Appointed Secretary of Foreign Affairs by the Continental
John Jay was born in New York City on December 12, 1745. His father was Peter Jay, a prosperous merchant. His mother was Mary Van Cortlandt, a member of one of the great Dutch patroon landed families of the Hudson Valley. Jay further cemented his place in high New York society when, on April 28, 1774, he married Sarah Livingston, member of another prominent family and daughter of a future governor of New Jersey.
Jay's family connections had great influence on his later career. His grandfather was a French Huguenot who escaped from prison and fled Catholic persecution to America. Jay consequently distrusted Catholicism and the French nation throughout his life and diplomatic service. Jay's politics also reflected those of his extended family. The Jay, Van Cortlandt, and Livingston families were among the minority of New York aristocrats who sided with the Whigs during the Revolution.
Jay himself was not an early convert to the Whig cause. He graduated from King's College (later Columbia University) in 1764, clerked in the office of a prominent Tory lawyer, and was admitted to the bar in 1768. He remained aloof from politics until his marriage in 1774 and defended Whig and Tory clients without prejudice. Then, in 1774, he was elected to the committee of correspondence in New York City to plan resistance against Parliamentary taxation measures. Shortly thereafter, that committee nominated him to be one of five New York delegates to the First Continental Congress.
Jay generally resisted the more radical measures of the Continental Congress, but once the Congress passed resolutions denouncing the Parliamentary actions as unconstitutional and recommended trade sanctions against Great Britain, Jay drafted Congress's Address to the People of Great Britain to justify those actions. In the Second Continental Congress that began meeting in 1775, Jay pursued the same course of conduct. He sought to moderate the Congress's reaction to the hostilities at Lexington and Concord, but he acceded to the request of his fellow dele-gates and wrote an appeal to the Canadians to join the American colonial rebellion.