Nicholas Philip Trist

From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

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Nicholas Philip Trist (1800–1874), the son of Mary Louisa Brown and Hore Browse Trist, was born in Charlottesville, Virginia. Nicholas moved, with his mother and younger brother Browse, to the Louisiana frontier in 1803 after his father was offered the post of customs collector at Natchez by Thomas Jefferson. The family remained in Louisiana following Hore Browse Trist’s death from yellow fever in 1804. In 1817, Nicholas graduated from the College of Orleans and accepted an invitation from Thomas Jefferson to visit Monticello. During this visit, he met and fell in love with Virginia Jefferson Randolph, one of Jefferson’s granddaughters. In 1818 Nicholas left Monticello to continue his education at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Less interested in a military career than one in law, he left the academy without graduating and returned to Monticello in June 1821. Once there, he was engaged to Virginia, then left to rejoin his family in Louisiana. When his mother died unexpectedly in the spring of 1823, Nicholas returned to Monticello to study law with Jefferson.

On 11 September 1824 Nicholas and Virginia were married at Monticello. They had three children, Martha Jefferson Trist Burke, Thomas Jefferson Trist, and Hore Browse Trist. Nicholas served as Thomas Jefferson’s private secretary and, after his death in 1826, as an executor of his estate. His political career began shortly thereafter with a clerkship in the U.S. State Department from 1828–1831, after which he became Andrew Jackson’s private secretary. In 1832 he began a second clerkship in the State Department, and then served as consul at Havana, Cuba, 1833–1841. In 1845 Nicholas returned to Washington as chief clerk of the State Department. In the late 1840s, the Polk administration sent him to Mexico to negotiate a peace treaty that would end the war with that country. While there in 1848, Nicholas defied a presidential recall, an act that put him out of favor with President Polk and essentially ended his political career. After his return, the Trist family led an unsettled and debt-ridden life. In his final years, Nicholas was postmaster of Alexandria, Virginia. He died in Alexandria on 11 February 1874.

Further Source

  • Family Letters Project:
  • DAB
  • Nicholas Philip Trist Papers (NcU).
  • Ohrt, Wallace. Defiant Peacemaker: Nicholas Trist in the Mexican War (College Station: Texas A & M Univ. Press, 1997)
  • Shackelford, Descendants, 1:100–13
  • Papers of Nicholas Philip Trist (DLC)