James Jay Autographed Signed Letter
James Jay (1732-1815)
American physician and politician, elder brother of
John Jay. During the American Revolution, Jay supplied medicines to George Washington and
developed an invisible ink used by Washington, Thomas Jefferson, his younger brother,
John Jay, and members of the
Culper Spy Ring.
Autographed letter, signed. 1 page, legal folio.
Date: Washington, 9 January 1808.
Dimensions: 26 cm. x 20 cm.
Provenance: acquired at auction from Alexander Autographs (Stamford, CT) on March
Processed by: Kristen J. Nyitray, Head of Special Collections and University Archives/University
Archivist, May 2011. Transcribed by: Christine Astras, Intern, City University of
New York, Queens College, August 2011. Updated April 2014.
View this document at:
Scope and Content
Written to an unnamed general writing, in part: "The critical state of National Affairs,
will no doubt occasion some embar[r]assment among mercantile gentlemen, let their
fortunes be what they may. My son in law, Mr. Okill, is a prudent young fellow, and
I presume has adapted his measures to the Times. Yet to Let him see that I am not
insensible to the State of things, no unmindful of himself, I send him, by this Post,
my note for $2000. If he should want the money, I shall esteem it a favor if you will
get it discounted for him. The distance I am from N.Y. prevent me from offering him
Cash ... As to Public Affairs, I can say nothing worth notice ... I am soliciting
an old Debt, and not a small one, from Congress, and there is great reason to think
I shall not solicit in vain ..."
Jay is referring to a memorial he presented to Congress asking for reimbursement for
what congressional records describe as developing "...secret mode of correspondence...
was very useful in the Revolutionary War, and no doubt might be again ..."
Jay's supporters in the House argued that there was "a letter written by General
Washington in this invisible ink; that Mr. Jay had never received compensation; that
although it had been used by various person, none had ever yet known the composition
of it but himself..." Opponents argued that "it was absurd to vote away money for
a thing they did not and could not understand; that there never yet was a secret ink
made but a composition could be invented that would bring it out. " The House passed
the measure in November by a one vote margin on November 21, 1807 (
Annals of Congress, p. 951-953).
On March 2, 1808, Jay again petitioned the House, this time, "...praying the liquidation
and settlement of a claim against the United States, for moneys advanced, and services
rendered, of an important and secret nature, during the Revolutionary war with Great
House Journal, Wed., Mar. 2, 1808). This time the House did not approve or disapprove the measure,
instead voting to postpone consideration of the measure "indefinitely" (
House Journal, Wed. Apr. 20, 1808). The Senate did not consider the measure until 1813.
On July 7, his petition was read in the Senate, "That, during the war of the Revolution,
James Jay, upon his return from England, where he had been distinguished by his medical
talents, became a creditor of the United States for a considerable sum of money; that,
owing to delays on the part of the government, and the absence of Mr. Jay in attending
upon General Washington, (to whom, as appears by the General's letter, he imparted
a plan of secret correspondence, which proved to be of great importance in the course
of the war,) the money due and afterwards paid to Mr. Jay was much depreciated. In
consideration of these circumstances, which distinguish the case of Mr. Jay, the committee
submit to the consideration of the Senate, that leave be given to bring in a bill
to authorize the officers of the Treasury to examine the claim of Mr. Jay, and to
allow him such balance, together with interest, as may be equitably due to him."
The Senate voted the measure down. Jay died two years later, never reimbursed for
Washington Jan. 9. 1808
The critical state of National Affairs, will no doubt occasion
some embar[r]assment among mercantile gentlemen, let their for-
-tunes be what they may. My son in law, Mr. Okill, is a prudent young
fellow, and I presume has adapted his measures to the Times. Yet to
Let him see that I am not insensible to the State of things, nor un-
-mindful of himself, I send him, by this Post, my note for $2000. If
He should want the money, I shall esteem it a favor if you will
get it discounted for him. The distance I am from N.Y. prevents
me from offering him Cash, but before this note is due I expect to
have the pleasure of taking you by the hand.
As to Public Affairs, I can say nothing worth notice. Mr. Rose is
not yet arrived here. As to myself, I am soliciting an old Debt,
and not a small one, from Congress, and there is great reason
to think I shall not solicit in vain. I remain, with great
My Dear General
Your Most Obt. Servt.