Olden Time Clerks
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, July 26, 1908 [p. 9]
When, over a hundred years ago, the Treasury Department moved with the government offices from Philadelphia to this city, it took up its abode in one of the two executive office buildings erected by the government.
This was the two-story-and-basement structure which stood on the site of the present Treasury on 15th street south of the line of F street, and was destroyed by fire in 1833.
Oliver Wolcott of Connecticut came here as Secretary, with Joseph Nourse, register; John Steele, controller; Richard Harrison, auditor, and Samuel Meredith, treasurer, with the clerks in 1800.
In a few months Secretary Wolcott resigned, as did Controller Steele and Treasurer Meredith. Mr. Wolcott was not satisfied with the conditions he found here, as appears by a letter describing the city.
He was succeeded by Samuel Dexter of Massachusetts, who served a year. Albert Gallatin of Pennsylvania followed in the office till 1813. Mr. Steele was succeeded in the controllership by Gabriel Duvall of Maryland for ten years, and Mr. Meredith, the treasurer, by Thomas Tudor Tucker till 1828.
The heads of bureaus and the clerks mostly served long terms, and a number were survivors of the army of the revolution. As will be seen from those early days the line from the patriots of old has been well preserved in the department, and not a few have proved their lineage when later the country called for defenders.
There is record evidence, too, that when, in 1801, a fire took place in the building the clerks performed yeoman service as firemen, and, with others, confined the flames to one or two rooms. At the destruction of the building, in 1833, they were also active, but without success, other than in saving the books and papers.
In the Secretarys Office
Samuel M. McKean, long residing on 17th street; James L. Anthony of Georgetown and Asbury Dickens of F street were here prior to 1820. Mr. McKean was a clerk here for nearly fifty years, and Mr. dickens was the secretary of the Senate for twenty-five years from 1836 to 1861.
The controllers office under Mr. Steele, who had represented South Carolina in the First and Second congresses, was after his incumbency, from 1793 to 1801, turned over to Gabriel Duvall, a former representative from Maryland, who held the position for ten years, later being the chief judge of Maryland for twenty years.
R. Loughborough was the chief clerk many years, and from 1811 to 1813 was acting controller. Ezekiel Bacon in the latter year was appointed controller. Mr. Loughborough resided in the county above Georgetown for some time. He commanded a volunteer cavalry troop, and for many years served in the levy court.
Others on the roll were John Woodside and his son, John, who came here from Philadelphia. The former was a veteran of the continental army. Both were for a long time leading citizens of the old first ward, prominent especially in the fire company there.
John and Jacob Lamb of Georgetown were the first of the name which graced the departmental rolls for the larger portion of the last century. John Lamb became the chief clerk in Monroes time. Among dozens of others there were Joseph and Henry Chambers, David Kawn, John Malcolm, W. G. Orr and William Felch, the latter here in 1820.
Joseph Anderson, who had served as a territorial judge in the southwest, as senator from Tennessee from 1797 to 1815, became the controller in the latter year, serving till within a few months of his death in 1836, in his eightieth year. Among the clerks about 1820 were Samuel Hanson, long here and in other offices; David P. Polk, Thomas F. Anderson, who was in office till near ninety years of age; R. B. Briscoe, for thirty years or more in office, an influential citizen of the first ward, and John Underwood of Capitol Hill, afterward chief clerk of the first auditors office, and William Williamson.
The auditor for the department was Richard Harrison of Virginia, appointed by Washington, long having his residence near 17th and I streets, who had about fifteen clerks. Among those were Paul Farrell, Robert Underwood, Robert Gillespie, Charles Shoemaker, J. B. Pickford, Joseph Taylor and E. King.
Twenty years later there were on the roster Pontius D. Stelle, who about 1800 conducted a hotel on Capitol Hill and from 1812 to 1819 was the secretary of the common council, then living on Pennsylvania avenue; Thomas G. Slye of Georgetown, whose name was associated with the Franklin Park section, in which he owned much property; Thomas Barclay, then living on G street west of 17th street; D. P. Porter, with others. William Parker, living in the Six Buildings, was the chief clerk.
Many Nourses in Service
Among the original clerks was Joseph Stretch, one of the three survivors of the eight clerks of the register who remained at their posts in Philadelphia during the yellow fever epidemic in 1794. Mr. Stretch on arriving here settled on 19th street south of G street and was succeeded in office by his son, and they were active in the furtherance of the interests of that village-like portion of Washington.
The father was prominent as a fireman in the company organized at the west market in 1804. John McGowan lived on the site of the Hotel Regent, was in the councils in 1807 and 1808 and active in the fire company which used the apparatus bought for the protection of the building. William James, who resided on 14th street north of F street, was for over twenty years in office and the family yet represented long lived in this vicinity. Cornelius De Krafft was here a few years and later was in the land office, in which was F. C. De Krafft fifty years after. There were also here H. Kramer, R. Freeman, John Little, William Mackey, Joseph Lyon, Joseph Burchan and Charles Tompkins.
