John Peter Van Ness

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John Peter Van Ness
John Peter Van Ness.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 6th district
In office
October 6, 1801 – January 17, 1803
Preceded by John Bird
Succeeded by Isaac Bloom
Personal details
Born Johannes Petrus Van Ness
November 4, 1769[1]
Ghent, New York
Died March 7, 1846
Washington, D.C.
Resting place Oak Hill Cemetery, Washington, D.C.
Political party Democratic-Republican
Spouse(s) Marcia Burns

John Peter Van Ness (November 4, 1769 – March 7, 1846) was an American politician who was a United States Representative from New York and the tenth Mayor of Washington DC. Born in Ghent, New York to an old Dutch family. He completed preparatory studies at Washington Seminary and attended Columbia College in New York City. He studied law and was admitted to the bar, but never practiced.

Career accomplishments[edit]

1805 portrait by Gilbert Stuart. Original on display at Edgewater, a historic mansion in Barrytown, New York.

He was elected as a Democratic-Republican to New York's 6th congressional district for the 7th United States Congress to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of John Bird and took his seat on October 6, 1801. In April 1802, he was defeated for re-election by Federalist Henry W. Livingston. On January 17, 1803, Van Ness's seat was declared vacant, because in 1802 he had been appointed by President Thomas Jefferson a major of militia in the District of Columbia, and under the U.S. Constitution no member of Congress could hold any federal office. He then made Washington his home and was president of the second council in 1803. He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel commandant of the first legion of militia in 1805, brigadier general in 1811, and major general in 1813; he was an alderman of the city of Washington in 1829.

During the 1820s, Van Ness was a member of the prestigious society, Columbian Institute for the Promotion of Arts and Sciences, who counted among their members former presidents Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams and many prominent men of the day, including well-known representatives of the military, government service, medical and other professions.[2] He was a friend of Washington Irving.

Van Ness was second vice president of the Washington National Monument Society in 1833 and was president of the commissioners of the Washington City Canal in 1834, and president of the branch bank of the United States at Washington, D.C.; he was also president of the National Metropolitan Bank from 1814 until his death 1846.

Founding of the Washington Jockey Club[edit]

In 1802 the Club sought a new sight for the track that lay the rear of what is now the site of Decatur House at H Street and Jackson Place, crossing Seventeenth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue to Twentieth Street-today the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. With the leadership of John Tayloe III and Charles Carnan Ridgely and support of Dr. William Thornton, G.W. P. Custis, John D. Threlkeld of Georgetown and George Calvertof Riversdale, Bladensburg, Maryland, the contests were moved to Meridian Hill, south of Columbia Road between Fourteenth and Sixteenth Streets, and were conducted at the Holmstead Farm's one mile oval track.

War of 1812 service[edit]

Defense of Washington[edit]

Mayor of Washington DC[edit]

Van Ness was the mayor from 1830 to 1834.


Marcia Van Ness, wife John P. Van Ness. 1805 portrait by Gilbert Stuart. Original on display at Edgewater, a historic mansion in Barrytown, New York.

In 1802, Van Ness married Marcia Burns (1782–1832),[3] a prominent philanthropist herself, and supporter of the orphan asylum.[4]

Home of David Burnes (Burns) and his daughter, Marcia (Burns) Van Ness, with the Washington Monument in the background, Washington, D.C., by Frances Benjamin Johnston, ca. 1889. Burn's cottage was demolished in 1894

The couple lived at the Van Ness House, constructed in 1813 to 1816, located at Constitution Avenue and 17th Street, and 18th Street, N.W. It was demolished for the Pan American Union Building.[5]

John Peter Van Ness was the son of Judge Peter Van Ness (1734-1804). The siblings of John P. Van Ness included William P. Van Ness and Cornelius P. Van Ness.


Although not a Catholic, Van Ness donated the land on which the cornerstone of St. Mary Mother of God church, at the southeast corner of Fifth Street and H Street, N.W. would be laid on March 25, 1846. The land donation was made with the stipulations that Catholic worship should begin there within one year, ensuring the completion of the church on October 18, 1846, and that worship be regularly continued there. If Catholic worship were to ever cease at the location, the land would to revert to the Van Ness family. A new building was constructed in 1890, and the site continues to be the home of St. Mary Mother of God church.

Death and Interment[edit]

Van Ness died on March 7, 1846 and was entombed in the Van Ness Mausoleum, which originally stood on H Street, N.W., between Ninth and Tenth Streets in Washington, D.C. His wife who had died September 9, 1832, was also entombed there.[6] In 1872, the mausoleum and the Van Ness remains were moved to Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown.[7]


  1. ^ U.S. Dutch Reformed Church Records, Baptisms at Claverack, New York Reformed Church, entry for Johannes Van Ness, retrieved via, January 20, 2015
  2. ^ Rathbun, Richard. The Columbian institute for the promotion of arts and sciences: A Washington Society of 1816-1838. Bulletin of the United States National Museum, October 18, 1917. Retrieved 2010-06-20. 
  3. ^ Huntington, Frances Carpenter (1969). "The Heiress of Washington City: Marcia Burnes Van Ness, 1782-1832". Records of the Columbia Historical Society. 69-70: 80–101. JSTOR 40067706. 
  4. ^ "John Peter van Ness [1770-1846] Early Founder/Historic Leader". New Netherland Institute. Retrieved 2014-07-29. 
  5. ^ Boese, Kent (August 11, 2009). "Lost Washington: The Van Ness House". Greater Greater Washington. Retrieved 2014-07-29. 
  6. ^ William Richard Cutter, William Frederick Adams, eds. (1910). Genealogical and personal memoirs relating to the families of the state of Massachusetts. 1. Lewis historical publishing company. 
  7. ^ Clark, Allen C. (1919). "General John Peter Van Ness, a Mayor of the City of Washington, His Wife, Marcia, and Her Father, David Burnes". Records of the Columbia Historical Society. 22: 125–204. JSTOR 40067123. 


United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
John Bird
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 6th congressional district

Succeeded by
Isaac Bloom
Political offices
Preceded by
Joseph Gales, Jr.
Mayor of Washington, D.C.
Succeeded by
William A. Bradley

External links[edit]