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Hamilton and the Founding Families of Baker Botts

Hamilton is the hit musical in three cities with Baker Botts offices: New York, Houston, and London, where the firm just celebrated its 20th Anniversary. The following text discusses the deep personal and business relationships among the historical persons portrayed in Hamilton and the original Gray and Botts families who, along with the Baker family, founded Baker Botts.

The Gray and Botts families lived in and around Fredericksburg, Virginia for several generations before coming to Texas. Fredericksburg was one of the leading cities of colonial Virginia, not far from the homes of Washington, Madison, and Jefferson. As a result, the Gray and Botts families were friends and business associates of many of the Founders of the United States.

George Washington

George Washington 2

George Washington lived near, and did business with, the Gray family for many years. As a boy, Washington lived on a farm in Stafford County, Virginia, just a ferry ride across the Rappahanock River from Fredericksburg. In 1752, Washington was initiated into Freemasonry at what became Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4, which still stands today (and which contains the Bible used in that ceremony). Washington later purchased a home for his mother in Fredericksburg, which still stands today. 

William Gray, the grandfather of firm founder Peter Gray, worked for Washington for many years as his weaver. William took deliveries of wool from Washington, which he would weave into cloth. In 1789, Washington also signed a lease with William for part of a 700-acre tract in Fairfax County known as the Chapel Land, which is a short distance today from the Baker Botts Washington Office. (The lease is now in the National Archives as part of Washington's papers, and his transactions with Gray are found in Washington's financial ledgers.)

In 1792, President Washington, staying at Mount Vernon, asked William Gray to deliver an important message to Thomas Jefferson, living at Monticello. Washington had received a letter from Alexander Hamilton, enclosing a draft proclamation urging compliance with a federal excise tax on whiskey. Washington was anxious to issue the proclamation, and asked Gray to deliver this letter to Jefferson. Washington instructed Gray "to bring an answer from the Secretary of State -- Mr. Jefferson -- you will enquire for his Seat of Monticello. Delay no time you can avoid, in bringing back his answer . . . ." Gray secured Jefferson's signature, and presumably returned with it to Mount Vernon.

The controversy surrounding a federal tax on whiskey later became a lyric in Hamilton. In Cabinet Battle #1, Jefferson raps to Hamilton, "Look, when Britain taxed our tea, we got frisky/Imagine what gon happen when you try to tax our whiskey."

James Madison

James MadisonWilliam Gray's youngest son was William Fairfax Gray, who was the father of firm founder Peter Gray. After his father William died, William Fairfax worked in Fredericksburg as a printer and bookseller. One of his customers was President James Madison. Their correspondence is also in the National Archives. Most of the letters are routine business correspondence. For example, in a letter dated September 7, 1818, William Fairfax wrote to Madison that he had procured for him books and other written materials, including Analectic Magazine, Wilson's Ornithology, and Pinkerton's Voyages and Travels.

William Fairfax sold books to Madison for at least fifteen years. The last letter to Madison was written by son Peter in 1834. Peter was working in his father's bookstore as a 15-year old boy and trying to collect a bill owed by Madison for his purchase of the North American Review:

Dear Sir,
Above you have bill for North American Review, 1834, for which please I would be obliged to you, to forward the amt as soon as convenient. My Father, who has given me all his book agencies, sends his respects to you,
Yrs. very Respectfully.
Peter Gray

This letter reflected the decline in the family's fortune.William Fairfax, a John Quincy Adams supporter, had lost his main source of income, as Postmaster, upon the election of President Andrew Jackson. His brother-in-law, Thomas Botts, had to liquidate the Gray bookstore, and wrote a similar collection letter to Madison. This financial setback was one of the reasons that the Grays moved to Texas a couple of years later.     Millie Gray

 

The family of Peter's mother, Milly (Stone) Gray, also knew Madison well. Milly's father, William S. Stone, was a merchant and mayor of Fredericksburg. Madison was also one of his regular customers. The National Archives contains their correspondence dating back to the late 1790s, in which Stone and Madison discuss the purchase and sale of everything from flour to guns.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson2

President Thomas Jefferson was another customer who regularly bought books and other printed materials from William Fairfax Gray. For example, William Fairfax supplied Jefferson with the Edinburgh Review and other books, journals, maps and pamphlets for many years up until Jefferson's death. William Fairfax also sold books to Joseph Milligan, a Jefferson friend who purchased books on his behalf. Thus, Gray sold to Milligan, on Jefferson's behalf, such important books as a four-volume edition of the Histories of Herodotus, John Marshall's Life of Washington, and Robert Southey's Life of Nelson.

