of State Series, description begins Robert J. Brugger et al., eds. The Papers of James Madison, Secretary of State Series. 9 vols. to date. Charlottesville, Va., 1986–. description ends 2:44–46, 3:341–42; Wesley E. Pippenger, District of Columbia Original Land Owners 1791-1800 (Westminster, Md., 2007), 134, 136.

4Although Hallet by this time had submitted several designs for the proposed Capitol, neither GW nor the commissioners were satisfied with his plans. Despite Hallet’s continued efforts to produce a suitable design, the commissioners and GW eventually decided upon a plan submitted by William Thornton, an amateur architect residing in Philadelphia.

The cornerstone of the President’s House was laid on 13 Oct. 1792 (see 13 Oct. 1792, DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Proceedings). On 29 Aug. 1792 the commissioners signed an agreement with Collen Williamson (1727–1802), a Scots mason and builder, to “superintend the Stone cutting . . . the laying the same Stone” and to assist in “hiring stone-cutters and adjusting their accounts, and in general in promoting and conducting the work” (see 30 Aug. 1792, DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Proceedings). The sandstone was mined at quarries on Aquia Creek, about thirty-five miles down the Potomac River from the federal district (see D.C. Commissioners to GW, 21 Dec. 1791, and notes 1 to 3).

5For previous discussion of Standish Ford’s offer, see D.C. Commissioners to GW, 13 Oct., and note 4.

6The commissioners set 17 Sept. 1793 for the next public auction of lots (see 7 Jan. 1793, DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Proceedings).

7The secretary for the commissioners was Georgetown attorney John Mackall Gantt (1762–1811), who also served at this time as clerk for recording land deeds in the district. Gantt and Thomas Beall of George (1735–1819) were trustees of the Maryland lands conveyed from the original proprietors to the United States in 1791 (see Agreement of the Proprietors of the Federal District, 30 Mar. 1791). The proposed advertisement, as approved by the commissioners at their 5 Dec. 1792 meeting, reads: “Constant attendance will be given by the Commissioners of the Federal buildings or by a person properly authorized by them at their office in George Town from the first day of April to the first day of May next to execute assignments and allotments of lands in the City of Washington—The proprietors thereof whose lands have been conveyed in Trust or subjected by the ‘act concerning the Territory of Columbia and the City of Washington’ to the Terms and conditions of the Deeds in Trust are requested to attend that allotments may be made by agreement for the Commissioners after that time will proceed to make allotments agreeably to the directions of the above recited act of Assembly—The other proprietors are hereby informed that process will issue under the said Act after the first day of May next to have their lands valued if the same shall not be conveyed on the usual Terms before that time—For the convenience of such proprietors, deeds will be left at Annapolis with Mr Thomas Buchanan, at Baltimore with Mr Archibald Robinson, at Upper Marlbro with Mr David Craufurd and at George Town with Jn M. Gantt Clk to the Comrs” (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Proceedings). The Maryland legislation to which this advertisement alluded was the act of 19 Dec. 1791 in which the Maryland assembly established an office for the recording of deeds within the district and authorized the commissioners to appoint a clerk in charge of that office.

For the commissioners’ letter to Thomas Jefferson of 5 Dec. 1792, see Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 24:699–700. Although the commissioners were dissatisfied with Andrew Ellicott, he finally produced the long-awaited survey of the federal district for the commissioners to review at their 1 Jan. 1793 meeting (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, Proceedings).

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