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Pierre Charles L'Enfant
This selection of notes on, and quotes from, the correspondence of city planner Pierre Charles L'Enfant, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and others concerned in the growth of Washington DC are presented as background information to detail the chronology of events. They also demonstrate that Ellicott’s street plan did not vary greatly from L'Enfant’s plan.
L'Enfant and Washington

Differences of opinion were bound to occur between the designer working on the spot and authorities in far-off Philadelphia, and also with the Commissioners, one of whom was interested on behalf of his relatives while the other two lived at a distance and made only hurried and infrequent visits to the Federal City. [p. v. forward by Charles Moore]
"L'Enfant claimed complete originality for his plan, and he is justified. No other person gave him substantial aid in the design and he did not get ideas from the city plans supplied by Jefferson." [p. vi. forward by Charles Moore]
September 11, 1789 L'Enfant wrote Washington from New York, offering his services. [p. 14.]
July 9, 1790 The passage of the Residence act fixed the government on the banks of the Potomac.
January 1791 Commissioners appointed early in the month. [p. 32.]
January 29, 1791 Although L'Enfant’s record of hiring has not survived, the first record is a letter from Jefferson to the Commissioners advising them that on Washington’s direction he has written to L'Enfant. [p. 33.]
Washington, "...with his habit of trusting those who he knew, he seems to have left free rein to L'Enfant." [p. 20.]
February 4, 1791 Andrew Ellicott was ordered to proceed to the federal territory to make a survey as part of his job as Geographer-general to the Government [p. 32.]
March, 1791 Jefferson wrote to L'enfant:
"You are desired to proceed to Georgetown where you will find Mr. Ellicott employed in making a survey and maps of the Federal Territory. The special object of asking your aid is to have drawings of the particular grounds most likely to be approved for the site of the Federal town and buildings. You will therefore be pleased to begin on the Eastern branch and proceed from there thence upwards, laying down the hills, valleys, morasses and waters between that and the Potomac, the Tyber, and the road leading from Georgetown to the Eastern branch and connecting the whole with certain fixed points on the map Mr. Ellicott is preparing. Some idea of the hight of the lands above the base on which they stand would be desirable. For necessary assistance and expenses be pleased to apply to the Mayor of Georgetown who is written to on this subject. I will beg the favor of you to mark to me your progress about twice a week, by letter, say every Wednesday and Saturday evening, that I may be able in proper time to draw your attention to some other objects which I have not at this moment sufficient information to define." [p. 35 from Writings of Thomas Jeffeson, Memorial Edition, Vol.VIII, p. 162.]
March 11, 1791 L'Enfant details his vision for the city "...on that grand scale on which it ought to be planned." in a letter to Jefferson. [p. 16.]
Washington was concerned with the boundry lines and securing public lands. he makes no mention in his personal letters or Diary of the city plan prior to his return to Georgetown and receipt of L'Enfrants first report. [p. 51]
March 26, 1791 "... he presented three reports to Washington, the first, giving only his general ideas, before the end of March, the second in June, the last in August, the two latter accompanied with plans, the last of which being the one which was followed in the building of the city." [p. 17.]
Distant views and prospects were, of course, to be used to the best advantage: "Attention has been paid to the passing of those leading avenues over the most favorable ground for prospect and convenience." [p. 19.]
No note exists regarding Washington’s reaction to L'Enfant’s plan; Washington’s diaries from July 5, 1791 - September 1794 are missing. [p. 59.]
August 27, 1791 L'Enfant presented his plan to Washington. [p. 62.]
"The city must be beautiful, due advantage being taken of the hilly nature of the spot for grand or lovely prospects...." L'Enfant notes in his Observations Explanatory of the Plan. [p. 16.]
"The three Commissioners had notions of their own, but could never bring L'Enfant to take into account either their persons or their ideas; he would acknowledge no chief except Washington..." [p. 22.]
Jefferson was opposed to L'Enfant’s grand plan but was over ruled by Washington. [p. 72-3.]
November 22, 1791 L'Enfant completed the tearing down of a house built in defiance of L'Enfant’s wishes by Daniel Carroll of Duddington, a relative of one of the Commissioners, Daniel Carroll of Rock Creek. [p. 23]
December 13, 1791 At Jefferson’s urging, Washington wrote L'Enfant, advising him that he was subordanant to the Commissioners. [p. 93]
January 17, 1792 L'Enfant’s report to Washington reiterated his vision "...on the grand scale I propose...." [p. 113] Early in 1792 L'Enfant had a serious falling out with the Commissioners.
February 6, 1792 L'Enfant wrote Washington threatening to quit unless he had full and independent authority in the design.
February 1792 Ellicott who had surveyed the ground for L'Enfant’s city plan, prepared a plan of the work undertaken to date, with his understanding of L'Enfants plans. They were sent to the engravers by Jefferson’s orders. L'Enfant complained bitterly on February 17, 1792 that major changes had been made to his plans and insisted he be allowed to correct the plans before they were engraved. On February 22nd Washington asked Jefferson to let L'Enfant point out any "radical defects" that wouldn't take too long to correct.
February 22, 1792 Jefferson wrote L'Enfant forwarding Washington’s request that he stay on working under the authority of the commissioners and that he direct his attentions to the building plans rather than the streetplan. [p. 144-45.]
February 26, 1792 L'Enfant wrote Jefferson at length complaining about the Commissioners but only notes three changes to his plans: the Boundary line included Stoddert’s spring "to the evident disfigurement of the plan"; the Commission overruled his wish to have a wharf built on part of the harbour owned by Robert Peters; and the Commission overruled his plans for the construction of a canal. He declined to continue his work if he was required to submit to the Commission. [p. 150]
February 26, 1792 Jefferson wrote Washington asking that both his and L'Enfant’s letters be sent to Madison and the attorney general for their opinions.
February 27, 1792 Jefferson wrote L'Enfant advising him that his services must end.
February 27, 1792 L'Enfant wrote Washington saying he was totally disengaged from the enterprise. [p. 152.]
March 1, 1792 Jefferson advised George Walker and Daniel Carroll that L'Enfant’s services were ended.[p. 157]
March 6, 1792 Jefferson wrote to the Commissioners advising them that L'Enfant had been dismissed. [p. 24]
March 10, 1792 In a letter from L'Enfant to the Proprietors of the territory within the Federal City [including Robert Peters and George Walker]:
"I cannot disguise to you that much has already been attempted by the contrivance of an erroneous map of the city about to be published, which partly copied from the original has afterwards been mangled and altered in a shameful manner in its most essential parts..." [p. 166.]
March 9, 1792 13 of the 15 proprietors signed a petition to reinstate L'Enfant.
L'Enfant believed Jefferson had manouvered him into resigning [p. 172] and interfered with the mails to prevent him receiving a letter from the proprietors urging his return.
March 14, 1792 Jefferson wrote George Walker advising him that "The retirement of Majr. Lenfant has been his own act." [p. 173.]

Elizabeth S. Kite, L'Enfant and Washington 1791-1792 New York, Arno Press & The New York Times: 1970, (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1929). Manuscripts quoted are in the collection of the Library of Congress.


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