A Portrait of Old George Town
by Grace Dunlop Ecker
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A Portrait of Old George Town





Richmond, Virginia


SECOND EDITION Revised and Enlarged





The ghosts of Georgetown when they meet In haunted house or moonlit street With pride recall the functions gay When down the Philadelphia way The Federal City overnight Moved to its bare and swampy site, For Georgetown then a busy mart, A growing seaport from the start, Where a whole-hearted spirit reigned, Threw wide its doors, and entertained With wines and viands of the best— The Federal City was its guest.

In memory of the good old days, Whose ways to them were modern ways, Congenial ghosts across Rock Creek, With formal bows and steps antique, Rehearse a spectral minuet Where once in bright assemblies met— Beruffled belles looked love to beaus In powdered wigs and faultless hose; Or merchant ghosts survey the skies And venture guesses weatherwise Regarding winds that will prevail To speed their ships about to sail.

Still in the shaded hillside streets A trace of old-time welcome greets The passer-by who has a flare For scenes of old. No longer there A buoyant Georgetown stands alone, The Federal City having grown Until their boundaries overlap; So that, deleted from the map, Though once the Federal City's host, Georgetown itself is now a ghost.


It is not at all in my mind to write a history of Georgetown. Several have been written, but I do want, very, very much, to paint a portrait of this dear old town of my birth where my parents, my grandparents, great-grandfathers and one great-great-grandfather lived, and which I love so dearly.

A portrait, partly of its physical features, its streets, its houses and gardens, some of which still exist in their pristine glory but, alas, many of which have gone the way of so-called progress. In place of the dignified houses of yore, of real architectural beauty, stand rows of cheap dwellings or stores, erected mostly in the seventies and eighties when architecture was at its worst. In 1895 it was that the old names of the streets were taken away and from then on we've been just an adjunct of Washington.

Not only of its physical side do I wish to tell, but I want to paint a picture of the kind of people who lived here, from the beginning up through the gay nineties—nearly one hundred and fifty years. Of the kind of things they did, their work, their play, their thoughts and their beliefs, for the character of the town, like human beings, was formed largely by their beliefs, and these old Scotsmen—for they were greatly in the majority—laid a great deal of stress on their Presbyterian form of Christianity. Witness the oath that had to be taken by the Flour Inspector on February 24, 1772: "I, Thomas Brannan, do declare that I do believe that there is not any trnsubstantiation in the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper or in the elements of bread and wine, at or after the consecration thereof by any person whatsoever."

And yet, with this strong prejudice, they cooperated and lived on friendly terms with the Roman Catholics who, very soon after the taking of this particular oath, founded their college and established their convent for teaching young girls.

Dr. Balch counselled well when he besought his people: "Let us resolve to be social rather than fashionable, and generous instead of extravagant."

All down through the years and to this day I think that has been the hall-mark of the real Georgetonian. A great deal of fashion has come to Georgetown, as in the early days of the bringing of the government when Washington City was a waste and almost entirely one big mud puddle, and the foreign ministers and many high in our government sought the comfort and dignity of this town, which was then far from young.

Again in later years there has been an exodus across Rock Creek of men and women high in the government; in the diplomatic corps; in industry; in literature and the arts; lured hither by the quiet dignity of the old-time atmosphere.

There are today living in Georgetown descendants of nearly every one of the original makers of the town, and all through these years the old friendships still persist and flourish.

* * * * *

It is impossible for me to express my thanks to all the people who have helped me and made it possible to write this book. I want to mention Mrs. Gilbert Grosvenor; Miss Williams of the Peabody Room of the Georgetown Branch of the Public Library; Miss McPherson and Mr. John Beverley Riggs of the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress; Mr. Meredith Colket and Mr. O. W. Holmes of the National Archives; Dr. H. Paul Caemmerer, Secretary of the Commission of Fine Arts; Miss Pennybaker, of the Real Estate and Columbia Title Insurance Company; the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association and Mr. C. C. Wall, Superintendent of Mount Vernon. Also the various people who did the typing and helped secure the photographs.

And last but not least the friends of the old regime who have given to me freely of the history and traditions of their ancestors. They are too many to name, but to each one I owe a real debt of gratitude. Especially to one, my life-long friend, am I indebted. Without her unceasing interest and encouragement this Portrait might never have been done.



























Early George Town Frontispiece


Rev. James McVean 6

Henry Foxall 73

Home of Henry Foxall 75

Old Presbyterian Church 84

General James Maccubbin Lingan } } Benjamin Stoddert } 88 } Uriah Forrest }

William Marbury 94

Philip Barton Key } } 96 Mrs. Philip Barton Key (Elizabeth Plater) }

Home of Francis Scott Key 100

Francis Scott Key 102

Benjamin Stoddert's House 110

Home of Dr. Charles Worthington 114

John Threlkeld 122

Colonel John Cox 124

Old Dr. Riley's House 139

3017 N Street. The House that Thomas Beall Built 145

John Laird } } 147 James Dunlop, Senior }

Major George Peter } } Judge James Dunlop } 152 } William Redin }

Edward Magruder Linthicum 162

William Wilson Corcoran 164

George Peabody 175

Miss Lydia English 184

Dr. Grafton Tyler 188

Home of Judge Henry Henley Chapman 193

Old McKenney House 195

St. John's Church 198

Bodisco House 203

Christ Church 211

Washington Bowie 223

The Sevier House (Built by Washington Bowie) 225

The George T. Dunlop House 228

Home of Francis Dodge 231

Francis Dodge, Senior 233

The Sons of Francis Dodge, 1878 238

William A. Gordon 249

Dumbarton House 255

Tudor Place 260

Thomas Peter 262

Mrs. Thomas Peter (Martha Parke Custis) 264

Lloyd Beall 278

The Old Mackall House 285

Home of Brooke Williams 290

Madame Bodisco 294

Mount Hope. The William Robinson House 296

The Oaks (Now Dumbarton Oaks) } } 300 Montrose }

William Hammond Dorsey 302




Chapter I

Beginnings of a Town

There are many Georgetowns up and down the Atlantic seaboard in the original thirteen colonies, and even one in Kentucky, much like the Jamestowns and Charlestowns and Williamsburgs named for the sovereign of the time, but this George Town of which I write was in Maryland on the Potomac River, and because it was situated at the head of tidewater of that great river, it became important on account of the great amount of tobacco grown in that area and brought to this point to be carried across the seas.

The earliest knowledge we have of this region, which has become The Capital City of the great United States of America, concerns the Indians who were living here when the white explorers came.

The first of these we know of was the redoubtable Captain John Smith, who, in 1608, came up the Potomac River and made a map of his travels. He tells us in his Historie of Virginie of "the mildness of the aire, the fertilitie of the soil, and the situation of the rivers to the nature and use of man as no place more convenient for pleasure, profit and man's sustenance." He was referring to the confluence of the Potomac with its Eastern Branch and the then good-sized Rock Creek.

In 1634 another Englishman, Henry Fleete, sailed up the river as far as the Little Falls, trading furs with the Indians. Thus he wrote of the site of George Town:

"Monday, the 25th of June, we set sail for the Town of Tohoga, where we came to anchor two leagues short of the falls: this place is without question the most pleasant in all this country and most convenient for habitation; the air temperate in summer and not violent in winter. The river aboundeth in all manner of fish, and for deer, buffalos, bears and turkeys, the woods do swarm with them and the soil is exceedingly fertile."

Henry Fleete remained with the Indians about twelve years, whether of his own free will or as a captive is not quite certain, but evidently this writing of his was to good purpose, for, in the next decade, small parties of Scots and Irish began settling on the Potomac at the mouth of Rock Creek.

The Indians whom these white men found here belonged to the Algonquin Nation, which included many tribes. Thomas Jefferson says there were probably forty of these tribes between the Atlantic Ocean and the Potomac River. The tribe living within the limits of the present District of Columbia was the Nacotchankes or Anacostians, as the British called them, hence, the name given to the Eastern branch of the Potomac, where the largest village was situated, near what is now called Benning. West of Rock Creek was the village of Tohoga, on the site of what became George Town.

The Indian families lived on cultivated farms of a few acres, each strung out along the river. From it came a large part of their food, and, of course, it was their best mode of communication by canoe.

The most interesting activity of these Indians was the manufacture of all manner of tools from the stones which they found in the surrounding hills. These cobblestones had been washed down by the river ages before. In later years they paved the streets of Georgetown, but these Indians used them to form arrow-darts, knives, spear points, scrapers, and drills of all sizes. Traces of these quarries were found as late as 1900; the largest of them seems to have been on Piney Branch, where it is crossed by 16th Street. It is now obliterated.

There was, also, in this region, soapstone, and from it and from clay, the Indians made pots and vessels for household use.

Scientists think that other tribes came from far away to barter their goods for these implements, and so, over three hundred years ago, this place was a sort of metropolis for the Indians.

It was, of course, by way of the river that the settlers came to this region after the grant of the Colony of Maryland to Lord Baltimore as Lord Proprietor. This colony of Maryland differed from the other colonies in the fact that all the land was the property of Lord Baltimore, to give or sell as he pleased. Another difference was the establishment of the Manorial System, by which the owner of one thousand acres or more became Lord of his Manor. (It was almost like the Feudal System.)

