What It Was Like When It Was First Brought Here
Old Memories Revived
Duties of a Chief Clerk in the Long Ago Years
Famous Hunter Cantaloupe
Men Who Helped to Make Washington and
Where They Had Their Abode
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, August 23, 1908 [p. 91]
When that important branch of the government which has to do with our foreign relations, the Department of State, arrived here in 1800, John Marshall, the Secretary, had a force of eight clerks and a messenger. Yet he and Mr. Madison, who followed from 1801 to 1809, had to establish the department in temporary quarters. Though the smallest of the departments, its work was of broad scope, and, in fact, every branch of public service which did not belong to the Treasury, War or Navy fell to its lot. In addition to the diplomatic service, the patent and land business was in its purview, and in after years a home bureau was developed.
Fifth Auditor Pleasanton
On the first roster was Stephen Pleasanton, who, coming here from Philadelphia, served the government, and resided a long time at 21st and F streets, and came to be pleasantly remembered as the "old fifth auditor." When, in 1817, the work of auditing accounts was distributed, those of the State Department fell to the lot of the fifth auditor. Mr. Pleasanton was appointed such; in reality a change of title only. In this he served out the balance of his life till the fifties. Another was Daniel Brent of Capitol Hill, a brother of the mayor, who saw many years of service, in the twenties, being the chief clerk. Christopher S. Thom of the west end, for many years was here, and the family name was long connected with the government. Richard Forrest, living on F street between 13th and 14th streets, was one of the originals, and William Maul of 20th street and the avenue the messenger.
A Chief Clerk of the Old days
John Graham was the chief clerk under the Monroe administration, and saw much service in foreign countries, especially in Central and South America, when efforts were then made to throw off Spanish rule, and, at the instance of the President, made a trip to the southwest and interviewed the pirate Lafitte, who was supposed to be concerned in the establishment of an independent government there. Mr. Graham erected and lived in a fine residence at the northwest corner of Massachusetts avenue and 14th street, later for many years the city residence of Col. Hill of Prince George county, Md. John D. Barclay was early a clerk here, but later went to the Treasury register*#39;s office. He resided in the early years in a colonial frame house at the northwest corner of Vermont avenue and H street, and later on 18th street, south of Pennsylvania avenue. He was widely known as a public-spirited citizen, serving his ward many terms in the council. Thomas L. Thurston, a brother of Judge Buckner Thurston, then residing on Capitol Hill, afterward at 9th and D streets, was there, as was F.L. Smith, J.M. Baker, a brother of Parson Daniel Baker of the Second (now the New York Avenue) Presbyterian Church, and George E. Ironside, living near H and 8th streets southwest.
Complete Change in 25 Years
There had been nearly a complete change made in twenty-five years, albeit some names had long been here. Under the administration of President Polk Secretary Buchanan's clerical force had as its chief clerk Nicholas P. Trist. Mr. Trist had been in the service of the department many years, in 1833 having been sent to Spain as a special agent of the government, and during the war with Mexico he rendered important service as the commissioner to negotiate a settlement. He was a neighbor of the Secretary, on the north side of F street, between 13th and 14th streets. Robert Greenhow, the translator, had his home nearby; A.H. And W.S. Derrick and Francis Markoe, jr., lived in the vicinity of the West Market. William Hunter, jr. resided in Georgetown, and years after became the chief clerk and assistant secretary.. The latter had a reputation beyond the pale of the department. Being greatly interested in gardening he had about his home a fine assortment of fruit, flowers and vegetables.
The Hunter Cantaloupe
The fine cantaloupe of ante-bellum and subsequent years took his name, as he introduced it, the seed having been sent him from the orient. John E. Norris was then in the library, preferring that as a more congenial place than his school room at 9th and H streets. Mr. Norris was active as a member of the Jackson Democratic Association, of which, for twenty years or more, he was president. After his departmental service he enjoyed a large practice as a lawyer, and at his death, his son, James L. Norris, succeeded to the presidency of the Jackson association.
George Bartle, one of the messengers at the time, retained his position for nearly fifty years, dying in the service.
Up to this period the number of employes had not doubled in the department proper, but the fifth auditor numbered as many under its roof and the patent office was growing elsewhere. Dr. William Thornton so well known in the early history of Washington was the keeper of patents and lived for many years on the north side of F street, between 13th and 14th streets. William Elliot, who was by profession a surveyor, and well versed in the sciences, was the clerk. He lived adjoining Washington's house on North Capitol street, where for several years he had an observatory, and with others interested in astronomy, studied the stars. From 1832 to 1836 he was city surveyor and was succeeded by his son, William P. Elliot for two years. The latter was long a patent agent at 8th and F streets. Richard Fenwick, who then lived on the south side of F street, east of 11th street, was the messenger for many years. The son, R.W. Fenwick, spent a life time in the patent agency business in the firm of Mason, Fenwick & Lawrence.
