George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Thornton, 1 September 1799

From William Thornton

City of Washington Septr 1st 1799.

Dear Sir

As soon as I had the honor of your Favour of the 28th Ulto I made the necessary Enquiry of Mr Blagdin, but did not receive his Answer till yesterday Afternoon, as he had a Statement to make of some Ironmongery wanted for the Houses. This return I enclose, but if it should be inconvenient to you to order the Articles, either Mr Blagdin or I will get them for you. He informs me he shall have occasion for one thousand Dollars, on the 20th of this month.1

We meant to have paid our respects to you and Mrs Washington Yesterday, but Mr Tayloe of Mount Airy spent the Day with us, and Mr Wm Hamilton of the Woodlands, near Philada is to be with us tomorrow. He is returning immediately, and laments he cannot have the happiness of paying you a Visit.2

I was pleased to see Mr Pickering’s Letter to you, which you did us the honor of transmitting, for our Perusal. It is a Subject highly interesting, and one I have urged, for three years, to the Board.3 Our late Sales have been very productive, and purchases of great extent have been made by persons resident in Baltimore. We shall continue them as long as we find Purchasers. The Trustees, of Morris & Nicholson, are going to finish the Houses at the Point.4

I have lately been much engaged, and have not yet been able to notice Mr Walker’s Letter.5 The Navy-Yard will be fixed, I have reason to believe, where I recommended it—in the Space South of Square 930. The Board voted a portion of the Marine-hospital Square for that purpose. I remonstrated to them & to the Secretary of the Navy, stating the impropriety of touching Grounds already appropriated, and wished also the point of the City to be left for a Military Academy; for parade-Ground; for the Exercise of the great Guns; for Magazines, &c. &c. I am jealous of Innovations where Decisions have been made after mature Deliberation; and I yet hope that the City will be preserved from that extensive Injury contemplated by some never-to-be-contented and covetous Individuals.6 My Family join me in most respectful Compliments & good wishes to your Lady & self. I am, dear Sir, your obedient & affectionate Friend

William Thornton


1By the terms of his agreement with George Blagdin, GW was to supply what iron Blagdin needed in the construction of GW’s houses in Washington. See GW to District of Columbia Commissioners, 27 Oct. 1798, n.3. The enclosed statement, dated “Capitol Septr 1st 1799” and signed by Blagdin, reads:

“Iron Momongery

3 Pair of 5 Inch Butt Hinges for the front doors & 1¾ Inch screws to D[itt]o

2 Pair of 14 or 16 Inch HL Hinges to the back doors & Screws 1¼ Inch long.

4 Pair of Hooks and bands to the 4 basement Doors with a screw and Nut to each.

4 12 Inch locks to the principal doors Iron rims brass Pendants &

4 Do of a plainer kind for the 4 basement doors” (DLC:GW). See GW’s response of 5 September.

2GW’s acquaintance with William Hamilton (1745–1813), of the famed Woodlands estate near Philadelphia, dated back to 1774 when GW attended the First Continental Congress (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 3:277–78).

3On 28 Aug. GW forwarded to the three District of Columbia commissioners Timothy Pickering’s letter of 22 Aug. suggesting a mode of building docks and wharves for the new Federal City’s waterfront. See note 3 to Pickering’s letter.

4For reference to the disastrous speculation in lots in the new Federal City by John Nicholson and Robert Morris, the latter of whom was by now in prison for debt and Nicholson was soon to follow, see George Washington Parke Custis to GW, 30 July 1797, n.1. In June 1797 Morris and Nicholson reached a complicated agreement with their creditors which provided that their creditors would act as trustees of the partners’ holdings and be empowered to mortgage or sell the partners’ lots in the Federal City to provide security for all of their debts (Chernow, Robert Morris, description begins Barbara Ann Chernow. Robert Morris: Land Speculator, 1790–1801. New York, 1978. description ends 163–67).

6In his answer of 26 Sept. 1798 to a query from Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert of 16 Sept. about placing the Washington navy yard in the area that in 1796 had been set aside for a marine hospital, GW offered no objections. Thornton, however, had consistently opposed the move and in the end prevailed (see Harris, Thornton Papers, description begins C. M. Harris, ed. Papers of William Thornton: Volume One, 1781-1802. Charlottesville, Va., 1995. description ends 1:483).

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