Observations on the River Potomack, the Country adjacent, and the City of Washington.

Author: Anonymous
Year: 1793
Edition: First edition
Publisher: New-York; Samuel Loudon and Son
Category: Americas


Modern marbled wrappers, new endpapers, 8vo., pp. 29, (3).
There are three stitch holes at the inner margin of every page resulting from the way it was bound before having been professionally rebound (somewhere in the 20th century) in the current wrappers.

A very clean copy with the paper in an excellent condition without browning, foxing, spotting, staining, tears or folds.

An exceptional rare first edition of this work. Published anonymously, but written by Col. Tobias Lear, secretary, friend and confidante to George Washington.
According to Howes the "First book on the nation's capital city."

Sabin describes this work three times in his Dictionary of books relating to America, viz:

[ELLICOTT.] Observations on the River Potomack, the
Country Adjacent, and the City of Washington. New York.
1794. 8vo, pp. 30.                                                      
H. 22218


[LEAR (Tobias).] Observations on the River Potomack, ...
and the City of Washington. New-York: Printed by Loudon and
Brower. 1794. 12mo, pp. 30.                                            

Also: Letter from the Secretary of State, enclosing his Report on the Memorial of
Tobias Lear ... 25th January, 1803. ... Washington City: Printed by William Duane &
Son. 1803. 8vo, pp. 16. H.


Observations on the River Potomack, and (sic!) the Country Adja-
cent, and the City of Washington. New-York: Printed by Samuel
Loudon and Son, No. 5, Water-street. 1793. 8vo, pp. 29.
C., M., P. 101944

For a 1794 edition and a Dutch translation, see the author, [Lear (Tobias)], no.
39533, vol. 10, AAS., BA., C., H., NYH., NYP., and Potomac, no. 64584, vol. 15, BM.,
C. Add to the collation of the 1794 edition frontispiece folded plan.
Reprinted in “The New-York Magazine,” vol. 5, 1794, pp. 210--215, 268--274,
and, with a facsimile of the 1793 title page, in Columbia Hist. Soc. “Records,” vol. 8,
1905, pp. 115--140. According to an editorial note in the latter, the work “has some-
times been attributed to Andrew Ellicott, but Lear’s authorship is clearly proven by a
letter from Washington to him, dated November 6, 1793, and preserved in the
Library of Congress.”


The above mentioned no. 64584 refers to Sabins description of a Dutch edition: "POTOMAC. Beschryving der Rivier Potomack en de Stad Washington, in Noord-Amerika ... Amsterdam, by H. de Vries. [1799?] 12mo, pp. 32."
As can be read under entry 101944 the 1794 second edition should have a folding map. The Library of Congress refers to a copy of this map in the New-York Public Library. On an information slip at the bottom of that map someone has written: From "Observations on the River Potomack, the country adjacent, and the city of Washington," (by Tobias Lear) 1793.

The letters C, H, M and P in Sabins description stand for the libraries that held copies of the books he found/described:

C = Library of Congress
H = Harvard College Library
M = Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston
P = Library Company of Philadelphia

Of the three copies of this first edition in the possession of the Library of Congress, one copy has this map as well, as one of their librarians kindly informed us. By far most copies, however, both of the first - and of the second edition, lack the map.

This first edition is extremely rare. ABPC and RBH together only show two auction records of a 1794 edition, the oldest one being from 1944 and both lacking the map as well (see record here right below). There are no auction records for a 1793 first edition.

AE source record 14BA01-183:
[PAMPHLETS - LEAR, TOBIAS] Observations on the River Potomack, the Country Adjacent, and the City of Washington. New York: Loudon and Brower, 1794. Likely the 2nd edition. Disbound. 7 1/4 x 4 1/2 inches (18 x 11.5 cm); 30 pp. Stamps and ink marks to title, dampstain to final leaves. This early work on the Potomac River and the new Federal City of Washington is often misattributed to Andrew Ellicott, who in 1791 had surveyed the Territory of Columbia. It is identified as being by Lear in his November 1793 correspondence with George Washington regarding his work. While Sabin does not call for a map, the work is sometimes recorded as having a folding plan, which is not present in this copy. Sabin 22218.

From the 1905
Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, D.C. Vol. 8, pp. 115-140: "The little book herewith reprinted was issued anonymously (29 pp., 12mo, New-York, 1793) and is believed to be the earliest separate monograph relating to the District of Columbia and the Potomac River."

Howes L166, Sabin 101944.

Tobias Lear for most people is a rather unknown person. He was born in Portsmouth, NH and served as the executive secretary to George Washington from 1786 to 1799. He had an intimate relationship with Washington and his family and an accurate account of Washington's death and final words can be found in his diary as he was present at Washington's deathbed.

Janice Brown of New Hampshire's History blog wrote an article about him. Please follow the link below to read it.

Link: http://www.cowhampshireblog.com/2007/03/04/portsmouth-new-ha...

Click on a picture to enlarge.