Letters to and from William Brent concerning
the position of personal secretary to President Thomas Jefferson

Letter from William Brent, 1775-1848, to Meriwether Lewis, 25 Feb 1803

In 1801 William Brent, 1775-1848, wrote to President Thomas Jefferson, recently inaugurated, to request the position of secretary to the President. Jefferson chose Meriwether Lewis to be his secretary instead.

William was a young man then, not yet married. He was an officer in the D.C. Militia at the time and a member of the Municipal Council.

In 1803, when Meriwether Lewis was about to depart on his Expedition to the West, Lewis suggested to William Brent that he should replace him as secretary and Jefferson offered the position to William. William turned it down saying that he was deeply involved establishing himself in business and the position went to Lewis Harvie. He did say that he would be willing to aid the president from time to time as needed when he could.

In 1804 Lewis Harvie was about to depart for Europe and Thomas Jefferson was again in need of a private secretary. He wrote to William Brent again offering him the position and hoping that he might change his mind. William does not want to take the position but is willing to help out as needed.

In a letter to Meriwether Lewis in January 1804, Jefferson notes that William Brent is “taking his place with me.” So he must have been able to help out temporarily both when Meriwether Lewis and Lewis Harvie were leaving and replacements were being found.

Letter from William Brent, 1775-1848, to Meriwether Lewis, 25 Feb 1803
Letter from William Brent to Meriwether Lewis, 25 February 1803, concerning the position
of private secretary to President Thomas Jefferson

Washington, 25th Feb’y 1803

Dear Sir

I have naturely maturely considered the offer with which the President has honored me, through you. With every disposition to serve the President, I lament that I cannot have the pleasure of accepting the appointment of private secretary to him, without rearranging[?] very materially, plans which I have formed, and Business in which I am engaged, with views to a permanent establishment in the mercantile line.

My time is already occupied in attending to a variety of small concerns in which I am engaged, so much, that I find I have very little leisure to devote to others pursuits.

If, under the circumstances, I have mentioned it would be a convenience to the President to accept my services for a short time, until he shall have an opportunity of supplying my place it will afford me infinite satisfaction to be useful to him by aiding him from time to time, when my leisure will permit.

I beg you will accept my best thanks for the very friendly manner in which you have communicated to me the desire of the President and assure him of my gratitude for the kindness he has ??? me, of my respect and my sincere desire to render him service in any manner which may be in my power.

I am, Dear Sir,
with very great esteem & respect,
      Yr mo: Ob Servt.
      Wm Brent

In 1805 William Brent took over as clerk of the circuit court for the District of Columbia and held that office until his death in 1848.

In an unrelated matter, William Brent wrote a letter to Jefferson in 1806 requesting the President’s acceptance of a pair of Bantam fowls. William had learned that Jefferson had expressed a wish for some chickens from this breed. The breed is “genuine” and the male is two years old and the female 20 months. Where he managed to find these is unknown.

Related links:

William Brent, 1775-1848
Col. William Brent, notice of death, 1848
Gravestone of William and his second wife, Elizabeth Neale, Forest Glen, Maryland

Letter above from William Brent to Meriwether Lewis, 25 February 1803, is from the Thomas Jefferson Papers at the Library of Congress Repository, Manuscript Division, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.mss/mtj.mtjbib012178

An 11 March 1801 letter from William Brent to Thomas Jefferson regarding his wish to become Jefferson's private secretary was accessed at Founders Online website, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-33-02-0199.

The letter from Thomas Jefferson to William Brent, 20 January 1804, where William is offered the job of private secretary, was accessed at Founders Online website, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-42-02-0277.

The letter to Thomas Jefferson from William Brent, 14 October 1806 regarding the pair of Bantam fowls was accessed at Founders Online website, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/99-01-02-4400.

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8 June 2020
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