Childhood

I, John, was born on December 12, 1745, in New York to Peter Jay and Mary Van Cortlandt. I was born at 66 Pearl Street, which amazingly, after over two hundred years, still exists! I was the eighth child born out of ten. I grew up on my father’s farm of about four hundred acres, in the middle of the small village of Rye. The farm I spent my early childhood years in was located on the seashore, with a woods on the other side. It was truly a lovely place to spend one’s tenderest years. I would often spend my time “roaming through the woods and gathering nuts, which he carried home in his stockings, which he stripped off for this purpose.”

My father, although he owned a farm, had never really been an actual farmer. He worked as an agent for British merchants, chasing down debtors and making sure their paid off their debts—even using drastic measures like debtor’s prison and lawsuits. I suppose my views that the Americans should pay off debts owed to British creditors came from watching my father at work!

My faith had always been an important part of my life, and had a large influence on my work. When my older brother, James, went away to college, my father would consistently remind him to pray and attend church frequently. Not only that, my maternal grandmother was so pious, that she “died on her knees while in prayer.” As a result, I was able to receive a strong foundation in my faith from both sides of the family. I also had the same political views as my father throughout my childhood. I was a Whig, and strongly supported England.

I was homeschooled as a young child, until my father sent me to a school when I was eight. Three years later, however, I returned home to study under a private tutor. When I was fourteen, I entered King’s College. There was one incident, which I still remember clearly, as it almost got me expelled right before graduation. Several of the students started a fight, and began to break the tables. The president heard the noise, and decided to investigate. None of the students would admit to breaking the table, or who had done it. However, when it was my turn to be interrogated, I replied, “I do not choose to tell you, sir.” I argued that the rules never obliged me to tell him who it was, so therefore, he was not disobeying him. It probably was not the smartest thing to do, as the president disagreed strongly and suspended me. But thankfully, he let me back in just in time to graduate.

After graduation, I began work as an agent for my father, buying and selling various things for him. However, I realized that I wanted to go into the law profession. Unfortunately, there were no law schools at that time, so the only option for me was to work as a law clerk for another lawyer. But I soon learned that the lawyers of New York all agreed not to hire any clerks from 1756 to 1769. Thankfully though, the policy was revoked two years later, and I applied for a clerkship with Benjamin Kissam. Then later, I could become a lawyer. [<–click to continue]

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