Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from William Kilty, 23 March 1801

From William Kilty

Washington Rhodes’s Hotel
March 23d. 1801


I had the Honour of receiving your letter of the 20th. proposing to me the office of Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of the district of Washington; but it did not reach me till yesterday at one oclock, being forwarded by express from Annapolis to Charles County where I was attending Court.

I avail myself of the earliest occasion to make you my respectful acknowledgement for the offer of the appointment and to Signify my Willingness to accept it

At the same time I must express my diffidence in entering on an office the duties of which appear to be of an arduous, and I may say, of a Novel Nature; and I can only pledge my endeavours for the performance of them

My Business at the Court in Charles County was not entirely finished, but as it appeared essential that I should attend here to day I Set out immediately on the arrival of the express

I shall wait your further Commands at this place, and shall pay my respects to you in Person before I leave the City

I have written this letter in some haste as the Court is to Sit so soon, and I have addressed it to you directly, instead of Sending it thro the Medium of the Secretary of State in pursuance of the Manner in which the notification was addressed to me

I am Sir with Great Consideration and respect Your obedient Servant

William Kilty

RC (CSmH); at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr”; endorsed by TJ as received 23 Mch. and so recorded in SJL.

Born in London, William Kilty (1757–1821) came to Maryland with his family shortly before the American Revolution. He served as an army surgeon during the war and was one of the founders of the Society of the Cincinnati. He studied law and entered the Maryland bar. In Annapolis in 1799 he began publication of his multivolume The Laws of Maryland (see Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends No. 2171). In 1801 the twovolume edition of the Maryland laws was advertised as having “been prepared with great labour, and distinguished accuracy and ability.” Kilty served as chief judge of the Washington circuit court until 1806 when he resigned to become chancellor of Maryland, the position he held until his death (Papenfuse, Maryland Legislature, description begins Edward C. Papenfuse, Alan F. Day, David W. Jordan, Gregory A. Stiverson, eds., A Biographical Dictionary of the Maryland Legislature, 1635–1789, Baltimore, 1979–85, 2 vols. description ends 2:510; Maryland Gazette, 23 Apr. 1801; Kilty to [James Madison], 27 Jan. 1806, in DNA: RG 59, RD).

On Friday, 20 Mch. 1801, TJ wrote William Kilty offering him the office of chief judge of the circuit court at Washington, a position left unfilled when Thomas Johnson declined it. TJ noted that Kilty already knew the “emoluments” of the office as provided by law and hoped that he could be induced “to accept the appointment.” Observing that the first court was “to be held here on Monday next,” TJ requested that if Kilty agreed to serve he should arrive in Washington on the 22d for preparation of his commission (PrC in DLC; faint and blurred; at foot of text: “William Kelty esquire”).

Court is to sit so soon: on Monday, 23 Mch., the National Intelligencer reported that the newly organized district court had met that day with Kilty presiding as chief judge.

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