United States George Washington Bicentennial Commission. "Presidential Mansions." Section in "Homes of George Washington." Chap. in History of the George Washington Bicentennial Celebration, 218-9. Vol. 1. Washington, DC: United States George Washington Bicentennial Commission, 1932.

ref: Herbert, Lelia [1868-1897]. The first American. New York and London: Harper & brothers, 1900.



A tablet on Brooklyn Bridge, New York City, marks the site of the Executive Mansion first occupied by the First President of the United States of America. This structure, known as the Franklin House, was situated on the corner of Franklin and Cherry Streets,Fig. 1 Franklin House now Franklin Square, which was once the somewhat modish residence section. It was considered one of the handsomest houses in town. Quakers called it the Palace. The French minister spoke of it as "a humble dwelling."

In this first presidential home many precedents were established. Much thought was given by the President and Mrs. Washington to the proper adjustment of both social and political etiquette; others meanwhile speculating as to the proper manner of addressing the former General in his new office.

There was much discussion whether court functions were in order, or simple customs befitting a new Republic. Simplicity prevailed, for the President and the first First Lady carried out their own well-balanced ideas of dignified formality without pomp and ceremony. The accepted titles were The President of the United States and Lady Washington.

They were so besieged with callers, officials, ex-soldiers, and with both high and low in social and private life that it became necessary to set aside certain days for the President to receive. On Tuesdays from 3 to 4 o'clock he was "at home" exclusively to men, including especially foreign ministers and other distinguished callers who sought an introduction. State dinners were given on Thursdays, at 4 in the afternoon, and on Friday evenings, from 7 to 9 o'clock, Mrs. Washington held her drawing rooms which the President attended in an unofficial capacity. At these evening receptions light refreshments were served, but the guests were not permitted to linger overlong, for Mrs. Washington is said to have reminded them: "The General retires at 9, and I usually precede him."

During his residence in the Franklin House, President Washington was dangerously ill. Much anxiety was felt, and he demanded to know the worst, saying, "Do not flatter me with vain hopes. I am not afraid to die."

Demands upon the hospitality of the first Presidential Mansion were constantly increasing, and at best space was lacking for the comfortable accommodation of the family and entourage of the President. So, after 10 months' residence in the Franklin House, a larger Executive Mansion was secured. The Macomb House, recently vacated by the French minister, was secured and became known as the Mansion House.Fig. 2 Mansion House This was the finest house in the city and in the most fashionable quarter, located at 39 Broadway, a short distance from Trinity Church. The rear windows commanded an extended view of the Hudson River and the Jersey shore.

The President personally supervised a great part of the moving and the putting up of furniture, which he supplemented by purchasing from the French minister the large mirrors in the drawing room "and other things particularly suited to the rooms in which he found them." A stable was built at the President's personal expense, to accommodate his favorite horses and cream colored coach, which was embellished with his coat of arms and the "Four Seasons."

While living in this house the President received the Key of the Bastille, which afterwards hung in a glass case on the wall, and which is now at Mount Vernon. It was sent by Lafayette with the message: "That the principles of America opened the Bastille is not to be doubted, therefore the Key comes to the right place."

Six months after the removal of the President's family to the Mansion House another move became imminent, due to the transfer of the Capital to Philadelphia. The New York Assembly was building a Presidential Mansion but, with the loss of the Capital, it was, of course, doomed to disuse as such.

The city of Philadelphia, upon securing the temporary Capital, proudly erected a Presidential Mansion there, but it was so large that the President refused to occupy it, and it became the early home of the University of Pennsylvania. It was located on the spot where the post office now stands.

When Congress adjourned in New York the President's family repaired to Mount Vernon for a time, leaving Mr. Lear, "secretary, tutor, and right-hand man, to superintend the removal of the household effects from New York to Philadelphia."

Of the Executive Mansion in Philadelphia, opinions differ. It was smaller than the Macomb Mansion in New York, but larger than the Franklin House.Fig. 3 Executive MansionFig. 3a Executive Mansion correctionFig. 3b Executive Mansion correction One writer describes it as "a large double house, its whole external aspect marking it as the abode of opulence and respectability." A visitor from abroad, accustomed as was the French Minister in New York, to Old World mansions, described it as "a small red brick house on the left side of High Street--nothing in the exterior of the house that denoted the rank of its possessor."

It was, however, the largest and most suitable house to be had, and its owners, the Morrises, moved into a similar home next door, which they also owned, voluntarily vacating the more commodious mansion to let the President have it. Back of the house was a walled garden extending to the stables on Minor Street. The President planned a new bow window to project into the garden and "directed that the back yard be kept as clean as a drawing-room, since the view into it was uninterrupted from the state dining room where he was to hold his levees and from Mrs. Washington's best drawing-room above."

Many of the surrounding houses were occupied by former friends and Army officers. These neighbors and the frequent presence of the eldest tow of Mrs. Washington's granddaughters, in addition to Nellie Custis, also some of their nieces and other young folk, added much to the gayety of home and social life. But, as a rule, there was a cessation of gayety at 9 o'clock, for Mrs. Washington was accustomed to retiring to her room at that hour, attended by her favorite granddaughter, Nellie Custis. One of the young ladies of that day, who was a frequent guest, gives a very homelike picture of the scene she witnessed when invited one evening by Nellie Custis to accompany her to grandmother's room.

"Then, after some little chat, Mrs Washington apologized to me for pursuing her usual preparations for the night, and Nellie entered upon her accustomed duty by reading a chapter and a psalm from the old family Bible, after which all present knelt in evening prayer; Mrs. Washington's faithful maid then assisted her to disrobe and lay her head upon the pillows. Nellie than sang a verse of some sweetly soothing hymn, and then, leaning down, received the parting blessing for the night, with some emphatic remarks on her duties, improvements, etc."

And the witness of this scene adds: "The effect of these judicious habits and teachings appeared in the granddaughter's character through life."

Opinions differ also respecting the interior and fittings of the Morris Mansion while occupied by the Chief Executive. Some commented upon "the magnificent table ornaments," and so on; others admired the good taste and simplicity. The Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Walcott, wrote to his wife: "The example of the President and his family will render parade and expense improper and disreputable." The President inspected the domestic accounts every week and directed that expenses must be "reasonable."

In the summer of 1793 "the gayety that had marked the presence of Government officials" was summarily terminated by yellow fever. There was a general flight from the pestilence. The President and the Government departments removed to Germantown. There, for a month of so, a furnished house belonging to Col. Isaac Franks, a Revolutionary officer, became the temporary Executive Mansion.

The following description of the house is given by Leila Herbert in The First American:

"With a front of about 40 feet, it is of stone, two stories in height, and attic with dormer windows above. On the first floor great solid wooden blinds barred, when closed, the many-paned windows. A heavy wrought-iron latch a foot and a half long dropped into a stout hasp on the quaint old door. Sweet dappled shadows played under an arbor of green grape vines running far down the garden, which surrounded the house [begin page 219] on three sides. Crisp, trim hedges of box and shading trees hid the back buildings that gave commodiousness unsuspected from the front."

Miss Herbert also writes vividly of the last days for the President in the Morris House. "They were not particularly happy days," she says, the President by signing the Jay treaty having "stirred up a storm of indignation"; and the President was also disquieted by the misfortunes of Lafayette, repudiated by his own county, thrown into prison, while his wife and daughters were confined in another prison, and his young son sought refuge in America but, for the sake of diplomacy, could not be taken into the bosom of the President's family.

