Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from James Ray, 13 December 1801

From James Ray

Annapolis 13th. December 1801.—


Relying on the high character You have for Justice I flatter Myself You will permit a Foreigner to apply to You for redress—where He thinks himself aggrieved.—

I hold on Acct. my Wife a Mortgage in The City, on Square So. of Square 744. Two Instalments have been paid to The Commissioners, the third is due from the Person who bought the Property, altho’ I lent him the Money. This Person, of the Name of Peircy, in Jany. last, absconded from the City, & Carried off in the Night, Property of mine, to the Amount of thirty thousand Dollars—& for being his Security I was put in Confinement, which has hitherto prevented me from liquidating the Instalment due to The Commissioners.—

Last Week, I received a Letter from My Friend Dr. Thornton, in reply to a request I had made him, begging the Commissioners would not Sell the Property immediately, but wait till January, when I expected to be able to pay them, wherein He tells me, He had proposed to the Board to let me Select the Lots already paid for, or to Wait a little longer, both which requests they had refused. Under these Circumstances, I take leave to apply to You, hoping You will have the goodness to direct The Commissioners to delay Selling the Property, ’till I can pay the Instalment, or that at all Events they may not sacrifice the whole of it.—

You will, I am persuaded, Sir, excuse this intrusion on Your time & Attention from a Stranger, who has the honor to be with great respect,

Your Most Obedt. & Most hble Servt

Jams Ray.

RC (DNA: RG 42, LR); at foot of text: “The President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 14 Dec. and so recorded in SJL.

James Ray was an English merchant who had lived in India and New York (Harris, Thornton description begins C. M. Harris, ed., Papers of William Thornton: Volume One, 1781–1802, Charlottesville, 1995 description ends , 1:506n; Allen C. Clark, Greenleaf and Law in the Federal City [Washington, D.C., 1901], 145, 274).

Ray and James Piercy (Peircy) invested in the construction of a sugar refinery on the southern half of square 744 in Washington in 1797–98. Piercy indebted himself heavily to Thomas Law, Ray, and others in order to purchase the land from Law and to cover other costs. The sugar house closed by 1801 (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 , 1:292, 304–5n, 434; Clark, Greenleaf and Law, 245, 274).

According to minutes of the meeting of the District of Columbia commissioners, the board put up for sale individual lots in the square south of square 744 on 10, 14, and 18 Dec. At a meeting on the day after the final sale, commissioner William Thornton characterized as “particularly oppressive” the sale of the whole property for delinquency of payment, rather than single lots, given that two-thirds of the purchase money had been paid. He contended that “some of the many Creditors of the original purchaser, Mr. Piercy,” might yet be able to “discharge the Debt” on the remainder. The commissioners executed a deed to six lots on the square for a December bidder on 18 Feb. 1802 (DNA: RG 42, PC).

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