Thomas Law Family Papers 1791-1834, MS. 2386

Maryland Historical Society
Library of Maryland History

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Thomas Law Family Papers, 1791-1834
Maryland Historical Society
 
 
 

(Text converted and initial EAD tagging provided by Apex Data Services, March 1999.)
 

Thomas Law Family Papers, 1791-1834
Maryland Historical Society

Contact Information:
Manuscripts Department
Maryland Historical Society Library
201 West Monument Street
Baltimore MD 21201-4674
410.685.3750
Fax: 410.385.2105
library@mdhs.org
www.mdhs.org



Descriptive Summary

Register of the Thomas Law Family Papers
MS.2386
Maryland Historical Society
Baltimore MD 21201-4674

Created by
Drew Gruenburg
January 1979
 
 


Introduction

 

The Thomas Law Family Papers consist almost exclusively of the papers of Thomas Law and his two sons Edmund and John. Thomas Law's papers include both incoming and outgoing correspondence dating from 1791-1834, and essays and opinions written by Law on a variety of philosophic, economic, and political topics. Edmund Law's papers consist of incoming and outgoing correspondence, 1804-1829, as do the papers of John Law which date from 1797-1821. Included are also estate papers of John Law, 1822-1825.

The collection, most of which relates to Thomas Law, with smaller but equally important sections dealing with his sons, is contained in nine boxes. The papers reflect the Laws' interests in United States and European political and economic life, their interests in the construction of canals and buildings in Washington, D.C., and their dealings in land speculation in Kentucky, Virginia, Vermont, Illinois, and Washington, D.C.

 


Biographical Sketch

Biographical Sketch - Thomas Law

Thomas Law was born 23 October 1756 (some sources say 1759) in Cambridge, England into a cultured and wealthy family. His father, Right Reverend Edmund Law, was the Lord Bishop of Carlisle; brother Ewan served in India and was a member of Parliament from 1790-1802; brother Edward was Attorney General and Speaker of the House of Lords; brother John was a bishop; and brother George Henry was Bishop of Chester.

Little is known of Thomas Law's earliest years or of his educational background, but in 1773 at the age of seventeen he travelled to India in the capacity of writer, an office introductory to employment in the civil service of the East India Company. Here he served the usual term of the novice and passed through various grades of promotion until his 1783 appointment to the collectorship of the Bahar. Gya, the capital of Bahar, venerated as much by the Hindus as Mecca by the Muslims drew pilgrims from all parts of India. The high taxes, however, deterred them from fulfilling their religious exodus. Thomas Law, by modifying the tax structure and lowering taxes, increased the number of pilgrims travelling to Gya, thus increasing the revenues. For this reason he was given recognition by the Board of Control in London, England.

In 1788 Law submitted to the Board of Revenue in Bahar his plan for a mocurrery or fixed settlement of the land tax. This system, embodied in the Cornwallis settlement of 1789, insured the security of various lands in India. Ill health, however, obliged Law to return to England after a successful career in India.

While in England Law became a member of the Asiatic Society of Bengal and the Association for Preserving Liberty and Property. He also wrote numerous pamphlets on land usage and taxation in India. In 1794 Law left England and sailed to the United States after filing a suit for restitution against the East India Company who had seized one fifth of his fortune acquired in India to satisfy a claim against a paymaster for whom Law was surety.

Law arrived in New York but soon moved to Washington where in 1796 he married Elizabeth Parke Custis, granddaughter of Martha Custis Washington and step-granddaughter of George Washington. In 1797 a daughter, Eliza, was born. Law and his wife separated in 1804 and filed a bill for divorce in 1810. While living in India his mistress bore him three sons, John, George, and Edmund.

Law invested most of his savings in lots and houses in Washington. He distinguished himself by his efforts to establish a national currency, and in 1824 was a member of acommittee which presented a memorial to Congress on the subject. Around

1817, Law turned farmer and bought 243 acres of land near Washington called it Retreat. Here he learned farming techniques along with livestock management, and soon became president of the Agricultural Society of Prince George's County.

Throughout his life Thomas Law was an incessant writer. He wrote prodigiously on the scheme for a national currency and had papers published by the Columbian Institute and the National Intelligencer, many under the pseudonym of Homo.

Owing to failure of some of his investments, Law became comparatively poor in his later years although never insolvent. He died on 31 July 1834.
 
 

Biographical Sketch- John Law

The year of his birth is probably 1784. He travelled to the United States with his father in 1794 and attended Harvard University, graduating in 1804. After his graduation he belonged to the militia, the Columbian Dragoons, and in June 1811 was commissioned as a 1st Lieutenant.

John Law was trained as a lawyer and worked in Washington, D.C. in that capacity. He was associated with George Watterson the first Librarian of Congress. He was also a local legislator:

Eighth Council- 1809 First Chamber

Twentieth Council- 1822 Alderman

He was married in 1815 to Frances Ann Carter and they had two sons, Edmund and Thomas. Law died suddenly and unexpectedly in 1822.
 
