Friday, February 22, 2019

Was Daniel Carroll A Drag on Capitol Hill Development?

Charles Carroll built his mansion around 1759. In 1770, 160 acres around it were divided into 268 building lots to create the city of Carrollsburg but no more houses were built there.

Most readers will get their first introduction to Daniel Carroll of Duddington II in Creating Capitol Hill: Place, Proprietors and People. The book promotes the legacy of Carroll, the proprietor who owned more land in the city in 1790 than anyone else and almost all of what became Capitol Hill. A member of the Carroll family writes in the book's introduction that "No other single figure or person from this period held a larger role or a more consequential involvement in all of these events [creating Capitol Hill] than Daniel Carroll of Duddington II." (p. 26) 

There is something to that but only because in the early years he was a drag on Capitol Hill's development. He clung to rural ways save for making and selling bricks. Then he thwarted the developers whose contractors bought his bricks. Carroll was instrumental in creating the city's first ruins and slums, and the city was only six years old! In 1814 Chief Justice Marshall himself wrote the decision more or less damning Carroll, a dubious achievement not mentioned in the book. Many suffered when the developers went bankrupt. Carroll doubled the pain by trying to jail contractors for not paying him for his bricks.

April 28, 1798, letter from William Prentiss to John Nicholson swearing fealty to the speculator while complaining about Daniel Carroll's suits

But before exploring Carroll's legacy let's place him in a better context than Creating Capitol Hill does. It makes being a proprietor seem like joining a brotherhood and taking a vow of poverty:
[George] Washington's "Madisonian Moment" consisted in engaging as many proprietors as possible to serve as "co-signers" to this loan against the city's future. The enormity of their joint indebtedness/enterprise would render the capital city (as is often said of some modern banks) "too big to fail." (p. 46)
Well, maybe that eye-moistening thought crossed their minds after sharing a bottle of Medeira, but back to reality. The so-called "loan" meant Carroll and other proprietors sold a portion of their land to federal government at a fixed price by the acre. Carroll owned Capitol Square. Proprietors retained half of the rest of their land for sale as building lots. Carroll owned half the building lots around Capitol Square. The government laid out the lots and sold the other half to pay for the public buildings. The land owners could continue to farm their land, which Carroll did until 1800, or rent it to farmers until it was developed. Carroll and other proprietors thought they would be millionaires. Three cashed in early and sold their holdings for $27,000, $32,000 and $6,000 plus a 500 acre farm outside Baltimore, respectively. 

Because of his father Charles' early death at the age of 44 in 1773, Carroll (1764-1849) was the youngest proprietor. So he could afford to wait before developing his land but that doesn't explain why he tried to thwart others who jumped at the opportunity to develop his land. There were things a young man do in the nascent city other sit and wait.

Robert Brent (1764-1819) married the daughter of Carroll's uncle Notley Young. Robert Brent and his wife lived with her parents in a mansion amidst gardens, farms and slaves on a hill overlooking the Potomac in what would become southwest Washington. 

The new city was destined to swallow Notley Young's world along the Potomac but while retaining his house and gardens he had no qualms about selling all his lots to James Greenleaf and encouraging development

Brent soon became the man taking orders from the three federal Commissioners to the sandstone quarry in Aquia, Virginia, that the Commissioners bought from the Brent family in December 1791. Robert's father-in-law was close to his second wife's brother Commissioner Daniel Carroll of Rock Creek (1730-1796.) Brent also advised the Commissioners on hiring slaves to work the quarry.

Another Young son-in-law, Peter Casanaves began to work on a causeway to better connect the new city's waterfront to Georgetown's and fashion more space for wharves and warehouses especially around the mouth of Rock Creek. Workers from the Young plantation built barracks for the laborers, many of them slaves, that the commissioners' hired in the spring of 1792. Young men could stray. Proprietor William Prout was sad to see his nephew who ran his store in the city shacking up with a mulatto woman.