With the termination of President Washington's second term of office, as at the beginning of his first, it remained for him to establish a precedent, a custom that has since generally prevailed, that the outgoing President shall entertain the incoming Chief Executive. The final function, therefore, given by the Washingtons in the Morris Mansion was a dinner, on the 3d of March, 1797, to the President-elect and Mrs. Adams. President Washington chaffed his successor upon "entering servitude" and in an especially good humor raised his glass and said: "Ladies and gentlemen, this is the last time I shall drink your health as a public man; I do it with sincerity and wishing you all possible happiness."

President Washington also set the precedent of accompanying the President-elect to the inauguration ceremonies, which with but one or two exceptions has been observed by his successors. The inauguration of President Adams automatically marked the termination of George Washington's occupancy of the Presidential Mansion.



Denissen, Christian. Navarre, or Researches after the Descendants of Robert Navarre, Whose Ancestors are the Noble Bourbons of France, and Some Historical Notes on Families Who Intermarried with Navarres. Detroit: 1897.


Alexander Macomb left Detroit, in 1785, and engaged in business in New York. The residence which he built there for his family, was one of the most elegant in New York at that time. The same house was rented to George Washington when he was first President of the United States. Afterwards it became the Bunker's Hotel.


Macomb, Henry Alexander. Rev. by P. H. K. McComb. Macomb Family Record: being an account of the family since the settlement in America. Camden, New Jersey: Sinnickson Chew, & Sons, 1917.


Alex. Macomb came to New York City from Detroit about 1785. His residence on the west side of Broadway, between Trinity Church and the Battery (then No. 7), was one of the finest in New York, and was rented by the United States Government for Gen. Washington when first President, 1790. It was afterwards Bunker's Hotel. He was a member of the State Assembly, 1786-7. In 1791, he bought 4,456,960 acres of land north of Oneida Co. at 8c. per acre. This included the present counties of Lewis, Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Franklin and parts of Oswego and Herkimer Counties, a total of 6,620 sq. miles--the greatest land transaction in the history of the State of New York. He was ruined financially during the (Napoleon) war, losing heavily by the seizure of his vessels and otherwise, and died poor, he and his second wife being supported in their old age by his son Alexander (III--1.7). He owned a farm on the Harlem, N. Y., from which "Macomb's Dam" derives its name, which was afterwards owned by his son Robert (III--1-8). He used a seal as shown on page 9a.

from page 10

From the N. Y. Times, Sunday, 9 July, 1919.

"At Broadway and 230th St. stands the fine old Macomb Mansion, now looking rather disconsolate, but with a dignified record behind it. About a century ago it was built by Alexander Macomb, and was frequently visited by Edgar Allen Poe, when the poet was living at Fordham. There is a tradition that the old inn built by Frederick Philipse in 1693 was incorporated in this house. For more---end page 10--- than a century this hostelry was famous. Cock's Tavern was one of its early names, and it was immortalized by Cooper in "Satanstoe", who calls its landlady Mrs. Lighte, and shows us his hero, Corney Littlepage, and his friend Dirck stopping here several times. General Macomb* obtained the right to establish mills and mill dams upon the Harlem River about a hundred years ago, dammed the stream at Spuyten Duyvil and at the present central bridge, and built his mill near the former spot. The plan failed, the mill stood idle and rotting, and finally fell during a storm. Later on the house was sold to J. H. Godwin, and is still in excellent condition, except for superficial wear and tear. It was just above this point that the original road divided, one branch continuing north on the Albany Post Road, and the other working its way to the north-east and becoming the Boston Post Road."

*Not the General, but his father, Alexander Macomb.

George Washington to Tobias Lear, November 14, 1790. The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799. John C. Fitzpatrick, Editor.--vol. 31. Letterbook 17, pp. 125-128.

November 14, 1790

Tobias Lear EsquireSee Image of this letter


Mount Vernon, November 14 1790.

Dear Sir:

Having wrote two letters to you on the subject of Page's Stage Coach, one or the other of which, if not both, it is presumable will certainly have got to hand before this can, I shall add nothing more thereto than that Page's Coach isnow my dependance.

I am, I must confess, exceedingly unwilling to go into any house without first knowing on what terms I do it, and wish that this sentiment could be again hinted, in delicate terms to the parties concerned with me. I cannot, if there are no latent motives, which govern in this case, see any difficulty in the business.Mr. Morris has most assuredly formed an idea of what ought, in equity, to be the rent of the tenement in the condition he left it, and with this aid, the Committee ought, I conceive, to be as little at a loss in determining what it should rent for with the additions and alterations, which are about to be made, and which ought to be done in aplain andneat manner, not by any means in an extravagant style; because---end page 125---the latter is not only contrary to my wish, but would really be detrimental67 to my interest and convenience, principally because it would be a mean of keeping me from the use and comforts of the House to a late period, and because the furniture, and everything else would require to be accordant therewith, besides its making me pay an extravagant price, perhaps to suit the taste of another or to the exorbitant rates of workmen; or their blended performances in the two Houses.68 I do not know, nor do I believe
[Note 67: Letters from George Washington to Tobias Lear (Bixby edition: 1905) prints the word as "repugnant."]
[Note 68: Letters from George Washington to Tobias Lear prints at this point: "(if they sometimes work at one, and sometimes at the other)."]
that anything unfair is intended by either Mr. Morris or the Committee; but let us for a moment suppose that the rooms (the new ones I mean) was to be hung with tapestry, or a very rich and costly paper (neither of which would suit my present furniture) that costly ornaments for the Bow-Windows, extravagant chimney pieces &ca. &ca. were to be provided; that workmen from extravagence or the times for every 20/worth of work would charge 40/;69 and that advantage should be taken of the occasion to new paint every---end page 126---part of the house, buildings &c, would there be any propriety in adding ten or 121/2 pr Cent for all this to the rent of the house in its original state, for the two years that I am to hold it? If the solution of these questions are in the negative, wherein lyes the difficulty of determining that the houses and lots, when finished according to the proposed plan, ought to rent for so much? When all is done that can be done thereto, the residence will not be so commodious as the House I left in New York (with the additional buildings made there); for, there, (and the want of it will be found a real inconvenience at Mr. Morris's) my Office was in a front room below, where persons on business were at once admitted; whereas now they will have to ascend two pairs of stairs, and to pass by the public rooms to go to it.70 Notwithstanding which I am willing to allow as much as was paid to Mr. Macomb, and shall say nothing if more is demanded, unless there is apparent extortion. Extortion, if it should be intended by delay is to see to what height rents will rise,71 I should be unwilling to---end page 127---[submit to] and to take it at the expence ofany public body Iwill not. There is one expression
[Note 69: Letters from George Washington to Tobias Lear prints this: "were to charge a pound for that, which ought not to cost ten shillings."]
[Note 70: Letters from George Washington to Tobias Lear prints this: "as well as private chambers to get to."]
[Note 71: Letters from George Washington to Tobias Lear prints this: "before mine is fixed. In either of these cases I should not be pleased, and to occupy the premises at the expence of" etc.]
in your letter of the 4th the meaning of which I do not clearly understand, viz, "The additions, repairs, &ca. of the house, in which Mr. Morris now lives, are likewise to be comprehended in the expenditures to be refunded by the rent of this House." Is it meant by this that the rent of the houseyou are now in is to beencreased by the expenditures on the one Mr. Morris has removed to, or is no more meant by it than that therent of the former is intended as asecurity for the refund.72 The latter may be very proper, but the former could be submitted to on no other ground than that of dire necessity.73

I had rather have heard that my repaired Coach was plain and elegant than "rich and elegant."74

I am, dear sir
Yours, &c.
G. Washington

[Note 72: Letters from George Washington to Tobias Lear has: "only for payment of the latter."]
[Note 73: Letters from George Washington to Tobias Lear has: "If this is all, have nought to say against it. But dire necessity would only induce me to submit to the other. We all unite in best wishes for you and Mrs. Lear and I am etc."]
[Note 74: From the "Letter Book" copy in fileWashington Papers.]