In 1703 a grant of 795 acres was made to Ninian Beall, beginning thus:

"Charles, Absolute Lord and Proprietor of the Province of Maryland....

Know yee that for and in consideration that Ninian Beall of Prince Georges County had due unto him 795 acres of land within our Province....

We do therefore grant unto him the said Ninian Beall all that tract or parcell of land called Rock of Dunbarton, lying in the said County, beginning at the Southwest corner Tree, of a tract of land taken for Robert Mason standing by Potomack River side at the mouth of Rock Creek....

To have and to hold the same unto him the said Ninian Beall, his heirs and assignees forever to be holden of us and our heirs as of our manor of Calverton in free and Common Soccage by fealty only for all manner of services yielding and paying therefor yearly unto us and our heirs at our receipt at the City of St. Maries at the two most usual feasts in the year—at the feast of Annunciacion of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Michael the Archangell by even and equal porcions the rent of one pound eleven shillings and nine pence half penny sterling silver or gold....

Given under our Greater Seal of Armes, this eighteenth day of November, one thousand seven hundred and three, witness our trusty and well beloved Colonel Henry Darnell, keeper of our said Greater Seale in our said Province of Maryland."

Colonel Ninian Beall lived a long and interesting life. He had been born in Largo, Fifes Shire, Scotland, in 1625. There he had been an officer in the Scottish-English Army, which fought for the Stuarts' Army against Cromwell; he was made a prisoner at the battle of Dunbar, September 3, 1650, and sentenced to five years servitude in the Barbadoes, West Indies. Many gentlemen were so sentenced as political prisoners and sent out as industrial servants at that time. He was eventually sent to Maryland, where, after completing his term of servitude, he proved his right to 50 acres of land and received many hundreds more for bringing out immigrants and settling there.

He held many notable and honorable offices in the colony, and, in 1699, the General Assembly passed an Act of Gratitude for the distinguished Indian services of Colonel Ninian Beall.

As he was Commander in Chief of the Provincial Forces in Maryland, he probably visited the garrison at the Falls and so knew this region long before he was granted this tract of the Rock of Dunbarton. He previously had procured 225 acres on the east side of Rock Creek just opposite, called Beall's Levels.

Ninian Beall died in 1717 at his home, Fifer Largo, near Upper Marlboro, Maryland. From a description of him in the Records of the Columbia Historical Society:

... "He had a complexion characteristic of his nationality, with an unusually heavy growth of long red hair, and was over six feet in height, powerful in brawn and muscle and phenomenal in physical endurance."

He had twelve children, six sons and six daughters. In his will is recorded:

"I do give and bequeath unto my son George, my plantation and tract of land called the Rock of Dunbarton, lying and being at Rock Creek, containing four hundred and eight acres, with all the stock thereon, both cattle and hogs, them and their increase, unto my said son, George, and unto his heirs forever.

"I do also give and bequeath, unto my said son, George Beall, his choice of one of my feather beds, bolster and pillow and other furniture thereunto belonging, with two cows and calves and half my sheep from off this plantation I now live on, unto him and his heirs forever."

This son, George, was the eighth child of Ninian Beall. He had a son, Thomas, who always styled himself Thomas Beall of George; of him we shall hear more later on. The family was not limited to these, for many other Bealls, men and women, appear in the annals of George Town.

George Gordon, the other of the two original proprietors of the lands which became George Town, was also a Scotsman and had a share in a manufacture at Leith, near Edinburgh, so it is evident that, when he came to this country, he had means which he invested in Prince Georges County and Frederick County, Maryland. He held the office of Sheriff of Frederick County and was a judge of the first County Court.

A deed to Gordon from James Smith, "planter," is dated November 13, 1734. In it, George Gordon is described as "merchant." The tract conveyed was one hundred acres, known as "Knaves' Disappointment," a part of three hundred acres called his Rock Creek Plantation. The consideration was one hundred pounds sterling or about five hundred dollars.

It is thought that the original Inspection House of George Gordon was built of logs not far from the mouth of Rock Creek, fronting on the Potomac, somewhere between 1734 and 1748. The main inspection house was built later on "the warehouse lot," an acre close to the southwest intersection of Falls and Water Streets (M Street and Wisconsin Avenue). He resided nearby at the site of 3206 M. Street. Later on, in 1745, George Gordon bought an estate for a permanent home; it is thought to have been near Holy Rood Cemetery or near the Industrial Home School on Wisconsin Avenue. After the death of his wife, George Gordon left his Rock Creek Plantation, and went to live at "Woodyard" with Stephen West.

The will of George Gordon is dated May 10, 1766. At the time of his death he had a son, John, and a daughter, who had married Tobias Belt. To his son, John, "mariner," who was in the East India service, he devised the dwelling house at Rock Creek Plantation on Goose Creek and the waterside lot in Georgetown numbered 75.

In those days tobacco was, of course, the big crop, and an English writer called it "the meat, drink, clothing, and money of the colonists." Regulations were very strict in regard to the exportation of tobacco.

Inspection houses for tobacco such as that of George Gordon were also called Rolling Houses, from the fact that the hogsheads of tobacco had a hole bored in each head and an axle run through from one end to another. To this axle a shaft was attached, and drawn by a horse or an ox, so rolled along over the rough roads of that time to their destinations. Here was the one place in Frederick County for inspection; here was a natural site for a town, and so came the demand for one.

On June 8, 1751 the Assembly of the Province of Maryland appointed commissioners to lay out a town here in the county of Frederick, which had been formed in 1748 from Prince Georges County. The first appointed were: Captain Henry Wright Crabb, Masters John Needham, James Perrie, Samuel Magruder III, Josiah Beall, David Lynn. Appointed as their successors from time to time as vacancies occurred, were: Andrew Heugh, 1754; Robert Peter, 1757; John Murdock, 1766; Thomas Richardson, 1772; William Deakins, Jr., 1772; Bernard O'Neill, 1782; Thomas Beall, of George, 1782; Benj. Stoddert, Samuel Davidson, 1785; John Peter, 1789, and Adam Steuart. The last named gave up his American citizenship and went to Europe to live, as he was not in sympathy with the Revolution. His land was confiscated by the State of Maryland. The Surveyors and Clerks of the Commissioners were:

Alexander Beall, 1751-1757; Josiah Beall, 1757-1774; Robert Ferguson, 1774, and Daniel Reintzel, 1774-1782.

Meetings were held in private houses through all the years until 1789, when, at last, George Town was incorporated.

To return to the year 1752, when the first survey of ground for the town was made, among the tracts surveyed were the following with their names:

Conjurer's Disappointment (Deakins) Frogland (Thomas Beatty) Knave's Disappointment (George Gordon) Discovery (Robert Peter) Resurvey on Salop (John Threlkeld) Pretty Prospect (Benjamin Stoddert) Beall's Levels and Rock of Dumbarton (George Beall)

The survey was completed on February 28, 1752 and Beall's and Gordon's land found "most convenient." Each gentleman was offered two town lots besides the price of condemnation. George Gordon chose numbers 48 and 52. George Beall had refused to recognize the proceedings of the commissioners in any way, so he was notified that "if he did not make his choice of lots within 10 days from February 28th, he could only blame himself for the consequences." After reflecting for a week he sent the following answer:

If I must part with my property by force, I had better save a little than be totally demolished. Rather than none, I accept these lots, numbers 72 and 79, said to be Mr. Henderson's and Mr. Edmonston's. But I do hereby protest and declare that my acceptance of the said lots, which is by force, shall not debar me from future redress from the Commissions or others, if I can have the rights of a British subject. God save the King.


March 7, 1752.

Can't you see how difficult it was for the old gentleman (he must then, by the records, have been about sixty years of age or more) to cooperate with the changes that were coming to ruin, as he thought, his comfortable and profitable plantation life?

Two hundred and eighty pounds were paid for the sixty acres of the original town. The southern boundary was the river, the western about where the college now stands, the eastern a few feet west of the present 30th Street, and the northern boundary was a few feet south of the present N Street. The only boundary stone still existing is the one that was No. 2 in the survey, the northeastern corner of the town, and is now in the garden of number 3014 N. Street. There were eighty lots in the original town.

The name has been variously attributed to George II, the King then reigning; to the two Georges from whom the land was taken, and to George Washington, which last is, of course, absurd, as he was then a young man of twenty, engaged in surveying the properties of Lord Fairfax.

Chapter II

The Original Town and Its People

George Town flourished and became more and more a busy port. Its population in 1800 was 2,993; by 1810 it was 4,948. Its wharves were thronged with vessels sailing across the seas laden with the "precious weed" and with wheat brought in from plantations for the "flouring mills" in great Conestoga wagons painted red and blue drawn by six-horse teams adorned with gay harness and jingling bells. Also, there was a thriving coastwise trade, up to old Salem and Newburyport where the clipper ships were built, and down to the West Indies. These ships brought back sugar, molasses, and rum, and from the old country came clothing, and furniture, and all sorts of luxuries, for the thriving merchants were building comfortable homes and furnishing them in elegance and taste.

