[WASHINGTON, D.C.] GREENLEAF, James (1765-1843), .S. consul to Amsterdam. Printed document signed, "Plan eener Negotiatie...Ten Comptoire van de Heeren Rocquette, Elzevier en Beeldemaker, te Rootterdam, Voor rekeening van den Wel-Ed. Heer James Greenleaf" [Scheme of a Negotiation...at the Offices of Messrs. Rocquette, Elsevier and Beeldemaker, at Rotterdam, for the Account of the Right Honourable James Greenleaf] Rotterdam, 15 December 1794. 4 pages, folio.
THE NEW FEDERAL CITY AS A TARGET FOR LAND SPECULATORS: A RARE DUTCH LOAN CERTIFICATE FOR PRIME D.C. LOTS
Hamilton and Jefferson having struck their deal to move the nation's capital from iniquitous New York to virtuous Virginia, it fell to President Washington to oversee the construction of the new Federal City. He appointed Pierre L'Enfant to draw up the architectural plan, and named three trusted friends to serve as commissioners to supervise the sale and development of property lots: Daniel Carroll, Thomas Johnson and David Stuart. Onto this wide open field of opportunity stepped James Greenleaf in 1793, a young Bostonian, cousin (by marriage) of John Adams. Greenleaf used his friendship with presidential secretary Tobias Lear to win the confidence of Washington, who in turn convinced the commissioners to sell Greenleaf 3,000 lots. Greenleaf paid with a promise instead of cash: he would give the commissioners $12,000 a year for seven years, and he backed that commitment with boasts of a million-dollar line of credit available to him for the asking in Holland. Such prospects no doubt played a key part in Washington's decision to appoint him the American consul to Amsterdam in October 1793.
This loan was the best Greenleaf could do--a million guilders instead of dollars (equivalent to $400,000). The lots here listed as collateral include some of the prime real estate of present-day Washington: Lots 680-682 are home to Union Station Plaza and Columbus Circle; Lot 725 is where the Hart Senate Office Building stands; and the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress now covers Lot 730. Washington told Lear in September 1793 that Greenleaf "has dipped deeply in the concerns of the Federal City...on very advantageous terms for himself," but the President hoped such speculation would bring needed cash to the city's treasury (Works, 33:105). In December 1793 Greenleaf bought another 3,000 lots in league with Declaration signer Robert Morris and John Nicholson, who were together trying to build a real estate empire on the western frontier. Washington's "repugnance was greater" towards this second sale since Greenleaf "was speculating deeply...thereby laying the foundation of immense profit to himself and those with whom he was concerned." (Works, 34: 79-80)
Greenleaf's pyramidal schemes were crumbling by late 1795, and Washington was calling the Bostonian's contract with the Commissioners "an unproductive and a disagreeable spectacle." (Works, 34: 305) In September 1795, as our document indicates, the Dutch bankers scaled back their loan to a $60,000 mortgage on 250 lots, and packaged it to Dutch investors. Our instrument is one of only 150 shares offered, and investors could present the coupon included here to receive payment at the bank's offices. Few likely did so, since Greenleaf's many creditors threw him into debtor's prison. The debacle convinced Washington and the commissioners that Congress, and not speculators, had to finance the city's construction. Greenleaf died in 1842, but the litigation over his holdings long outlived him. The last action concerning his tangled deals was not concluded until 1857.
Dutch banking documents concerning early Washington D.C. are extremely rare. One copy recorded in Library of Congress.