Decatur, Stephen, Jr. "Presidential Residence" in Private Affairs of George Washington: from the Records and Accounts of Tobias Lear, Esquire, his Secretary. N.Y.: Da Capo Press, 1969, pp. 117-118.

Private Affairs of
February, 1790

Congress had hired the house at No. 3 Cherry Street for the Presidential residence at a rental of $845 per year. Formerly occupied by the President of the old Congress, it had been chosen as the best house available. Built by Walter Franklin, it now belonged to Samuel Osgood, who had married his widow. It stood facing Franklin (then called Saint George's) Square on a site now practically covered by the foundations for the approach to the Brooklyn Bridge. The house was square, five windows wide, and three stories high, with a raised stoop having steps up to it from either side. Congress had directed Mr. Osgood to 'put the house and the furniture thereof in proper condition for the residence and use of the President of the United States,' and during the month before the inauguration several alterations were made, the main one being the removal of a partition to make a larger drawing-room. The cost of the repairs and alterations was eight thousand dollars, and when the bill was placed before Congress for payment, it was typical of Senator Maclay to note that he thought it should have been paid out of the President's salary.

The furniture in the Osgood house had been bought by the old Congress. It was described as plain, but 'in keeping and well disposed, and the whole arrangements give promise of substantial comfort.' Washington used it throughout his terms of office, taking it to Philadelphia with him, and, before turning over the house he was then occupying to John Adams, his successor, he submitted a very careful and---end page 117---detailed list of its contents, showing exactly those articles which belonged to the Government.

On the first floor was the office, a large dining-room where the formal dinners and the levees were held, and a smaller dining-room at the rear, customarily used for breakfast and supper and by the children. It was also sometimes used for a sitting-room and probably also for the 'second table' over which the steward presided. The second floor contained the large drawing-room and the bedrooms for the immediate family. The secretaries had two rooms in the third story, the servants occupying the remainder of that floor and part of the attic.

The house was not nearly large enough and was inconveniently situated besides, both as regards the shopping district and the government offices. It was also regarded as 'uptown,' Wall and Broad then being the most fashionable streets. Washington, therefore, took the first opportunity to move to better quarters. He was fortunate in being able to secure the house where Comte de Moustier had resided, considered the finest in the city, which he agreed to take for one year from the first of May, this date being then, as now, the popular moving day; but, through the kindness of Mr. Otto, the French chargé d'affaires, who gave up his lease, the President was able to get possession in February and moved in on the twenty-third of that month. The new house was Nos, 39-41 Broadway, on the west side of the street, in the block just below Trinity Church. The owner was Mr. Alexander Macomb who had built it only two years previously. In every way it was immensely superior to the old residence.


Haswell, Charles H. Reminiscences of New York By an Octogenarian (1816 - 1860). NY: 1896.

A Complete Book, Describing New York from 1816 to 1860 Online: Reminiscences of New York By an Octogenarian (1816 - 1860), by Charles H. Haswell, published in 1896. It describes, in a wealth of tiny details, a time when Greenwich Village was a village, and one could hunt snipe and other birds in what is now south of midtown Manhattan. It has about 100 engravings, of which 32 are in the completed portion of the book, found here. The set of links to references is very incomplete, so it is not such a good example of an "experiment in hypertext style".

By an Octogenarian

The large double house, No. 39 Broadway, built in 1786 by General [Born April 03, 1782 the General would have been only 4, surely this is Alexander Sr., his father. (M. Lloyd)] Alexander Macomb Sr. and occupied by Washington as President, was occupied in this year [1821] by Mr. C. Bunker as a hotel and known as the Mansion House.


Russie, Robert. "The Broadway of Yesteryear Gallery." "Broadway 101: the history of the Great White Way." Talkin Broadway. <http://www.talkinbroadway.com/oldnewyork/>:Talkin Broadway Feb. 2, 2000.


What you'll find in our Gallery here are many prints depicting the Broadway of Yesteryear and old photographs from a collection called Old New York.

Robert Rusie
Mansion House 1831Mansion House 1831
Residence of General Washington during the 2nd Session of the First Congress

These were originally private residences. They were erected about 1780, being among the first to be put up in what was called "The Burnt District" after the fire of 1776. Washington occupied the middle one of the houses during the second session of the First Congress.

The houses were afterward turned into a hotel, known as Mansion House at 39 Broadway, and it was the leading hotel of the city.

This site is of interest as being the spot where the first habitation of white men was erected on the Island. At the beginning of the 20th Century it looked like this.


Dill, David Jr.e-text "Portrait of an Opportunist: The Life of Alexander Macomb." Watertown Daily Times. 16 September 1990.

C1 Sunday, September 16, 1990 Watertown Daily Times

Macomb's Mansion

Alexander Macomb had this mansion built in 1786 at 39-41 Broadway In New York City. The house, later a hotel, was thought to be the finest private building In the city.

Macomb's Years in New York City: Wealth and Power
This is the second part of a three-part series.

With the Revolutionary War at an end, the partnership of Macomb, Edgar and Macomb began to dissolve. First to drop out, on Sept. 3, 1783, was William Edgar, who followed the advice of a fellow trader, Sampson Fleming, and moved to New York City. He took with him as his share a draft in the amount of 48,000 pounds New York currency - a good clue to the firm's net assets. Within two years, the exact date unknown, Alexander Macomb also shifted his activities to New York City, leaving his brother alone in charge of the store.

Why Alexander Macomb chose to risk a second career under the American flag, while his brother remained loyal to the Crown, may have been a simple matter of differing personalities: Alexander, the aggressive, calculating entrepreneur; William, always the junior partner, a follower, more a conservative than an adventurer, content to live out his life as a Detroit merchant, with no further achievements than winning a term in the Upper Canada provincial assembly. Alexander Macomb, the risk-taker, had visions of a higher sort.

The New York that Macomb encountered in---Page C-2 begins---1785 was a city in flux, one that well suited his restless spirit. Its citizens, bustling about the work of restoring dilapidated buildings and revitalizing a sick economy, exemplified a kinetic young America. In December of 1784 Elkanah Watson, the canal promoter and agriculturist, set foot in New York for the first time and described a town with "very irregular" streets, some 1,400 dwellings and a population of 20,000. Although "the sad vestige of a desolating war met the eye at every point," Watson was astonished "to see ... a vast multitude of masts already clustered in its docks. The elasticity of its rebound has been truly wonderful, and I saw in it a sure passage of its ultimate destiny."