General Edward Braddock, after a brilliant military career under Prince William of Orange, in Holland, had been made a major-general and put in charge of troops in Virginia against the French. He landed his troops in Alexandria, marched them up to where the ferry crossed to George Town, where they divided, part going through Virginia, and he, with the remainder, crossing the Potomac to George Town from whence he continued on his fateful march to Fort Duquesne, where he met his terrible defeat and lost his life.

He had come from Perthshire in old Scotland, so, of course, had received a warm welcome in this Scottish town. And thus he had written back to England to George Anne Bellamy, the gifted actress, in 1755: "For never have I attended a more complete banquet or met better dressed or better mannered people than I met on my arrival in George Town, which is named after our gracious Majesty." If only he had mentioned in whose house the banquet was or the names of some of these agreeable people he met!

James Truslow Adams, in his fascinating book, The Epic of America, speaks over and over again of the culture of the pre-Revolutionary towns along the Atlantic seaboard, and what a high point it had reached. No better example could be found than this old town with its families who had come from well-to-do circumstances, not, as was the case with so many settlers of the new country, in order to escape trouble. They came mostly from Scotland; witness the names as time goes on. Indeed, to such an extent, that the little settlement had first of all been called New Scotland.

One of the very first to establish himself in the business of exporting tobacco, was Robert Peter, who is often spoken of in old records as "George Town's pioneer business man," and also as "The merchant prince and land owner." As a young man of about twenty he had come from Crossbasket near Glasgow, first to Bladensburg and thence to George Town, and in 1752 established himself in business, and in 1790 became its first mayor. He represented the firm of John Glassford & Company of North Britain, Glasgow, well known both in England and in Scotland. So much of the tobacco trade flowed into the Scottish city that the wealthy merchants there who dealt in it were known as the "Virginia Dons," and to this day there is in the old port of Glasgow a Virginia Street.

James Dunlop, a cousin of Robert Peter, also had come from his home Garnkirke, near Glasgow, first to New York, then to George Town about 1783 and established himself in this same lucrative exporting business. He did a great deal of business in Dumfries, Virginia, near Fredericksburg.

These old letters give a picture of the times:

George Town, December 15th, 1788.


Your favors of the 11th July duly received by Mr. Dunlop with the black cloth, which I am afraid I shall soon have occasion for, my old friend Mr. Heugh being now in a very dangerous way indeed, etc.


Andrew Heugh had been one of the Commissioners in the laying off of George Town. He owned one of the very first lots on the water front and High Street.

Here is another one of these letters:

George Town, August 8, 1788.


The quantity of tobacco planted this year in the neighborhood of this place is vastly larger than ever was known. John Campbell and J. Dunlop are very backward in buying with all cash, but as Colonel Deakins is again in cash the price still keeps at a guinea ... from these causes I would not be forward in recommending speculation in the weed, especially as those of good information are holding off.


No less a person than General Washington himself wrote in 1791 that George Town ranked as the greatest tobacco market in Maryland, if not in the Union.

Duc de la Rochefoucault Liancourt, traveling in the United States in 1795-'97, says that in 1791 tobacco exports from George Town were $314,864.00. They went even higher in 1792 and 1793, but in 1794 and the following years decreased considerably, which was attributed to two causes: a falling off in tobacco growing, and a diversion of the capital of the merchants to speculation in lots in the Federal City.

A prominent firm in this same business of exporting tobacco was that of Forrest, Stoddert, and Murdock, formed in 1783. Uriah Forrest was born in St. Mary's County, Maryland, in 1756. He served with distinction in the Revolution, was wounded in the Battle of Germantown and lost a leg at the Battle of Brandywine.

He was a delegate in the Continental Congress and served in the third Congress from March 4, 1793 to November 8, 1794, when he resigned. He was commissioned major-general in the Maryland Militia in 1795.

After the war he went to London on business for the Government at his own expense, but returned to enter business with his old friend, Benjamin Stoddert.

Born in Charles County, Maryland, in 1751, Stoddert was of Scottish ancestry, the son of Captain Thomas Stoddert who, while with the Maryland contingent, was killed in Braddock's defeat. Benjamin Stoddert had joined the Continental Army as a captain of cavalry and was in active service until the Battle of Brandywine where, after holding the rank of major, he was so severely wounded as to unfit him for active service. He had seriously considered settling in either Baltimore or Alexandria, urged by friends in each of these cities, but decided that George Town was a better venture.

Colonel John Murdock was already living in George Town where his father, William Murdock, was in business.

Francis Lowndes also had a large warehouse, and John Laird was prosperous in this business, and as time went on, meant a great deal to Georgetown. Colonel Deakins, Jr., was prominent, for on his tomb was inscribed: "George Town, by the blow, has lost her most illustrious patron." He was only fifty-six when he died in 1798. In his youth, he had done surveying with George Washington.

Henry Threlkeld was born in Cumberland County, England, in 1716, came to America and bought an estate of 1,000 acres known as Berleith, bordering on the Potomac. It ran northward, and the present sites of Georgetown College and Convent are on part of this land. He seems to have continued to farm his estate, and died in 1781. His only child, John, became very prominent in all of the affairs of the town.

Joseph Carlton, also in the tobacco business, who died in March, 1812, when only fifty-eight years old, had held the office of postmaster in 1799.

General James Maccubbin Lingan, a tobacco shipper, who was the first collector of the port ... "1790 and before," had had a very remarkable career in the Revolution.

Colonel Charles Beatty owned a ferry which did a thriving business between the Virginia shore and the foot of Frederick Street at Water Street.

Ebenezer Dodge had come from Salem, Massachusetts, and built up a successful coastwise trade with the East Indies, his younger brother, Francis, coming in 1798, of whom I shall have a great deal to say in another chapter.

Peter Casanave was much in evidence in business deals.

John M. Gannt was a prominent merchant; also, William King, whose name is still known in business here.

Among the lawyers were Philip Barton Key and Joseph Earle.

Doctor Magruder is spoken of over and over again. He seems to have been "the doctor" at that time. Doctor Weems also had a good practice.

From The Virginia Gazette of January 14, 1775, is taken this note in regard to a project much in the minds of the business men of George Town at that time:

At a meeting of the Trustees for opening the navigation of the Potomack River held in George Town December 1, 1774, Thomas Johnson, Jr., Attorney at Law, Wm. Deakins, Adam Steuart, Thomas Johns, Thomas Richardson, merchants of George Town, appointed to hire slaves for cutting canals around the Falls of the River, etc.

Of course, George Town, like every other town in the country at that time, was peopled largely by negroes. Some owners hired out the ones they themselves did not need, either for work of this kind or for domestic service. A delightful story is told of how one of the shipowners sent a "likely" young negress back to Scotland on one of his vessels, as a present to his mother. Many weeks later when the vessel returned, on it was Chloe with a note thanking "my dear son" for his gift, but saying, "I have had her scrubbed and scrubbed, but as it is impossible to remove the dirt and stain, I am returning her."

In 1788 Thomas Corcoran, who that year came to George Town from Baltimore, intended to go on to Richmond, but instead stayed and established a business in leather, says: "There were then in harbor ten square-rigged vessels, two of them being ships and a small brig from Amsterdam taking in tobacco from a warehouse on Rock Creek." The mouth of the creek at that time was a bay, wide and deep, and as late as 1751 the tide ebbed and flowed as far up as the present P Street bridge.

Near there stood the paper mill built about 1800 by Gustavus Scott and Nicholas Lingan, and described in an old advertisement as being 120 feet long, three stories high, the first story built of stone. Just beyond was Parrott's Mill, called the George Town Wool and Cotton Manufactory. Parrott also had a Rope Walk on the northern outskirts of the Town. A little farther north of Parrott's Mill at the bend of Rock Creek was Lyon's Mill, said to have been built in 1780.

Naturally all through these years during and after the Revolution there was a great deal of unrest, and trade was much affected.

The following is a copy of an authentic letter from the celebrated Dr. Franklin to a friend in England on the subject of the first campaign made by the British forces in America and, although not written from Georgetown, it shows the state of mind of many people.

Dear Sir. I am to set out tomorrow for the camp and having heard of this opportunity can only write a line to say that I am well and hardy.

Tell our good friend—who sometimes has his doubts and despondencies about our firmness that America is determined and unanimous, a very few tories and place men excepted, who will probably soon export themselves.

Britain, at the expense of 3 millions has killed 150 yankees this campaign which is 20,000 pounds a head, and at Bunker's Hill she gained one mile of ground, half of which she lost again by our taking post on plowed hill. During the same time 60,000 children had been born in America.

Also this letter, which James Dunlop received in New York shortly before coming to Georgetown, gives, I think, a very vivid picture of both political and economic thinking of the time:


January 31, 1783

Mr. James Dunlop, Merchant, New York, c/o the Pacquet.

Dear Sir:

This comes by the pacquet which will bring you the Preliminary Articles of Peace which were signed at Paris on 20th and we had the account here on the 27th at 8 in the morning which was very quick. We have not yet seen the Articles, but we have reason to believe upon the whole it is as reasonable as could well be expected unless we had made another campaign in the West Indies with the Troops from America and our present great superiority at sea. We had reason to expect everything would have gone to our liking, and considering the great quantity of West Indies and American produce now on hand perhaps you will think we, as well as our neighbours, would had no objections to another Campaign.