Meanwhile, Daniel Carroll of Duddington II, probably lived either close by or with his mother and her second husband Captain Ignatius Fenwick in the old family mansion in the middle of the lower reaches of what would become South Capitol Street. He married Anne Brent and began building his own house in another future street at the foot of what would become Capitol Hill. Proprietors' houses already in the city could stay in place until development overtook them but new ones couldn't be built in future streets. In November 1791 city planner L'Enfant's men dismantled what Carroll had built. But L'Enfant acted without proper legal authority. After a law suit and a correspondence in which young Carroll vexed President Washington and Secretary of State Jefferson, the commissioners paid Carroll for the full value of the house even though only a portion had been built. (Several proprietors protested that.)

On March 8, 1792, Daniel's uncle, the Commissioner, wrote to James Madison: "The exorbitant and unreasonable expectations of some, particularly D. Carroll of Duddington at one end of the City and Robert Peter at the other, may check in a degree the public good and do prejudice to themselv[e]s." At least, his uncle added, the public owned so much on Capitol Hill that all would not be lost. Uncle was not talking about the recent debacle but Daniel's do nothing attitude. (Robert Peter (1726-1806) lived on the other side of town and was the oldest proprietor.)

But while Carroll didn't develop anything in the city, he did have bricks left over from his unbuilt house and perhaps a good deal more. It would be nice to begin a description of Daniel's brick making operation with some assurance that like Robert Brent, who kept tabs on the stone quarry for the commissioners, Daniel understood the monumental task at hand. As early as the fall of 1791 the commissioners made no secret of their wanting two million bricks. The outer walls of the Capitol and President's House would be sandstone but the inner walls would be brick.

On 18th century farms and plantations brick making was often a typical temporary chore with women and children helping out. In the American South slaves did most of the rural brick making. A visitor to the Carrolls before there was any plans for the federal city remarked on the great number of bricks on hand which raises the question: did Carroll make bricks now and then using his 13 slaves and his mother's 25 slaves not to mention using some of Uncle Notley's many slaves (over 250 according to the census of 1790 but down to less than 60 by 1798)? Maybe, but the Carrolls owned a nearby iron furnace. Capt. Fenwick was a wine and tobacco merchant with whom Daniel apprenticed. Descendants recalled "brick kilns." These were businessmen as well as farmers. So Carroll might have hired men including slaves to carry on a full time operation. However Carroll never sold bricks to the Commissioners and complained when their brick makers left pits on Capitol Hill. His brick making operations steadily increased after he built his own rural manor house. In 1797 he sold 500,000 bricks to one builder (Clark, Records of CHS vol 38, p. 26) He eventually hired one of the most experienced Philadelphia brick makers when he finally developed one of his lots next to the Capitol. My current opinion is that unlike the Brents who soon bought back the Aquia quarry, Daniel Carroll did not like associating the Carroll name with brick making. He was a gentlemen planter but was loath not to profit from the family tradition of brick making.

But who needed bricks? There was little private building in the city through 1793 and work on the Capitol was delayed until then as the powers-that-be fussed over the design. Carroll wasn't the man to start developing the city. Until September 1793 the only move Carroll made to secure his fortune was put an ad in Philadelphia newspaper offering lots for sale. Other proprietors went to Philadelphia to sell their lots, always in vain. Southerners were not very good salesmen. 

Enter Massachusetts born James Greenleaf (1765-1843), and note he was a year younger than Carroll. Greenleaf made his fortune in Europe trading on Hamilton' funding of the debt. Creating Capitol Hill suggests that Greenleaf seduced the President and most everyone else involved in the city, got a sweet heart deal from the Commissioners giving him and his partners control of 9000 lots, and then failed to get a Dutch loan and went bankrupt. To begin with he and his partners Robert Morris and John Nicholson only got 6000 lots from the Commissioners, which was quite enough. They also merged their urge to buy western lands soon jointly owning or with options to buy 6 millions acres. The book gives the impression that while getting a loan from Dutch banks the speculators only had to string the Commissioners along with a loan of $2,200 a month. Their only obligation was to build seven brick houses a year until 1800. 