Loyalists Reintegrated
    The city's society had also been in transition since 1782, as swarms of newcomers replaced thousands of fleeing Tories. The loyalists who stuck it out, historians now agree, suffered remarkably little retaliation and harassment considering the stressful length of the British occupation. In explanation, one historian has observed that their strength in numbers protected them in the process of "conflict resolution," while another concluded that activist leaders like Alexander Hamilton, the "legal theorist" of reconciliation, persuasively argued political unity as a national need. And a third historian suspected that America simply put aside ideology in a rush to "get on with its agenda."

By 1785 reintegration had advanced to the point where an ex-Tory newcomer like Alexander Macomb slipped into the mainstream without problems. His record as a supplier to Indian marauders evidently never came to light, nor would there likely have been scrutiny of his past by the "business is business" establishment. Moreover, he would not have allowed himself to appear as politically obnoxious as his unreconstructed father, who had preserved his loyalty to the Crown ever since patriot watchdogs had marked him as "a Person highly inimical to the Cause ... (and who) has been seen ... dressed in a Rifle Smock."

Constable a Chum
    Further, acceptance came readily through close ties with William Edgar, already established in New York, and William Constable, a longtime friend from fur-trading days. Notwithstanding a murky earlier history of trading across enemy lines, Constable switched sides in 1778. Thereafter he enjoyed a secure and influential position in Philadelphia and New York owing to the patronage of Gouverneur Morris and a well-publicized but tardy stint in The Continental army. Another valued ally was popular Daniel McCormick, who as a recognized neutral during the occupation escaped confiscation of his property and as early as 1784 had won election to the newly formed Chamber of Commerce.

A common bond of these men, one that undoubtedly meant much to Irish-born newcomers like Macomb, was membership in the Society of the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick, one of the ethnic friendly societies springing up at the time. Organized by William Constable and Daniel McCormick in the winter of 1783, the society primarily aimed to assist indigent Irish, but its social aspects also appealed to the convivial Irish-Americans. By tradition the largely Presbyterian members greed never to discuss politics or religion at meetings, but politically minded members like Governor George Clinton might have bent the rule once in a while.

A Career Booster
    Constable, McCormick, Edgar and Macomb all held office in the society as president or councilor at one time or another, especially McCormick; as president for 30 consecutive years he was a familiar fixture at the head table of the high-spirited St. Patrick's Day dinners.

On the practical side, members formed such close in their business, church and civic affairs that the society had an unquestionably significant influence in their careers. To the ambitious Macomb, president of the society in 1791, his membership had special meaning.

Joining a fraternal organization was one thing, but a surer way to prestige lay in ostentation, and Macomb was not one to be discomfited by display of a grandiose way of life. By October of 1787 Macomb and his family had settled into their new residence at 3941 Broadway, one block south of Trinity Church. The family occupied the left half of the four-story brick structure just completed under the direction of the paterfamilias himself.

Its imposing frontage extended for 112 feet along the west aide of the avenue, and New Yorkers gazing upon it in wonderment called it the finest private building in the entire city. As a measure of its splendor, the mansion, later a distinguished hotel, has been the subject of more comment by city historians than Macomb himself.

Mansion a Landmark
    Admiration for the structure came even from George Washington, who leased the main dwelling from Macomb and made it the presidential mansion from Feb. 23, 1790, until his departure for Philadelphia in late August. Tobias Lear, the president's secretary, and official visitors later described the interior, beginning with the large entry hall from which a single continuous stairway led to three upper floors. On either side were elegant and lofty-ceilinged rooms for dining and receiving visitors. At the back, glass doors opened to a balcony which afforded a handsome view across the grounds to Macomb's own wharf and the picturesque Hudson beyond it.

Macomb's motive in constructing such a grand residence cannot be explained solely on elitist terms. He also had to answer a genuine housing problem. The head of this household was remarkably prolific, and his menage had become truly formidable. In 1787, in addition to his wife, Catherine Navarre, there were children at home. By 1790 Macomb was temporarily a widower, raising 10 children, with seven more to follow.

His household was staffed by at least 25 servants, of whom 12 were slaves (making Macomb the third largest slaveholder in New York City). But not long afterward, his immense household, instead of a joy, became an increasingly heavy burden.

Promoting the Public Good
    Compensating for self-indulgence and fascination for dazzling display, Macomb's personality had another, more praiseworthy, aspect, an apparently altruistic enthusiasm for promoting the public good. Seeming to enjoy his liberation from the dreary confinement of the Detroit stockade and anxious to present a new image, he threw himself into the city's civic affairs. There is no reason to dismiss all the effusions of Macomb's obituarist, possibly his son Major General Macomb, who rightly praised him as a useful citizen "ever ready to aid in the embellishments and substantial improvements of the City of New York." A contemporary vouched for his "generous and profuse" benevolence, in sharp contrast to William Edgar's "penurious and retired" nature.

City boosters counted on Macomb's managerial talent for purchasing materials and directing the conversion of City Hall into Federal House, and the legislature called on him to help erect a building to house the state archives. As further evidence of his social consciousness, Macomb served as the first treasurer of New York's first scientific body, the Society for the Promotion of Agriculture, Arts and Manufactures.

Political affairs, however, held little appeal for him, except perhaps for business purposes. Nominally a Federalist like most men of his class, Macomb nevertheless backed his friend George Clinton, the anti-Federalist governor. He served two terms as state assemblyman, December 1788 to March 1789 and January to March, 1791, but passively, for the Assembly "Journal" recorded only one minor assignment for him. He favored adoption of the federal Constitution, but there is no record of his having taken part in the state ratifying convention, as some historians have asserted.

Real Estate Tycoon
    More to his taste was the business of buying wilderness lands at rock-bottom prices. Macomb was not alone. Throughout the nation almost every man of means itched to make a killing by speculating in the immense tracts which both the federal and state governments were opening for settlement. In New York, strapped for ready funds to reduce the public debt, the anti-Federalist state government overcame its republican scruples and sold land only to moneyed land jobbers, who in theory were to take on the responsibility for development.

In practice, however, the initial purchasers displayed little interest in any role other than making quick resales to longer-term investors and land companies. The primary purchasers, like Alexander Macomb, were bolder risk-takers than the middlemen, who as developers aimed to subdivide their tracts into farm-size lots for contracting to pioneers. Speculators, land companies and settlers all played essential roles in the opening up of the nation's public lands, and land jobbers continued to be a factor until the Homestead Act of 1862.

Ups and Downs
    But matters rarely went according to expectations for any of the participants in the national land rush during the early national period. The initial promoters frequently over-strained their credit during business slumps before running down secondary buyers, who in turn suffered deep discouragement on becoming aware that recovery of their investment took not years but decades. As one exasperated New York developer, James Wadsworth complained after 15 years of experience: "It is slow realizing from new lands. I will never advise another friend to invest in them. Men generally have not the requisite patience for speculating in them." As for poverty-stricken settlers, titles to their farms seemed always out of reach, and many fell back on tenancy. And yet so the West was won.

None of this immediately entered Macomb's mind when he took his first speculative flyer. Between 1786 and 1791, he and his partners acquired more than 4.5 million acres of state and federal lands. In sheer magnitude and audacity, his land speculations placed him on a par with the giants, Robert Morris and William Doer, and an observer might have asked his motives.

For one thing, as he lived on capital, his resources dwindled as the expenses of a large household mounted. Second, as he looked ahead, he hoped to pass on a landed estate to his offspring, a brood which eventually totaled 17. Further, and perhaps most importantly, was his compulsion, as always, to snatch a high-risk chance when he saw it.


