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Chief Justice John Jay

Chief Justice John Jay

Male 1745 - 1829  (83 years)

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  • Name John Jay 
    Prefix Chief Justice 
    Born 12 Dec 1745  New York, New York Co., NY Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Gender Male 
    Died 17 May 1829 
    • 001.html

      JOHN JAY was born on December 12, 1745, in New York, New York, and grew up in Rye, New York. He was graduated from King’s College (Now Columbia University) in 1764. He read law in a New York law firm and was admitted to the bar in 1768. Jay served as a delegate to both the First and Second Continental Congresses, and was elected President of the Continental Congress in 1778. He also served in the New York State militia. In 1779, Jay was sent on a diplomatic mission to Spain in an effort to gain recognition and economic assistance for the United States. In 1783, he helped to negotiate the Treaty of Paris, which marked the end of the Revolutionary War. Jay favored a stronger union and contributed five essays to The Federalist Papers in support of the new Constitution. President George Washington nominated Jay the first Chief Justice of the United States on September 24, 1789. The Senate confirmed the appointment on September 26, 1789. In April 1794, Jay negotiated a treaty with Great Britain, which became known as the Jay Treaty. After serving as Chief Justice for five years, Jay resigned from the Supreme Court on June 29, 1795, and became Governor of New York. He declined a second appointment as Chief Justice in 1800, and President John Adams then nominated John Marshall for the position, Jay died on May 17, 1829, at the age of eighty-three.

      John Jay (1745-1829)
      Representing New York at the Continental Congress
      Born: December 12, 1745 in: New York City, New York
      Education: King's (Columbia) College (Lawyer, Judge)
      Work: Member of the New York Committee of Correspondence, 1774; Delegate to the Continental Congress, 1774-76; Member of the New York Constitutional Convention, First Chief Justice of New York, 1777; Delegate & elected President of Continental Congress, 1778; Minister to Spain, 1779, Minister to treat the peace with Great Britain, 1782; Secretary of Foreign Affairs, 1784; Contributor to The Federalist, 1788; First Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789; Negotiator of Jay Treaty with Great Britain, 1794; Elected Governor of New York, 1797-1801.
      Died: May 17, 1829.

      John Jay showed promise of an extraordinary life at a very young age indeed. He attended an exclusive boarding school in New Rochelle, New York at age eight, and proceeded to King's College (now Columbia University) at age fourteen. He graduated with highest honors in 1764 and proceeded to the study of law under Benjamin Kissam. He was admitted to the Bar of New York in 1768. In early 1774 he was one of the most prominent members of the New York Committee of Correspondence.

      In September of that year he attended the First Continental Congress as the second youngest member*, at age twenty eight. His authorship of the Address to the People of Great Britain, published by the first Continental Congress perhaps belied his resolute opinion for reconciliation with Gr. Britain. He retired from the Congress in 1776 rather than sign the Declaration of Independence. He became deeply involved in the development of a new state government for New York. In 1777 he attended the New York constitutional convention, and was selected to draft that constitution. He then served a the first Chief Justice of the state. He also served as a member of the state Council of Safety, acting as the sole council when the Legislature was not in session. He was again elected to the Continental Congress in 1778 and was voted president of that body upon arrival.

      In 1779 Jay was appointed Minister to Spain in order to seek recognition of Colonial Independence, financial aid, and commercial treaties. In 1782 Jay, along with Adams, Franklin, and Laurens signed the treaty of peace with Great Britain. When he returned to Congress, he had already been appointed Secretary of Foreign Affairs.