Actually from the Commissioners' perspective the deal made perfect sense. The speculators would give the Commissioners money in installments for the lots they bought, getting deeds for a portion of their purchase with each installment. They would also pay the Commissioners the proceeds from a loan to Commissioners that they would negotiate with the banks secured by another 1000 lots owned by the Commissioners. The Commissioners calculated that they would get $68,000 annually for seven years plus 140 bricks houses by 1800. Since few of the proprietors built any new brick houses on their city lands, especially on or near Capitol Hill, the speculators' houses would at least show that there would be more in the city in 1800 than just the President's House and Capitol the construction of  which the annual payment from the speculators would almost completely pay.

A copy of Greenleaf's account with the federal Commissioners probably used by creditors in his bankruptcy proceedings. It shows frequent payment by James Simmons, Greenleaf's agent in the city, to William Deakins, the Commissioners' treasurer

The proprietors and previous buyers of lots didn't like the deal because what the speculators paid for lots was well under what lots had been fetching. On the other hand, most of the lots the speculators bought were in areas that would not be developed for years. Because of that, Greenleaf bought lots by the bunch from several proprietors in areas most likely to prosper including from Carroll and Notley Young. 

Perhaps Greenleaf seduced everyone. However since Greenleaf took hook, line and sinker all the grandiose notions of people from the President on down to young Carroll, one might well ask who seduced who.

In a January 30, 1793, months before the arrival of Greenleaf, Notley Young pressed the Commissioners to not take too much of his land for federal purposes so more could be developed to accommodate commercial development along the shores of the Potomac:
This situation is one of the best for trade. The channel on the river side being broad and deep enough for ships. On the Eastern Branch, the place where the ships generally used to moor, and on the canal, the very mouth where it supposed the produce will hereafter be brought in the boats that may come down the Potomack. (US v Morris p. 275)

Greenleaf centered his operations on the very land that Notley Young had boasted would be the commercial heart of the city. He bought all of Young's lots and Greenleaf promised to build 20 houses on lots he bought from Carroll within three years or forfeit the lots and pay a penalty. He continued buying western lands where future farmers would grow produce to ship down the Potomac.

What happened next, the burst of building activity by men with seemingly deep pockets, their loss of credit and struggle to stay solvent is an arduous story to tell. (See note 1 at the end of the post.) Creating Capitol Hill gets parts of the story wrong in a telling way. After Greenleaf failed to get a Dutch loan the speculators split. Greenleaf sold his share in Washington lots to his partners who tried to fulfill the contract with Carroll. The book describes the local hero trying to survive an onslaught by builders hired by the Philadelphia speculators' newly formed North American Land Company. Actually Morris and Nicholson raised money mostly on their own account not through the NALC and mostly hired builders Greenleaf had sent to the city. The book misidentifies several of the supposed supervisors of "the work crew of the North American Land Company." (p. 79) Clotsworthy Stephenson worked with James Hoban at the President's house before Greenleaf returned to the US. Greenleaf hired Joseph Clark and William Lovering well before the effort to fulfill the contract with Carroll. Nicholson sent William Tunnicliffe not to do surveys but to run a hotel, though Nicholson did ask him to get copies of survey from the Commissioners perhaps to turn his little hotel into a real estate office too.

What is telling is that while the book lists who the speculators sent to build the new city, there is no mention of Carroll hiring anyone to do any building. He did write letters in an effort to find the right man to design the garden around the soon to be built Duddington Manor. (Clark, CHS vol. 38). 

