Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Christopher Ellery, 10 May 1803

To Christopher Ellery

Washington May 10. 1803.

Dear Sir

William Martin, keeper of the lighthouse in the district of Newport is dead, and mr Ellery the collector names two persons either of which he deems fit for a successor, to wit, Philip Caswell, son-in-law to the decedent & who has actually been the keeper of it, and Benjamin Remington of Conanicut, an old sea-captain of between 60. and 70. years of age. the age of the latter, if not now, will shortly be an objection, & nothing is said of the politics of either. considering that the republican description of our citizens has not yet nearly obtained that share in the public offices to which they are entitled, & from which they were so long excluded, such an one of equal qualifications for the public service, ought to be preferred to a federal competitor. will you be so good as to inform me who, on the whole, you think most proper to be appointed, not letting the enquiry in the mean time become public? Accept my friendly & respectful salutations.

Th: Jefferson

Caswell seems to have some claim from possession, if his politics should not give a preference to another as well qualified.

PrC (DLC); at foot of text: “The honble Mr Ellery”; endorsed by TJ in ink on verso.

william martin died on 23 Apr. at age 81. Newport collector William Ellery wrote Gallatin a week later informing him of the event and noted that Martin’s son-in-law philip caswell, who was caring for the lighthouse at the time of Martin’s death, had agreed to continue until the president appointed a new keeper. Ellery described Caswell as a young man of good character who would keep the lighthouse “carefully and honestly.” He was a weaver by trade. benjamin remington was the only other applicant. He lived on Conanicut Island, where the lighthouse was situated, and cultivated a few acres of land. He knew the lighthouse and “would keep it well” (Gallatin, Papers description begins Carl E. Prince and Helene E. Fineman, eds., The Papers of Albert Gallatin, microfilm edition in 46 reels, Philadelphia, 1969, and Supplement, Barbara B. Oberg, ed., reels 47–51, Wilmington, Del., 1985 description ends , 8:338; Newport Mercury, 3 May 1803).

According to SJL, TJ received Christopher Ellery’s reply of 23 May on the 29th, but it has not been found. TJ noted in SJL “Philip Caswell to keep lighthouse.”

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