      In 1787 Jay authored three of the articles now collectively called The Federalist, in which he, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton argued effectively in support of the ratification of the new Federal Constitution. In 1789, Washington appointed him Chief Justice to the Supreme Court under the new federal constitution. In 1794 he was appointed an envoy extraordinary to Great Britain, in order to seek a resolution to continuing conflicts on the western border, and in commercial relations. The result of this was the Jay Treaty, which proved very unpopular with the public, but was nonetheless approved of by the Washington administration. Upon his return home Jay found that, in his absence, he had been elected Governor of New York. Fellow Federalist Alexander Hamilton had secured his election in an effort to strengthen the party in New York. Jay withstood a great deal of party maneuvering and political trickery, earning respect form his friends and enemies alike. He was a very popular Governor who fought for many political reforms including judicial reform, penal reform and the abolition of slavery. He undertook extensive road and canal projects to improve the economy of his state. He retired from public life in 1801. President John Adams tried to appoint him to the Supreme Court again that year, but owing to the illness of his wife, Jay declined the office. Jay died on May 17, 1829 having survived his wife and both of his partners in The Federalist.

      John Jay's long and eventful life, from 1745 to 1829, encompassed the movement for American independence and the creation of a new nation — both processes in which he played a full part. His achievements were many, varied and of key importance in the birth and early years of the fledgling nation.   Although he did not initially favor separation from Britain, he was nonetheless among the American commissioners who negotiated the peace with Great Britain that secured independence for the former colonies.  Serving the new republic he was Secretary for Foreign Affairs under the Articles of Confederation, a contributor to the Federalist, the first Chief Justice of the United States, negotiator of the 1794 "Jay Treaty" with Great Britain, and a two-term Governor of the State of New York.  In his personal life, Jay embraced a wide range of social and cultural concerns.

      His paternal grandfather, Augustus (1665-1751), established the Jay family's presence in America.   Unable to remain in France when the rights of Protestants were abolished by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, Augustus eventually settled in New York where, with an advantageous marriage and a thriving mercantile business, he established a strong foundation for his descendants. His son Peter, like Augustus a merchant, had ten children with his wife Mary Van Cortlandt, seven of them surviving into adulthood.   John was the sixth of these seven. Shortly after John's birth, his family moved from Manhattan to Rye in order to provide a more salubrious environment for the raising of John's elder siblings, two of whom had been struck by blindness following the smallpox epidemic of 1739 and two others of whom suffered from mental handicaps.

      Educated in his early years by private tutors, Jay entered the newly-founded King's College, the future Columbia University, in the late summer of 1760.   There, he underwent the conventional classical education, graduating in 1764, when he became a law clerk in the office of Benjamin Kissam.   On admission to the bar in 1768 Jay established a legal practice with Robert R. Livingston, Jr., scion of the "Lower Manor" branch of the Livingston family, before operating his own law office from 1771.   Among other tasks during these years, Jay served as clerk of the New York-New Jersey Boundary Commission.

      In the spring of 1774, Jay's life took two momentous turns.  In April he married Sarah Livingston (1756-1802), the daughter of New Jersey Governor William Livingston, thus gaining important connections to a politically powerful Colonial family. In May he was swept into New York politics, largely as a result of the worsening relations with Great Britain.  New York conservatives, seeking to outmaneuver more radical responses to the Intolerable Acts, nominated a "committee of 50," including Jay, to arrange the election of delegates to a Continental Congress. Throughout the revolutionary struggle, Jay followed a course of moderation, separating himself clearly from loyalists but resisting what he considered the extremism of more radical politicians.   Thus, in the months before Independence he favored exploring the possibilities of rapprochement fully, helping to draft the Olive Branch Petition as a delegate to the second Continental Congress.   As a delegate to the New York Convention of 1776-77, Jay had a formative influence in shaping the new state's constitution.   Jay remained an important actor at the state level, becoming the Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court before moving to the national arena to assume the Presidency of Congress in late 1778.