 

Biographical Sketch - Edmund Law

Edmund Law was born in 1790, the youngest son of Thomas Law. In 1794 when his father and brother came to the United States, Edmund remained in England with his paternal aunt, Lady [UNK]. Thomas Law visited England in 1802-1803 and on his return in November 1803 brought Edmund back to America with him.
 

 


Scope and Content

The Thomas Law Family Papers span the years 1791-1834. The collection is made up almost entirely of pieces of correspondence with the exception of a selection of manuscript and published writings of Thomas Law. The correspondence throughout the collection is fairly consistent, there being no grossly apparent gaps or areas of great abundance. However, Thomas Law does figure more prominently in this collection than do either of his sons, John or Edmund.

The collection is broken down into three distinct sections -- papers dealing with Thomas Law, those dealing with Edmund Law, and those dealing with John Law. The Thomas Law papers span the years 1791-1834 and consist of incoming and outgoing correspondence, and both manuscript and published writings of Thomas Law. Subjects covered in th correspondence include United States and European politics and economy ca. 1800-1825, especially the War of 1812, Bonaparte, the Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Adams, and early Jackson administrations, the national currency questions, and internal improvements; discussion of land speculation by Law and friend William Blane; and the building of Washington, D.C.. Important correspondents include Alexander White, William Thornton, Benjamin Stoddert, Turner Camac, Frederick May, John Browne Cutting, William Eustis, A,J. Dallas, Henry Clay, James Barry, and B.H. Latrobe. This section also contains a great number of letters Law's English friend and partner in land speculation, William Blane, 1794-1834, and a group of incoming letters from family members in England, 1792-1833.

The Edmund Law papers span the years 1804-1829, and also consist of incoming and outgoing correspondence. Subjects discussed include personal financial, internal improvements especially in Washington, D.C., United States politics, travels to New York, Virginia, Florida, and Mexico. Correspondents include Frederick May, Cary Selden, Turner Camac,James Gadsden, and John Browne Cutting.

The John Law papers date from 1797 - 1825 and consist of incoming and outgoing correspondence plus papers relating to the estate of John Law, 1822-1825. Subjects discussed in these letters are about the same as those discussed in the previous sections, but also include discussions of rents on property owned by Thomas Law, legal correspondence, and letters to John Law while he was a student at Harvard University, ca.1800-1804.

As shown, the Thomas Law Family Papers deal exclusively with the lives of Thomas Law and his two sons. The collection gives clear insight into the sentiments harbored by both Americans and some Europeans towards United States and European politics and economy. It is also a valuable source of information on the building and laying out of Washington, D.C., especially the canals, residential areas, and some government buildings. Lastly, the collection traces the land speculation of Law and his sons and includes some information on lands in Kentucky, Virginia, New York, Illinois, and Florida.
 
 


Series Description


 

SERIES I. Thomas Law Incoming Correspondence, Boxes 1-4, 1791-1834

In this section the correspondence has been divided into three groups.- Incoming family correspondence and the letters of William Blane, Thomas Law's friend in England, are designated as two separate incoming correspondence sections. Blane's letters were so designated because of their abundance; the family letters to facilitate research. The rest of the letters come from a variety of correspondents.

Subjects covered include United States politics and economy ca. 1800-1825 — the War of 1812, national currency questions, internal improvements — discussion of land speculation in Washington, D. C.; the construction of canals and government buildings in Washington, D. C.; the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal; and discussion of Thomas Law's property in Washington.

William Blane's letters deal more specifically with investments in the U.S., both in stocks and in land, his views on the American character, U.S.- British relations; the Non-Intercourse Act, Jefferson's Embargo, the Edicts of [UNK], the state of England's economy, religion and government in the U.S., and discussion of moral philosophy and metaphysics.

William Newnham Blane, son of William Blane, writes of his travels to Kentucky, New York, New England, Illinois, and Montreal. He also writes from abroad while traveling in France, Italy and the Middle East.

For the most part, the family letters discuss family gatherings and happenings, English society 1824-1830 with some news of European politics.

Correspondents in this incoming correspondence section include:

John Angier
William Blane
William [UNK] Blane
Robert Brent
William Brent
Turner Camac
John Browne Cutting
Andrew Donelson
Lady Ellenborough
William Eustis
James Greenleaf
James Henshaw
William Hibb
B. H. Latrobe
Charlotte Law
Edmund Law(grandson)
Elisabeth Parke Law
Ewan Law
George Law
Henrietta Sarah Law
Thomas Law - grandson
Charles Legarrene
Frederick May
John Miller
Charles Rumbold
Elisabeth Rumbold
Harriet Rumbold
Joanna Law Rumbold
Thomas Rumbold
Richard Rush
John Skinner
Benjamin Stoddert
Greenville Temple
Maria Rumbold Temple
William Thornton
Alexander White
 

SERIES II. Thomas Law Outgoing Correspondence, 1813-1834,Box 5

Subjects of letter includes the national currency question, political philosophy, the Washington Canal Company, and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.

