Thomas Jefferson Papers
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To Thomas Jefferson from John Mason, 10 June 1801

From John Mason

George Town 10th. June 1801

Dear Sir

Some time agoe in conversation I took the Liberty of suggesting to you, the propriety of placing one or two more Magistrates, than there are now, in the Country part of the Counties of Alexandria & Washington, & now make use of your permission to give in this way the Information I have acquired on that Subject.

In the country part of that Section of Washington County which was formerly Montgomery County and which lies above & round Geo Town for 3 or 4 miles, there is but one Magistrate, appointed under the new System, Mr Belt—it appears to be the general Sentiment that there ought to one more resident in that neighbourhood, it so happens that there exists a Scarsity of respectable Men thereabout that whole Section of Country furnishes but three, Mr Belt who is appointed, Mr Isaac Pearce, & Mr. Abner Cloud, and that all three of those Gentn. are republican’s—so that there is really no choice as to politics Mr Pearce I think would make the best Magistrate, he is a very independant and respectable Farmer, and I am persuaded would give general Satisfaction—

In all the County of Alexandria, the Town excepted, there is resident but one of the lately appointed Magistrates, Mr. Darnes a republican, and a very good Man; this District too, being made up cheifly of large Tracts of Land & tenantes, affords but little choice—there is however a Mr. Presly Gunnell who lives in the north western angle, and well located as to the convenience of the Inhabitants, who is a well informed independant & respectable Man, a Farmer on his own Lands and a very good Republican, he would make, there can be no doubt, a very good Magistrate and I think his appointment would be approved by All

I am also told that in that part of the County of Washington which lies on the other side of the eastern Branch there is but one Magistrate, Mr Thos. addison I should think one more could be useful there, but for this I beg leave to refer you to Mr Hanson or Dr. Baker who are better acquainted in that Neighbourhood than I am—

With great Respect I am Sir Your very Obt Hl St

J Mason

RC (DNA: RG 59, LAR); at foot of text: “The President”; endorsed by TJ as received 10 June and so recorded in SJL; also endorsed by TJ: “Justices of the peace Washn. county.”

Mason, a banker and a merchant whose trading company, Fenwick, Mason & Co. of Georgetown, had dissolved, was appointed by John Adams to be justice of the peace for Washington County in the District of Columbia. In 1802 TJ appointed Mason brigadier general of the district’s militia (Bryan, National Capital description begins Wilhelmus B. Bryan, A History of the National Capital from Its Foundation through the Period of the Adoption of the Organic Act, New York, 1914–16, 2 vols. description ends , 1:223, 565; 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 , 1:388; MB description begins James A. Bear, Jr., and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, Princeton, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 2:831).

New System: by an act of Congress passed on 27 Feb. 1801, the District of Columbia was divided into two counties, Washington County on the east side of the Potomac River and Alexandria County on the west side (U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States … 1789 to March 3, 1845, Boston, 1855–56, 8 vols. description ends , 22:103–8; Vol. 32:359n). Several days later, Adams appointed 23 men as justices of the peace for the former jurisdiction and 19 men as justices of the peace for the latter. The Senate confirmed the appointments the next day (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 , 1:388, 390).

Joseph Sprigg Belt and Thomas Addison, like Mason, were Adams’s appointments for justices of the peace who also appear on TJ’s list of appointments. Thomas Darne was on TJ’s list to be retained as a justice of the peace. All four men survived TJ’s reduction in the number of justices in the District of Columbia in January 1802. Mason, Belt, and Addison received commissions on 27 Apr. 1802; Darne withdrew his name earlier that month. Isaac Pierce (Pearce) and Presly Gunnell were nominated as justices of the peace in their respective counties on 5 Apr. 1802 and commissioned on 27 Apr. (FCs of commissions in DNA: RG 59, MPTPC; 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 , 1:404, 417–18, 422–3; Vol. 33:674–5).

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