Colonial Hall -- Biographies of America's Founding Fathers

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John Jay


Among the many thousands of the Huguenots of France who fled to England and America toward the close of the seventeenth century, to escape fiery persecutions, was Augustus Jay, a young merchant. He landed at Charleston, in South Carolina, but soon proceeded northward, and settled in the city of New York. There he married the daughter of Balthazar Bayard, one of the refugees who came with the New Rochelle colony.1 These were the grand-parents of John Jay, the venerated American patriot and statesman. He was born in the city of New York, on the 12th of December, 1745. At eight years of age he was placed in a boarding school at New Rochelle, and at fourteen he entered King's (now Columbia) College, as a student. He was an apt scholar, and gave early promises of his subsequent brilliant career. He was graduated in 1764, bearing the highest honors of the college, and commenced the study of law under Benjamin Kissam. He was admitted to the bar in 1768, and ascended rapidly to eminence in his profession. In 1774, he was married to the daughter of that sturdy patriot, William Livingston (afterward governor of New Jersey), and entered the political field, with great ardor, as the champion of popular rights. He was one of the most prominent members of the New York committee of correspondence, in the Spring of 1774, and in September following, he took u seat in the first Continental Congress. He was the youngest member of that body, being less than twenty-nine years of age, and he was the latest survivor. His genius as a statesman was exhibited in the Address to the People of Great Britain, put forth by Congress. Jefferson, ignorant of its authorship, said, "It is the production of the finest pen in America." From that time Mr. Jay wan identified with most of the important civil measures in his native State; and he also performed much duty in the Continental Congress, until the Summer of 1776, when all his energies were devoted to public business in New York. With tongue, pen, and hand, he was indefatigable; and as a member of the convention at Kingston, in the Spring of 1777, he was chosen to draft a State Constitution. Under that instrument he was appointed chief justice of New York, and held his first term at Kingston, in September, 1777. He was an efficient member of the Council of Safety, appointed to act in place of the legislature, when not in session. In the Autumn of 1778, he was again elected to Congress, and three days after taking his seat there, he was chosen its president, He filled the chair with dignity and vigor, until September, 1779, when he was appointed minister to Spain to obtain the acknowledgment of the independence of the United States, to form a treaty of alliance, and to borrow money. We cannot even refer to his numerous and efficient diplomatic services from that time until 1782, when he was appointed one of the commissioners for negotiating a peace with Great Britain. In all of them he exhibited consummate skill nil statesmanship; and to his vigilance we are indebted for advantages obtained by the treaty, of which the artful French minister attempted to deprive us. He signed the preliminary treaty, in November, 1782, with Adams, Franklin, and Laurens, and the following year he affixed his signature to the definitive treaty.

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Last modified December 24, 2004