Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,203

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,203


This is the grave of Jacob Crowninshield.

Born in 1770 in Salem, Massachusetts, Crowinshield grew up in the maritime world. His family were shippers and traders. As the U.S. became a nation, this took on a more global aspect. In the late 18th century, he and his brothers started a firm that helped pioneer U.S. trade with India. It also helped create one of Massachusetts’ elite families. He then ran for Congress and was a fairly prominent Jeffersonian in New England, which was not so common. He was chairman of the United States House Committee on Commerce and Manufacturers during the 9th Congress.

There’s not really that much that’s interesting about Crowinshield, with one exception and thus the reason for the post. In 1805, Thomas Jefferson nominated him to be Secretary of the Navy. He did not actually tell Crowinshield that he was doing this. No one really told him as this was going through the Senate either. The Senate confirmed him. Crowinshield still did not know that he was nominated. So finally the news was like, “hey, you’re Secretary of the Navy!” And he was like, “yeah, that sounds lame.” He turned it down after being confirmed!

Crowinshield then managed to die of tuberculosis in 1808, only 38 years old.

The reason for this post then is to amaze at just how utterly haphazard appointments were through the government for a long, long time. This particular historical note is amusing but not much more than that. But then think at how unserious 20th century presidents were at Supreme Court nominations, especially Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson. This kind of just taking appointments as whatever had very long legs!

Jacob Crowinshield is buried in Harmony Grove Cemetery, Salem, Massachusetts.

If you would like this series to visit people who actually were Secretary of the Navy in this era, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Robert Smith, who was Secretary of the Navy when Crowinshield was nominated and was going to get a kick upstairs to Attorney General but then just stayed in the job after Crowinshield turned it down, is in Baltimore and Paul Hamilton, who took over in the Madison administration, is in Grays Hill, South Carolina. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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