Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Alexander Wolcott, 18 March 1803

From Alexander Wolcott

Middletown (Con) March 18. 1803


I have taken the liberty of detaining the letter of Mr Edwards that accompanies this, until I had an oportunity of conferring with Mr Kirby on the subject of letter. Mr Kirby’s letter will express to you his opinion on the same subject. I beg you to believe Sir, that any other man whose claims were equal, or nearly equal to those of my brother should, by me, have been prefered to him—but, all things considered, I feel myself compelled by reason, and justice, to unite with the other Gentlemen in recommending him for the office of Surveyor of the Port of Saybrook, in case a removal of the present Surveyor should be thought expedient.

In stating the circumstances which are thought to demand a removal, I will not dwell on the peculiar party bitterness of the present Surveyor, nor on the influence that his office gives him in his neighbourhood, (he having the distribution of certain subordinate employments which I shall presently explain,) nor on the influence, which he also derives from his office, over the minds of Master, and crews of vessels on board which he is employed—which class of men is, with us, by no means an unimportant one—and which influence has, as is universally understood, been exerted to the utmost, to excite prejudice, and discontent against the present administration of our general government. His removal would, on their accounts, be universally1 acceptable to republicans here. Another circumstance, which has lately come to my knowledge, I will take the liberty to state particularly, and at the same time, with as much brevity as I am able.

It has been the practice in this, as I presume it has in every other district, for the Collector to employ, under general appointments, such number of Inspectors, or Tidewaiters as he finds proportionate to the business of the district. It frequently happens however, that at certain periods, a greater number of vessels arrive, and consequently a greater number of Inspectors are required than have received this general appointment; in this case the Collector makes a special appointment for the occasion. Owing to the peculiar situation of this district, it has been found necessary to devolve this power of appointing these special Inspectors on some person residing at the mouth of Connecticut-River. It has hitherto been entrusted to the Surveyor of the Port of Saybrook. Now Sir, it appears that in some, and I have reason to believe that if it were thought necessary to investigate the business, it would turn out that, in all instances, he has made those appointments on the express condition that he should share, in a certain proportion, in the wages of the Inspector, and that some men, who have refused to enter into such stipulations, have, on that account, been refused the employment—that the proportion which the Surveyor has thus reserved to himself as he has himself declared, never been less [than] fifty cents, and sometimes as high as a dollar for each day that the Inspector has been employed.

The fact of his having received, in some instances, part of the wages of the Inspectors, can be proved by the oaths of the Inspectors themselves if required, indeed, so far as I can learn, it is a thing of public notoriety in his neighbourhood.

These facts I have thought it my duty to communicate, but it would not become me to super add any comments.

Have the goodness Sir, to accept assurances of my perfect respect

Alex Wolcott

RC (DNA: RG 59, LAR); torn; addressed: “His Excellency Thomas Jefferson President of the United States Washington”; endorsed by TJ as received 4 Apr. and “George Wolcott to be Surveyor of Saybrook vice Dickinson” and so recorded in SJL; also endorsed by TJ: “enquire of mr Granger.” Enclosure: Pierpont Edwards to TJ, 25 Feb.

Alexander Wolcott (1758–1828), son of Dr. Alexander and Mary Richards Wolcott, was born in Windsor, Connecticut. He graduated from Yale College in 1778 and studied and practiced law. In 1785, he married Frances Burbank and settled in Middletown. He served as a Republican leader in the Connecticut General Assembly from 1796 to 1801. After the election of 1800, he was one of the Connecticut Republicans the administration consulted on appointments, and, in July 1801 the president named him collector at Middletown, a position he held until his death. In that capacity, he endorsed and firmly enforced the Embargo Act of 1807. On 4 Feb. 1811, Madison nominated Wolcott as associate justice of the Supreme Court. Levi Lincoln, who had recently declined the appointment after being confirmed by the Senate, supported Wolcott, but the Senate rejected his nomination on 13 Feb. by a vote of 9 to 24. Federalists strongly opposed him because of his vigorous support of the embargo; several Republican senators agreed that he did not have the legal and judicial expertise required for the office. Wolcott remained in politics and participated in the 1818 state constitutional convention. In 1828, he was remembered as the “father and founder of the Jeffersonian school of politics” in Connecticut (Wolcott’s interim commission in NN: Lee Kohns Memorial Collection, dated 28 July 1801, signed by TJ and countersigned by Madison; Middletown American Sentinel, 2 July 1828; West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, 12 vols. [Minneapolis, 1998], 10:364–5; Madison, Papers, Pres. Ser. description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962- , 35 vols., Sec. of State Ser., 1986- , 9 vols., Pres. Ser., 1984- , 7 vols., Ret. Ser., 2009- , 2 vols. description ends , 3:57–8, 126–7, 165–6, 338–9; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States…to the Termination of the Nineteenth Congress, Washington, D.C., 1828, 3 vols. description ends , 2:165–7; Vol. 33:232, 588, 627; Vol. 34:94n, 130, 131n, 341–2; Vol. 35:486).

Ephraim kirby’s letter to TJ is dated 14 Mch.

1MS: “unversally.”

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