In Service to the New Nation: The Life & Legacy of John Jay

King's College

John Jay's attendance at King's College was befitting for a young man whose family enjoyed wealth and status. Founded in 1754 as an Anglican institution, King's College educated the young men of New York and neighboring colonies. John Jay was fourteen years of age when he left his family home in Rye and entered the school in 1760. He studied a curriculum of natural sciences, classical texts, government, agriculture, and business developed by the college's founding president Dr. Samuel Johnson. His father Peter Jay remarked on his progress in May 1762, noting that "my Son John has now been two years at College, where he prosecutes his Studyes to satisfaction, he is induced wth: very good natural parts, and is bent upon a learned Profession, I believe it will be the Law." After earning his B.A. degree in 1764, Jay continued his studies at King's College and received an M.A. degree in 1767. Soon thereafter, Jay obtained a license to practice law in New York and formed a partnership with his close friend Robert R. Livingston.

South East View of the City of New York, front

Thomas Howdell (artist), Pierre Charles Canot (engraver), South East View of the City of New York, c. 1768, Historical Photographs Collection

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This early view of King's College includes a fanciful depiction of a flourishing palm tree in the foregound.

Laws of King's College, front

King's College (New York, N.Y.), Laws of King's College, 29 August 1760

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The young men enrolling at King's College had to pass a vigorous examination in order to gain admittance. This set of laws copied out by Jay mentions that incoming students were required to read and translate "the first three of Tully's Orations," "the six first Books of Virgil's AEneids" from Latin into English, and "the ten first Chapters of St. John's Gospel" from English into Latin. 

The laws for King's College also included provisions for expelling students who "shall frequent Houses of bad Fame" and "keep Company with Persons of viscious or Scandalous Behaviour." There were also fines for those who "shall fight Cocks, [and] play at Cards or any unlawfull Games." In addition, students were forbidden from engaging in any acts of "Fornication, Drunkeness, lying, Theft, swearing coursing, or any other scandalous Immorality."

Bill of Fare, circa 1754-1776, front

King's College (New York, N.Y.), Bill of Fare, c. 1754-1776, University Archives

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Jay and his fellow students attending King's College paid thirteen shillings a week for a school meal plan that offered the following:

Breakfast:  Tea & Coffee - Bread & Butter & Biscuit 

Dinner:      Sunday           Roast Beef & Pudding

                 Monday           Leg of Mutton & Roast Veal

                 Tuesday          Cornd. Beef and Mutton Chops 

                 Wednesday      Peas Porridge & Beef Stakes

                 Thursday         Cornd. Beef and Mutton Pye

                 Friday             Leg of Mutton & Soup  

                 Saturday         Fish, fresh & salt in Season 

Supper:     Bread and Cheese, and the Remains of Dinner

The Matricula or Register of Admissions & Graduations & of Officers employed in KIng's College at New York, page 6 (detail of Admissions Anno 1760 section)

Matricula, or Register of Admissions and Graduations and of Officers Employed in King's College at New York, detail of Admissions Anno 1760 section, University Archives

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The friendships that Jay established with other students at King's College continued into adulthood. Figures such as Egbert Benson and Richard Harison would serve as judicial colleagues and political allies. Jay gradually developed an intense rivalry with Robert R. Livingston, his one-time best friend and law partner. Jay and Livingston would eventually face off against one another in the gubernatorial election of 1798, a contest in which Jay would emerge victorious.

John Jay MA Diploma, front (with seal)

King's College (New York, N.Y.), John Jay M.A. Diploma (with seal), 19 May 1767

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While working on his M.A. degree, Jay worked as a clerk in the law office of Benjamin Kissam located on Golden Hill. His early years of clerkship were spent copying pleadings and judgment rolls. Lindley Murray, who worked as the senior clerk in Kissam's office, noted that Jay was "remarkable for strong reasoning powers, comprehensive views, indefatigable application, and uncommon firmness of mind."  

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