3 pp, 7 7/8 x 10, BENJAMIN STODDERT, Secretary of the Navy, appointed by his friend President John Adams, writes to Daniel Reintzel, Mayor of George Town, DC, on August 17, 1800, regarding the needed construction of a bridge over Rock Creek to accommodate members of Congress.
“It is now time the Bridge over Rock Creek should be commenced to be finished by the time Congress will meet. It is certainly of the first importance to George Town that this bridge should be finished by December for without it, the members of Congress & the officers of govt cannot be accommodated in George Town. Your houses will be empty and your Town deserted until it revives by commerce, which will never be the case until there is a general peace in Europe.
“I enclose a paper which Mr. Mason sent me two days ago & which amounts to nothing. I have talked with Mr. Harbrogh, who will undertake the bridge for 2000 Drs. It cannot be done for less. The Comts [committee] will contribute 500 Drs. Towards it, and 500 Drs will be paid out of the Paving Fund—1,000 Drs. Will be wanted from George Town. If you will take immediate measures to raise this sum, the bridge may be begun & the pavement in that case will be immediately continued from the President’s Square to Rock Creek. But no time is to be lost. If I were to advise, it should be that there should be a meeting of the Corporation to pass a law authorizing the Merger Act to negotiate with the bank...for 100 Drs. payable with bank Int. out of the taxes levied, or to be levied next year – or if the tax of next year has already been anticipated, out of the taxes for the year after. For such an object, the bank will not hesitate to lend the money or to give the time nor should the corporation hesitate one moment in my opinion to borrow it. The certain consequence of not establishing at once the easy intercourse between the Town & City will be that the members of the Gov’t must travel to such accommodation as they can find in the city, however inconvenienced, & desert as Georg Town.
“Pray don’t let this thing sleep. It may be as well done tomorrow as a month hence – pursue it with vigor & you cannot fail of success. Not a moment which can be avoided is to be lost in beginning the bridge.
STODDERT (1751-1813) was the grandson of Major James Stoddert, a cadet of the Scottish family of Stoddert and the son of Captain Thomas Stoddert, who was killed in Braddock’s defeat. Benjamin was educated as a merchant but in 1776 joined the Continental Army as captain of a cavalry. He held active service until the Battle of Brandywine, when he held the rank of major. He was so severely wounded that he was unable to continue service. As secretary of the Board of War, he remained with the army until 1781. In 1798, he was appointed Secretary of the Navy, being the first to hold that post, and remained until March 1801.
The original wooden bridge at the site was the first in the current District of Columbia, constructed in 1788 by the City of Georgetown two years before it was incorporated into the District. The bridge reportedly collapsed during a severe storm, leading to a legend that the ghosts of a stagecoach driver and his horses that drowned in the collapse could be seen thereafter, still attempting to cross the bridge.
It was replaced by a heavy wooden drawbridge in 1800, as Rock Creek was wide and deep enough that sailing ships needed to transit the bridge at that time.
The letter has toning with browning at folds. Two short tears reinforced with archival tape. Seal tear, affecting little. Address leaf indicating the letter was likely hand delivered.
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