Thomas Jefferson Papers
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I. Certificate of William Marshall, 10 October 1796

I. Certificate of William Marshall

I William Marshall Clerk of the Court of the United States for the Middle Circuit in the Virginia District do hereby Certify, that there are no suits instituted in this Court against Mr. Jefferson except in the character of an executor, which are as follow: “John Wayles’ executors” Francis Eppes, Thomas Jefferson and Henry Skipwith1 executors of John Wayles deceased two suits, and Osgood Hanbury’s Executor against the same, Given under my hand this 10th. of October 1796.

William Marshall Clk

MS (DLC), entirely in Marshall’s hand; on verso, in another hand, perhaps William Burwell’s: “No. 6th.”

William Marshall (1767–1816), a younger brother of John Marshall, established a successful law practice in Richmond and served as clerk of the United States circuit and district courts for Virginia (Marshall, Papers, description begins Herbert A. Johnson, Charles T. Cullen, Charles F. Hobson, and others, eds., The Papers of John Marshall, Chapel Hill, 1974–2006, 12 vols. description ends i, 334, vii, 174, viii, 137; DHSC description begins Maeva Marcus and others, eds., The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States 1789–1800, New York, 1985–2007, 8 vols. description ends , v, 319).

While it is not clear who requested this certificate or how it came to be in TJ’s papers, the subject of TJ’s debts appeared in printed form in September 1796 when “A Freeholder” from James City County challenged Richmond Federalist John Mayo’s decision to vote for TJ as president if chosen elector. “Freeholder” had heard TJ was indebted on account of obligations that his late father-in-law had contracted prior to the Revolution. He asked, “Do you think that any man considerably indebted to the subjects of a foreign nation, ought to be President?” On 14 Oct. Mayo dismissed the accusation as a “palpable error.” He added that even if the charge were just, he was certain that Jefferson would not “swerve from the strictest line of his duty as a public magistrate” (Richmond Virginia Gazette, and General Advertiser, 19 Oct. 1796; Columbian Mirror and Alexandria Gazette, 27 Oct. 1796). Although Brent had not taken up the question of TJ’s financial affairs in his 17 Oct. address to the electorate, he was concerned enough about the issue to request information from Stevens T. Mason about a conversation reported to have taken place between his brother John T. Mason and John Marshall. Stevens T. Mason’s response from Alexandria on 25 Oct. is found in TJ’s papers (RC in DLC; on address cover: “No. 11th.”). According to the account, Benjamin Stoddert, a Georgetown businessman who was chosen to head the Navy Department upon its creation in 1798, asserted in the presence of John T. Mason and John Mason, a cousin, that TJ was “sued in the federal Court of Virginia for British debts to a greater amount than his whole estate.” When the Masons expressed their doubts concerning the veracity of the statement, Stoddert replied that the information had come from “Colo. Deakins who had it from Genl. Henry Lee of Virginia who said he had received his information from Genl. Marshall the Lawyer who had brought the suits against Mr. Jefferson.” John T. Mason, who soon expected to see John Marshall at the Winchester District Court, was assigned the task of inquiring “into the truth of the tale.” Marshall confirmed that “he had never brought or prosecuted a suit against Mr. Jefferson in any character, that he had never heard of Mr. Jeffersons owing a British debt, but that there had been considerable debts of that description due from the Estate of his Father in law Mr. Wayles.” Marshall then referred to the settlement of the John Wayles debt to Farrell & Jones arranged at Monticello in 1790 for which TJ gave seven bonds for over £4,000 (see Editorial Note and Document xxv of a group of documents on the debt to Farell & Jones, printed above in this series at Vol. 15: 643–8, 674–6) and indicated that as far as he knew TJ had paid off the bonds or at least there had been no suits brought on them. He also referred indirectly to the Prince of Wales suit and agreed with TJ’s opinion that the Wayles executors would not be held liable in the litigation (same; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends , s.v. “Mason, George,” “Mason, Stevens Thomson,” “Stoddert, Benjamin”; Mason, Papers, description begins Robert A. Rutland, ed., The Papers of George Mason 1725–1792, Chapel Hill, 1970, 3 vols. description ends iii, 1211). For the Prince of Wales suit, which was one of the two suits before the United States Circuit Court, see TJ to John Read, 25 June 1798. The second suit was that of the John Randolph bond (see TJ to Francis Eppes, 28 Aug. 1794). The suit brought by Osgood Hanbury’s executor John Lloyd is considered at Declaration of Hanbury’s Executor against Wayles’s Executors, [July 1798].

1Preceding name interlined in place of “Francis Eppes.”

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