I have seen all your late letters, am sensible the news of Peace after the purchase you have lately made, will give you much uneasiness but the company are sensible you did it with a good intention and except the idea of peace, your reasons for the purchase were very good, however we thought that General Carletons declaration to you that Negotiations for Peace were open and that in the first place Britain declared the Independence of America, would have alarmed you or at least prevented you from exceeding the Company's limits so very much especially for so large a quantity. I suppose what made you so very sanguine that we should have another Campaign was the Rockingham party going out and Lord Shelbourne coming and on his first appearance declaring against American indenpendence, which speech deceived many here as well as with you. I am happy to inform you the Ruby arrived four days ago which brought us the 100 Hhds Tobacco without a farthing of Insurance which is very luckie and will help to make the loss on the tobacco fall season. We have not yet heard any account of the Favorite. We have done 16 on the Tobacco on her and don't intend to do any more.

If this Tobacco turned out good in quality and no great quantity comes home for six months I still flatter myself there will be no great loss upon the Sales. There has been no sale of any kind these five weeks past nor will not be till some time after we see the Articles of Peace which we now expect in three or four days, as they were to be laid before Parliment two days ago. I suppose in a short time after the receipt of this you will be going to visit our old friends in Virginia. It is very probable I may have the pleasure of seeing you there in a few months and as America has gotten her wishes I hope she will once more be a happy Country and we shall enjoy the blessings of Peace with our old Acquaintance and Brethern and I hope it will cement the friendship between the Mother and the Daughter to the mutual advantage of both Countrys.

I had the pleasure of seeing your Sisters all week—several nights at Mr. William Dunlop's.

Wishing you all the happiness and with compliments to all acquaintance I am, Dear Sir,

Your most humble servant


Also in a letter from a young British Officer (also a Scotsman) who was a military prisoner in a camp at Lancaster, Pennsylvania who was trying to get to Petersburg, Virginia to see his father who was there on business from Glasgow, there is this addition.

P.S. I have this moment received a letter from Phila. informing me of a passport being procured for my going to Virginia. I shall set off immediately. Adieu.

Can't you picture his excitement after many trials to at last get in touch with his father!

On March 18, 1783 Archibald Govan sends two letters enclosed to a friend in New York to forward to Virginia "by the safest, spediest conveyance. There is probally now a post direct from New York through the Continent."

In these days ships approached George Town by way of the Western Channel, as it was called, on the far side of Analostan Island, where the depth of the water was from twenty-seven to thirty-three feet—deep enough to admit the passage of an "Indiaman."

George Washington Parke Custis, the owner of Arlington, was much disturbed when a causeway was built across from the island to the Virginia shore, and prophesied the filling of the channel and the end of George Town as a port.

So up the creek to these mills for their produce, and up the great river to its wharves, piled high with hogsheads of tobacco came these ships and many more of which we have not the names:

The Potomack Planter, Captain James Buchanan, for London.

The brig Brothers.

The schooner Betsey, bringing rum, coffee, and chocolate.

The ships Ritson and Felicity.

The sloops, Lydia and Betsey, plying between George Town and New York. These ships from the North were laden with whale oil to be used for the lamps which, in 1810, were placed on the streets to "enable the citizens to go safely to and from evening service."

The Columbia from Martinique, and the ship Lydia, Lemuel Toby, master, for London, which on September 6, 1792 had this advertisement in The George Town Weekly Ledger:

Will sail in twelve or fifteen days: such as may be desirous of taking passage in said ship may depend on being genteelly accommodated. For further particulars apply to Col. Wm. Deakins, or the Captain on Board.

Out beyond the northern limits of the Town, just opposite where Mount Alto Hospital now stands, high on a hill which has been dug away, stood in those days a tremendous oak tree which was used by the pilots coming up the river to guide them on their way. For a hundred years it stood, known as Sailors' Oak, but like so many other things, has had to go in the interest of Progress.

Chapter III

The Taverns, Shops, and Schools

With ships arriving and departing and the land travel passing from North to South and back again, besides the country gentlemen coming to town to sell their crops and tend to other business, there was need for many taverns, and plenty of them there were in George Town.

According to Mr. O. W. Holmes of the National Archives who has recently written a fine article on the Colonial Taverns of Georgetown for the Columbia Historical Society, which he read before the Society on January 16, 1951, the earliest tavern of which there is record was kept by Joseph Belt who was granted a license by the newly created Frederick County Court in August, 1751 "to keep a Public House of Entertainment at the Mouth of Rock Creek."

Previously Thomas Odell had petitioned for such a "Lyssance" in 1747 to Prince George's County for one year—but we hear no more of him so are not certain that he continued in business. But Joseph Belt did and in the Maryland Gazette (Annapolis) for March 19, 1752, is this announcement:

Notice is hereby given that the Land appointed by Act of Assembly to be laid out into a town, by the name of Georgetown, adjacent to the warehouse at the Mouth of Rock Creek, in Frederick County, is accordingly laid out, and the lots will be sold the 4th Monday in March, being the 23 of the month at the House of Joseph Belt, living in the said Town in ten of the Clock before noon.

Per order of the Commissioner Alexander Beall, Cl.

In 1760 Mr. Belt bought two of the most desirable lots in town at the southeast corner of Water Street (Wisconsin Ave.) and Bridge (M) and apparently built on the southernmost one of them a tavern where real estate sales took place frequently—and again in the Maryland Gazette for September 19, 1771, is this insertion:

Frederick County, Sept. 8, 1771

The Subscriber continues to keep a House of Entertainment in George Town, at the Kings Arms, and as he is provided with Good Entertainment, Stabling, and Provender for Horses, would be obliged to all Gentlemen travelling and others for their customs and they may depend on kind usage, by their Most Humble Servant,


So it is quite possible that it was still here and that General Braddock's soldiers attracted by the name and sign stopped to slake their thirst before continuing their long march to the West.

This Joseph Belt appears to have been the nephew of Col. Joseph Belt, the original patentee of Chevy Chase. He was a highly respectable man and well thought of.

Another tavern of that period was kept by John Orme who in his petition for a license promised as did others of that period "to keep Tavern in George Town, to keep good Rules and Orders and not suffer the loose and disorderly persons to Tipple, Game, or Commit other disorders or irregularities within his aforesaid House."

In the Maryland Gazette in September in 1760 is a notice of horse races to be held at George Town, the horses "to be Entered the Day before Running, with Messrs. Joseph Belt and John Orme in George Town."

The same notice again in 1761. I wonder where the races took place. John Orme was the son of the Rev. John Orme, a Presbyterian minister who served as pastor at Upper Marlboro from 1720 until he died in 1758.

His tavern was apparently on the northeast corner of the present M Street and Wisconsin Avenue, where the Farmers and Mechanics Branch of Riggs Bank now stands.

In the Maryland Gazette of September 29, 1768, Thomas Belt offers for sale "At the house of Mr. John Orme, in George Town ... part of a Tract of Land, called Chevy Chace, containing 200 and 300 acres about 5 miles from said Town."

After the death of John Orme in 1772 his widow inserted a notice in the paper—and added, "N. B. The Executrix will continue to keep Tavern for ready money only. Lucy Orme."

But they were not left in straightened circumstances, and the three Orme daughters married very well.

There is mention of a Cornelius Davies and also of John Wise keeping tavern for short periods. This may have been the same John Wise who later opened a tavern in Alexandria which became the well-known Gadsby's Tavern.

Also there was Christian Boncer, during the Revolution who like John Orme, before him, was likewise running a ferry over the Potomac.

And then in October, 1779, John Beall is referred to as occupying the home where Joseph Belt formerly kept tavern.

In November 1782, Mr. Beall announced that he was moving "into the large Stone House near the Square, the best calculated house in town for entertaining Gentlemen, Travellers, and Others."

And then Mr. Ignatius Simpson moved into the "House formerly occupied by Mr. John Beall," and the next year, 1783, the Commissioners record meeting at the "House of Mr. Ignatius Simpson." And in 1784 Mr. Simpson had no license issued and the Commissioners met "at the House of Mr. John Suter." It would seem that this same house had been a tavern ever since Joseph Belt built a house there.

From then on Suter's Tavern became the best-known meeting place in town and even the birthplace of the District of Columbia for there was signed the agreement with the proprietors of the land for the Federal City.

Christian Hines says in his little book Early Recollections of Washington that Suter's Tavern was a one-story frame and stood on High Street, between Bridge and Water Streets, a little east of the canal bridge. Christian Hines as a youth of fifteen was an apprentice living with the Green family just across the street from this building, and although he wrote his Recollections when he was an old man, it is a well-known fact that old people remember happenings of their youth better than those of last month or last week.

It was a rather small building, a story and a half high, according to an old print, and had a large Inn Yard at the side and back for the accommodation of the coaches, wagons and steeds of its patrons.

John Suter was a Scotsman who had been living out in Montgomery County but apparently from 1784 until his death in 1794 his tavern was a very busy place. Here it was that General Washington stayed when he was passing through.

This notice shows John Suter's standing in the community:

Georgetown, August 21, 1790

All persons having claims against the Estate of John Cornne, deceased, are desired to bring them in legally attested. Those indebted to make speedy payment to

John Suter, Administrator

From the Times and Potowmack Packet:

Meeting at Mr. Suter's Tavern in George Town, 14 December, 1790, for erecting a New Warehouse contiguous to the Old Inspection on Col. Normand Bruce's property in George Town.

