John Jay Papers

A Man of Property: Editorial Note

A Man of Property

Once Jay decided to accept the post of Secretary for Foreign Affairs, it was essential that he have permanent quarters for himself and his family in New York City, which, beginning in January 1785, served as the nation’s temporary capital. Jay built his “Stone House in the city of New York … bounded in front by Broadway and in the rear by New Street with the Stables” on the first land his family owned in America.1

John Jay’s coach building, 1785. (The Museum of the City of New York/ Art Resource, NY)

Jay planned his house even before leaving for the United States. Benjamin Vaughan advised him on new roofing materials, including tin, copper, cast iron, and slate, as substitutes for wood, which, with the late fires in mind, Jay rejected out of hand.2 By the late fall of 1784 Jay had decided on a stone house and to experiment with cast iron for the roofing of his stable, and, should it prove effective, to employ it on the house as well.3

John Quincy Adams remembered that in 1785 Jay “was laying the foundation of a house in Broadway at a distance of a quarter of a mile from any other dwelling.”4 Situated in what was denominated “the Burnt District of the City,” devastated by the fires of 1776 and 1778, Jay’s house lots were a hundred feet south of the intersection of Verlettenbergh Street (now Exchange Place), while the lot for his stable was situated at the rear of his garden on New Street. A steep grade made access to both properties somewhat difficult, and Jay initiated a series of petitions, in which he was joined by adjacent property owners, to have the grade reduced and the streets paved, including Broadway. Jay enlisted the help of his friend, Mayor James Duane,5 and the Common Council complied with his plans.6

Jay began building his new house even before street improvements were completed, according to a plan proposed by Joseph Newton, a New York builder.7 Jay intended that his residence be suitable for the entertainment appropriate to his position as Secretary for Foreign Affairs. As he became more involved in the details of planning and construction, Jay let his old friend Philip Schuyler know, via Egbert Benson and Alexander Hamilton, that he would value the suggestions of so experienced a person about the building of a “good house” in New York. Schuyler sent on numerous suggestions, among them the installation of a special kind of stove, easy to regulate and to prevent air stagnation, the placement of rooms and a “gangway,” and offered to provide building materials, an offer that Jay promptly accepted.8 Ferdinand Grand sent glass from France for the house’s windows.9

By the spring of 1786 Jay’s stone house was constructed on the east side of the street,10 and bore the number 8 Broadway, later changed to 133 Broadway.11 In The Talisman Gulian C. Verplanck quoted a Frenchman, M. de Viellecoeur, a contemporary of Jay’s, as describing the residence as “a large square, three-story house, of hewn stone, as substantially built within and without, durable, spacious, and commodious, and like the principles of the builder, always useful and excellent whether in or out of fashion.”12 From the builder’s plan, no longer extant, Frank Monaghan gives a description of the interior, including a “Library or Publick Room,” a large “Dineing Parlour,” and a “Breackfast Room.” A “Grand Staircase” gave access to the upper floors. To the rear a veranda overlooked a spacious garden extending some ninety feet to New Street.13 Throughout the 1780s and 1790s, Jay continued to make additions and improvements to his city residence.14 There he, his wife, Sarah, and their children resided until July 1796, when Jay occupied the governor’s mansion.

In 1787 Jay began construction on a house on his Bedford, N.Y., property. Jay inherited the Bedford farm from his father, Peter Jay, adding adjacent properties in 1788 and 1792. On 17 Feb. 1787 Jay contracted with John Cooley, a Bedford house carpenter, “to build for him a house with a Piazza before and a kitchen adjoining thereto” and to complete it by 25 Nov. Jay provided the necessary materials, and his detailed drawing of the house plan also accompanied the agreement. On 15 Mar. 1787 he made a contract with Moses Winan and Henry Garthwait for masonry work, specifying a nine-foot-high foundation, twenty inches in thickness. “The chimneys are to be carried up and the Hearths laid with bricks on arches, and the Cellar Steps laid. The foundation of the Kitchen is to be 18″ thick and laid 18″ underground in front. It is to be filled with Brick, the Chimney carried up, the hearth laid, an oven made in it and the whole plaistered and finished properly.” Initially, the house was occupied by Jay’s farm manager, Major Samuel Lyons. Throughout the 1790s, Jay expanded the house and improved the property that became his retirement residence in 1801.15

1On property acquired from the Kierstede heirs, Augustus Jay built houses at 9 and 11 Broadway. JJ, last will and testament, 18 Apr. 1829, DS, NNC (EJ: 7377); Stokes, Iconography, description begins I.N. Phelps Stokes, Iconography of Manhattan Island, 1798–1909 (6 vols.; New York, 1915–28) description ends 2: 218, 253, 1650.

