Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Abraham Bishop, 16 August 1803

From Abraham Bishop

District & port of Newhaven
augst. 16: 1803.


On the 7. instant my respected father, the late Collector of this district, deceased, by which event the duties of his office have devolved on me as his deputy.

Sickness in the family, which has terminated the life of my only brother and threatened that of my only child, has delayed for a few days my giving notice of the Vacancy in this district.

I am desirous of being appointed to succeed my father, provided such appointment shall be consistent with the harmony of the district, the interests of the revenue and the united wishes of the republicans in this State, all which would, I presume, be expressed, were I able to apply for them.

Confidence in the wisdom of the present administration persuades me to repose my own best interests & hopes, where the best interests & hopes of my country have found a faithful deposit.

I have the honor to be, with perfect respect Yr. excellencys. obedient Servant

Abm Bishop

RC (DNA: RG 59, LAR); at head of text: “To the President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 22 Aug. and “to be Collector New haven v. S. Bishop decd.” and so recorded in SJL.

Abraham Bishop (1763-1844), eldest son of New Haven collector Samuel and Mehetabel Bassett Bishop, graduated from Yale in 1778, at the age of 15. Seven years later he was admitted to the bar. He spent much of 1787 and 1788 traveling in Europe. Shortly after returning to New Haven, he delivered an address and a lecture critical of the new U.S. Constitution. Bishop believed in the importance of general education for a republican citizenry. He introduced the graded classroom in New Haven and in 1791 moved to Boston, where he taught, delivered lectures, and frequently wrote articles for the new newspaper, the Boston Argus, using the pseudonym “John Paul Martin.” He advocated female education and more public funding for schools. By 1794, Bishop had returned to New Haven, where he remained the rest of his life. Through his father’s influence, he became clerk of the county court in 1795, the probate court in 1796, and the superior court in 1798. The first two positions he held until 1800, the superior court clerkship until 1801. He worked with leading Connecticut Republicans in the fall of 1800 to develop a campaign strategy. An accomplished speaker, Bishop used an invitation to give the annual Phi Beta Kappa Society address to deliver an attack on the Federalist political and religious establishment in Connecticut. The oration, which, at the last moment, he was barred from delivering at Yale, went through seven editions as Connecticut Republicanism: An Oration, on the Extent and Power of Political Delusion, and extracts were printed in newspapers from Vermont to North Carolina. In late November 1800, TJ awaited the arrival of the pamphlet in Washington, noting “it is making wonderful progress, and is said to be the best Anti-republican eye-water which has ever yet appeared.” When, at the urging of Connecticut Republicans, TJ appointed Samuel Bishop collector at New Haven in 1801, Federalists considered it a reward for his son’s campaign efforts. In 1802, TJ awaited the arrival of another Bishop pamphlet. This one, entitled Proofs of a Conspiracy, Against Christianity, and the Government of the United States; Exhibited in Several Views of the Union of Church and State in New-England, again attacked the alliance of church and state. After he succeeded his father as collector in 1803, Bishop continued as a political organizer—writing letters, distributing pamphlets, organizing and publicizing Republican festivals. He remained in office until removed by President Andrew Jackson in 1829 (David Waldstreicher and Stephen R. Grossbart, “Abraham Bishop’s Vocation; or, the Mediation of Jeffersonian Politics,” Journal of the Early Republic, 18 [1998], 617-57; Noble E. Cunningham, Jr., The Jeffersonian Republicans: The Formation of Party Organization, 1789-1801 [Chapel Hill, 1957], 208-10; ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928-36, 20 vols. description ends ; Franklin Bowditch Dexter, “Abraham Bishop, of Connecticut, and his Writings,” Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 2d ser., 19 [1905], 190-9; Vol. 15:485; Vol. 32:263; Vol. 33:590, 627; Vol. 38:310-11).

my only brother: in early August, newpapers reported the death of John Bishop at New Haven. He was 36 years old (New Haven Connecticut Journal, 4 Aug.; Newburyport Herald, 12 Aug. 1803).

my only child: Mary Ann Bishop, daughter from Abraham Bishop’s first marriage to Nancy Dexter of Newburyport, Massachusetts, in 1792, which ended in divorce in 1800. By 1803, Bishop was married to Betsey Law of Cheshire, Connecticut, but their first child was not born until 1804 (Donald Lines Jacobus, comp., Families of Ancient New Haven, 3 vols. [Baltimore, 1981], 1:204, 209; Dexter, Yale description begins Franklin Bowditch Dexter, Biographical Sketches of the Graduates of Yale College with Annals of the College History, New York, 1885-1912, 6 vols. description ends , 4:18-19).

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