A business entrance at the west end of the front porch opens onto a hall that leads to the office. Men coming to see John and William Jay about sales of wheat, fruit trees, livestock, etc., would enter the house there, away from the private life of the family in the rest of the house. Today the office looks very different from the way it did in John Jay’s lifetime. William built the large, built-in bookcase opposite the fireplace, and the matching bookcases around the room were built later when the room was used as the family’s library. Without so many bookcases, there was more space for hanging pictures, and Jay probably had several of his portraits of other Founding Fathers and prominent men he had known hanging here. The museum currently displays portraits of Egbert Benson by Gilbert Stuart, and prints of Benjamin Franklin, Lord William Grenville and other Jay contemporaries.
The barrister bookcase is designed for traveling lawyers to use for carrying their law books; it comes apart in sections, with handles on the ends for easier transport. While Chief Justice, Jay was required to ride from one circuit court to another, and may have travelled with this case. It had originally been in this room, but was inherited by Peter Augustus Jay after John Jay died. When the barrister bookcase was donated to the historic site by Peter Augustus’s heirs, it was put in the back hall as William Jay had added built-in bookcases to the office after his father’s death. It was moved back to this room as part of our House Restoration Project. The books belonged to the Jay family, but they are not John’s law books; his law library is preserved at Columbia University.
The cylinder-top desk was used by Jay while he was governor and then at the Homestead during his retirement. The armchairs in the room were originally made as part of a set of twenty-six for the use of the United States Senate at Federal Hall in New York, when New York City was the nation’s capital. After the capitol was moved from New York, the chairs became office furniture; these were in John Jay’s office while he was governor. When the state capitol was moved from New York to Albany in 1797, the chairs were shipped by mistake to Jay’s new offices with his papers. After discovering the error, he wrote the mayor of New York offering to ship them back or pay for them. He was told he could keep the chairs for himself, and when he retired, he brought them here to Bedford.