Aikman, Lonnelle. "Politics Clears the Way." In "A Capital is Born" Part two of Rider with Destiny: George Washington, 63-66. McLean, Virginia: Link Press, 1983.


Macomb's Mansion

The permanent capital of the United States had its beginning in an incident outside this New York building. In it President Washington lived during part of the 1789 period when the city was temporary seat of government. Here on Broadway, Secretary of Treas ury Hamilton met Secretary of State Jefferson, and persuaded him to support a compromise by which the Federal City would be located in the rural Potomac Valley in exchange for national assumption of state debts from the Revolution.

Harper's Monthly Magazine, October 1899
Chapter 1

Politics Clears the Way

EVERY CITY HAS ITS OWN PERSONALITY, a distillation drawn from location, history, and the impact of the men and women who, from the beginning, have left their mark on it.

Among the great capitals of the world, Washington, District of Columbia, is unique in striking ways. For one thing, its history is so short. Only a scant two centuries have passed since geographic location and partisan politics made it the seat of government for a brash new nation that stretched then in a fragile chain of thirteen states along the eastern seaboard.

For another formative influence going back to its establishment by Congress in 1790, the Federal City was intimately associated with those remarkable contemporaries we call the Founding Fathers. All of them--John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison among others--had fought in one way or another to win independence from England's George III. With that goal accomplished, they went on to serve as Presidents, Members of Congress, and diplomats sent abroad to represent the fledgling Republic as it sought to plant its roots in a continent whose extent and wealth were still undreamed of.

Standing tall among these men, of course, was George Washington, whose birth in February 1732 provided a fine, round-number anniversary of 250 years in 1982.

As the victorious commander of the Revolution and the first elected President of the United States, Washington found himself at the center of events that would bring about the choice of the permanent capital site beside the banks of the Potomac River.

That all-important decision was made in New York City, where the nation's first temporary capital had been set up under the Constitution in 1789, with George Washington at its head.

It was also a decision born of bitter political controversy and questionable compromise, though you would never have guessed it from the casual, matter-of-fact statements recorded in President Washington's diary for July 12, 1790.

"Exercised on Horseback between 5 and 6 in the morning," he wrote.---end page 63---". . . And about Noon had ... presented to me by the joint Committee of Congress . . . An Act for Establishing the Temporary and permanent Seat of the Government of the United States."

This historic legislation, which the President signed into law on July 16, provided that the nation's future capital would be built in open country along the shores of the Potomac, and that Philadelphia would become the temporary seat of government during a ten-year interlude of construction.

The solution settled the long-disputed problem of the Republic's permanent capital, but it did not prevent advocates of New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, among other towns and cities that had competed for the honor and economic advantages-from continuing to carry on a kind of propaganda war against the Potomac project itself. Nor did it silence criticism of the compromise that had been reached between political leaders, and which involved widespread speculation and huge financial scandals.

The story of that curious incident in American politics had begun earlier in the year of 1790, when Alexander Hamilton, as the Secretary of the Treasury, lobbied unsuccessfully to persuade Congress to vote federal responsibility for state debts incurred during the Revolution.

Members of Congress from the northern states, which had more to gain from larger and still unpaid debts, chiefly favored "Assumption." Those from the South, where the debts were smaller and the people less able to pay the federal taxes required, strongly opposed the action. Big mercantile, shipping, and real estate operators promoted their own interests, and the differences between the conflicting groups threatened to tear the shaky nation apart.

In Hamilton's fertile mind, a possible deal took form. In exchange for federal takeover of state debts, he proposed that the Nation's Capital be situated closer to the South, as desired by then House Representative James Madison of Virginia, and other prominent southerners.

In promoting his idea among potential supporters, Hamilton found an unlikely ally in Thomas Jefferson when he encountered the Secretary of State, either by accident or design, in front of President Washington's New York residence on Broadway.

As Jefferson recalled the meeting later, "Hamilton was in despair. [As I was going to the President's one day, met him in the street.] ... He walked me backwards and forwards before the President's door for half an hour. He painted pathetically ... the danger of the secession ... and the separation of the States. He observed ... that a common duty should make it a common concern ... and that the question having been lost by a small majority only, it was probable that an appeal from me to ... some of my friends might affect a change in the vote."

Jefferson replied that he would do what he could to avert "a dissolution of our Union at this incipient stage." He therefore invited Hamilton to dine with him shortly, together with "another friend or two ... to form a compromise which was to save the Union."

The bargain was struck at Jefferson's dinner, conducted with his usual.---end page 64---charm and hospitality-though he observed that one of the Virginians present had agreed to it "with a revulsion of stomach almost convulsive."

The result was the passage on July 16, 1790, of the so-called Residency Bill" directing that the permanent capital be established beside the Potomac. By August 2, Congress had enacted Hamilton's debt-funding proposal, which Washington signed on August 4.

There was plenty of grumbling over the deal, and dismay that so many speculators would be enriched at the expense of those who would be swindled out of their legal rights. Critics also made fun of "that Indian place" picked from the wilds. One newspaper reporter, in the classical rhetoric of the day, quipped that "Potomacus" was the offspring of the seduction of "Miss Assumption" by "Mr. Residence."

But the choice was made, and the Potomac area had real advantages. It was located midway between northern and southern states, and its natural setting, framed by river and wooded hills, was superb. Along the winding shore of its river stretch lay two already flourishing ports--Alexandria, Virginia,---end page 65---and Georgetown, Maryland. In the west, the Potomac Valley offered land and water routes for potential transportation deep into the continental interior.

Even more important to the ultimate success of the undertaking was another factor, seldom remembered today. With full confidence in the good sense and enormous prestige of their President, the lawmakers authorized Washington to select the exact site of the future capital, and to have the final say in all practical details of building a city in what was then a region of farms and forests.

To assist him in this assignment, Congress instructed Washington to appoint three Federal Commissioners to work under his direction in carrying out the project. It also designated a specific territory within which he was to decide on the boundaries of the Federal City. This territory, as the legislators stated in the same Residency Bill, should cover an area "not exceeding 10 miles square," and be situated specifically "at some place" between the mouths of the Eastern Branch, now the Anacostia River, and the Conococheague, an Indian-named tributary entering the Potomac some 80 miles upstream. The only other limitation on Washington's judgment (covered in a later amendment) was that all public buildings must be built on the Maryland side.

Finally, as a crowning commitment, the President and his Commissioners were charged with providing "suitable" buildings for the accommodation of Congress and the President, and for the public officers of the Government of the United States.

It was a staggering enterprise. No other government, with the exception of Tsarist Russia under the iron rule of Peter the Great, had ever created a brand-new capital.

Furthermore, Congress appropriated no funds to build its Federal City. Instead, "for defraying the expense of ... purchases and buildings, the President of the United States was authorized and requested to accept grants of money."

The new Treasury had, indeed, no money in 1790 for so large and costly a venture. Virginia and Maryland, which had ceded to the Federal Government their jurisdiction over land to be used for the capital, also agreed to furnish $120,000 and $72,000, respectively, toward construction of public buildings. But these funds were still merely in the promised stage.

Thus Washington was forced to seek the necessary credit and cash from the only source then available-the land itself. This meant that he would have to negotiate with individual owners to obtain legal title to their properties, and somehow find the cash to pay for land that would be required for public use, as well as for the running expenses of designing and constructing the Federal buildings.