In the 1880s just before it was torn down, in a March 1884 Century Magazine article, an illustrator captures how well the Carrolls isolated themselves from the hustle, bustle and gaggle of Washington

In his deal with Greenleaf, as did other proprietors who made similar deals with Greenleaf, Carroll pledged to also build on lots he retained using all that he made off the sale to Greenleaf.  As Chief Justice Marshall later noted, in his pleadings Carroll claimed "That his great motive for entering into the contract was, by improving that part of the city in which his property lay to increase its value and to give the town that direction." (Pratt v. Carroll decision p. 474) Indeed Carroll discounted the price of the lots because he was eager to see the buildings built promptly. (A busy commercial district south of the Capitol makes no sense to us today but back in the day the banks of the Potomac were riddled with Captains and a bustling port south of the Capitol handling imports coming up through Alexandria and exports going down through Georgetown made perfect sense as did having a line of buildings between wharves on the Potomac to wharves on the Anacostia. Seen that way the twenty buildings were the keystones of commercial development which would give Capitol Hill life even when Congress was not in session.)

Roughly the extent of private building south of the Capitol in 1797 informed by a 1795 and 1797 written report on houses. Follow N Street west from South Capitol Street to see where Greenleaf, Morris and Nicholson did there building. X's mark wooden houses. By Stephen Kuter for my Through a Fiery Trail: Building Washington 1790-1800 (1991).

The speculators built at South Capitol and N Streets on the north end of Carrollsburg, a small town plated by the Carroll family in 1770. Nothing was ever built there and young Daniel Carroll continued that family tradition and built nothing there either. He did sell bricks to the contractors. Greenleaf bought the rights to and hired the inventor of a brick making machine but it never got up to speed. (See note 2 at end of blog.) The contractors working for Morris and Nicholson also bought bricks from Carroll as they hurried to build the twenty houses before the September 26, 1796, deadline. 

So imagine that while working with a limited budget with on a tight deadline that you build houses on lots in the midst of Carroll's extensive landholdings. One lifeline you got was from Carroll in the form of bricks at a fair market price. Then the developer of the project fails and you don't get paid. You can't pay Carroll but you think that you and Carroll are in the same boat in that regard, although Carroll still gets the advantage of houses in the midst of his extensive property.

One day you see Carroll and he's courtly and affable, he's a southern gentleman after all. The next day the sheriff serves you with a writ and you face jail if you don't pay Carroll for his bricks. Here's how a letter the contractor William Lovering wrote to Nicholson put it: "Thank god I am out of the clutches of D. Carroll there being a small sum of 24$ due him when the last bricks was burnt.... After being with him the preceding day in the most friendly terms and [he] ordered the sheriff not to stop one moment.” (Lovering to Nicholson, 1798, Nicholson microfilm -- which is in the LOC, by the way.)

March 30, 1798, letter from William Lovering to John Nicholson celebrating his escape from Carroll. Although Nicholson almost invariably failed to send money to his builders, they continued to confide in him which makes Nicholson's papers the best window on life in the city in the mid-1790s

Lovering, who boasted of having "superintended the building of two thirds of the houses in the city"  (Lovering to Commrs. April 10, 1798) was almost put into bankruptcy by Carroll which almost prevented him from building the Octagon House. Creating Capitol Hill doesn't mention Carroll's harassment of petty debtors. It does suggest that other locals circled the wagons against outsiders quoting proprietor Uriah Forrest raging against "certain Speculators and Swindlers of Philadelphia."  (p. 76)

William Cranch who came to the city to work for Greenleaf also faced debtors prison because of the failure of the speculators. However, Uriah Forrest bought all his property at a sheriff's sale and gave it back to the future federal judge on his promise of eventual repayment. Forrest also tried to offer what lifelines he could to Morris whose bankruptcy did no one in the city any good.

Although they failed the speculators did enliven the city more than Carroll did. Before the golden boy Greenleaf jilted the city, he made a major sale of lots to the Nabob Thomas Law (a nabob is man who made it rich overseeing British affairs in India) and other nabobs. Law was as energetic as Greenleaf and centered his life on Capitol Hill. Nicholson also enlivened the city with a barter economy (which allowed Nicholson to think that everyone owed him money -- but he never sued anyone.) Unpaid contractors didn't exactly starve as long as Nicholson supported the baker he sent to the city. They lived in the houses they built as they finished them. Nicholson had a notion that was a strange way of thinking to slave owners like Daniel Carroll. If you got free men together to build you just might find yourself in a city.