2JJ to Benjamin Vaughan, 30 Nov. 1784, JJSP, description begins Elizabeth M. Nuxoll et al., eds., The Selected Papers of John Jay (3 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 2010—) description ends 3: 629–31.

3Ibid., and Benjamin Vaughan to JJ, 5 Aug. 1784, JJSP, description begins Elizabeth M. Nuxoll et al., eds., The Selected Papers of John Jay (3 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 2010—) description ends 3: 594–95.

4From a speech given by John Quincy Adams in Rochester, N.Y., 27 July 1843, printed in the Rochester Democrat, 29 July 1843, and reprinted in William Henry Seward, Life and Public Services of John Quincy Adams (Auburn, N.Y., 1849), 314.

5See below, JJ to James Duane, 30 Sept. 1785. A previous 3 Jan. letter (not found) to Duane had been referred to the Common Council on 18 Jan. 1785. MCCNYC, description begins Minutes of the Common Council of the City of New York, 1784–1831 (19 vols.; New York, 1917) description ends 1: 109; file No. 17, City Clerk’s Office, New York City.

6MCCNYC, description begins Minutes of the Common Council of the City of New York, 1784–1831 (19 vols.; New York, 1917) description ends 1: 117 (7 Mar. 1785). See also, plan for laying out the streets in the burned district proposed (plan approved 20 May 1785), and petition of JJ et al. relating to regulating Broadway, 31 May 1786 (assessment, 12 June 1788). As late as 1792 JJ petitioned the City regarding the regulating of streets through his property in Great George Street (later merged with Broadway), offering to release such land as might be needed to dig a canal from the fresh water pond. Ibid., 126–27, 142, 221, 243–44, 377, 701.

7See Joseph Newton to JJ, 24 June 1785, ALS, MHi: William Livingston. Newton was located at 2 Little Queen Street, later Cedar Street, in 1785. He is listed in the New York City Directory, 1786, as being located at 2 King Street.

8See Philip Schuyler to JJ, 22 Jan., 21 Feb., 17 May 1785, all below; JJ to Schuyler, 17 Mar. 1785, below, and 26 May 1785, Dft, NNC (EJ: 9355).

10MCCNYC, description begins Minutes of the Common Council of the City of New York, 1784–1831 (19 vols.; New York, 1917) description ends 1: 243–44 (petition of JJ et al., 31 May 1786); The Talisman, 1 Jan. 1830, and John Jay, comp., Memorials of Peter A. Jay (New York, 1929), 7, 8.

11New-York Directory, and Register, 1789.

12Quoted in Griswold, Republican Court, description begins Rufus W. Griswold, The Republican Court, or American Society in the Days of Washington (new and rev. ed., New York, 1856) description ends 488.

13Monaghan, Jay, description begins Frank Monaghan, John Jay: Defender of Liberty (New York and Indianapolis, Ind., 1935) description ends 232.

14JJ receipt book, 19 Sept. 1789–12 Jan. 1802, D, NNC (EJ: 12487).

15Peter Jay’s last will and testament, 28 Jan. 1778 (probated 28 May 1782), D, NNNCC-Sc (EJ: 13464); JJ’s memorandum of lands in Westchester County, 5 May 1788–3 Dec. 1792, listing these separate purchases in this period, AD, NNC (EJ: 4900); JJ’s Agreement with John Cooley, 17 Feb. 1787, DS, NHi: Jay (EJ: 12509); JJ’s Agreement with Moses Winan and Henry Garthwait, 15 Mar. 1787, ADS, NNC (EJ: 12438), endorsed 28 Nov. 1788 by Moses Winan, acknowledging payment of £70 agreeable to the contract and an additional 10 7s for extra work done at Bedford; John G. Waite, Paul R. Huey, and Martha Truax, John Jay House: An Historic Structure Report (Albany, N.Y., 1972).

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