George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the Commissioners for the District of Columbia, 20 August 1793

To the Commissioners
for the District of Columbia

Philadelphia Augt 20th 1793


This will be handed to you by Mr James Greenleaf, a native of Boston, who has resided for some years past in Amsterdam, and has lately been appointed Consul for the U.S. at that Place.1

This Gentleman, I understand, has it in contemplation to make certain proposals to you for building a number of houses in the Federal City, provided he can have lots upon such terms & conditions as may correspond with his interest in the undertaking while it tends, at the same time, to promote the great object of the City. I am pursuaded, Gentlemen, that you will listen with attention and weigh with candour any proposals that may promise to promote the growth of the City in the degree that Mr Greenleaf’s undertaking upon the extensive scale that it has been represented to me, would do.2 But it will lay with yourselves to decide how far the state of your funds will justify your closing with any proposals that may not tend to give them an immediate increase.3

It will undoubtedly be essential to Mr Greenleaf that you should be impressd with just ideas with regard to his means of insuring the punctual performance of any engagements he may enter into in with you (if you shd come upon any terms with him)—and he will therefore undoubtedly take measures to satisfy you on this head. He has been represented to me as a Gentleman of large property and having the command of much money in this Country & in Europe; but I can say nothing on this head from my own knowledge. Having had occasion to make enquiry respecting him before his appointment to the Office of Consul, the Accounts which I received were highly favorable to Mr Greenleaf—both the respectability of his connexions in this Country and in Holland (where he married)4—and as to his own Character. and I have reason to believe, that if you can find it consistent with your duty to the public to attach Mr Greenleaf to the federal City, he will be a valuable acquisition.5 with great regard I am Gentlemen.

Df, in Tobias Lear’s writing, DLC:GW; LB, DLC:GW. Lear’s docket on the draft describes this letter as an “Introduction of Mr Greenleaf.”

1On the appointment of James Greenleaf, see GW to the U.S. Senate, 1 Mar.. 1793 [first letter], and note 1.

2Beginning at this point on page 1 of the manuscript, Lear struck out a lengthy portion of the draft. The beginning of the struck-out passage is illegible, but the remainder reads: “yet you will be best able to judge from the situation of your funds how far the necessity of an immediate supply of them may ⟨illegible⟩ your acceptance of proposals which may not only not produce an immediate increase of your funds; but may perhaps take up some of the means upon which you depend for a speedy supply, however much the ⟨clos⟩ing with such proposals may tend to advance the interests of the City in the end. But possibly Mr Greenleaf may suggest to you some means of obtaining money for the purposes of the City by way of a loan and may place his having the lots upon the condition of a loan being obtained. In which case the only objection to a proposal of this kind that strikes me at present would be done away.” For the agreement that Greenleaf made with the commissioners, and that included a loan, see note 3.

3Greenleaf met with the commissioners at Georgetown in September, and in an agreement of 23 Sept. 1793, the commissioners agreed to sell him 3,000 parcels for £25 Maryland currency, or $66.50, per lot. The lots averaged 5,265 square feet each. Seven annual payments, without interest, would begin on 1 May 1794. Greenleaf was to construct ten houses yearly for the ensuing seven years. Each house would be two stories high and be 1,200 square feet in area. He could not sell any of the lots until 1 Jan. 1796, unless a house was built within four years on every third lot sold. In addition, Greenleaf was to provide the commissioners with a loan of £1,000 Maryland currency, or $2,200, each month at 6 percent interest until the public buildings “now erected” in the Federal City were completed, or until 1 Jan. 1800, whichever came first (Clark, Greenleaf and Law description begins Allen C. Clark. Greenleaf and Law in the Federal City. Washington, D.C., 1901. description ends , 67–68; Bryan, National Capitol, 1:215–16).

4Greenleaf married Baroness Antonia Cornelia Elbertine Scholten van Aschat et Oud-Haarlem in 1788 (Clark, Greenleaf and Law description begins Allen C. Clark. Greenleaf and Law in the Federal City. Washington, D.C., 1901. description ends , 90).

5On the failure of Greenleaf’s financial speculation, which led to his confinement in debtor’s prison in 1797, see Bryan, National Capital description begins Wilhelmus Bogart Bryan. A History of the National Capital: From Its Foundation through the Period of the Adoption of the Organic Act. 2 vols. New York, 1914–16. description ends , 1:216–22, 234–37, 243–50, 297–98.

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