Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to David Gelston, 12 November 1802

To David Gelston

Washington Nov. 12. 1802.


The motives which induce the writer of a letter to withold his name are generally suspicious, but not however always blameable. I consider anonymous letters as sufficient foundation for enquiry into the facts they communicate. as the person who is the subject of the inclosed letter is I presume within your department, I inclose it to you merely that you may do in the case exactly what you would have done had it been addressed to you instead of me. men of worth do sometimes languish in an obscurity from which they would be raised were their worth known. whether that is the present case your enquiries may decide; and if it be so, I have no doubt you would keep him in your eye as a person to be taken care of. Accept assurances of my esteem & respect.

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC); at foot of text: “David Gelston esq.” Enclosure: Anonymous to TJ, 6 Nov., recorded in SJL as received from New York on 11 Nov. with notation “Colo. Walter Blicker,” but not found.

A merchant, who was born in Suffolk County, Long Island, David Gelston (1744–1828) was an early supporter of the colonial cause, signing the articles of association in 1775. He served in the New York provincial congress from 1775 to 1777, was a member of the New York state constitutional convention in 1777, and held other positions in state government, including speaker of the assembly in 1784 and 1785. He moved to New York City in 1786 and three years later became a member of the last Confederation Congress. He represented the Southern District in the state senate for several terms between 1791 and 1802. An Anti-Federalist who became an ardent Republican, Gelston succeeded James Nicholson as president of the Democratic Society of the City of New-York in 1794. Gelston was among the political associates whom Burr recommended for office in March 1801. TJ appointed him collector of New York in early July of that year, a position he held until 1820 (Biog. Dir. Cong. description begins Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–1989, Washington, D.C., 1989 description ends ; Philip S. Foner, ed., The Democratic-Republican Societies, 1790–1800 [Westport, Conn., 1976], 171, 183–4; Kline, Burr description begins Mary-Jo Kline, ed., Political Correspondence and Public Papers of Aaron Burr, Princeton, 1983, 2 vols. description ends , 1:225–6; Nancy Isenberg, Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr [New York, 2007], 103, 105, 126, 140, 226; RS description begins J. Jefferson Looney and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series, Princeton, 2004–, 7 vols. description ends , 1:282n; Vol. 33:11–12, 330–2; Vol. 34:513, 515n; Vol. 35:274–5n; Vol. 36:85).

SUBJECT OF THE INCLOSED LETTER: probably Walter Bicker, one of the weighers in charge of the public scales in the surveyor’s office at the New York custom house. Bicker received almost $1,400 in commissions and fees in 1800 (New York Daily Advertiser, 5 Aug. 1800; ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Miscellaneous, 1:270; Longworth’s American Almanac, New-York Register, and City-Directory, for the Twenty Seventh Year of American Independence [New York, 1802], 147). For Bicker’s military service, see Washington, Papers, Rev. War Ser description begins W. W. Abbot, Dorothy Twohig, Philander D. Chase, Theodore J. Crackel, and others, eds., The Papers of George Washington, 1983– , 55 vols.  Colonial Ser., 10 vols.  Confederation Ser., 6 vols.  Pres. Ser., 15 vols.  Retirement Ser., 4 vols.  Rev. War Ser., 20 vols. description ends ., 16:187n and same, Pres. Ser., 2:449–50.

On 22 Nov., Gelston responded from New York that he had received TJ’s letter of the 12th with its enclosure. He continued: “Many of the circumstances related in the anonymous communication are within my knowlege—the Gentleman therein mentioned I am acquainted with, and tho’ I feel disposed to render him all the assistance in my power, I do not think it would be prudent in me to appoint him to a more important office.—I am, Sir, very respectfully, your most obedient Servt.” (RC in MHi; at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson Esquire”; endorsed by TJ as received 25 Nov. and so recorded in SJL).

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