Marquis de Lafayette

Marquis de Lafayette, "America's favorite fighting Frenchman," also crossed paths with the Gray family, during Lafayette's historic tour to the United States from July 1824 to September 1825. Lafayette visited Yorktown, where he fought with Hamilton to secure American Independence, Monticello, where he met with Jefferson, and Fredericksburg.

William Fairfax Gray

William Fairfax Gray was one of Lafayette's hosts when he came to Fredericksburg. Lafayette was made an honorary Mason of the same Fredericksburg Masonic Lodge that Washington had joined as a young man. William Fairfax, who was now the Master of this Lodge, led the ceremony, making a lengthy toast to Lafayette:

Brother La Fayette: In the name of my assembled brethren, I bid you welcome to our Lodge, welcome to our house, welcome to our hearts. . . . Here [Washington] first studied those liberal, tolerant and benevolent principles of our order, which have since, under Heaven, be through him and his worth compatriots, so happily diffused through the free institutions of our Government. . . ."

Contemporary reports are that Lafayette responded "with great emotion," and offered his own toast to William Fairfax in praise of Washington:

"My dear Sir, and you my Brother -- The pleasure I ever feel in our fraternal meetings cannot but be enhanced on this occasion by the consideration that in this city the first lessons of childhood, in this Lodge, the first lessons of Masonry were conferred upon the man who was first in all of our hearts. . . . And I beg you all, my brethren, to accept my affectionate thanks for the favor you have conferred upon me, and which you, sir, have been so pleased so kindly to announce. . . ."

Aaron Burr

Walter Browne Botts, another founder of the firm and Peter Gray's cousin, was descended from a long line of Virginia lawyers. His grandfather, Benjamin Botts, was one of the finest lawyers of Virginia. And his most famous client was Aaron Burr.

Aaron Burr

The treason trial of Burr in 1807 during the Jefferson Presidency was one of the most famous trials of the 19th Century. Several years after killing Hamilton, Burr was accused by Jefferson of conspiring with Spain to split the nation west of the Allegany Mountains and to begin his own empire. Botts was the youngest member of the defense team -- Jefferson was bothered that Botts was representing Burr, grudgingly conceding that Botts was a "indefatigable, act[ive,] scrutinizing drudge." Botts successfully argued the request for the court to remove Burr from jail after his initial arrest for treason. The case was tried before Chief Justice John Marshall, who was an opponent of Jefferson, and District Judge Cyrus Griffin.

After a lengthy trial in Richmond Virginia, Burr was found not guilty.

Benjamin Gaines Botts

 

 

Sadly, shortly afterwards, Botts and his wife Jane, along with 65 other persons (including the Governor of Virginia) were killed in an infamous fire at the Richmond Theatre on December 28, 1811. It was the worst urban disaster in American history at that time. His home still exists and is a museum today.Weem Botts House

 

 

The personal and business connections between the Gray and Botts families and Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Lafayette, and Burr contributed to the founding of Baker Botts. William Fairfax Gray's patriotism and love for the heroes of the American Revolution must have been a motivating factor in his decision to leave Virginia for the excitement in Texas from the Alamo and battles for Texas independence. His standing in Virginia contributed to his rapid ascent in the City of Houston as one of the few literate gentlemen of the Republic of Texas. Gray and his son, Peter, began to practice law in 1840 and helped re-create many of the civic institutions that had been important parts of their lives in Virginia. Like his father and Washington, Peter Gray was a Mason, and founded the first Masonic Lodge in Houston, which still exists today and is called "Gray Masonic Lodge #329."

Walter Browne Botts' decision to practice law must have been influenced by his famous grandfather and uncle (who was John Brown's lawyer during Brown's treason trial a generation later). And when Peter Gray and Walter Botts formed the Gray & Botts firm in 1865, they brought this shared history and these influences and connections to their new partnership, which quickly became the premier law firm in Houston.

In 1872, Judge James A. Baker joined the new firm, which then became known as Gray, Botts & Baker. He brought with him his law books from Huntsville, Texas. A few years ago, some of those books were found stored in boxes located offsite in the Baker Botts archives, with Judge Baker's name inscribed in them.

The Federalist Papers

And one of them was the first published complete edition of The Federalist Papers, written mainly, of course, by "your obedient servant," Alexander Hamilton.