Thomas Jefferson Papers

John Wickham to Thomas Jefferson, 16 May 1810

From John Wickham

Richmond 16th May 1810—


Having been called on this day, unexpectedly and without any previous Intimation, to institute an action in the Federal Court against You in Behalf of Mr Edward Livingston, and being specially instructed to have the process returnable to the next Term which commences on the 22d Inst., I have this Day put the process into the Hands of the marshal.—

From motives of respect I should have delayed taking out the writ until I had first written to You on the Subject, but the near approach of the Fedl Court left me no Option;—& had the Transaction to which the writ relates been of a private nature, instead of delivering the writ to the marshal I should have sent it under cover to You with a request that You would indorse an acknowledgement of Service, but doubting whether on such an occasion You would not deem it more proper that the process should be regularly executed, I have thought myself not at Liberty to take that Course—

As in the progress of the Business You may have occasion to give Notice, or make some other communication to the Counsel for the plf, it may not be superfluous to add that as yet I have not engaged in the Cause, & am uncertain whether I shall, though from the Time and manner in which I was instructed to take out process, I could not decline proceeding thus far—

I trust this Communication will be received as it is intended as a mark of the high respect with which I am

Sir, Your obedient Servant

Jno Wickham

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr”; endorsed by TJ as received 18 May 1810 and so recorded in SJL.

John Wickham (1763–1839), attorney, was deported back to his native New York by TJ as governor in 1780 when he came to Virginia from that British-occupied city without the proper credentials and aroused doubts about his loyalty to the American cause. He later returned, studied law under George Wythe at the College of William and Mary, and practiced in Williamsburg and Richmond. Wickham achieved prominence in his profession. He defeated his friend John Marshall in Ware v. Hylton (1793), the case that reopened Virginia courts to British creditors seeking to collect prewar debts, and he served as a defense attorney in Aaron Burr’s treason trial in 1807. Wickham served as TJ’s counsel in the suit of the Wayles executors against the estate of Richard Randolph late in the 1790s, although he represented TJ’s British creditors in other cases relating to the Wayles estate (DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 31 vols. description ends , 4:220–1, 29:166–7, 217–8, 30:459, 467–70; Richmond Whig & Public Advertiser, 25 Jan. 1839).

The legal action against TJ arising out of federal seizure of the Batture Sainte Marie at New Orleans in 1807 began with a writ witnessed by Chief Justice John Marshall and signed by clerk William Marshall at Richmond on 15 May 1810, commanding Joseph Scott, the United States marshal for the Virginia district, “to take Thomas Jefferson a citizen of Virginia if he be found within your District, and him safely keep, so that you have his body before the Judges of the Court of the United States, for the fifth Circuit, in the Virginia District, at the City of Richmond, on the 22nd day of this month <next> to answer Edward Livingston a citizen of the State of New York of a plea of Trespass on the case, Damage One hundred thousand dollars” (MS in Vi: USCC-LJ; printed form with blanks filled by William Marshall; with notation on verso recording payment of fees of $2 for serving the writ and an eighty-mile travel allowance of $4; endorsement reads in part: “For a trespass, No bail required”).

Index Entries

  • Batture Sainte Marie, controversy over; lawsuit brought against TJ search
  • Marshall, John; and batture controversy search
  • Marshall, William; circuit court clerk search
  • Scott, Joseph; and batture controversy search
  • United States Circuit Court, Virginia District; and batture controversy search
  • Wickham, John; and batture controversy search
  • Wickham, John; identified search
  • Wickham, John; letters from search