George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Samuel Witham Stockton, 20 August 1790

From Samuel Witham Stockton

Trenton (New Jersey) Augt 20.1 1790


The necessity of the information contained in this letter, on my part will I hope apologize to your Excellency for the liberty I now take of addressing you.

You have probably received from the Attorney General, official information of the death of that worthy citizen David Brearley Esquire, by which event, the office of Judge of the District Court for this State became vacant;2 and however painful it may be for me, yet as there will be possibly other names mentioned,3 it may be proper to signify to you, Sir, in writing, my inclination to accept of and do the duties of that office, should Your Excellency think proper to appoint me thereto. It may be perhaps necessary to add, that I have been for many years, and still am in the profession and practice of the Law.4 I have the honour to be with the highest respect, Your Excellency’s most obedient Servant

Saml W. Stockton


Samuel Witham Stockton (1751–1795) received the A.M. degree from the College of New Jersey (Princeton) in 1770 and practiced law in New Jersey before traveling to England in 1775. He served as secretary to William Lee, American commissioner to the courts of Prussia and Austria, from 1777 or 1778 to 1779, when he returned to America, settling in Trenton. In 1787 he served as secretary to the New Jersey convention that ratified the federal Constitution, and later he lobbied unsuccessfully for the post of clerk to the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1790 he was the prothonotary for Hunterdon County and a master in the state chancery court (Princetonians, 1748–1768, description begins James McLachlan et al., eds. Princetonians, 1748–1794: A Biographical Dictionary. 5 vols. Princeton, N.J., 1976–91. description ends 7–8, 622–26). On 20 Aug. 1790 Stockton’s father-in-law John Cox wrote GW from Bloomsbury, N.J., recommending Stockton for the vacant judgeship (DLC:GW). Stockton most likely personally presented to GW that letter and a 25 Aug. 1790 recommendation from Sen. William Paterson (DLC:GW).

1A duplicate copy of this letter, dated 23 Aug. 1790, is also in DLC:GW and was probably hand delivered to GW by the applicant.

2On 17 Aug. 1790 Richard Stockton, the district attorney for New Jersey and Stockton’s nephew, wrote from Princeton to inform Tobias Lear of New Jersey district court judge David Brearly’s death the previous day and mentioned that “There are some prosecutions now depending in the district Court, and others which must be immediately commenced at the suit of the United States” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

3For other applicants for the vacancy, see William Paterson to GW, 23 Aug. 1790.

4GW appointed Robert Morris, whom Paterson also recommended for Brearly’s post, and not Stockton to the vacant judgeship (Paterson to GW, 23 Aug. 1790; DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972—. description ends 2:99–100).

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