While Morris and Nicholson failed to make their scheduled payments to the Commissioners, from September 1793 to July 1795 Greenleaf made payments to the Commissioners. There was no strict accounting to the Commissioners' books until 1796 and then the Commissioners were credited with raising around $179,109.19 by selling lots. Well over half of that came from Greenleaf. After July 1794 he didn't pay as much as promised but to the commissioners he remained quite a contrast to the proprietors. They were forever asking the commissioners to pay them for the acres of their land that the commissioners took for future buildings, monuments and parks.

John Nicholson died in debtors prison in 1800 and Robert Morris in 1806 soon after leaving prison. Morris, the Financier during the Revolutionary War, was the most genial of our Founders and he grew to despise Carroll, though not as much as he hated Greenleaf. Unfortunately for Carroll, Greenleaf was a year younger than he was. After he recovered from bankruptcy Greenleaf lived in Washington at First and C Streets NE evidently more interested in being closer to the courts than the course of commerce along the Potomac. He advised his long suffering creditors on how to recoup part of their losses by suing Carroll and others. In 1814 the US Supreme Court decision written by Chief Justice Marshall while not supporting all the plaintiffs' claims came down hard on Carroll:
In the summer of 1796 Morris and Nicholson came to the city of Washington, when a division of the lots was completed, which was reported to the commissioners on the 14th of September, by whom it was then ratified. Twenty brick houses were erected on the square 651, and covered in by the 26th September, 1796, the time specified
in the contract. Some of them were completed. In
May, 1797, Daniel Carroll entered into the square 651,
and took possession of the buildings thereon, which he
has held ever since, and has permitted them to be greatly
The Plaintiffs then ought to have a conveyance of so
many lots as shall be equal to the number of houses
they have completed under the agreement of September,
1793, and as Carroll's entry in May, 1797, was so far
tortious he ought to be accountable for the injury sustained
by the property, and for rents and profits from
that time. (usrep012471/)
During his rapid rise from Secretary of State to Chief Justice in 1801, Marshall must have first seen the ruins. They were much the talk of the town and northerners at least wondered about the "negroes and vagrants" living in them or other empty house on Greenleaf's Point. (Wolcott, Adm. of John Adams, p. 378). Given how the area southeast of the Capitol developed the so-called Twenty Buildings should never have been built. Morris tried to open negotiations with Carroll to change the contract, but Carroll refused. If they didn't build the speculators paid a penalty and Carroll got the lots back. He presumably thought the lots were valuable situated as they were between the slowly rising his home  Duddington Manor and Carrollsburg where George Washington bought building lots (though he didn't build there.)

As befitted a man carrying an $8 million load of debt, Nicholson was an amiable negotiator and paid for dinner. He thought Carroll was a fool (Nicholson diary, LOC) but he was not foolish enough to have dinner with Nicholson as he scrambled to find somebody other than Morris to vouch for his credit. Nicholson died in debtor's prison in Philadelphia at the age of  43 and Carroll continued to prosper

The Chief Justice directed the lower court to calculate how much the plaintiffs owed Carroll for forfeiting lots because of not completing houses, and how much Carroll owed them for not conveying deeds and lost rents and damages to the houses built. "The net amount against Carroll $39,847.87." (Clark, Greenleaf and Law in the Federal City, p. 193.)

While Carroll seemed to do his best to deaden the two miles of the city between his Duddington Manor and the shores of Carrollsburg, none of that is on what we know as Capitol Hill. Before Congress moved to the city in December 1800 Carroll built what was needed: a boarding house for congressmen. But how he kicked against the pricks while clinging to his old world. 

His cupidity kept him at his role as proprietor. When Thomas Law began agitating for digging the canal that L'Enfant planned for the city, Carroll signed on reminding the Commissioners that as the original proprietor he must be duly paid for all land taken for the canal. He even thought he owned Tiber Creek. (Clark, CHS vol. 38) With the President's house and enough of the Capitol open for business, men of vision began thinking about what to do with the Mall. Carroll reminded the Commissioners that as the original proprietor he must be duly paid for all the land taken for the Mall. In the same letter he reported that since he had not yet found a farm elsewhere, he would once again plant crops in and around the future Mall which he doubted would soon be needed. That would be more pleasing to the eye than all the vacant lots looking for buyers.