Edward Burgess Bernard O'Neill

For Sale. On Monday the 3d of January next will be offered for sale at the House of Mr. John Suter in George Town that Lot or Acre of Ground whereon the Old Warehouse formerly stood.... A good title will be given agreeably to the last Will and Testament of Thomas Hamilton deceased of Prince Georges County.

December 11, 1790 Andrew Hamilton

Then there is this little item from the same paper:

The subscriber has for sale, by the Box, a small supply of fresh Lisbon LEMONS, imported in the Potomack Planter.

Capt. James Buchanan George Town Sept. 7, 1790 John Suter

Fresh fruit was evidently an event.

After Mr. John Suter's death, his son John Suter, Jr., took over the tavern and ran it until he moved to the Union Tavern.

It had been built in 1796 at a cost of $16,000, according to a newspaper of the day advertising it for sale: "It is a handsome substantial brick building of three stories, fronting 60 ft. on the most public street in town (Bridge Street), and running back 63 ft. on a wide and commodious street (Washington). The house is admirably calculated for a tavern." The advertisement tells the number and size of the rooms, cellars, passages and cross passages, and ends thus: "There are stables sufficient for the accommodation of 50 horses with commodious sheds for carriages ... and not twenty yards from the kitchen is a copious and never failing spring of most excellent running water." The main building differed but little from others, but north of this and running north upon Washington Street to the next street, was a wing, one or two stories high, and one room deep, the doors opening into a covered corridor supported by brick arches, beyond which was a large courtyard paved with stone. The rooms along this corridor were occupied entirely by gentlemen, many being planters from the lower river counties of Virginia and Maryland. They came up on the old Salem, which made weekly trips and stopped at all the river landings. On the opposite side of the courtyard was a large building in which was a fine ballroom known as Pompean Hall. This room must have been used for the following event:

Birthnight Ball. The Ladies and Gentlemen of George Town and its vicinity are informed that there will be a Ball at the Union Tavern on Friday the 22nd instant (Feb. 22, 1799), in honor of Lieutenant-General George Washington. At request of the Managers. John Suter, Jr.

In addition to this very historic ball, the George Town Assemblies used to be held here. Mrs. William Thornton has recorded in her diary that on Monday, January 1st, 1810:

A very crowded assembly at the presidents. We staid about two hours. President and Lady went to Georgetown Assembly. Chariot broke at night.

These august guests at the assembly were, of course, James Madison and the charming Dolly.

When Mr. Suter opened the Union Tavern in March, 1799, Francis Kearns put this notice in the paper:

Sign of the Ship. The subscriber begs leave to inform his friends and the public that he has rented the tavern formerly occupied by Mr. Suter, called The Fountain Inn, where he has all kinds of liquors accounted necessary for travellers. Add to this a well of water not to be surpassed in Town. I am determined to spare no pains to render this situation agreeable and flatter myself from a desire to please that I shall meet with encouragement. I also will accomodate 6 or 8 gentlemen boarders on reasonable terms. A livery stable will be kept for a few horses.

June 31, 1800 Francis Kearns

Francis Kearns having taken over the Union Tavern from John Suter, Jr.

Again, in 1802 this building changed hands, for in The Washington Federalist is the announcement of reopening, and assurance of best liquors, and begins: "Anchor Tavern and Oyster House (late the Fountain Inn), George Pitt, Proprietor of former Eagle Tavern."

Then there was the City Tavern, kept by Charles McLaughlin. Benjamin Lacy rented two brick houses from Charles Beatty on Water Street and called his The Sailors' Tavern. John Tennally had a tavern (from him came the name of Tennally Town). Joseph Semmes's Tavern at the Sign of the Indian King, was very well known. It seems to have moved several times. In advertisements for houses for rent or for sale, they seemed always to be next door to or across the street from Semmes's Tavern or Dr. Magruder's.

From The Museum, January 1, 1802:

The Subscriber begs leave to inform his friends and the public that he has removed from his late dwelling in the main street to that large and commodious three story new BRICK BUILDING, Sign of the Indian King, adjoining the Bank of Columbia, which he has fitted up at considerable expense for the accomodation of travellers. He embraces this opportunity of returning his grateful thanks to those gentlemen who have heretofore favored him with their custom and hopes by a faithful discharge of his duty to merit the countenance and support of the public.

George Town, Joseph Semmes

The Museum, 28th of January, 1802:

To be sold at Union Tavern, The BRICK HOUSE formerly occupied as a Tavern by Mr. Semmes.

Philip Barton Key William Thornton

Do you suppose that Mr. Semmes had his tavern in this place for only one month?

Jane White advertises that she intends to continue her "house of entertainment" (Mrs. White's Tavern) on a more enlarged plan, asks for settlement of debts. Nov. 27, 1790.

George Stevens announces he has removed to the place lately occupied by Mr. William King, Merchant, of this place (the house where Col. William Deakins has lived for many years past).

There are still, to this day, William Kings in business in Georgetown.

Mr. George Stevens also advertises:

Any gentleman wanting to buy Ginseng may by giving a few days notice find a supply from said Stevens from One to Five Thousand weight.

And this from the Times and Potowmack Packet, April 21, 1790:

Charles Fierer & Co.

Gentlemen may have their Coats of Arms or other devices cut on Glass and fancy pieces executed by sending their orders.

Also these items:

Doctors Beatty and Martin have just received from Philadelphia and Baltimore: Opium, Mercury, Jolap, Ipecacoanha, Nitre, Glanker Salts, Gum Kino, Columbo root, assorted vials, carts, etc. Red and other Bark.

Dr. Magruder has lately received an elegant supply of most fashionable paper hangings—and his usual Assortment of Drugs and Medicines.

He catered to various tastes of his patrons:

Dr. Cozens has just opened a general assortment of Drugs and Medicines in the house formerly occupied by Mr. Andrew McDonald in Water Street, opposite to Mr. James King's Wharf, which he means to sell at a moderate price. He likewise offers his services to the public as a practitioner of physic, surgery and midwifery. Mrs. Cozens also informs the ladies that she practices Midwifery and from her experience and universal success she flatters herself she shall give satisfaction to all those who favor her with their commands.

Mr. Gardette, Dentist, respectfully informs the public that he is arrived in George Town, where he proposes staying two weeks or thereabouts. He has taken lodgings at Mr. Semmes' Tavern.

Another poor soul who was in trouble inserted this advertisement:

It is terrible to my feelings, but I am compelled to give notice that I intend petitioning the next General Assembly for an act of Insolvency in my favor.

A few months later he advertised thus:

Having taken the house in this place lately occupied by Mr. James Clagett, between the College and the River, a pleasant and healthy situation, I will take four or five boys as boarders at the usual rates, paid quarterly.

So let us hope he got "on his feet" again.

John Stevens, merchant, advertised himself thusly:

My weights are good, my measures just, My friends I am too poor to trust. July 15, 1780.

Apparently they had plenty of newspapers. In 1789 The Times and Potowmack Packet; in 1790 The Weekly Ledger (an appropriate name for this town of counting houses); in 1796 The Sentinel of Liberty, a more high-flown name; in 1801, The Museum, and a great many more as time went on.

The first bank was the old Bank of Columbia, organized in 1793. Then, there was the Union Bank. I have seen a great many of its checks, smaller than the ones of today and very simply printed.

Business notes in those days were written on any scrap of paper, apparently. Many that I have seen had torn edges, but always the writing was regular and even, if sometimes hard to read. Very often it looked like copperplate engraving. The English pound was used as late as 1796.

Plenty of schools there seem to have been. One famous man (he was William Wirt, the author of The British Spy and Attorney-General of the United States for twelve years under James Monroe and John Quincy Adams) was sent to George Town for his early training, and has written thus: "In 1779 I was sent to George Town, eight miles from Bladensburg to school, a classical academy kept by Mr. Rogers. I was placed at boarding with the family of Mr. Schoofield, a member of the Society of Friends.... I passed one winter in George Town and remember seeing a long line of wagons cross the river on the ice, attached to troops going South."

Thomas Kirk, an Irish gentleman, kept a school first on Washington (30th) Street, later at High (Wisconsin Avenue) and Cherry Streets. Reverend Addison Belt, of Princeton, had a school on Gay (N) Street, between Congress (31st) and Washington (30th) Streets. Christian Hines says: "In 1798 I went to school to a man named Richmond who kept school in a small brick house attached to the house of Reverend David Wiley, graduate of Nassau Hall, who had come in 1802 from Northumberland on the Susquehanna. He was a better mathematical than classical teacher. He was mayor, librarian, merchant, teacher, preacher and keeper of the post office at the same time."

Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Wiley advertised their "Boarding School for Young Ladies at George Town in the Vicinity of Washington." In the same year E. Phillips had "A School for Young Ladies on the north side of Bridge Street, nearly opposite the Printing Office." There were several teachers of French who advertised in the paper; Monsieur A. L. Jancerez, Monsieur Caille, "a French gentleman wishes to teach drawing, etc." To supply all these schools was "John March, Stationer and Bookseller, next door to Mr. Semmes's Tavern."

