Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Hore Browse Trist, 17 October 1803

From Hore Browse Trist

Fort Adams 17 Oct. 1803

Dear Sir/

The period rapidly approaching when we are to take possession of New Orleans, & feeling anxious that the revenue Department should have every thing prepared for immediate operation, I take the liberty to enclose you a rough sketch of a Seal I designed for the Custom House. Should it meet your approbation, Mr Harvey will please to deliver it to Mr Henry Brown, to whom I have given particular directions to have it properly executed in Philadelphia.—The Collectors, using their discretionary powers, have generally adopted the Arms of the States in which their Offices were situated. But this Country not having yet been admitted as a State, induced me to trouble you thus early, wishing to be certain of the propriety of the Device, & apprehending if longer delayed, inconvenience might ensue from the length of time requisite to procure that indespensible article, not to be obtained nearer than at some of the Northern Cities. For my present Office, I have been necessitated to use the Seal & Screw belonging to the former Supreme Court. With sentiments of the most profound respect I beg you to accept my sincerest wishes

Hore Browse Trist

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “President of the United States”; with note by TJ at foot of text: “non rapui, sed redemi. redemi, non rapui,” loosely translated as “I did not steal it, but I bought it back. I bought it back, but I did not steal it,” which was the motto of William III, who assumed the English throne after the Glorious Revolution; endorsed by TJ as received 13 Nov. and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure not found.

sketch of a seal: the Treasury Department did not establish an official seal for all custom houses until 1869. inconvenience might ensue: the collector used the seal as a stamp on documents to indicate the payment of import duties (W. V. Combs, Third Federal Issue, 1814-1817 and Other Embossed Revenue Stamped Paper 1791-1869 [Rockford, Iowa, 1993], 103, 113).

While collector at Fort Adams, Trist used the seal & screw of the supreme court. This seal, commissioned in 1790, derived from the Great Seal of the United States and featured a bald eagle holding a striped shield and clutching an olive branch and arrows in its talons. Beneath the eagle’s claw, a single star symbolized the Constitution’s creation of one Supreme Court (Kenneth Jost, “Seal of the Supreme Court,” The Supreme Court A to Z, 4th ed. [Washington, D.C., 2007], 426).

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