Washington's Letter to and about L'Enfant: March and April 1791

Philadelphia, March 2, 1791. To Deakins and Stoddert

Gentlemen: Majr. L'enfant comes on to make such a survey of the grounds in your vicinity as may aid in fixing the site of the federal town and buildings. His present instructions express those alone which are within the Eastern branch, the Potowmac, the Tyber, and the road leading from George town to the ferry on the Eastern branch. he is directed to begin at the lower end and work upwards, and nothing further is communicated to him. The purpose of this letter is to desire you will not be yourselves misled by this appearance, nor be diverted from the pursuit of the objects I have recommended to you. I expect that your progress in accomplishing them will be facilitated by the presumption which will arise on seeing this operation begun at the Eastern branch, and that the proprietors nearer Georgetown who have hitherto refused to accommodate, will let themselves down to reasonable terms.

This communication will explain to you the motive to my request in a letter of the 28th. ulto. I now authorise the renewal of the negotiations with Mr. Burns agreeably to former powers, at such time and in such a manner as, in your judgments is likely to produce the desired effect. I will add however that if the lands described by the enclosed plat, within the red dotted line from A to C thence by the Tiber to D, and along the North line to A can be obtained I shall be satisfied although I had rather go to the line A B. I have referred Majr. L'enfant to the mayor of George town for necessary aids and expences. Should there be any difficulties on this subject, I would hope your aid in having them surmounted, tho' I have not named you to him or any body else, that no suspicions may be excited of your acting for the public. I am etc

On March 17 Washington wrote to the Secretary of State: "The P. has just recd. the enclosed. He prays Mr. Jefferson to write by tomorrows Post to Major L'Enfant agreeably to what was mentioned this morning." Jefferson furnished a draft of this proposed letter and Washington wrote another of his laconic notes to the effect that: "The Postscript to your letter of this morning is quite sufficient for the purpose intended."

A press copy of the postscript to Jefferson's letter of March 17 to Major L'Enfant reads: "there are certainly considerable advantages on the Eastern branch: but there are very strong reasons also in favor of the position between Rock creek and Tyber independent of the face of the ground. it is the desire that the public mind should be in equilibria between these two places till the President arrives, and we shall be obliged to you to endeavor to poise their expectations." This press copy of the postscript, together with the above notes, are in theJefferson Papers in the Library of Congress.


Mount Vernon, March 31, 1791. To Jefferson

Dear Sir: Having been so fortunate as to reconcile the contending interests of Georgetown and Carrollsburg, and to unite them in such an agreement as permits the public purposes to be carried into effect on an extensive and proper scale, I have the pleasure to transmit to you the enclosed proclamation, which, after annexing your counter signature and the seal of the United States, you will cause to be published. The terms agreed on between me, on the part of the United States, with the Land holders of Georgetown and Carrollsburgare. That all the land from Rock creek along the river to the Eastern-branch and so upwards to or above the Ferry including a breadth of about a mile and a half, the whole containing from three to five thousand acres is ceded to the public, on condition That, when the whole shall be surveyed and laid off as a city, (which Major L'Enfant is now directed to do) the present Proprietors shall retain every other lot; and, for such part of the land as may be taken for public use, for squares, walks, &ca., they shall be allowed at the rate of Twenty five pounds per acre. The Public having the right to reserve such parts of the wood on the land as may be thought necessary to be preserved for ornament &ca. The Land holders to have the use and profits of all their ground until the city is laid off into lots, and sale is made of those lots which, by this agreement, become public property. No compensation is to be made for the ground that may be occupied as streets or alleys.

To these conditions all the principal Land holders except the purchaser of Slater's property who did not attend have subscribed, and it is not doubted that the few, who were not present, will readily assent thereto; even the obstinate Mr. Burns has come into the measure.

The enlarged plan of this agreement having done away the necessity and indeed postponed the propriety, of designating the particular spot, on which the public buildings should be placed, until an accurate survey and sub-division of the whole ground is made, I have left out that paragraph of the proclamation.