And you see they could buy pretty baubles and delectable foods, for Dinsmore and Francis advertise their "New Grocery, Wine and Liquor Store, nearly opposite Burnet and Rigden's, Watchmakers and Jewelers." Another well-known merchant said his new line of spring clothing had just arrived. And John Dabney "had received and had for sale at his cabinet and chair factory a large quantity of Windsor chairs." West along Bridge Street, before 1790, William Eaton had "mahogany ware, chairs and tables, beds, etc., finished and unfinished." Another cabinet-maker was Mr. Schultz. James Welsh, cabinet-maker from London, opened a shop in 1790 and advertised for an apprentice. And there was a well-known silversmith, for S. Kirk and Sons, of Baltimore, have identified a tea service as having been made by Charles C. Burnett, who worked as early as 1793. Another silversmith who had a shop on Bridge (M) Street in 1833 was R. H. L. Villard.

Glass Store. The subscribers have opened and have for sale at their house next door to Captain Richard Johns a complete assortment of Window and Hollow Glass Ware, manufactured in this State and equal in quality and cheaper than that imported from Europe.

Charles Frierer and Co., 1790

Thomas Beatty and Company called their store "The Sign of the Golden Fan."

Manufactory of Tobacco. Henry Brand & Co. Respectfully inform the Public that they have removed from New York to this Town.

George Town Academy. Madame de la Marche has for sale waters for sore eyes and various salves.

There were public pumps here and there for common use, but many householders had springs or cisterns.

In 1803 the first fire engine was purchased. Every house owner was obliged to have as many leather fire buckets kept in the house as there were stories to his home, to contain not less than two and a half gallons of water each. The little oval metal placques one sees now and then affixed to houses in Georgetown were, in those days, put only on the houses of the members of the volunteer companies to denote that "here lives a fireman." Later, in 1817, The Vigilant, a new fire engine, was bought. Its house is still on High Street, just below Bridge. Set in the wall down near the pavement is a stone with this inscription:


Someone who remembers him tells me that he was a collie, and that he went to every fire along with the engine. I think the men whose companion he was, and who evidently loved him when they inscribed the "R. I. P.," must have believed, as I do, that like the Jim in the poem of that name by Nancy Byrd Turner, he would meet them joyously "on the other side."

Of course, the fire engines in those days—1817, I mean—were drawn by hand, and the old bucket-passing system was in vogue.

Farther uptown, on the corner of Gay and Market Streets, was the home of The Potomac Fire Engine Company. There was great jealousy between the two. While the fire was raging, both worked together beautifully, but as soon as it was over, there was usually a fight.

South of the canal on High Street stood the Debtors' Prison. This was the only prison in the lower part of Montgomery County, although the county court was held at Rockville, and there the cases were tried. At one time the town clerk of George Town got tangled up in his money matters and was placed in this prison where he languished until his friends made good his debts. A report was made to the Town Council that he could not perform his duties because he was in jail! Nothing now remains but a part of the old stone wall.

Here is a description of some of the houses offered for sale:

Together or separate, 2 handsome dwelling houses, situated in George Town on Potomack, they contain 5 rooms with fire place, four bed chambers, two closets, and have two handsome piazzas. A kitchen near the house, a bake house, two rooms for domestics, a stable, coach house, a beautiful (falling) garden, ornamented with terraces, well grassed, a large fish pond, a well and a spring of water, 150 young fruit trees, the whole finished and done in the neatest manner under a handsome and excellent enclosure containing three lots and a half, extending 170 ft. on Fayette Street and 192 on Third Street. Apply to John Threlkeld.

Here is one of the business places advertised:

The warehouse and wharf on Water Street, lately occupied by the Naval Agent (this was in 1802). There are four floors in this house, with a room on the second and third with a fire place in each, one intended for a compting room and the other for a lodging room.

W. S. Chandler.

Evidently a clerk had to sleep on the premises as guard.

There were architects and builders to put up these fine and commodious houses, for these advertisements appear:

William Lovering, Architect and General Builder—Begs leave to inform his friends and the public, that he has removed from the City of Washington to Gay Street, the next street above the Union Tavern in George Town, where he palns to estimate all manner of buildings, either with materials and labor, or labor only. Specimens of buildings suitable for the obtuse or acute angles of the streets in the City of Washington may be seen at his home. May 1, 1800.

Henry Carlile, Architect, Carpenter and Joiner. Respectfully informs his friends and the Public in general, that he proposes to undertake all kinds of buildings, as formerly he hath done in Europe and this country; on the lowest terms, with or without material, as he has learned the theory under the first architects in Europe, also practice in first buildings there, and hath finished elegant buildings in Europe, with and without materials, and in this country hath always had the good fortune of having the patronage and friendship of his employees, and hopes by attention to please and to execute, that he will meet with the encouragement of a generous public. He also begs leave to return his sincere thanks to his worthy employers in this Town and Country, for the encouragement he hath met with since coming to this Town, and assures them nothing shall be wanting on his part to merit a continuance of their favors.

George Town, September 8, 1790.

Wm. Pancost—Architect and Carpenter, can by the asistance of David Willers, pump maker, late from Philadelphia, serve the public by supplying them with pumps, cove logs or girders, for any purpose on the shortest notice.

George Town, near the Lower Ware Houses, Jan. 29, 1799.

Then in 1800, James Hoban, who was the architect and builder of the President's House, put this in a paper:

$2.00 per day will be given for good carpenters and joiners, at the President's House and in proportion for those less skilful, to be paid daily or weekly, as may be required.

Imagine! Now when the White House is being rebuilt hiring "good carpenters and joiners for $2.00 per day!"

Chapter IV

The Streets of George Town and Some of the Happenings

The houses had no numbers, but the streets had descriptive names. Along the river, Wapping, changing to The Keys and East to West Landing where all the busy loading and unloading of vessels took place. Just above there running west off Water Street for a short distance was Cherry Lane (now Grace Street). What a pretty name! Once a fashionable neighborhood, later on a slum.

Running north and south there was first Fishing Lane which became East Lane and finally settled down to Congress Street and is now Twenty-first.

Then the Main Street up from the ferry, called Water Street until it got to Bridge running east and west where was the Square, also called the Center of the Town. Then Water Street became High and Bridge continued on its way as the Falls Street—both names typical, as one was climbing a hill and the other was the road to The Little Falls. Duck Lane became Market (33rd) Street; Bridge (M) Street; Frederick (34th) Street, for it was the road out to Frederick Town, forty miles away; Potomac Street, for the river; Fayette Street, certainly named in honor of the Marquis, but in that age of young democracy, de la was dropped from de la Fayette. Then there was Montgomery (28th) Street, Greene (29th) Street, and Washington (30th) Street, all named for Generals of the Revolution. Running the other way were Gay, Dunbarton, Beall, West, Stoddert, this, for a long time was known as Back Street. West of High Street (Wisconsin Avenue) the streets became First, Second, Third, etc. Twenty-seventh Street, after being New Street for one block and Mill Street for another, finally was named for President Monroe. Madison had a street named for him too, but it was so far out, about 9th, in the far western corner, that it never amounted to much.

But the street that intrigues me most is Gay. There were two of them for a while, the one that is now N, and another, way up near the college, which was renamed in honor of General Lingan, after his tragic death. Who was Gay Street named for? It wasn't a local celebrity, for Baltimore also had a Gay Street, still has, way down in its old section. There was somebody the people of that generation admired and wished to commemorate.

Could it possibly have been the English poet, John Gay, (1685-1732) whose best known piece "The Beggar's Opera" was said to have made "The Rich gay and Gay rich"? He was buried in Westminster Abbey. His epitaph was by Alexander Pope, followed by Gay's own mocking couplet, "Life is a jest, and all things show it. I thought so once and now I know it."

The Beggar's Opera for a time drove Italian Opera off the English stage (1728) by its caricature of Sir Robert Walpole, Prime Minister of George II. These people were British subjects, you know, when these streets were named.

Somewhere in these quaint little streets in the early days before 1800, in one of these little brick houses, two stories with dormer windows, which the architects nowadays call the George Town Type, lived a couple named McDonald who had marital difficulties, for in an old newspaper is this advertisement:

Whereas my wife, Mary McDonald, has left me without any just cause or impediment. She is about fifty years of age, lame in her right leg and snivels a little. It is supposed she went off with one Robert Joiner, an ill-looking fellow. If she returns to the arms of her disconsolate husband, she shall be received and no questions asked.

There was another advertisement:

Alexander McDonald, taylor, removed from Bridge Street to High Street, two or three gentlemen can be accomodated with board and lodging.

I wonder if Robert Joiner, with whom Mary eloped, was one of those two or three gentlemen, and what fascination she had that was strong enough to overcome all those physical disabilities her "disconsolate husband" enumerated!

