NEH Grant!

Rare Book and Manuscript Library Receives National Endowment for the Humanities Grant for the Papers of John Jay

NEW YORK, September 5, 2013 –

Columbia University Libraries/Information Services is pleased to announce the receipt of a $175,000 Scholarly Editions grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to the Selected Papers of John Jay, a publication project sponsored by the Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML). The 21-month grant supplements funding by Columbia University Libraries/Information Services and the National Historical Publication and Records Commission (NHPRC).

The grant will support the publication of volumes 4 (1785-1788), 5 (1789-1795), and 6 (1795-1829) of the papers of John Jay (1745-1829), a member of the Continental Congress, secretary for foreign affairs, first Chief Justice of the United States, and governor of New York. The grant provides for a new associate editor position to advance editorial work on the later volumes in this series.  The project is part of a larger campaign at Columbia to bring greater attention to Columbia alumnus Jay’s many accomplishments.

“This grant will provide us the staff level and expertise needed to explore fully Jay's contributions as United States Chief Justice and Governor of New York and as a religious leader and social reformer and bring the edition close to completion,” said Dr. Elizabeth M. Nuxoll, editor of The Selected Papers of John Jay.

The Selected Papers of John Jay is a multivolume scholarly edition of Jay’s papers currently being produced by a team of scholars at Columbia for publication by the University of Virginia Press. The edition will consist of seven volumes of a wide-ranging selection of the most significant and interesting public and private documents and letters, written or received by Jay, annotated and interspersed with commentary.

The edition is designed to revise and complete work begun in the late 1950s by Richard B. Morris, an eminent Jay scholar and Columbia University professor, who supplemented the major collection of original Jay Papers at Columbia with copies of Jay documents secured from archives throughout the world. Morris and his staff published two volumes covering the era of the American Revolution and began work on a projected two additional volumes before his untimely death.

The current project, which began in 2004, has published three volumes to date, the third of which was released in May 2012 and covers Jay’s role as peace negotiator. The volumes serve as a guide to the Papers of John Jay website, an image database funded by the NEH launched in 2003. This website provides access to images of more than 20,000 pages of Jay and Jay-related documents, and is free and available to the public.


Yesterday was the 230th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Paris, the treaty that ended the American Revolution.

Volume 3 of the Selected Papers of John Jay (UVA Press) covers the negotiations that ended the war, showing the complicated process that is diplomacy, a process often ignored.

The NHPRC supports the work of three of the American negotiators for peace: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin (; the Papers of John Jay ( and the Papers of John Adams ( Of course, you can read all about the Treaty itself at the National Archives "Our Documents" site at and discover what the rest of the Founders thought about the peace at Founders Online (

John Jay Ide, Spy

John Jay's great-grandson, John Jay Ide, was not only an architect and art collector. He was an aviation pioneer and instrumental in gathering intelligence on the Nazi's aviation program during the 1930s. Read historian Roger D. Launius's fascinating account of JJI's exploits here.

On this day in 1789. . .

George Washington was sworn in as the first President of the United States under the new constitution. Surprisingly, John Jay, the first Chief Justice did not perform the swearing in ceremony. Rather, the New York State Chancellor Robert R. Livingston had this honor. Howerver, Jay was present for the ceremony and the festivities that followed.

Is this John Jay’s gun?

One of the things I do when I have a few spare minutes is to search the collections databases of an increasing number of museums and archives, both for things I'm personally interested in and, of course, all things John Jay. One of my favorites is the Metropolitan Museum of Art's database and one of the more intriguing hits was this, a double-barreled shotgun, dated 1784, and attributed to Nicolas Bouillet. The butt-plate exterior is inscribed "John Jay." The provenance is given as John Jay, and we do know that many Jay descendants were very generous to the Metropolitan Museum.