No one seemed to doubt President Washington's ability to accomplish these formidable tasks. And from the alacrity with which he went about the job, it appeared that he, too, felt that his assignment was both reasonable and achievable.

Macomb's Mansion

President Washington escorts his Indian guests on a walk along Broadway in New York City. When the Republic was young and Indian problems played a crucial role in land policy, Washington invited this Creek chief and his tribal advisers to visit New York and discuss a treaty of friendship. The chief, whose unlikely name--Alexander McGillivray--came from a Scottish trader father, accepted the invitation, and in August 1790 signed the desired treaty.

illustration by A. J. Keller. Harper's Monthly Magazine, October 1899

See Jefferson, Thomas. Miscellany 1784-1788. Ed. Merrill D. Peterson. Library of America, Literary Classics of the United States. New York, 1984.e-text


Dewick, Sarah A. Ancestry of John S. Gustin and his wife Susan McComb, including an account of John Hubbard, second husband of Elinor Shepherd. Boston: David Clap & Son. 1900, p. 128.


In 1789, when the national government was in New York City, Washington first lived in the Franklin House, Franklin Square. The second Presidential dwelling was the Macomb residence, called the Mansion House, on Broadway, a little below Trinity Church. This was built by Alexander Macomb as a residence for himself. It was considered the finest private residence in the city. Before Washington took it, it was occupied by the French minister. In this house Washington entertained twenty-eight chiefs and warriors of the Creek Indians from the South.Harper's, Oct. 1899 While living here Washington received the key of the Bastille sent him by Lafayette. The key was hung in a glass case on the wall.


Booth, Mary L.. History of the city of New York : from its earliest settlement to the present time.. New York: W. R. C. Clark, 1860. (MOA)Makers of America at Cornell.edu


During the residence of Washington in Cherry street, he was attacked by a dangerous illness, which rendered a surgical operation necessary. The elder and younger Drs. Bard were his physicians. Washington bore the torture with surprising firmness. "Cut away-—deeper, deeper still;" exclaimed the father to his son, whom he had deputed to perform the operation through distrust of his own nerves, "don’t be afraid; you see how well he bears it." For a time, he was considered in a critical situation, and the greatest anxiety was manifested in the city. The pavement in front of his residence was strewn with straw, and chains were stretched across the neighboring streets; but the operation proved eminently successful, and his speedy recovery removed all cause of alarm. Upon his convalescence, he set out upon a tour through the New England States, from which he returned a short time before the opening of the second session of Congress on the 8th of January, 1790. About the same time, he removed to the Macomb House, No. 39 Broadway, afterward Bunker’s Mansion House, where he continued to reside during his stay in New York.

This stay was not a long one. Since the first adoption of the federal constitution, the country had been in a ferment in respect to the location of the permanent seat of government. The eastern States preferred New York, Pennsylvania clamored for its return to Philadelphia or the vicinity, the people of New Jersey petitioned for its removal to the shores of the Delaware, while Maryland and Virginia, with the rest of the southern States, urged---end 599---the banks of the Potomac as the central location. During the first session, the banks of the Susquehanna had very nearly been chosen as the site ; and no sooner had the second session opened, than the discussion was renewed with unabated ardor. Each party persisted in urging its claims, and it was only by a somewhat curious compromise that an amicable arrangement was finally effected, and the District of Columbia selected as the capital of the United States.

Early in the session, Alexander Hamilton, then Secretary of the Treasury, threw a new apple of discord into the assembly by proposing that, for the maintenance of the public credit, the general government should assume, not only the public foreign and domestic debt, amounting to fifty-four millions, but also the debts of the States, contracted during the Revolution, and estimated at twenty-five millions. The foreign debt was assumed without hesitation, as was also the domestic debt after considerable opposition, but here the question rested. Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, South Carolina and a part of Pennsylvania, joined in favoring the assumption of the debts of the States, while Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, New Hampshire and the remaining part of the Pennsylvania delegation opposed the measure with so much acrimony that, at one time, a dissolution of the Union seemed inevitable. The debts of most of the opposing States were small; some objected to thus increasing the power of the general government; others, on the contrary, advocated it as a federal measure; but neither party could claim a majority. At this juncture, as a last---end page 600---resort, a compromise was effected through the joint agency of Jefferson and Hamilton, and two of the Virginian representatives were induced to vote for the assumption; while the Northerners, in return, ceded the other point at issue, and fixed the permanent seat of the general government on the banks of the Potomac though, by way of salvo to the feelings of the disappointed Pennsylvanians, it was agreed that it should first remain for ten years at Philadelphia. The precise location was left to the President, who was to appoint commissioners to choose a site within certain limits from the lands which had been proffered by Maryland and Virginia. These States, as well as Pennsylvania and New Jersey, in their eagerness to secure the capital of the nation, had not only offered to furnish the necessary ground, but also to appropriate money for the erection of the public buildings, and, in the impoverished state of the country, this saving of expenditure proved a strong argument in their favor. Both bills soon after passed the Senate, the former with various amendments; the federal government agreed to assume the greater portion of the State debts in certain specified proportions, and the month of December, 1800, was fixed as the date of the opening session of Congress at the capital city of Washington in the new District of Columbia.

Since the close of the war, Indian affairs had been in an unsettled state along the western and southern frontiers. Soon after the, conclusion of peace with Great Britain, treaties had been negotiated with the various tribes which had taken part against the United States during the war; but these adjustments had proved---end page 601---unsatisfactory. and the natives complained bitterly of the constant encroachments of the whites upon their boundaries. In the Carolinas and Georgia, discontent ripened into open war. The Cherokees, Who claimed the northern part of the States as well as the greater portion of the State of Tennessee, were worsted in the strife and forced to flee to the Creeks for protection; the latter, who inhabited Alabama and Georgia, strengthened by an alliance with the Spaniards in Florida, carried on the war with greater success, and, headed by their chief Alexander McGillivray, severely harassed the settlements of the Georgians. McGillivray was a half-breed, the son of a Scotchman, who, educated by his father in the best schools of Charleston, had inherited the chieftainship through the line of his mother, according to the custom of the nation, and turned his talents and education to good account by devising ways and means to strengthen its power. Bred in a counting-house and familiar with mercantile affairs, he opened a profitable trade with the Spaniards, through whom he obtained the arms and ammunition necessary for the successful continuance of the war.

Led by an enemy of superior intelligence, this outbreak occasioned considerable alarm, and, soon after the opening of the first session of Congress, General Lincoln, Colonel Humphreys and David Griffin were dispatched as commissioners to the scene of contest to adjust the boundaries of the disputed territory. This was a tract of land, west and south of the Oconee River, which the Georgians claimed had been ceded to them by three successive treaties; while the Creeks alleged that these---end page 602---treaties had been obtained by force or fraud, and therefore could not be held as binding upon the nation. The commissioners were well received by McGillivray and his warriors, but, refusing to restore the lands, they effected nothing except to obtain a temporary cessation of hostilities.