The Nourses were of the Presbyterian faith, as were Messrs. McGowan, James and others. In that early day, 1803, for want of a more suitable place of worship, they, with a few others, held services in the building on Sundays. These meetings resulted in the establishment of the F Street Presbyterian congregation, whose edifice was known afterward as Willard Hall. Rev. Dr. James Laurie was the pastor here for fifty years, and from an early date was a clerk in the registers office.
First Treasury Fraud
He had been a trusted confidential clerk and had had charge of certain stock books in which the register, to expedite business, was accustomed to sign the blanks. In 1805 it was found that there had been an overissue of $1,000. On investigation it appeared that Tompkins had taken ten $100 certificates and, presenting them as agent of C. Biddle of Philadelphia, he issued the stock to himself and disposed of it to Mr. Biddle.
For this, however, there was no arrest or prosecution. Six years after the officials discovered that certificates for $15,000 and $30,000 had been passed, the signatures being genuine, but the marks of issue, etc., forged. It was ascertained that the latter had been bought of James Tompkins, son of the former clerk, in London, and that he had invested the proceeds in real estate and a ship, the Justina of Norfolk.
The latter arrived at New York in November, 1811. Arrests were made of young Tompkins and the captain, Thomas Joy.
The son confessed that his father had given him ten blanks and he had filled the two presented, sold them and invested the proceeds. A trial followed. The father was acquitted on a technicality and the son convicted. Regarded as but a tool of the principal, he was pardoned.
Among the clerks in the twenties were Henry M. Steiner of 10th street, J. C. Steiner of 5th street and James. M. McClery, long a resident of F street; Francis Loundes of Georgetown, who served thirty years or more; Col. W. B. Randolph, then of Georgetown, afterward of South Washington, was nearly twenty years a clerk in the registers but after was for about the same length of time chief clerk of the treasurers office.
When in Georgetown he was the captain of the Georgetown Rifle Company and in the volunteer fire service, and in Washington was the inspector general of the District militia and was prominent in every movement for the betterment of the community, for a series of years active in municipal affairs as member of the board of health and a school trustee.
Samuel Meredith of Philadelphia came here as United States treasurer, but remained only a year. Thomas Tudor Tucker of South Carolina succeeded him in December, 1801, dying in office in May, 1828. Mr. Tucker was delegate and representative in Congress from 1787 to 1793. He lived many years at Mrs. Wilsons on F street near 15th street.
The clerical force was of three persons William Doughty, Thomas Paxton and Samuel Brook. The latter, who resided on 10th street south of the avenue, was here for about thirty years, latterly as chief clerk. In the twenties there were B. W. and Benjamin B. Beall, George W. and Thomas B. Dashiell and James Moore. The latter lived then on 10th street near the avenue, and after at 6th street and Massachusetts avenue, spending some fifty years in office.
Internal Revenue Clerks
S. Harrison Smith, who established the Intelligencer, was a few years thereafter commissioner of the revenue.
Walter Hellen and Thomas B. Johnson were the superintendents of stamps. The former in the early days resided near the G street wharf and was closely identified with local interests. He in 1800 was a member of the first branch of the city council.
When after the destruction of the building in the war of 1812 and business had been resumed in nearby buildings it was evident that greater accommodations were necessary for the force; and also an increase in the number of bureaus and employes. The restoration of this building was provided for and the auditors work was assigned to several. But one auditor, the first auditor, was located in the Treasury.
In the early days the messengers were allowed house rent, fuel, etc., and for those of the Treasury in 1801-2 dwellings were erected north of the building. These were occupied at the burning of the department by the British in 1814 by John M. Lovejoy, John Frank, William Esenback and Charles B. Davis and were then destroyed with the household effects. The other messengers were John Connell, who lived near 14th and G streets; Alex McDonald, at 15th and G streets, and Alex Watson, near Pennsylvania avenue and 23d street.
There were also two watchmen, James Wilson and John Poor. After the fire Mr. Lovejoy moved in the neighborhood of the Navy Department, and the son of the same name, was also employed in the Treasury, becoming a clerk, long serving in the office of the Secretary and the first controller. The elder, a survivor of the revolution, died in the forties at a good old age. The family lived many years at 12th and I streets, and among its members were a physician, two lawyers and druggist, all useful citizens.
The Davis family moved to E street between 9th and 10th streets, and later was a prominent one. One son, Charles A. Davis, was long in the Methodist ministry, for some time a chaplain in the navy, and, residing near the West market, he frequently served in the councils and as a school trustee. Another son was a physician of note, living on E street east of 7th street, popular socially, a member of the councils. George, a third son, was for years in the housefurnishing business near 11th and E streets.