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No, DC locals, not the city and the metro stop, but the men who gave those places their names. Recently, a letter from George Washington hit the auction block and inspired a little glee in history fans everywhere. Turns out the father of our country, not surprisingly, sometimes belied his grave, dignified image and dished a little dirt.

Painting of L'Enfant

Allyn Cox’s rendition of L’Enfant in a Capitol mural (Architect of the Capitol)

In this case, he’s talking about Peter L’Enfant, who had earlier been hired to map out the new federal city. Washington then had to dismiss L’Enfant for insubordination when he refused to share his plan with city commissioners, who needed it to begin selling plots of land (and thereby raising funds to build the city).

By late 1792, when he composed the letter in question to city commissioner David Stuart, Washington hadn’t encountered L’Enfant’s equal in skill and imagination but also didn’t believe L’Enfant would have improved much in temper or political skill. Washington wanted work to continue apace on the federal city and thought L’Enfant was both the man for job and a lousy choice.

17th century letter from George Washington to David Stuart

Washington’s letter to Stuart (CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LTD.)

L’Enfant wasn’t asked back. Washington’s letter sold for at least $290,000 to DC native and developer Albert Small. Small’s collections will one day be donated to The George Washington University–including this letter.

The Washington Post discussed the letter in several platforms. For more on Washington, the city, and its layout, including L’Enfant’s work, try this National Park Service write-up.

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