      The fall of 1779 found Jay selected for a mission to Spain, where he spent a frustrating three years seeking diplomatic recognition, financial support and a treaty of alliance and commerce.   He was to spend the next four years abroad in his nation's service both as commissioner to Spain and then in Paris, where he was a member of the American delegation that negotiated the peace terms ending America's War of Independence with Britain.   This process culminated with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in September 1783.
      He returned to the United States in July, 1784 to discover that he had, in his absence, been elected Secretary for Foreign Affairs.   In that role he was confronted by difficult issues stemming from violations of the Treaty of Paris by both countries — issues that he would later revisit in negotiations with Britain in 1794 and which would be addressed again in the resulting "Jay Treaty."   Beyond his dealings with Great Britain, Jay succeeded in having the French accept a revised version of the Consular Convention that Franklin had earlier negotiated; he attempted to negotiate a treaty with Spain in which commercial benefits would have been exchanged for a renunciation of American access to the Mississippi for a number of years; and he endeavored, with limited resources, to secure the freedom of Americans captured and held for ransom in Algiers by so-called Barbary pirates.   The frustrations he suffered as Secretary for Foreign Affairs, a post he held until 1789, clearly impressed upon him the need to construct a government more powerful than that under the Articles of Confederation.   Though not selected to attend the Philadelphia Convention, he was a leading proponent of the principles that the new Constitution embodied and played a critical role in its ratification.

      In 1787 and 1788 Jay collaborated with Alexander Hamilton and James Madison on the Federalist, authoring essays numbers two, three, four, five and, following an illness, sixty-four, thus contributing to the political arguments and intellectual discourse that led to Constitution's ratification.   Jay also played a key role in shepherding the Constitution through the New York State Ratification Convention in the face of vigorous opposition.   In this battle Jay relied not only on skillful political maneuvering, he also produced a pamphlet, "An Address to the People of New York," that powerfully restated the Federalist case for the new Constitution.

      In 1789, Washington appointed John Jay Chief Justice of the new Supreme Court.   Though none too pleased with the rigors of riding circuit, Jay used his position to expound upon the inviolability of contracts whether in the supportive climate of New England or the hostile environment of Virginia. He was always a committed nationalist, and indeed the opinion he rendered in Chisholm v. Georgia provoked the adoption of the states rights-oriented Eleventh Amendment.  Throughout his time on the bench, Jay was an outspoken presence in national politics, actively interceding, for example, in the Genet affair of 1793.

      In April of 1794 Washington selected John Jay to negotiate a treaty with Great Britain aimed at resolving outstanding issues between the two nations.   The resulting "Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation," commonly referred to as the "Jay Treaty," was extremely controversial. Critics charged that it failed to address British impressment of American sailors or provide compensation for those slaves that the British had taken with them during the Revolutionary war. The Treaty's unpopularity played a significant role in the development of an organized opposition to the Federalists.

      On his return from London in 1795, Jay discovered that, in his absence, he had been elected the new Governor of New York, a position that he had sought three years earlier only to be frustrated, in controversial circumstances, by the incumbent, George Clinton.   During his two terms as governor, Jay confronted issues ranging from Indian affairs, to the fortification of the city's harbor in advance of a suspected French attack, to the construction of a new state prison.

      On his retirement from public life in 1801, Jay maintained a close interest in state and national affairs, evidenced in his correspondence with his sons, Peter Augustus, who was active in local Federalist political circles, and William, who, among other things, became an outspoken abolitionist.  In his retirement Jay also pursued a number of intellectual and benevolent interests, becoming President of the American Bible Society, maintaining an interest in the anti-slavery movement and keeping up a correspondence with agricultural reformers about latest developments in that field.

      Jay died on May 17, 1829, at the age of 83.  His longevity enabled biographers and early historians of the founding era to draw directly upon his personal recollections of the people and events of the early years of the nation.  In his later years, Jay's own correspondence with various members of the founding generation revealed a keen interest in ensuring an accurate appraisal of his own role in the momentous events of that time.

      Copyright © 2002 Columbia University
    Person ID I53111  Stedman/Steadman/Steedman Families of the New World
    Last Modified 7 Jan 2006 

    Family Sarah Van Brugh Livingston,   b. 2 Aug 1756,   d. 28 May 1802, Bedford, Westchester Co., NY Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 45 years) 
    Married Apr 1774 
     1. Peter Augustus Jay,   b. 24 Jan 1776, Elizabethtown, Union Co., NJ Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 20 Feb 1843, New York, New York Co., NY Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 67 years)
     2. William Jay,   b. 16 Jun 1789, New York, New York Co., NY Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 17 May 1859, Bedford, Westchester Co., NY Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 69 years)
    Last Modified 7 Jan 2006 
    Family ID F19586  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

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