Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from William Cranch, 19 December 1801

From William Cranch

City of Washington Decr. 19th. 1801


In consequence of a note at the bottom of a petition to you in behalf of Charles Houseman, I have the honour to state, that he was indicted at June term last for stealing plank, and Carpenter’s tools from three several persons. It appear’d in evidence that the articles were found in his possession, but were of little value. He was found guilty on each indictment, and sentenced to be burnt in the hand, whip’d a certain number of stripes, and to pay four fold the value of the articles stolen. The corporal part of his punishment was inflicted, and he was thereupon discharged from the custody of the Marshall by order of the Court, who were inform’d that it was not in his power to pay the fine. A Capias was afterwards issued, as I believe, to compel him to pay the fine and costs, upon which he was arrested and not being able to satisfy them, he has remain’d in custody ever since. I do not recollect whether any evidence was offer’d as to his character, at the trial, or any other circumstances, except his inability to discharge the fine & Costs, which would entitle his case to peculiar regard from the Executive; but I hope I shall not be deem’d officious in saying that there seems to be no probability that the United States, or the district of Columbia, will be benefited by his further imprisonment.

I have the honour, to be, Sir, with great respect, your obedt. servt.

W. Cranch

RC (DLC); at head of text: “To the President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 26 Dec. and so recorded in SJL with a brace connecting it with John Thomson Mason’s letter of 26 Dec. (see below) and the notation “Houseman’s case”; also endorsed by TJ: “Charles Houseman’s case.”

William Cranch (1769–1855), a Harvard graduate and nephew of Abigail Adams, came to Washington from Massachusetts in 1794. In February 1801, John Adams nominated him to the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia, a nomination approved by the Senate on 3 Mch., the day before TJ took office. Despite the midnight appointment, TJ nominated Cranch to be chief judge of the circuit in 1806 and he went on to serve on the court for more than 50 years. He also acted as recorder for the U.S. Supreme Court from 1801 to 1815 (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; 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 , 1:387, 389; 2:21, 22).

A Petition to TJ on behalf of Charles Houseman has not been found, nor has any record of TJ issuing a pardon in his favor.

On 26 Dec., John Thomson Mason, as the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, also wrote TJ regarding Houseman’s case. Mason concurred with Cranch in the details of the case, adding the observation that Houseman was unable to pay the demand against him, “for I believe he is not worth one shilling” (RC in DLC; endorsed by TJ as received 26 Dec. and so recorded in SJL; also endorsed by TJ: “Charles Houseman’s case”).

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