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John Jay
by [?]

John was the baby, scarcely a year old, when the Jay family moved up to Rye. He was the eighth child, and as he grew up he was taught by the older ones. He took part in all the fun and hardships of farm life–going to school in Winter, working in Summer, and on Sundays hearing long sermons at church.

We find by Peter Jay’s letter-book that: “Johnny is about our brightest child. We have great hopes of him, and believe it will be wise to educate him for a preacher.” In order to educate boys then, they were sent to live in the family of some man of learning. And so we find “Johnny” at twelve years of age installed in the parsonage at New Rochelle, the Huguenot settlement. The pastor was a Huguenot, and as only French was spoken in the household, the boy acquired the language, which afterwards stood him in good stead.

The pastor reported favorably, and when fifteen, young Jay was sent to King’s College, which is now Columbia University, kings not being popular in America.

Doctor Samuel Johnson, who nowise resembled Ursa Major, was the president of the College at that time. He was also the faculty, for there were just thirty students and he did all the teaching himself. Doctor Johnson, true to his name, dearly loved a good book, and when teaching mathematics would often forget the topic and recite Ossian by the page, instead. Jay caught it, for the book craze is contagious and not sporadic. We take it by being exposed.

And thus it was while under the tutelage of Doctor Johnson that Jay began to acquire the ability to turn a terse sentence; and this gained him admittance into the world of New York letters, whose special guardians were Dickinson and William Livingston.

Livingston invited the boy to his house, and very soon we find the young man calling without special invitation, for Livingston had a beautiful daughter about John’s age, who was fond of Ossian, too, or said she was.

And as this is not a serial love-story, there is no need of keeping the gentle reader in suspense, so I will explain that some years later John married the girl, and the mating was a very happy one.

After John had been to King’s College two years we find in the faded and yellow old letter-book an item written by the father to the effect that: “Our Johnny is doing well at College. He seems sedate and intent on gaining knowledge; but rather inclines to Law instead of the Ministry.”

Doctor Johnson was succeeded by Doctor Myles Cooper, a Fellow of Oxford, who used to wear his mortarboard cap and scholar’s gown up Broadway. In young Jay’s veins there was not a drop of British blood. Of his eight great-grandparents, five were French and three Dutch, a fact he once intimated in the Oxonian’s presence. And then it was explained to the youth that if such were the truth it would be as well to conceal it.

Alexander Hamilton got along very well with Doctor Cooper, but John Jay found himself rusticated shortly before graduation. Some years after this Doctor Cooper hastily climbed the back fence, leaving a sample of his gown on a picket, while Alexander Hamilton held the Whig mob at bay at the front door.

Cooper sailed very soon for England, anathematizing “the blarsted country” in classic Latin as the ship passed out of the Narrows.

“England is a good place for him,” said the laconic John Jay.

So John Jay was to be a lawyer. And the only way to be a lawyer in those days was to work in a lawyer’s office. A goodly source of income to all established lawyers was the sums they derived for taking embryo Blackstones into their keeping. The greater a man’s reputation as a lawyer, the higher he placed his fee for taking a boy in.

In those days there were no printed blanks, and a simple lease was often a day’s work to write out; so it was not difficult to keep the boys busy. Besides that, they took care of the great man’s horse, blacked his boots, swept the office, and ran errands. During the third year of apprenticeship, if all went well, the young man was duly admitted to the Bar. A stiff examination kept out the rank outsiders, but the nomination by a reputable attorney was equivalent to admittance, for all members knew that if you opposed an attorney today, tomorrow he might oppose you.