You are here

Hore Browse Trist, Sr.

Hore Browse Trist (Senior) (February 22, 1775 – August 29, 1804), known by his middle name, was the only child of Elizabeth House Trist and Nicholas Trist, a Lieutenant in the British Army's Royal Irish Regiment. His father, whose postings included service throughout the American colonies and who fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill, resigned his commission in 1775 to establish a plantation in West Florida (near modern day Natchez, Mississippi). Nicholas left his family in Philadelphia in the care of Eliza Trist's widowed mother, Mary House, whose boarding house served as a favorite residence for members of the Continental and Confederation Congresses. His plans to have his family join him were thwarted by the Revolutionary War, which made travel unsafe for his wife and child.1

In the period 1782-1783, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison befriended Elizabeth Trist while renting rooms from Mary House, and the young Browse Trist made a favorable impression on both men. Elizabeth Trist became a confidante of the recently widowed Jefferson, taking a particular interest in the welfare of Jefferson's daughter, Martha, and serving as matchmaker for James Madison, infatuated with Kitty Floyd, daughter of William Floyd, a member of the Continental Congress from New York.2 In 1783, with the Peace of Paris signed and the Revolutionary War ended, Elizabeth Trist left her son in the care of her mother and journeyed to join her husband in West Florida. At Jefferson's suggestion, she made a journal of her trip down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. On arriving at Natchez in early May 1784, she learned that her husband had died of yellow fever on February 23, 1784. Over the course of the following year, Elizabeth Trist settled her husband's financial matters and returned to Philadelphia in August 1785.3

Jefferson and Elizabeth Trist, single parents of children of the opposite sex, developed strong ties, with each parent acting as mentor to the other's offspring. Elizabeth Trist received Jefferson's support in Browse Trist's efforts to gain his inheritance of the Trist family fortune in England and Jefferson relied on Elizabeth Trist for advice on Martha Jefferson's upbringing and schooling.4 In a letter to Elizabeth Trist, Jefferson summarized his feelings, writing, "The society of my family and friends is becoming more and more the sole object of my delight, and among my best friends I have ever taken the freedom of counting yourself."5

Browse Trist attended the Episcopal Academy and, in 1792, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania where he became the close friend of Benjamin Franklin's grandson, Dr. William Bache (for whom Jefferson also served as a mentor). Following Trist's graduation, Jefferson offered his advice and services to secure the latter's inheritance.6 Trist traveled to London in 1792 and 1797 to further his education and business prospects but was unsuccessful in pressing his inheritance claim beyond a bequeathal of £1,000 from his paternal grandmother.7 In Philadelphia, Trist was unable to gain financial security and the outbreaks of yellow fever in 1793 (causing the death of his maternal grandmother, Mary House), 1797, and 1799 appear to have thwarted his efforts to succeed as a merchant and as a lawyer. In 1799, he married Mary Brown, daughter of Philadelphia's Deputy Customs Collector, Clement C. Brown.8

As a patron and mentor to Browse Trist and William Bache, Jefferson urged both men to leave Philadelphia and become his neighbors and fellow planters in Albemarle County. This prospect was particularly appealing to Elizabeth Trist, whose niece, Mary House, would soon marry Jefferson's friend Peachy Gilmer, a member of the influential Gilmer family of Pen Park. Jefferson enlisted the services of his daughter Martha's husband, Thomas Mann Randolph, to find suitable properties.9 By early 1800, Trist had acquired property he named "Birdwood" and Bache was established on property he named "Franklin."10 The Trist, Bache, Randolph, and Gilmer families developed close friendships and were actively engaged in Charlottesville's social scene.11 While the births of Nicholas Philip Trist in 1800, Benjamin Franklin Bache in 1801, and Hore Browse Trist, Jr., in 1802 brought happiness to the transplanted families, their plantations were a constant source of worry. Jefferson's idyllic portrait of life as his Albemarle County neighbors stood in contrast to the reality of the debt Trist and Bache acquired to purchase their plantations and their mutual failures as Virginia farmers.12

Unable to meet their obligations, Trist and Bache made the difficult decision to leave Albemarle County and seek new prospects in the Mississippi Territory. Early in 1802, Trist expressed to Jefferson his regret at "departing from a neighbourhood where we have met with uniform attention—where the society exists which we would select from the world, & where our best & dearest friends reside."13 While saddened by the prospect of losing his neighbors to "Mississippianism," Jefferson used his power of presidential patronage to appoint Trist and Bache to territorial positions, providing both men the financial security of a government salary.14 While Bache would eventually return to Philadelphia, Browse Trist seized the opportunity Jefferson provided in the Mississippi Territory. Leaving the disposition of Birdwood to Thomas Mann Randolph and leaving his family with the Gilmers at Pen Park, Trist travelled in late 1802 to Fort Adams, the principal American port on the Mississippi, where he served as Customs Collector for the District of Mississippi, Customs Inspector for Fort Adams, and ultimately Customs Collector of the Port of New Orleans. Trist became the confidante and valued associate of the Territorial Governor of Mississippi and Orleans, William C.C. Claiborne, helping to ensure a smooth transition from French to American control and easing border tensions with Spain. Correspondence among Trist, Claiborne, Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin, Secretary of State James Madison, and President Jefferson indicates that Trist fully engaged in all aspects of administration of the newly acquired Orleans Territory, including revenue, navigation, banking, and customs.15