Letters written to James Barry, Cary Selden, A. J. Dallas, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Frederick May, William Eustis, James Greenleaf, William Blane, Greenville Temple, Charles Rumbold, Ann Towry, and George Law.
 
 

SERIES III. Thomas Law Writings, Box 5 & 6

Includes both handwritten and printed items. Topics discussed include trade with India & Britain, National Currency Proposals, slavery, taxes on heritances and legacies, banking, politics, and some poetry.
 
 

SERIES IV. Edmund Law Incoming Correspondence, 1804-1829, Box 6 & 7

Topics of discussion include personal financial affairs, land purchases and sales, the building of Washington Canal, and U.S. politics.

Correspondents include William Blane, Turner Camac, John Browne Cutting, William Elliott, James [UNK], Joseph Gales, John Ingle, Frederick May, John Rodman, Cary Selden, and W. G. D. Worthington.
 

SERIES V. Ednumd Law Outgoing Correspondence, 1804-1828, Box 7

Subjects discussed include Edmund Laws' travels in New York, Virginia, Florida, and Mexico, financial affairs in Washington, destruction of Washington in 1814, U.S. politics, and school life in New Haven, Connecticut.

All letters are written to his father Thomas Law.
 

SERIES VI. John Law Incoming Correspondence, 1797-1823, Box 7 & 8

Subjects include legal problems and finances regarding Law's legal practice, banking issues, construction in Washington, U.S. politics, letters from a friend at Harvard University, mention of Thomas Law's financial affairs, and divorce of Thomas Law.

Correspondents include William Brent, Cornelius Calvert, William Tunnicliff, Edmund Law, Enoch M. Lowe, Frederick May, Robert Taylor, William Thornton, John P. Van Ness, Robert Walsh, R. C. Weightman, W. G. D. Worthington, Thomas Law, Nathaniel Williams, Thomas Tingey, Thomas Digges, Eliza Parke Custis Law.
 

SERIES VII. John Law Outgoing Correspondence, 1802-1818, Box 9

Topics of discussion include U.S. politics, some information on the separation of Thomas Law and Eliza Parke Curtis Law, buying and selling of lots, in Washington, rents paid on lots, some talk of War of 1812, school life in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Majority of letters written to his father Thomas Law, with one to Mrs. Law, 1806, some to Samuel H. Harper.

John Law Estate Papers 1822-1825.
 

SERIES VIII. Rogers Papers, Box 9

Includes correspondence, memoranda, about Law and Rogers estates; and contains much information about the Druid Hill estate and negotiations to sell it to Baltimore City as a park, 1860.

Correspondents include John H. B. Latrobe, Edmund Law Rogers, Lloyd N. Rogers, Archibald Stirling and Thomas Swann.
 
 


Container List


 

1 Thomas Law Incoming Correspondence, 1791-1805

2 Thomas Law Incoming Correspondence, 1806-1825

3 Thomas Law Incoming Correspondence, 1826-1834; N. D.
  Thomas Law Incoming Corr. from William Blane and William Blane, Jr. 1794-1825

4 Thomas Law Incoming Corr. from William Blane, 1826-1834; N.D.
  Thomas Law Incoming Corr. from family members 1792-1833; N.D.

5 Thomas Law Outgoing Corr. 1813-1834; N.D.
  Letter R. C. Weightman to B. H. Latrobe 1810 Dec. 6
  Thomas Law Writings

6 Thomas Law writings and printed material
  George Hay Correspondence
  Edmund Law Incoming Corr., 1804-1827

7 Edmund Law Incoming Corr., 1828-1829; N.D.
  Edmund Law Outgoing Corr., 1804-1828
  John Law Incoming Corr. 1797-1811

8 John Law Incoming Corr, 1811-1823; N.D.

9 John Law Outgoing Corr., 1802-1818; N.D.
  John Law Estate Papers 1822-1825
  Rogers Family Papers
 

APPENDIX

See Also the following related collections:

MS 1345 Law Papers, 1792-1834.
Clark, Allen C., Greenleaf and law in the federal city. Wash., D.C.: W.F. Roberts, 1901.
DNB, XI, 677-678.
Sunday Sun, 12/28/30, p. 12.
 

INDEX

John Angier
William Blane
William [UNK] Blane
Robert Brent
William Brent
Turner Camac
John Browne Cutting
Andrew Donelson
Lady Ellenborough
William Eustis
James Greenleaf
James Henshaw
William Hibb
B. H. Latrobe
Charlotte Law
Edmund Law(grandson)
Elisabeth Parke Law
Ewan Law
George Law
Henrietta Sarah Law
Thomas Law - grandson
Charles Legarrene
Frederick May
John Miller
Charles Rumbold
Elisabeth Rumbold
Harriet Rumbold
Joanna Law Rumbold
Thomas Rumbold
Richard Rush
John Skinner
Benjamin Stoddert
Greenville Temple
Maria Rumbold Temple
William Thornton
Alexander White
 
 
 
 

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