A man in Boston wanted a wife, and had his advertisement copied from The Boston Sentinel into a George Town newspaper:

Wanted—A wife: Enquire of the Printer. April 23, 1801. Be pleased to inform applicants, that the advertiser wishes the lady to be neither too old nor too young. Taking 25 for a central point, she must not be more than 7 years distant either way. If of a sulky or fretful disposition; if sluttish, lazy, proud, ostentatious or deceitful, or of an ill state of health, she must have a pretty large share of property to recommend her. If on the contrary, she be of a cheerful, contented temper; of affable manners and benevolent to the poor; if in the habit of being attentive to her household when business commands attention, and gay and careless when pleasure is the pursuit; and of sound health and good constitution (for such only can produce strong and vigorous children), she need not possess a cent. If well-read, so much the better, provided she is not too fond of her book to neglect overseeing her affairs and suffering the hole in her stocking to go unmended. She must not be a pedant or a scold but must know enough of books to distinguish between a volume of history and a novel; and have sufficient spirit to prevent being imposed upon. Communication addressed to A. B. and left at the composing room, if originating in honorable intentions will be attended to with secrecy, honor and punctuality, and should the interview succeed, the advertiser will faithfully describe his situation and prospects.

Was this paragon discovered in old George Town and taken to Boston for keeps? No one knows.

But this might easily have been so, as witness these advertisements of the plays being shown in George Town in 1790, for on July 21 this appears: "The Theatre of this Town was opened by Mr. McGrath's Company of Comedians, with the celebrated comedy The Miser. This Company is by far the best that ever visited this town." Then on August 12 there was "The Beggars Opera and A Comedy of two acts, Barnaby Brittle or a Wife at her Wits End. Also in August Mr. McGrath's Company of Comedians gave The Tragedy of Douglas and Garrick's Comedy of Two Acts called The Lying Valet."

The curtain will rise at 7 o'clock Tickets at three quarters of a dollar each to be had at Mr. Suter's and Mrs. White's Taverns and at this Printing Office.

Another evening will be presented the "Tragedy of Jane Shore. Between the play and the farce a humorous dissertation of Jealousy to be delivered by Mr. McGrath to which will be added a farce called Cross Purposes, or Which is the Man. The doors to be opened at half past five and the curtain to rise at half past six."

For attendance at these performances and other social events, the ladies and gentlemen of George Town were naturally interested in this advertisement in the paper:



Hair dresser for Ladies and Gentlemen. Begs leave to inform Ladies and Gentlemen of George Town and its vicinage that he intends carrying on his profession in all its different branches and fashions; he also carries on the Cushion, Perriwig, Curls, Braids, false curls and Gentlemen's Bandoe making. The highest price given for human hair.

George Town, at this time, was even favored by the presence of one of the greatest portrait painters of his time, Gilbert Stuart. About 1803 he spent two years here. He painted Jefferson and the men who followed him in the Presidency up through John Quincy Adams. He had, of course, previously been much at Mount Vernon while doing his famous portraits of General Washington. It is said that Washington was the only person in whose presence Stuart was ever embarrassed.

There were drawing teachers and dancing masters. "Mr. Carle, dancing master, may be spoke with on school days at Mrs. White's Tavern." "Dancing School of J. B. Duclaviacq at his dancing room back of Mr. Turner's Counting House."

Perhaps it was one of these two which advertised, "A night Dancing-School for the Reception of Gentlemen who are not at leisure to attend in the Day-time; will be kept the evenings of the School days; The Price to each Scholar will be Four dollars. A subscription is lodged with Mr. Peter Casanave."

Gaming at cards at private balls and parties and toddy at dinner date back to the earliest knowledge of society in this vicinity. Card playing, horse-racing and other sports were fashionable and popular and had not abated in 1800 when the Government came.

In chronicles of Sir Augustus Foster, the British Minister in 1805 he notes the balls in Georgetown "Cards for everybody, loo for the girls—brag for the men."

But all was not play, for in the Times and Potowmack Packet is this newsnote:

On the 13th inst. a daughter of Mr. Aaron Haynes of this town, a young miss in the tenth year of her age, spun 50 knots of good linen yarn, from sun-rise to sunset. An example of industry, highly honorable to herself and well worthy of imitation.

And speaking of youth here is an interesting item:

This day were baptized three male children (the uncommon gift of Providence at one birth) by the names of George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin.

Then this sad and interesting advertisement:

With regret and shame the subscriber finds himself under the necessity of advertising his wife. Although it is practised by some white people, yet he, though black, blushes at the thought of declaring to the world that his wife has run away. But disagreeable as it is, he does by these presents make known that Lucy, his wife, has eloped from his bed and board and forbids all persons harbouring or trusting her, as he will pay no debts of her contracting after this date.

Prince Hull.

On June 30, 1790 there was this announcement in the newspaper:

The gentlemen who have subscribed to celebrate the Anniversary of American Independency will be pleased to attend at Mrs. White's Tavern at Four O' clock tomorrow afternoon to choose Managers to regulate the proceedings of that day.

Scheme of a Lottery:

To raise the sum of One Thousand Five Hundred and Nine Dollars for the purpose of finishing the Church between George Town and Bladensburgh, called Rock Creek Church.

All prizes not demanded in six months after the drawing, will be deemed generous contributions.

3000 Tickets at Two dollars each.

As the above is laudable it is expected that it will meet with approbation and support of the public. As soon as the tickets are sold the drawing will commence at Mr. John Suter's at George Town and the Prizes paid immediately thereafter on application to Thomas Beall Treasurer, in specie.


Col. Wm. Deakins Robert Peter Benj. Stoddert John Peter Brooke Beall Bernard O'Neil John Threlkeld Anthony Hollmead Thomas Cramphin Col. George Beall Thomas Beall of George Treasurer

The Times and Potowmack Packet. November 25, 1789.

Five years before in September 1784 in the Maryland Gazette there was an advertisement for the George Town Academy lottery:

Scheme of a lottery for raising $1,400 to be applied to the purchasing a house for the use of the George Town Academy.

The right education of youth is an object of such vast importance of freedom and happiness that there needs no strength of reasoning to recommend the above scheme which is meant to promote it to the patronage and encouragement of a liberal public.

Tickets may be had from Messrs. Robert Peter, William Deakins, Jr., Bernard O'Neill, Henry Townsend, John P. Boucher, Benj. Stoddert, Robt. Philips, Sam'l Davidson, Brooke Beall, and Dr. Walter Smith at George Town;

Wm. D. Beall at Bladensburg, Henry Lyles, Alexandria; Thomas Clagett, at Piscataway, Abraham Faw and Patrick Sim Smith, Frederick-town, and David Stewart and Cumberland Dugan and Mr. Henderson at Baltimore.

David Crawford, Upper Marlboro; Alexander Clagett, Hager's Town.

The drawing will commence at George Town as soon as the tickets are all sold.

Managers are Robt. Peter Benj. Stoddert Wm. Deakins, Jr.

Who will faithfully execute the trust reposed in them.

Henry Stouffer advertised in 1789 his Stage to Annapolis, three times a week which took six or seven hours at the farthest. And in the same paper the Annapolis Packet run by Edward Thomas (of course by water) goes twice a week charging 7 shillings, 6 pence.

In the Impartial Observer and Washington Advertiser of June 26, 1795:

George Town, Washington and Alexandria Packet—James Bull Master.

Will leave George Town every morning at seven o'clock and call at this place (City of Washington) on her way to Alexandria. Leave Alexandria every evening at 4 and call on way to George Town. 17 cents from George Town to Greenleaf Point, 33 to Alexandria. Passages engaged at Mr. Suter's or Mr. Semmes' Tavern in George Town; at Mr. Ward's, Greenleaf Point, and Mr. Thomas Porter's Store, Alexandria.

Ferry boats must not have pendent or any other colour flying or ring a bell on board so as to affrighten the horses and thereby endanger the lives of the passengers. Penalty of $20.

Sentinel of Liberty, June 27, 1800:

The Stages will leave Light-Lane Number 3 adjoining the Fountain Inn every day (Monday excepted.)

Returning, leave Mr. Heiskell's, Alexandria, at 3 o'clock. Mr. Semmes' at George Town at 5.

There were also stages going out to Rockville and to Frederick.

In later years there was a conveyance running to Rockville spoken of as "The Hack."

The license tax list discriminated in license value of one-horse chaise and two-wheel coach.

This thriving town had of course to be regulated and governed, and there are copies in existence of the ordinances and by-laws for making it safe and agreeable. One passed on the 20th November 1791, related to "the going at large of geese and swine" and makes it "lawful to kill any such and give notice to the Mayor or one of the Aldermen, the offender to be sent to the public market house where the owner may claim within four hours, or if no claim in four hours, the finder take and apply to proper use. All goats running at large shall be forfeited to who ever shall take them up."

Also on August 4, 1795 an ordinance relating to garbage, glass bottles, or oyster shells in quantity 30 shillings fine. We are still having trouble keeping Georgetown neat and clean.

And they had trouble about speeding then as now, for there was passed an ordinance August 4, 1795 "that any person who shall by galloping, or otherwise force at an improper speed any Horse, Mare, or Gelding, shall if a free man, forfeit and pay for every such offence the sum of 15 shillings current money; if an apprentice, servant or a slave the master or the mistress shall forfeit and pay the sum of 7 shillings and sixpence."

And in 1807 they passed an ordinance to "more effectually diminish the number of dogs in Gerogetown as they have become a public nuisance; on the first dog of the male kind owned by any one person, $1; on the second, $2; and on all over two, owned by the same person, $5; and on the first of the female kind, $2; on the second, $4; and on all dogs of the female kind over and above two, owned by the same person, $10."

