Thomas Jefferson Papers

Benjamin L. Lear to Thomas Jefferson, 19 September 1821

From Benjamin L. Lear

Washington 19 Sept 1821.


Mr Wirt has probably informed you that he had transfered to me the papers wh: you sent him relative to the Estate of Genl Kosciuszko, and requested me to administer upon it, as you had desired him to transfer it to Some other person, if he could not himself conveniently undertake it.—

I have now the honor to inform you; Sir, that I have received Letters of administration with the will annexed, after having given Bond with the most Satisfactory Security for the faithful performance of the trust. my object therefore in troubling you with this letter, Sir, is to request that you will be so good as to furnish me with the certificates of the Stock held by Genl K. both in the Public funds & the Bank of Columbia, that I may lay them before the appraizers appointed by the Orphan’s Court, to ascertain the value of the personal Estate left by Genl K.

As this is a trust of considerable importance, & one in wh: you, Sir, must feel Some interest, I will avail myself of this occasion, (altho’ I may obtrude a longer letter upon you than I ought,) to mention the manner in wh: I intend to proceed. As I am sensible that nothing so much embarrasses the faithful execution of such trusts, as the converting property into money & then suffering the funds to mingle indiscriminately with others, & become liable to be divested to other uses, until they are at length irretrievable, I have resolved, upon receiving the Certificates of Stock, & after an appraizment of it, to deposit them in the hands of one of my sureties in the Bond & there let them remain till the Court shall order a sale of some of the Stock. I shall thus place the funds far enough out of my own reach, to avoid the embarrassment above mentioned, and what is scarcely less dangerous, in these peculiar days of immoral influences, the temptation wh: no one ought to encounter unnecessarily, since we have seen how many strong men have yielded.—

In addition to the public notice in the newspapers of my administration, I have, already written to Genl Armstrong & he has appointed Counsel to prosecute his claim in the Orphan’s Court here.—I shall notify Mr Politica, on his return to this place, to take a similar step in behalf of Major Estuo, the nephew of Genl K.—& shall write by the first opportunity to Mr Zeltner, to prosecute his claim.—For I am resolved to decide nothing myself in relation to the several claims but let them interplead & contest them in the Orphan’s Court, taking appeals if they please, to a superior tribunal, & not to pay one Dollar to any one, without the authority & order of the Court, that I may exonerate myself & sureties1 from all future responsibility not only legal but moral.—

If none of the claims shd be allowed by the Court, then a question may arise how far the will can be executed compatibly with the Laws of Virginia & Maryland,—wh: regard with jealousy the education of that description of persons, to the extent provided for by the Will. If the will shd be defeated on such ground, the funds would probably be subject to a Law of Maryland wh: provides, that all funds remaining in the hands of Executors or administrators & wh: cannot be appropriated legally to any other purpose, shall go into the fund for the support of schools.—In any event I shall always avail myself of the Counsel of my good friend Mr Wirt, and your own, if you will permit me, Sir, to do so, not only in this particular, but in any other emergency wh: may arise in the progress of the business.—

I called to day upon the worthy Mr Barnes. He offers me Every facility in his power & promises me an account of his transactions, in the business, as soon as I shall receive the Certificates of Stock. He speaks with enthusiasm of Genl Kosciuszko, and gave me as kind a reception as if I had been his relation, instead of his mere legal representative.—

With the highest respect & esteem, I am,   Sir, Your faithful & most ob: St:

Benjamin L. Lear.

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “Mr Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 22 Sept. 1821 and so recorded in SJL; with TJ’s calculations adjacent to signature computing the total value of Tadeusz Kosciuszko’s investments, related to his 25 Sept. 1821 response.

Benjamin Lincoln Lear (1791–1832), attorney, was born in Philadelphia while his father, Tobias Lear, was serving there as George Washington’s aide. Following the death of his mother and his father’s departure for Europe, he resided with relatives in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Lear reunited briefly with his father as a child, first in Washington, D.C., and later in Saint Domingue, before enrolling in 1803 at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. Three years later he entered Harvard University, but he was dismissed and finished his degree at Bowdoin College, graduating in 1810. Lear read law with Prentiss Mellen in Portland in the district (later state) of Maine before joining his father in Algiers in 1812. The family relocated to Washington, D.C., where Lear was practicing law by 1815. He became secretary of the Columbian Institute three years later and a director of the Bank of the Metropolis in 1821. That same year Lear was named administrator of Tadeusz Kosciuszko’s estate and corresponded briefly with TJ on the subject. In 1823 he visited Monticello, where TJ reportedly approved of his ultimately unsuccessful plan to use Kosciuszko’s funds to emancipate and educate slaves and relocate them to Africa. At the time of his death in Washington, Lear owned multiple houses and two lots there, as well as property in Portsmouth (Ray Brighton, The Checkered Career of Tobias Lear [1985]; Washington, Papers, Pres. Ser., 8:20; Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser., 6:327; Biographical Catalogue of the Trustees, Teachers and Students of Phillips Academy Andover, 1778–1830 [1903], 49; General Catalogue of Bowdoin College and the Medical School of Maine: A Biographical Record of Alumni and Officers, 1794–1950 [1950], 46; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 24 Jan. 1815, 7 Nov. 1818, 2 Oct. 1832; DNA: RG 29, CS, D.C., Washington, 1820, 1830; Washington Gazette, 6 July 1821; William Wirt to TJ, 20 July 1823; Lear to Thomas Jefferson Randolph, 15 Sept. 1826 [ViU: Randolph Family Papers]; Wesley E. Pippenger, comp., District of Columbia Probate Records: Will Books 1 through 6, 1801–1852, and Estate Files, 1801–1852 [2003], 178–9; gravestone inscription in Congressional Cemetery, Washington).

For the public notice of Lear’s administration of Kosciuszko’s estate, see John Barnes to TJ, 23 Aug. 1821, and note. major estuo: Stanislaw Estko. that description of persons: African Americans.

1Preceding two words interlined.

Index Entries

  • African Americans; education of search
  • Armstrong, John; and T. Kosciuszko’s estate search
  • Bank of Columbia search
  • Barnes, John; and T. Kosciuszko’s estate search
  • education; of African Americans search
  • Estko, Stanislaw; and T. Kosciuszko search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Business & Financial Affairs; and T. Kosciuszko’s American investments search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Business & Financial Affairs; and T. Kosciuszko’s estate search
  • Kosciuszko, Tadeusz (Thaddeus) Andrzej Bonawentura; and investment in U.S. government loan search
  • Kosciuszko, Tadeusz (Thaddeus) Andrzej Bonawentura; Bank of Columbia stock of search
  • Kosciuszko, Tadeusz (Thaddeus) Andrzej Bonawentura; estate of search
  • Kosciuszko, Tadeusz (Thaddeus) Andrzej Bonawentura; plan to emancipate and educate American slaves search
  • Kosciuszko, Tadeusz (Thaddeus) Andrzej Bonawentura; wills of search
  • Lear, Benjamin Lincoln; and T. Kosciuszko’s estate search
  • Lear, Benjamin Lincoln; identified search
  • Lear, Benjamin Lincoln; letter from search
  • Maryland; laws of search
  • Polética, Pierre de; and T. Kosciuszko’s estate search
  • United States; and government stock search
  • Virginia; laws of search
  • Wirt, William; and T. Kosciuszko’s estate search
  • Zeltner, Peter Josef; and T. Kosciuszko’s estate search