By the time that he moved from Fort Adams to New Orleans in late 1803, Trist had been described by Jefferson as "a very exact & attentive officer," and he was well positioned for what appeared to be a promising future in the Orleans Territory.16 Trist optimistically sent for his family to join him. His mother, wife, and sons arrived in the spring of 1804, reuniting with Trist and sharing his hopes for the future. Some four months later, twenty-nine-year-old Browse Trist died of yellow fever on August 29, 1804, taken by the same disease that had killed his father twenty years earlier. On learning of Trist's illness and death, Jefferson wrote, "I regret it sincerely; having known him from an infant and esteemed him greatly for his good qualities. my friendship too for his connections increased the interest I took in his welfare."17

The surviving members of the Trist family remained in Louisiana, where Mary Brown Trist married Philip Livingston Jones in 1804 and, following Jones's death in 1810, St. Julien Tournillon. Elizabeth House Trist returned to Virginia in 1809, living as a houseguest among her relatives as well as at Monticello, where she died in 1828. Hore Browse Trist, Jr., became a wealthy sugar planter and military officer, serving as Commanding General of the Louisiana Troops. Nicholas Trist briefly attended West Point, married Jefferson's granddaughter, Virginia Randolph, and served as personal secretary to Jefferson before embarking on a diplomatic career.

Further Sources

  • 1. Annette Kolodny, "The Travel Diary of Elizabeth House Trist," in Journeys in New Worlds: Early American Women's Narratives, William L. Andrews, general ed. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990).
  • 2. See Jefferson to Madison, January 31, 1783, in PTJ, 6:225-27, 6:227n (transcription available at Founders Online); Jefferson to Madison, April 14, 1783, in PTJ, 6:261-62, 6:262n (transcription available at Founders Online).
  • 3. Kolodny, "Travel Diary," in Journeys.
  • 4. See Elizabeth House Trist to Jefferson, June 6, 1787, in PTJ, 11:403-05 (transcription available at Founders Online); Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph, November 28, 1783, in PTJ, 6:359-61 (transcription available at Founders Online).
  • 5. Jefferson to Elizabeth House Trist, September 23, 1795, in PTJ, 28:478-79. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  • 6. See Jefferson to Hore Browse Trist, June 9, 1792, in PTJ, 24:46-47. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  • 7. Jane Flaherty Wells, "Thomas Jefferson's Neighbors: Hore Browse Trist of 'Birdwood' and William Bache of 'Franklin,'" The Magazine of Albemarle County History 47 (1989), 1-13. Wells asserts that with Jefferson's aid, Trist inherited £10,000 in 1796. This assertion is unsourced and may be the result of a misreading of a combination of source materials. Jefferson's correspondence with the Trist family and with John Trumbull demonstrates that he was unsuccessful in assisting Hore Browse Trist. The only record of Trist receiving funds from the Trist estate was the £1,000 bequeathal from his grandmother, Agnes Trist, in 1783, to be received on his 21st birthday in 1796 with the final payment of his "moiety" not made until 1803: "Release of Rights 1. George Taylor of Totnes, gent., attorney of Hore Browse Trist, late of Totnes, now of Philadelphia, U.S.A., Esq., (only son and heir of Nicholas Trist, formerly of Totnes and since of Manchack on the River Mississippi, Louisiana, Esq., decd., one of the sons of Browse Trist of Bowdon, esq., and Agnes his wife, both decd.) 2. Tryphena Trist To Nicholas Trist's portion of £1000 Consideration: the payment by 2. of £94.15s.7d., the remainder of £500, being the moiety of £1000 due to Nicholas Trist as portion, according to a lease and release made 22 March 1733/4 Nicholas Trist died 23 February 1784 leaving a widow, Elizabeth, and his only child Hore Browse Trist." Source: Trist Settlements in the U.K. National Archives (Devon Archives).
  • 8. Wells, "Jefferson's Neighbors."
  • 9. Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph, January 11, 1798, in PTJ, 30:25-26. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  • 10. Wells, "Jefferson's Neighbors."
  • 11. See Martha Jefferson Randolph to Jefferson, February 8, 1799, in PTJ, 31:20-21. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  • 12. Jane Flaherty Wells provides a thorough analysis of the debt problems of both Trist and Bache. See Wells, "Jefferson's Neighbors."
  • 13. Hore Browse Trist to Jefferson, January 22, 1802, in PTJ, 36:419-20. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  • 14. See Jefferson to Hore Browse Trist, January 17, 1802, in PTJ, 36:389. Transcription available at Founders Online. See also Wells, "Jefferson's Neighbors."
  • 15. Correspondence among Trist, Claiborne, Madison, Gallatin, Jefferson, and others paints a portrait of Trist's role in establishing the Orleans Territory. Transcriptions and editorial notes available at Founders Online (accessed using a search for "Hore Browse Trist" and selecting "Period: Jefferson Presidency"). William Bache's experience in the territories took a different turn. In 1803, Bache mortgaged his Virginia property to Thomas Mann Randolph, moved his family back to Philadelphia, and then took up residence in New Orleans. After a falling out with local authorities and failing in his mission to establish a marine hospital for American seafarers, Bache returned to Philadelphia. There, he parlayed his friendship with Elizabeth Trist to receive another patronage appointment from Jefferson, becoming Surveyor and Customs Collector for the Port of Philadelphia in 1804.
  • 16. Jefferson to Gallatin, October 17, 1803, in PTJ, 41:542. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  • 17. Jefferson to John M. Gelston, October 15, 1804, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Transcription available at Founders Online.
Filed In: 
People

Participate

Login or register to participate in our online community.