It was found, on running the lines that the comprehension of Bladensburg within the district, must have occasioned the exclusion of more important objects, and, of this I am convinced as well by my observation as Mr. Ellicott's opinion. With great regard and etc.18


Mount Vernon, April 4, 1791. To L'Enfant

Sir: Although I do not conceive that you will derive any material advantage from an examination of the enclosed papers, yet, as they have been drawn by different persons, and under different circumstances, they may be compared with your own ideas of a proper plan for the Federal City (under the prospect which now presents itself to us.) For this purpose I commit them to yourprivate inspection until my return from the tour I am abt. to make. The rough sketch by Mr. Jefferson was done under an idea that no offer, worthy of consideration, would come from the Land holders in the vicinity of Carrollsburg (from the backwardness which appeared in them); and therefore, was accommodated to the grounds about George Town. The other, is taken up upon a larger scale, without reference to any described spot.

It will be of great importance to the public interest to comprehend as much ground (to be ceded by individuals) as there is any tolerable prospect of obtaining. Although it may not be immediately wanting, it will nevertheless encrease the Revenue; and of course be benificial hereafter, not only to the public, but to the individual proprietors; in as much, as the plan will be enlarged, and thereby freed from those blotches, which otherwise might result from not comprehending all the lands that appear well adapted to the general design; and which, in my opinion, are those between Rock Creek, the Potowmac river and the Eastern branch, and as far up the latter as the turn of the channel above Evans' point; thence including the flat back of Jenkins's height; thence to the Road leading from George Town to Bladensburgh, as far Easterly along the same as to include the branch which runs across it, somewhere near the exterior of the George Town cession; thence in a proper direction to Rock Creek at, or above the ford, according to the situation of the ground. Within these limits there may be lands belonging to persons incapacitated, though willing to convey on the terms proposed; but such had better be included, than others excluded, the proprietors of which are not only willing, but in circumstances to subscribe. I am etc.


To Thomas Johnson, David Smart, and Daniel Carroll.

Richmond, April 13, 1791.

Gentlemen: Agreeably to the assurance given to Mr. Carroll, I applied, immediately upon my arrival in this city, to Governor Randolph for two thousand dollars for federal purposes under your direction. Although by the law of this State, the payments of the one hundred and twenty thousand dollars are to be made by installments, the Governor is well disposed to advance the money at earlier periods; but alas! the treasury is empty. He has promised me however that, so soon as he can obtain the above sum, it shall be remitted or made subject to your draught.

My anxiety to have the agreement which was entered into at Georgetown on the 30th. ult. carried into full and complete effect, by legal conveyances, is such (thereby leaving nothing to chance) that I cannot forbear repeating my wish that it may be done without delay, notwithstanding the persuasion I am under that the propriety of the measure will prompt you to the execution of the business in a manner best calculated to answer the public purposes.

It having been intimated to me that the Proprietors of George Town are desirous of being comprehended within the limits of the federal city, I see no objection to the measure provided the Landholders, adjoining to it, included within the red lines of Messrs. Beatty and Orme's Survey, referred to in the first offer from George Town, agree to cede to the public on the same terms with those under the last (or combined) agreement; and if those within the blue lines are likewise desirous of being comprehended, on the same terms, it may be done. The doing of which would only place them on the same footing with the rest of the Subscribers, at the same time that it would render the plan more comprehensive, beneficial, and promising, drawing the centre of the federal city near to the present town.

If this measure is seriously contemplated the present is the fit moment for carrying it into effect; because, in that case it will become part of the original plan, and the old and new towns would be blended and assimilated as nearly as circumstances will admit; and Major L'Enfant might be instructed to lay out the whole accordingly. I have the honor etc.

P.S. Since writing the foregoing I have again conversed with Governor Randolph, and have drawn upon him, payable to your order, for forty thousand dollars, being the first installment; one thousand of which he hopes to have ready within a few days, the remainder to be subject to your draughts. He will endeavor to transmit the money so as to prevent trouble or inconvenience; but, on this head he will write to you himself more at large.