Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO THE COMMISSIONERS OF THE FEDERAL DISTRICT. [PRIVATE.] - The Writings of George Washington, vol. XII (1790-1794)
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TO THE COMMISSIONERS OF THE FEDERAL DISTRICT. [PRIVATE.] - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. XII (1790-1794) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. XII (1790-1794).
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TO THE COMMISSIONERS OF THE FEDERAL DISTRICT.
Philadelphia, 18 December, 1792.
Your letter to the Secretary of State dated if I recollect rightly the 5th instant intimating among other things that you had failed in an attempt which had been made to import workmen from Scotland, equally with that for obtaining them from Holland, fills me with real concern; for I am very apprehensive if your next campaign in the Federal City is not marked with vigor, it will cast such a cloud over this business and will so arm the enemies of the measure, as to enable them to give it (if not its death blow) a wound from which it will not easily recover. No means therefore, in my opinion, should be left unessayed to facilitate the operations of next year. Every thing, in a manner, depends upon the celerity with which the public buildings are then carried on.—Sale of Lots—private buildings—good or evil report—all, all will be regulated thereby.—Nothing therefore short of the absolute want of money, ought to retard the work.
The more I consider the subject, the more I am convinced of the expediency of importing a number of workmen from Europe to be employed in the Federal City. The measure has not only œconomy to recommend it, but is important by placing the quantity of labor which may be performed by such persons upon a certainty for the term for which they shall be engaged.
Upon more minute enquiry I am informed that neither the merchants here nor in Holland will undertake to procure redemptioners from Germany; and that the most eligible and certain mode of obtaining from thence such mechanics and laborers as may be thought advisable to procure from that quarter, will be to engage some person, a German, to go from hence into Germany, where he is acquainted, to procure the requisite number of men and bring them to the shipping port, which is generally Amsterdam or Rotterdam, and that any merchant here (who is engaged in shipping trading to Holland) will engage to have a vessel ready to take them on board at a time which shall be fixed, and bring them to any port of the United States that may be specified and receive the amount of their passage on delivery of them. The person who may be employed to go over to Germany will expect, it is said, an advance of one guinea per head for the number wanted, to enable him to pay the expenses of such as may not be able to bear their own from the place where he procures them to the shipping Port, and this advance is accounted for and taken into consideration at the time of paying for their passage when they arrive here. The customary passage it seems, is Eleven guineas per head—and the compensation of the person employed to procure them, is either one guinea a head for as many as he may deliver, part of which is paid by those who employ him to go over, and part by the merchant who furnishes the vessel to bring them, as he receives a benefit by the freight—or the person employed keeps an account of his necessary expences while on this business, which is paid by his employers, and a consideration for his services is made him according to a previous agreement.
The term of time for which these people are bound to serve, depends much, it is added, upon their age, or ability as laborers, or their skill as mechanics—the former generally serve three or four years; and the latter, if good workmen at their trade, two.—But in this case that it would be better for the person employed to get them, to have them indented at the time of engaging them—Specifying the number of years they are to serve to commence at the time of their landing in the United States; and that he ought to be furnished with the necessary forms of indentures and particular instructions on this head before he goes over. And if mechanics of a particular description are most essential it would be well, in order to secure their services beyond the term for which they might be engaged for their passages, to stipulate at the time of engaging them that they should serve one, two or three years over and above that time at £— per annum. And, as it may happen, that some good mechanics may be willing to come over, who are able to pay their own passage, might it not be well to empower them at NA per year for (say) four years? In all cases to provide, that if those who engage as mechanics should be found incompetent to the business for which they engage from a want of skill or knowledge in it, and shall appear to have used imposition in engaging themselves as such, they shall be obliged to serve the time of common laborers.
Should you be of opinion that it would be expedient to import a number of workmen and the mode here pointed out, meets your ideas, no time should be lost in carrying it into effect;—and if you have not contemplated a proper character for this business and will inform me thereof, I will endeavor to obtain one in this City to go over to Germany, and a merchant also to furnish the vessel at the time and place which shall be agreed on between them.1
It is not however, my wish that the idea of importing workmen should be confined solely to Germany—I think it ought to be extended to other places particularly Scotland, from whence many good and useful mechanics may undoubtedly be had. I have been more particular in respect to Germany because they may probably be obtained from thence on better terms than from other quarters, and they are known to be a steady, laborious people. It will be necessary, if you should determine upon an importation from Germany, to state the number of mechanics you would wish in each trade, to be brought from thence, as well as the number of Laborers.
Mr. George Walker, who is in this City informs me, that he shall sail for Scotland about the first of January, and says if he could render any service in this business he would willingly do it. To get workmen is part of the business which carries him over; but how far, after the part he has acted with respect to yourselves you may chuse to confide in him, is fitter for you than it is for me to decide; especially as I know no more of his private character and circumstances, than I do of the terms on which he would undertake to render the service.
A thought has also occurred to me and altho’ crude and almost in embryo, I will nevertheless mention it.—It is, if the character of Mr. Hallet (from the knowledge you have acquired of it) is such as to have impressed you with confidence in his abilities and activity, whether in the unsettled state of things in France, he might not be employed this winter in engaging from that country and bringing over in the Spring such workmen, and on such terms as might be agreed upon.
Boston too has been mentioned as a place from whence many and good workmen might be had; but the reasons which have been assigned for the failure here are not within my recollection, if I ever heard them.
Upon the whole it will readily be perceived in what a serious light I consider delay in the progress of the public buildings, and how anxious I am to have them pushed forward.—In a word, the next is the year that will give the tone to the City,—if marked with energy, individuals will be inspirited,—the sales will be enhanced—confidence diffused and emulation created. Without it I should not be surprized to find the Lots unsaleable, and every thing at a stand. With great and sincere regard and esteem. I am.
[1 ]Many details on the importation of indented servants, or redemptioners, into the United States, are to be found in Ford, Washington as an Employer and Importer of Labor.