John Jay

First Chief Judge of the New York Supreme Court, 1777-1778
John Jay

John Jay was born in New York City on December 12, 1745, the son of a wealthy merchant family. He graduated from Kingís College (later Columbia University) in 1764, and began his legal studies as a law clerk in the office of Benjamin Kissam. Admitted to the bar in 1768, Jay set up a legal practice with Robert R. Livingston, Jr., before starting his own law office in 1771.

Jay was a member of the Continental Congress 1774-1776 and 1778-1779 and in the intervening months, was a delegate to the New York Convention of 1776-77 and one of the principal drafters of the New York State Constitution. The New York Convention appointed him Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court, a position he held until December 1778, when he resigned to become President of the Continental Congress.

In 1783, Jay was part of the delegation that negotiated the Treaty of Paris, formally ending the Revolutionary War. Favoring the proposed Federal Constitution, Jay wrote five essays in The Federalist Papers under the pseudonym ìPublius.î On September 24, 1789, President George Washington appointed John Jay first Chief Justice of the United States, a position that he held until his resignation on June 29, 1795. Meanwhile, in April of 1794, the President selected John Jay to negotiate a treaty with Great Britain aimed at resolving outstanding issues between the two nations (The Jay Treaty).

On his return from London in 1795, Jay, who had been elected Governor of New York in abstentia, assumed office and served two three-year terms as Governor. His legacy includes the 1799 signing into law of "An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery" which ended slavery in New York State by July 4, 1827, judicial reforms and a revised criminal law that restricted the death penalty to treason, murder and sacrilege, and abolished flogging as a punishment.

John Jay died May 17, 1829, and was buried in the family cemetery in Rye, New York.

Additional Resources

John Jay as New York's First Chief Justice by Walter Stahr (PDF)
[originally published: Judicial Notice (5)]

Kaye on Jay: New York's First Chief -The Family Man by Judith S. Kaye (PDF)
[originally published: Judicial Notice (8)]


Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
National Governors Association. Biographies of Former Governors.
Columbia University Libraries. A Brief Biography of John Jay.

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