John Jay Homestead State Historic Site

Katonah
NY

John Jay’s 24-room retirement farmhouse

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QUICK FACTS
  • John Jay is one of the diplomats — along with Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Henry Laurens — who negotiates the Treaty of Paris (1783), ending the Revolutionary War with Britain.
  • Jay becomes the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1789 - 95).
  • He negotiates the Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation, Between His Britannic Majesty and the United States of America — known as the Jay Treaty, 1794 - 95 — which, while unpopular in America, prevents the U.S. from having another war with Britain.
  • Jay is elected the 2nd Governor of New York (1795); he serves two terms.
  • Jay begins building a 24-room farmhouse in 1799 near Bedford, in Westchester County, New York.
  • He and his wife retire there in 1801.
  • In 1981 the farmhouse — now with some 60 rooms — is declared a National Historic Landmark.
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John Jay, who was the first U.S. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, moved into this renovated and expanded 24-room farmhouse — begun 1799 — in 1801. Building on land that had been purchased in 1703 by his maternal grandfather, Jacobus Van Cortlandt, Jay acquired adjoining property; by 1800 he had 750 acres of land near Bedford, New York.

Though this was to be a retirement home for both Jay and his wife, Sarah Livingston Jay (1756 - 1802) died just months after they moved there. Jay never remarried. He lived the life of a gentleman farmer, immersing himself in his farm and his children and grandchildren, more interested in husbandry than politics, until his death in 1829.

The estate served as a working farm and rural retreat for five generations of the Jay family until the death of Eleanor Jay Iselin in 1953. In 1958 the house and some of the land were purchased by Westchester County and transferred to the State of New York. In 1964 it opened to the public as John Jay Homestead State Historic Site.

Today the site encompasses 62 acres. The house has been restored to the later part of Jay’s occupancy in the 1820s and includes many pieces of furniture owned by Jay and his family. The extensive grounds include related farm buildings and a formal garden (begun in the mid-1900s by Jay descendants). Picnic areas and restrooms are also available.

Guided tours take visitors through 12 furnished period rooms — but start in the Gift Shop where there is an introductory video of Jay’s contributions to America as one of the Founding Fathers.

Associated People

George Washington ordered his overseers to begin the 1767 wheat harvest on June 24, a hot, cloudy Saturday at the end of a dry week. Thus began twenty days of unrelenting exertion for Mount Vernon’s slaves and no little anxiety for their master, who for the first time had given over his holding almost entirely to the cultivation of grain. Much depended on the success of this experiment, which was a crucial element in Washington’s scheme to free himself of the debts he had accumulated over the years of failing to produce tobacco that would sell on London’s finicky market. Rich as he was in land, he feared that, like so many of his fellow planters, he too would become permanently dependent on his English merchant creditors. It was a fate he dreaded above all, for to suffer it meant that he would lose the essence of a gentleman’s character, independence, and with it the capacity to behave in a truly virtuous way.

Fred Anderson
Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754 - 1766 (2000)