Jay was in Paris in 1784 as one of the American Peace Commissioners, negotiating with Great Britain, France, and Spain. And we do know he did quite a bit of shopping on this trip, as well as receiving some handsome gifts from his hosts. In future weeks, I'll be researching this item in order to determine if it indeed belonged to Mr. Jay. I'll be in touch with the Met's superb Arms and Armor Department and will search through Jay's accounts and letters, as well as those of his family. Stay posted!

Robert Morris at the John Jay Homestead

On Tuesday, October 16, Charles Rappleye will be giving a talk, "Robert Morris: Financier of the Revolution" at the John Jay Homestead Historic Site in Bedford NY at 7:00 P.M. The John Jay Homestead is the house Jay built for his retirement and which stayed in the family until the 20th century. It became a New York State Historic Site in 1958.

Not only was Robert Morris a close friend and colleague of John Jay's, but my colleagues Elizabeth Nuxoll and Mary Gallagher edited Robert Morris's papers. For more information, go to the Friends of the John Jay Homestead site.

Treacherous Beauty: talk by Stephen H. Case

On Thursday, October 11, Stephen H. Case will be giving a talk on his new book (written with Mark Jacob) Treacherous Beauty: Peggy Shippen, the Woman Behind Benedict Arnold's Plot to Betray America. The talk will be in Butler Library, room 523 and begins at 6:00. While Arnold's plot is familiar, the role of his beautiful wife Margaret "Peggy" Shippen Arnold is less well-known. Born into a wealthy Philadelphia family, Peggy was one of the leading belles of that city's very social set, courted by many. One of her many beaux was Col. John André and she would prove to be the link between the British officer and her husband, American General Benedict Arnold. Far from being the innocent pawn of the men around her, she was an important player in the game.

At the time of the scandal, Peggy, only 19, was generally supposed to be ignorant of the treasonous plot. This can be seen in the letters of John and Sally Jay to their friends Robert and Mary Morris, who knew Peggy from Philadelphia. While Jay clearly does not suspect her, Sally's comment could be read as a sly hint at her suspicions.

John Jay to Robert Morris, 18 December 1780, Madrid (Collection of Columbia University): ". . . Arnold's Plot was as unexpected as its Discovery was fortunate. His wife is much to be pitied. It is painful to see so charming a woman so sacrificed."

Sally Jay to Mary Morris, 22 April 1781, Madrid (Collection of the Huntington Library): ". . . you know the ladies to whom my friendship extends, & you will oblige me by remembering me to them– the lovely Mrs. Arnold whom I admired so much, is I fear, forever banished from the society of her friends– how unpropitious has been her star!"

On this day in 1789…

George Washington informed John Jay of his appointment as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America.

United States, 5th: October 1789.


     It is with singular pleasure that I address you as Chief Justice of the supreme Court of the United States, for which office your Commission is here enclosed.

     In nominating you for the important station which you now fill, I not only acted in conformity to my best judgement; but, I trust, I did a grateful thing to the good citizens of these united States: and I have a full confidence that the love which you bear our Country, and a desire to promote general happiness, will not suffer you to hesitate a moment to bring into action the talents, knowledge and integrity which are so necessary to be exercised at the head of that department which must be considered as the Key-Stone of our political fabric. I have the honor to be, with high consideration and sentiments of perfect esteem, Sir, Your most Obedient and most Humble Servant,

Go: Washington

The Honorable John Jay–

Mr. Jay replied the next day:

New York 6 October 1789


     When distinguished Discernment & Patriotism unite in selecting men for Stations of Trust & Dignity, they derive Honor not only from their offices, but from the Hand which confers them.

     with a mind and a Heart impressed with these Reflections, and their correspondent Sensations, I assure You that the Sentiments expressed in your Letter of Yesterday, and implied by the commission it enclosed, will never cease to excite my best Endeavours to fulfill the Duties imposed by the latter, and as far as may be in my power, to realize the Expectations which your nominations, especially to important Places, must naturally create–

     with the most perfect Respect Esteem & Attachment I have the Honor to be Sir Your most obedt. and h'ble Servt

John Jay