The next year, Colonel Marinus Willett was dispatched by Washington to open a new negotiation. Disguising himself as a simple trader, in obedience to his instructions, he entered the Indian camp and sounded the disposition of the natives; then, throwing off the mask, he avowed his errand, and invited McGillivray to go with him to New York to talk with the Great Father. To this proposal, McGillivray consented, and set out in the beginning of the summer, accompanied by twenty-eight chief and warriors of the nation. Their arrival excited considerable interest in the city. On landing, they were met by the Tammany Society, arrayed in Indian costume, which escorted them to their lodgings on the banks of the North River at the tavern known henceforth as the Indian Queen. Here they remained for more than six weeks, negotiating the terms of a treaty with General Knox, the commissioner appointed by Washington for that purpose, and, the matter being at length satisfactorily arranged, the treaty was ratified, in true Indian style in Federal Hall in Wall street, on the 13th of August, the day after the adjournment of the second session of Congress. At 12 o’clock, the Creek deputation was met by the President and his suite in the Hall of the House of Representatives, where the treaty was read and interpreted, after which, Washington addressed ---end page 603---the Warriors in a short but emphatic speech, detailing and explaining the justice of its provisions; to each of which, as it was interpreted to them, McGillivray and his warriors gave the Indian grunt of approval. The treaty was then signed by both parties, after which Washington presented McGillivray with a string of wampum, as a memorial, of the peace, with a paper of tobacco as a substitute for the ancient calumet, grown obsolete and unattainable by the innovations of modern times. McGillivray made a brief speech in reply, the "shake of peace" was interchanged between Washington and each of the chiefs, and the ceremony was concluded by a song of peace, in which the Creek warriors joined with enthusiasm. The warriors, indeed, had good reason to be satisfied with this treaty, which ceded to them all the disputed territory, and distributed presents and money liberally among the nation. Almost immediately after its ratification, the Creeks returned to their homes in the South, leaving their name as a memorial to their place of entertainment.


At the lower end of Broadway stood the Kennedy House,Kennedy House now the Washington Hotel, built in 1760 by Captain Archibald Kennedy, Jr., afterward 11th Earl of Cassillis,Captain Archibald Kennedy, II and bequeathed by him to his son Robert, from whom it passed into the possession of the late Nathaniel Prime. This house was the headquarters of Putnam prior to, and of Howe and Clinton during the Revolutionary War, and the scene of André’s last interview with the British general previous to his departure on the fatal West Point mission. Just above this was the King’s Arms Tavern, a double house, two stories in height, with a front of yellow Holland brick, and a steep roof covered with shingles in front and tiles in the rear, the head quarters of General Gage during his residence in the city. This afterwards became known as Burns’ Coffee House, the well-known rendezvous of the Sons of Liberty, and the place from which emanated many of the patriotic resolves of the New York citizens. It was in this house that the first non-importation agreement of the colonies was signed by the merchants of the city of New York on the evening preceding the execution of the Stamp Act, and the first step thus taken toward the rebellion which ripened into their future independence. Here Arnold resided after the discovery of his treason, and it was from the---end page 622---garden, which extended down to the river, that the chivalric Champe proposed to abduct the traitor and carry him off in triumph to the American lines in the Jerseys.

Above this, on the site of 39 Broadway—-the reputed site of the first building ever erected on the island—-was the Bunker Mansion House, the residence of Washington during the second session of Congress. But a volume would scarce suffice to note all the landmarks, rendered interesting by some association of the past.


In the summer of 1824, news was received that General Lafayette was on his way to New York. and the corporation at once prepared to welcome him as the guest of the city upon his arrival. The idol of the whole country, he was especially such of the city of New York, made up in great part of the so-called "French party," which had sympathized warmly with France in the struggle for independence, headed in the first place by Lafayette; which had denounced the neutrality of the American government as cowardly and dishonorable, and which let no opportunity slip for---end page 714---demonstrating its attachment to France, and its corresponding detestation of her rival, Great Britain. Not less was he beloved by the opposite party—-the friend of Hamilton, the adopted brother of Washington, the favorite of all his companions in arms, he had won golden opinions from all ranks and parties by his frankness and valor in the American Revolution, and his visit was a continuous march of triumph throughout the country. On Sunday, the 15th of August, he arrived in the ship Cadmus, and landed on Staten Island, where he remained till the next day at the residence of Daniel D. Tompkins, at this time Vice-President of the United States. On Monday, he was escorted up to the city by a large naval procession, and landed at Castle Garden amid the ringing of bells, the salutes of artillery and the shouts of the enthusiastic multitude, assembled to welcome the guest of the nation. From the Battery, he was escorted to the City Hall, where he was welcomed by the corporation, assembled there to receive him, and congratulated by Mayor Paulding on his safe arrival, then conducted to Bunker’s Mansion House, where free quarters had been provided for him and his suite. During his stay in the city, he visited the navy yard, fortifications and public institutions, and held a daily levee in the City Hall, where he was waited upon by thousands of the citizens. At his departure, he was escorted by a large detachment of troops to Kingsbridge, whence he set out for his proposed tour through the States. The beginning was but the augury of the future. Everywhere, the same welcome and the same festivities awaited him, and when he returned to New York in September,---end page 715---1825, having accomplished a tour through the whole country in the space of thirteen months, despite his lameness and his eighty-six years, the citizens bade adieu to him in a fete at Castle Garden which surpassed anything of the kind before witnessed in the country.


Bowen, Clarence Winthrop. "The Inauguration of Washington." The Century; a popular quarterly 37 (Apr. 1889): 803-834. (MOA)Makers of America at Cornell.edu


The procession, headed by Colonel Morgan Lewis, consisted of music, a troop of horse, artillery officers off duty, the grenadiers that served as a guard of honor to the President, the governor and officers of the State, the congressional committee, the Mayor and Corporation, the clergy, the French and Spanish ambassadors, and citizens. The whole passed through Queen street,2 by Governor Clinton’s house at the foot of Cedar street, and stopped at the Franklin House, which had been fitted up as a residence for Washington.3

2 Now Pearl street—in 1789 a mile and a half in length, and with buildings from four to six stories high. It was considered a remarkable fact at that time, as the Rev. Manasseh Cutler wrote, that the sides of Queen street within the posts were "laid principally with free stone, sufficiently wide for three persons to walk abreast." (Cutler’s Life, Vol. I., p. 306.)

3 This house was owned by Samuel Osgood, one of the Treasury Commissioners, and was until 1856, when the building was taken down, at the junction of Cherry and Pearl streets on Franklin Square. The Franklin House had been occupied by the President of the old Congress, but had been fitted up by order of the new Congress for Washington. For particulars regarding Osgood see "History of the City of New York," by Mrs. Martha J. Lamb, Vol. II., p. 330. Washington occupied in 1790 a house on Broadway, near Bowling Green, which had been used by the French ambassador and was called the McComb House, and subsequently the Mansion House and Bunker’s Hotel.

Washington’s Diary, February 1, 1790: "Agreed on Saturday last to take Mr. McComb’s house, lately occupied by the Minister of France, for one year from and after the first of May next, and would go into it immediately if Mr. Otto, the present possessor, could be accommodated; and this day sent my secretary to examine the rooms to see bow my furniture could be adapted to the respective apartments."

Colonel John May’s Journal, April 22, 1788: “Went to see a pile of new buildings, nearly completed, belonging to a Mr. McComb, by far the finest buildings my eyes ever beheld, and I believe they excel any on the continent. In one of the entries I traveled up five flights of stairs--the rail continuous from top to bottom. I still left one flight unexplored."


From: "Michael Robert Patterson" mpatter@optonline.net
To: "Shirley S. Stanton
Sent: Sunday, August 18, 2002 6:05 PM
Subject: George Washington Diary Entry February 1790


Decatur, Stephen, Jr. Private Affairs of George Washington: from the Records and Accounts of Tobias Lear, Esquire, his Secretary. N.Y.: Da Capo Press, 1969.

