Plan of the City of Washington in the Territory of Columbia. ceded by the States of Virginia and Maryland to the United States of America, and by them established as the Seat of their Government after the Year. MDCCC.
By: Andrew Ellicott
Date: 1792 (dated) Philadelphia
Original Size: 27.5 x 22.5 inches
This is a superb reproduction of the original First official map of Washington D.C., based on Andrew Ellicott's original drawings. Ellicott's seminal Plan of Washington, the first official map of the City of Washington, then the future capital of the United States depicts the city soon after its location had been confirmed in 1790.
The site of the permanent American capital remained unsettled for years after the United States gained its independence from Great Britain. Prior to 1790 Congress met at a variety of places including Philadelphia, Lancaster and York, Pennsylvania; Annapolis and Baltimore, Maryland; Princeton and Trenton, New Jersey; and New York City. The location of the permanent capital was not confirmed until the Residence Act of 1790, which provided for a district not more than 10 miles square along the Potomac River, "at some place between the mouths of the Eastern Branch and the Connogocheague.”
Passage of the Act was made possible by the Compromise of 1790, in which southern states agreed to back Alexander Hamilton’s plan for federal assumption of state debts in return for the latter’s support for locating the capital along the Potomac.
In January 1791, President Washington announced that the capital district would be a diamond-shaped tract, 10 miles per side, roughly centered on the confluence of the Potomac and Eastern Branch (Anacostia) Rivers. Andrew Ellicott was engaged to conduct a topographical survey of the area, while Pierre L’Enfant was hired to develop a plan for the capital city itself. He was brilliant but difficult, so much so that George Washington eventually fired him in 1792 and engaged Andrew Ellicott to complete the project. Ellicott, in turn, used L’Enfant’s design as the basis for his plan of the city.
This boldly engraved plan preserves L’Enfant’s vision of a grand capital on the European model, with broad avenues, large public squares and dramatic sightlines, all designed to make the most of the site’s topography and its splendid riverside setting. The intent was to convey the grandeur and permanence of the national government, which at the time was all of three years old, boasted a bureaucracy of perhaps 200 employees, and rested on a Constitution that was feared as much as it was venerated. This vision was ultimately realized, but few would have predicted it at the time. In 1792, the capital site was humid, swampy and fetid and would remain so for years, and its grand buildings rose in the midst of a sea of mud.