John Jay’s Commission
October 17, 1777
Sheepskin, iron gall ink, papier-mâché
This commission was the official document that made John Jay the Chief Justice of New York State. Jay served as New York State Chief Justice for over a year, until being elected President of the Second Continental Congress in December of 1778.
There is a large “T” at the top left of the document, which was engraved by Henry Dawkins and has the great seal of New York inside of it.
The NY state seal has a shield in the center with three mountains on it; atop the shield is an eagle with its wings spread. On either side of the shield are two female figures symbolizing “liberty” and “justice”, with the motto “Excelsior” on a scroll below the figures. The great seal can also be seen on the papier- mâché pendant that hangs from the bottom of the document, but it is missing the figures on either side of the shield.
The seal seen on this document was the first seal in NY state’s history, created by a committee consisting of Gouveneur Morris, John Sloss Hobart and John Jay. Since then, the seal has undergone four changes in 1778, 1798, 1809 and in 1882.
In October 1777, when this document was made official, New York’s state capital was relocated to Kingston, due to the ongoing revolutionary war. One reason that Kingston was chosen was because the local people were in support of the revolution and helped supply Washington’s army with wheat and other necessary food rations. It was also chosen due to its location; Kingston was seen as the safest location because it was away from General Burgoyne’s large army closing in on Albany and Sir Henry Clinton’s forces in New York City.
At the bottom of this document, it says that Jay was given this assignment by the Council of Appointment “at Marble Town”, which is about 9 miles southwest of Kingston. This was because the state’s government soon had to flee Kingston as Clinton’s forces had made their way north as part of their plan to eventually combine with Burgoyne’s army, which was moving south.
On October 17th, the day after the British burned down Kingston, Jay was appointed Chief Justice of New York State. That same day proved to be a turning point in the war as general Burgoyne’s army was defeated at Saratoga. This defeat foiled the British Army’s grand plan of linking Burgoyne and Clinton’s armies and choking off New England from the rest of the colonies.