Thomas Jefferson Papers
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To Thomas Jefferson from Oliver Phelps, 4 February 1804

From Oliver Phelps

Washington Feby 4th. 1804

Sir,

I take the liberty to notice to your Excellency Rufus Easton Esquire a Citizen of the State of New York a young gentleman of talents and respectability, who has been meritorious in the Republican cause.—

He wishes for the appointment of District Attorney for N. Orleans—Living some distance from Mr. Easton I am not so well acquainted with his legal knowledge but from information received from Gentlemen of the first respectability of the State of New York I have no doubt of his being very reputable in the line of his proffession, and well qualified to discharge the duties of that office—

I have the honor to be Sir with high esteem and respect your Obedt. Servant

Oliver Phelps

RC (DNA: RG 59, LAR); at foot of text: “His Excy the President of the U States”; endorsed by TJ as received 6 Feb. and “Easton Rufus to be Atty N.O.” and so recorded in SJL with a brace connecting it to letters received the same day from Tompson J. Skinner of 9 Jan. and Philip Van Cortlandt of 1 Feb.

Connecticut native Oliver Phelps (1749-1809) was a successful merchant before entering land speculation on a grand scale. With his partner, Nathaniel Gorham, he gained title to millions of acres in western New York from the state of Massachusetts in 1788. But the speculation proved unsustainable and the two men eventually lost most of the land. Phelps nevertheless moved to New York, settling in Ontario County and serving a single term in Congress from 1803 to 1805 as a Republican. As a Connecticut native and Burrite, however, Phelps did not possess TJ’s esteem. He was the Burrites’ candidate for lieutenant governor of New York in 1804, but was soundly defeated (DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928-36, 20 vols. description ends ; Kline, Burr description begins Mary-Jo Kline, ed., Political Correspondence and Public Papers of Aaron Burr, Princeton, 1983, 2 vols. description ends , 2:835-8, 850-4; Vol. 36:82n; Vol. 37:460-1, 517; Vol. 39:222; Vol. 40:592; Phelps to TJ, 10 Apr. 1804).

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