May, Col. John. Journal and Letters of Col. John May [1748-1812], of Boston relative to Two Journeys to the Ohio County in 1788 and '89 with a Biographical Sketch by Rev. Richard S. Edes of Bolten, Mass and Illustrative Notes by Wm. M. Darlington of Pittsburgh, PA. Cincinnati, R. Clarke, & co., for the Historical and philosophical society of Ohio, 1873. [LOC F486 .H662 vol. 1]

Monday 1st. Agreed on Saturday last to take Mr. McCombs House, lately occupied by the Minister of France for one year, from and after the first day of May next; and wd. go into it immediately, if Mr. Otto the present possesser could be accomodated and this day sent My Secretary to examine the rooms to see how my furniture cd. be adapted to the respective Apartments. (George Washington Diary, February 1790)

By the beginning of 1790 GW concluded that the house owned by Samuel Osgood which he had occupied since his arrival in New York City (see entry for 1 Oct. 1789) was no longer commodious enough to accommodate his family and staff and to maintain the dignity of the presidential office. In spite of the fact that it was expected that Congress might move the capital from New York City, GW decided to lease Alexander Macomb's mansion at Nos. 39-41 Broadway.

It was one of a block of three houses erected in 1787 and was four stories and an attic high, with a width of fifty-six feet. From the rear of the main rooms glass doors opened onto a balcony giving an uninterrupted view of the Hudson River. On entering, one found a large hall with a continuous flight of stairs to the top of the house. On each side of the hall were spacious, high-ceilinged rooms, used for the levees and dinners and always referred to by Washington as 'public rooms.' (DECATUR, 118, 148)

Col. John May, who had visited the houses while they were still under construction in April 1788, noted "they are by far the grandest buildings I ever saw and are said to excel any on the continent in one of the entry's I travelld up 5 flights of stairs" (MAY, 28). The Macomb house had been occupied by the comte de Moustier and, after his departure for France, by Louis Guillaume Otto, chargé d'affaires of the French embassy. Otto had served in the United States since 1779, and after his return to France in 1792 he was in charge of the political division of the department of foreign affairs until he lost his position with the fall of the Girondist regime. On 2 Feb. GW paid Samuel Osgood £253 10s. "for 3 quarter's Rent of the House & Tenements occupied by the President" and before he moved paid £665 16s. 6d. to purchase for the new house furniture and china left by Moustier (CtY: George Washington's Household Accounts, 68--74). GW requested that some alterations and additions be made to outside buildings (see Tobias Lear to Alexander Macomb, 4 Feb. 1790, owned by Mr. Sol Feinstone, Washington Crossing, Pa.). Preparations continued throughout the month, and the presidential household moved to the new residence on 23 Feb.


Abbot, W. W., ed., The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 2, April - June 1789. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1987), 152-58.Makers of America at Cornell.edu

[note 13]: . . . According to Moustier's report on the inaugural ceremonies to his government, GW halted before the French minister's residence on his way to Chancellor [Robert R.] Livingston's in order to admire the effect of Moustier's house [aka Macomb's Mansion], "which was illuminated and decorated with several transparencies relative to the victories and virtues of General Washington. He seemed pleased with the one representing eleven bees emerging from their hives, headed by their queen, with this epigraph from Virgil [Georgics 4.215-216]:

Ille operum custos; illum admirantur et omnes
Circumstant fremitu denso.

These verses are applicable to him in every sense: he has been the founder of the republic, and only he can preserve it under the new form that it has been given" (Moustier to Montmorin, 5 June 1789, Arc. Nat., Aff. Etr., Corr. Pol., Etats-Unis, vol. 34, translation [of the French] in Bowen, Inauguration, 47-49). Col. John May, suitably impressed with the decoration of the French minister's house, noted further that the "likeness of our Hero, illuminated, was presented in the window of a house, at a little distance. The best likeness I have yet seen of him, so much like him that one could hardly distinguish it from life--excepting for the situation, over a beer-house, a place he never frequents" (Edes, Journal and Letters of Col. John May, 1:124). For a further description of the decorations, see the Gazette of the United States (New York), 2 May 1789.

MDL note: the Vergil reference is, of course, from the 4th Book of the Georgics, a work more popular in the days of the gentleman farmer of Virginia.

Ille operum custos, illum admiruntur et omnes
circumstant fremitu denso
stipantque frequentes
et saepe attollunt umeris et corpora bello
obiectant pulchramque petunt per vulnera mortem.    Geo. 4.215-218

He the guardian of their labor, him do they admire and all
surround in a buzzing throng
and accompany as they swarm
and often raise up on shoulders and bodily in war
do shield and seek through their wounds a noble death

The translation is my own. On as happy an occasion as the inaguration it is understandable that the next line and a half were left out.


Hemstreet, Charles. Nooks and corners of old New York. New York: C. Scribner's sons: 1899. (MOA)Makers of America at Cornell.edu


The First House Built

On the office building at 41 Broadway there is fixed a tablet which bears the inscription:

---end page 57---

Adrian Block was one of the earliest fur traders to visit the island after Henry Hudson returned to Holland with the news of his discovery. The "Tiger" took fire in the night while anchored in the bay, and Block and his crew reached the shore with difficulty. They were the only white men on the island. Immediately they set about building a new vessel, which was named the "Restless."

Next door, at No. 39, President Washington lived in the Macomb’s Mansion, moving there from the Franklin House in 1790. Subsequently the house became a hotel.


Bennett, William James [American, b. England, 1787-1844]. "Broad Way from the Bowling Green (Prob. 1826)." Aquatint and etching, from Megarey's Street Views in the City of New York. 1834. New York Public Library, Humanities and Social Sciences Library, The Miriam & Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: The Phelps Stokes Collection NY Public Library

Broad Way from the Bowling Green, prob. 1826 [click to enlarge]
Broad Way from the Bowling Green. Probably 1826

The landmarks recorded in Bennett's masterful aquatint include, starting on the left: Kennedy House at No. 1 Broadway, where George Washington lived during the early days of the Revolution, and later the home of Sir Henry Clinton, Sir Guy Carleton, and Sir William Howe during the long British occupation of the city. Washington lived in the large white building two houses up the block during his first term as President. Further along the street, in the distance, are the steeples of Trinity and Grace Church. Bowling Green, the oldest public park in Manhattan, is just visible on the right. At this date the park was still the domain of the local residents; later, when the town houses were replaced by shipping offices, the park was opened to the public.


White House Visitor's Center. Washington, DC. Photo, 2002 courtesy of Jenni Brockman.

George Washington's Philadelphia residence

George and Martha Washington's Philadelphia Home served the President not only as private quarters but as his office and residence for state functions.


Lawler, Edward, Jr. "A Brief History of the President's House in Philadelphia." The Presidents House in Philadelphia. <www.ushistory.org/presidentshouse/history.htm>.

Please visit Mr. Lawler's excellent article at the original site.

see also:

Miller, Agnes. "The Macomb House: Presidential Mansion." Michigan History 37 (December 1953): 373-384.

New York City 1850 Map. Thomas Cowperthwait and Company, 1850, NY. (see Hotel #8: Bunker's Mansion House)

New York City and Brooklyn 1851 Bird's Eye View. John Bachman, 1851.

Marshall Davies Lloyd mlloyd@sms-va.com