Then they passed an ordinance, "that after the first day of May next no slave shall be permitted to sell any article whatever (other than fruit) on the Sabboth."

In 1811 the Mayor was ordered to appoint and hire eight men of good character to keep a night watch at the rate of $150 per annum, one of them to act as Captain at the rate of $250.

They probably officiated at these events.

Ordinance passed 10th October 1796.

Whereas many respectable inhabitants of Georgetown have complained that they suffer great inconvenience from the vast concourse of idle white and black persons that frequently assemble together for the purpose of fighting cocks, at which time they drink to access, become riotous, and disturb the quiet and repose of the good citizens, be it ordained by Mayor, Recorder, Aldermen, and Common Council that any white person or persons or free negro or negroes who shall presume to fight any game cocks or dunghill fouls within the jurisdiction of the corporation for any wagers or for diversion shall for every offense pay $5. Also if having assembled in a disorderly manner for the purpose of fighting cocks, if they refuse to disperse, constables shall take such negro or negroes (being slaves) and give him, her, or them, due correction upon the bare back in some public part of Georgetown not exceeding 39 strikes.

An ordinance for regulating and licensing hackney carriages, billiard tables, theatrical and other public amusements.

Another says,

... any person or persons who shall keep or maintain the common gaming house or open or set up any public gaming table shall forfeit and pay $20 current money.

Provided always, that licensed billiard tables are not intended hereby to be prohibited or herein included.

Passed 4th October 1803.

The fire engines and fire buckets heretofore bought by the subscription of sundry inhabitants of the town have been offered for the use of the town.

In 1801 the corporation of Georgetown was concerning itself a good deal with the paving of the streets.

John Mason, Jesse Baley and Wm. H. Dorsey were a committee to report permanent systems for improving the streets and alleys, whether by paving or otherwise.

They determined to commence the work at the intersection of Washington (30th) and Bridge (M) Streets and carry the pavement up along the north side of Bridge Street to the intersection of High and Water Streets and thence, after paving with round stone the Center Square to continue it afterwards along the south of Fall Street ... to remove the earth and pave 5 ft. wide against the curb stone, where individuals would not pave, from Washington to High Street and to graduate and pave the Center Square.

There was a good deal more work of that kind to be done at that time and John Peter was appointed permanent superintendent.

Chapter V

Washington and L'Enfant in George Town

Such was the town through which General George Washington passed in April 1789, on his way from Mount Vernon to his inauguration in New York as first President of the government which was trying out an experiment new to the world.

In the Times and Potowmack Packet, on April 23, is this insertion:

George Town. Last Thursday passed through this town on his way to New York the most illustrious, the President of the United States of America, with Charles Thompson, Esq. Secretary, to Congress. His Excellency arrived at about 2 O'Clock on the bank of the Patowmack, escorted by a respectable corps of gentlemen from Alexandria where the George Town ferry boats, properly equipped, received his Excellency and suit, safely landed them, under the acclamation of a large crowd of their grateful fellow citizens—who beheld his Fabius, in the evening of his day, bid adieu to the peaceful retreat of Mount Vernon, in order to save his country once more from confusion and anarchy. From this place his Excellency was escorted by corps of gentlemen commanded by Col. Wm. Deakins, Junr., to Mr. Spurrier's Tavern, where the escort from Baltimore take charge of him.

Colonel Deakins was Justice of the Peace, a very high office in those days, (there was no mayor) besides being a large landowner and shipowner.

Among the prominent men who probably formed this escort were many of Washington's former officers of the Revolutionary Army, for when he came to George Town he was amongst old friends: Colonel Forrest, Major Stoddert, General James Maccubbin Lingan, General Otho Williams, William Beatty (who had distinguished himself in the army and had attained the rank of Colonel), Thomas Richardson who, although a Quaker, was Captain of a company and won high repute; William Murdock, who had been a Colonel of militia raised for the defense of the Province of Maryland in 1776, and Lloyd Beall, who had been adjutant of the Staff of Alexander Hamilton, and General John Mason.

I quote freely from Dr. H. Paul Caemmerer's very interesting Biography of Pierre Charles L'Enfant. "Among the numerous problems of the first Congress in 1789, was the question of establishment of a seat of government or a National Capital. During the period of the Continental Congress and the subsequent period of the Congress of the Confederation, from 1774 to 1789, Congress had met in eight different town and cities—Philadelphia, Baltimore, Lancaster, York, Princeton, Annapolis, Trenton, and New York City, part of the time pursued by the enemy and part of the time attacked by disgruntled soldiers. It was found difficult for Members of Congress to find adequate quarters, and it was always a problem to move records and files. Thus it developed that Congress wanted a home of its own. The Constitution of the United States provided for a Federal District ten miles square (Art. 1, Sec. 8, Par. 17)."

"On September 11, 1789, while yet the idea of locating a Capital City was still unsettled, L'Enfant wrote to President Washington asking to be employed to design the Capital of 'this vast empire.'"

"It might be inferred from this letter that L'Enfant knew more about the controversy in the Halls of Congress on the subject of location of the Seat of Government than we know today. It was at its height, that we know. The question of size of the Federal District had been settled by the Constitution—it was to be ten miles square. Now the question of location predominated—the question of 'exclusive jurisdiction' to be exercised by Congress had been generally conceded.

The discussion was finally limited to two sites: first, a location on the banks of the Potomac at least as far South as Georgetown, Maryland, which was favored particularly by the Southern members of Congress as being the geographical center of the United States; second, a site on the Delaware River near the falls above Trenton, which Pennsylvania, Delaware, and the other States nearby favored. But on the whole it was deemed very important during the First Congress to give the National Capital a central location along the Atlantic coast. Southern members led by Richard Bland Lee and James Madison, of Virginia, argued for consideration for the question by Congress before adjournment, and recommended the Potomac River site near Georgetown."

"The burning question before Congress at the time was a bill for funding of the public debt and the assumption of debts incurred by the States during the Revolutionary War, amounting to about $20,000,000. Alexander Hamilton as the first Secretary of the Treasury had recommended the funding of both forms of indebtedness in obligations of the United States. His aim was to restore the value of the worthless continental dollar (a pound of tea sold for $90; a pair of shoes for $100; a barrel of flour for $1,500 in paper money) but it was pointed out that the assumption of State debts by the Government would result in most benefits to the Northern States where there was most of the trade, while mostly agriculture was in the South.... Thus we come to the famous compromise proposed by Hamilton about the middle of June, 1790, when in consideration of locating the capital on the banks of the Potomac he hoped to secure enough votes to secure the enactment of the funding bill."

"Thus by the Act of July 16, 1790, it was definitely decided that the seat of government should be on the banks of the Potomac."

"Thereupon arose the question of design for the Federal City. Pursuant to the application received, President Washington chose Pierre Charles L'Enfant, 'the artist of the American Revolution,' for this work. No better choice could have been made. L'Enfant applied his ability to the task with enthusiasm; the approbation of 'his General' gave him supreme satisfaction."

"In accordance with directions from President Washington, Major L'Enfant proceeded to Georgetown for the purpose of making a sketch of the area proposed for the Federal City that would enable him to fix locations on the spot for public buildings. He arrived on March 9, 1791. L'Enfant carried with him a letter of instructions from Secretary of State Jefferson as follows:

'Sir: You are desired to proceed to Georgetown where you will find Mr. Ellicott employed in making a survey and Map of the Federal Territory. The special object of asking your aid is to have a drawing 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 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 height of the lands above the base on which they stand would be desirable. For necessary assistance and expense be pleased to apply to the Mayor of Georgetown who is written to on the subject. I will beg the favor of you to mark to me your progress about twice a week, 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.'"

"The Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser of March 18, 1791, reported Major L'Enfant's arrival in Georgetown as follows:

'GEORGETOWN (Patowmac) March 12.

Wednesday (March 9) evening arrived in this town Major Longfont, a French gentleman employed by the President of the United States to survey the lands contiguous to Georgetown, where the Federal City is to be put. His skill in matters of this kind is justly extolled by all disposed to give merit its proper tribute of praise. He is earnest in the business and hopes to be able to lay a plan of that parcel of land before the President on his arrival in this town.'

"L'Enfant reported to Secretary of State Jefferson, promptly:

'Friday March 11, 1791

Sir: I have the honor of informing you of my arrival at this place where I could not possibly reach before Wednesday last and very late in the evening, after having traveled part of the way on foot and part on horseback leaving the broken stage behind.

'On arriving I made it my first care to wait on the Mayor of the town in conformity with the direction which you gave me. He appeared to be much surprised and he assured me he had received no previous notice of my coming nor any injunction relating to the business I was sent upon. However next day—yesterday morning—he made me a kind offer of his assistance in procuring for me three or four men to attend me in the surveying and this being the only thing I was in need of, every matter has been soon arranged. I am only at present to regret that a heavy rain and thick mist which has been incessant ever since my arrival here, does put an insuperable obstacle to my wish of proceeding immediately to the survey. Should the weather continue bad, as there is every appearance it will, I shall be much at a lost how to make a plan of the ground you have pointed out to me and have it ready for the President at the time he is expected at this place.'"

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