A January 15, 1799, letter from Carroll to the Commissioners. He delighted in updating them on his farming activities. They took it because they were desperate for Carroll to finally build near the Capitol so congressmen coming in December 1800 would have someplace to sleep

Thanks to Thomas Law, the commercial possibilities of Greenleaf's Point and Carrollsburg came alive. James Berry, a Baltimore merchant who moved to the Potomac just because George Washington told him that's where the commerce of the nation would flow, became incensed that on the wide avenue connecting his wharf to the rest of the waterfront, the house of Daniel Carroll's mother as well hovels of her slaves barred the way. Carroll offered to remove any fences or other possible impediment. Barry wailed that he had friends who wanted to buy lots there. Carroll told the commissioners that his mother at least should be left in peace with her garden and detached kitchen.

If there had been the least bit of poetry in Carroll's letters, we might fairly hail him as an avatar of the coming Romantic Age, our Wordsworth, but his rhetorical trademark was to sneer back: if you think my mother's house is bad, why don't you tear down the temporary houses for workers on the Capitol Square?

In a letter to the Commissioners Daniel Carroll defends his mother and her house still nestled in the relative quiet of Carrollsburg though outsiders threatened

While Carroll was an enduring presence as the Capitol Hill community grew, I don't think he can be considered one of its principal founders. That he outlasted the speculators doesn't make the case that he bested them. The energy of their vision continued in the efforts of Thomas Law. Creating Capitol Hill rather emasculates that worthy eccentric which may call for yet another blog on my part. If I were to write a history of Capitol Hill, I would begin with a 1796 petition to the Commissioners signed by over 147 male residents (I am missing the second page of the petition.) They observed that there were many "hands" working on the Capitol and "already several houses and shops" and asked them to order "a fish and flesh market" built between the Capitol and Eastern Branch. I'd start looking for their wives and children, their slaves, the slaves of the commissioners and the slaves of the proprietors.

Note 1:Actually the speculators did every thing according to the book as it was written in the 1790s. They tried to establish a monopoly position both in Washington lots and unsettled land. They sought credit from Dutch banks which relieved a major worry that money markets would be inconvenienced by war between Britain and France which everyone knew had to soon start. And they formed a company that business historians say was spot on in anticipating the modern corporation. Unfortunately France invaded Holland and Greenleaf didn't get the loan that he assure everyone he could easily raise. Morris and Nicholson could no longer work with Greenleaf. The break up was not pretty. Although Greenleaf seemed to wash his hands of the Washington end of the business, he calculated that he could maintain a legal claim on lots. Nicholson had bought lots in Washington a year before he met Greenleaf and was eager to develop the Washington end of the partners' business. Greenleaf was as much a drag on his progress as Carroll. Greenleaf also proved a greenhorn in speculating in western land and he was far too generous to family and friends in sharing his wealth. Then he seduced them into making bad land deals. Meanwhile not a few perceived that Morris and Nicholson were too big to fail. Rescue operations involved many in Georgetown, all in vain. Then Greenleaf organized his creditors and that led to decades of lawsuits over city property.

Note 2: More evidence that Carroll was not in the business of making bricks can be seen in how the long dispute about paying for bricks began. Carroll billed Greenleaf and Greenleaf replied that his contractors had to pay for their building supplies. Greenleaf had promised his contractors bricks from his brick making operation so the contractors thought Greenleaf should pay for the lack of bricks. Can't we assume that if Carroll had an on-going brick making business that either Greenleaf wouldn't have bought the brick making machine or the contractors would have understood that their getting bricks from Carroll was not an upshot of an arrangement between gentlemen to be entered on their balance sheet of favors given and returned?