Clerks in 1820
As stated when the office of fifth auditor was created, Mr. Pleasanton was placed at its head. Associated with him was Thomas Musten, the chief clerk, who succeeded to the auditorship, not, however, till each had grown gray in the service. Mr. Musten in his early days resided in Georgetown, but later on near the corner of 9th street and New York avenue. About 1820 there were also there John H. Houston, Samuel D. King, Bazel Waring, William Dewees, David Easton, Joseph Thaw, Robert Fisher, N. Harper, T.B. Pottinger and E. Holland. Messrs. Houston and King often served in city councils and they were here as clerks till the fifties. Mr. Waring went to the solicitor's office. About 1845 there had been but little increase of force, but new names had appeared. Then the roll included John Devlin, then of the neighborhood of 12th street and New York avenue, after of Capitol Hill; Robert Rickett of 13th street north of G street, noted for his activity in Sunday school work, long of the Foundry M.E. Churcch; Rev. Ashbell Steele, father of Rev. A.F. Steele, the first rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church; Alexander Spear, G.G. Cox, Arthur Campbell and Mr. Holland. The latter had been here for thirty or more years and remained long after.
Birth of the General Land Office
Under the roof of the State Department was the general land office prior to 1840. This was established in 1812, the first commissioner being Gov. Edward Tiffin of Ohio, who followed Gen. Sinclair, the territorial governor, as the state executive followed by Josiah Meigs from 1814 to his death in 1822. John McLean of Ohio served as commissioner for a year, and after a term as Postmaster General, was for thirty years on the bench of the Supreme Court. In those early days were some who figured in the establishment of the city and in other branches of the general government, among whom they following are mentioned: Robert King, draughtsman, living near 13th and F streets; Joseph S. Collins, Walter B. Beall, Sterling Gresham and Samuel Hanson of Georgetown, John McLaughlin, 14th and F streets; David Shoemaker, Joseph S. Wilson and Joseph W. Hand, at or near 12th and F streets; John M. Moore and James R.M. Bryant, near Pennsylvania avenue and 20th street; F.C. DeKraft, who resided on E street east of 14th street, was here in 1820 and after was city surveyor; William DeKraft perpetuated the name here in the forties; Frederick Keller was on Maryland avenue and 12th streets; David Shoemaker, jr., 8th street, north of G street; Daniel Brown, corner of 9th and I streets; George Leib, near Pennsylvania avenue and 7th street; John H. Blake, 10th street, south of Pennsylvania avenue; S.D. King and F.D. Tschiffely, near 17th and G streets. Mr. Moor, chief clerk in the days of Monroe, continued as principal clerk of public lands thirty years or more. Joseph S. Wilson, who had started at the foot of the ladder, was in the forties principal clerk of private land claims and after became commissioner. John Wilson, then in charge of the surveys, had had a similar career in the office and also reached the commissionership. The latter was for about twenty years an alderman from the second ward and lived a long time at 11th and I streets. W.T. Steiger had long been and still was the principal draughtsman who served until war times.
Grand Master of Masons
George C. Whiting had been here some years when in 1849 he became chief clerk of the Interior Department. He was long prominent in Masonry, serving several terms as grand master, and had his home on the south side of F street between 6th and 7th streets. Capt. John T. Bryant preserved the family name here, and living on M street east of 10th street was a popular citizen of the Northern Liberties, president of that fire company and captain of the Walker Sharp Shooters.
Frederick A. Tschiffeley's name was continued and his home was on G street north of Judiciary Square, and J.H. Blake was still here. Parker H. Sweet, a local minister of the Methodist Protestant Church, residing in Georgetown, served here many years and was active in Odd Fellowship as the grand secretary a long time. A.G. Seaman later engaged in the congressional printing; A.S.H. White, later of the Interior Department; Moses Kelly, connected with the National Metropolitan Bank, father of Rev. Joseph T. Kelly of Mount Pleasant; Alexander Bielaski, father of a well known Methodist minister; Maj. Henry Hungerford, whose name is perpetuated by descendents in Washington business circles; William H. Minnix, long in the real estate business and at his death, at near ninety years of age, a Mason of fifty years' standing; and Grafton Powell, father of Capt. J.T. Powell, also a Mason of long standing; James L. Cathcart and Peter Wilson, who commanded in the fifties the Union Guards and Continentals, respectively, were some of the sixty-odd clerks.
In the twenties the commanding general, Gen. Jacob Brown, was in the State building, as also was the adjutant general's office. The well known Samuel Cooper, then a lieutenant here, became adjutant general later, serving many years, and during the civil war held like position in the confederacy. J.M. Hepburn of Georgetown was a clerk in the office and was filling the position twenty-five years later.