William P. Van Ness

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William P. Van Ness
William P. Van Ness.jpg
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of New York
In office
May 25, 1812 – April 9, 1814
Appointed by James Madison
Preceded by New seat
Succeeded by Seat abolished
Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
In office
April 9, 1814 – September 6, 1826
Appointed by James Madison
Preceded by New seat
Succeeded by Samuel Rossiter Betts
Personal details
Born (1778-02-13)February 13, 1778
Ghent, New York
Died September 6, 1826(1826-09-06) (aged 48)
New York City, New York
Political party Democratic-Republican
Spouse(s) Anne McEvers (m. 1800)
Children 5
Relatives John Peter Van Ness (brother)
Cornelius P. Van Ness (brother)
James Van Ness (nephew)
Alma mater Washington Seminary
Columbia College
Profession Attorney

William Peter Van Ness (February 13, 1778 – September 6, 1826) was a United States federal judge.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

William P. Van Ness was born in Ghent, New York to Judge Peter Van Ness (1734-1804), a wealthy lawyer and farmer who owned the property in Kinderhook on which William Van Ness constructed a mansion in 1797. Martin Van Buren later purchased the home and land and renamed the estate Lindenwald. Peter Van Ness is buried on the Lindenwald estate.[2]

Van Ness's brothers included U.S. Representative and Washington, D.C. mayor John Peter Van Ness[3] and Vermont governor Cornelius P. Van Ness.[4]

Van Ness attended Washington Seminary[5] and graduated from Columbia College in 1797.[6] After graduating, Van Ness read law in the office of Edward Livingston, attaining admission to the bar in 1800.[7][8]

Early career[edit]

William Peter Van Ness, 1807 engraving by Charles Saint-Mémin

Van Ness practiced law in New York City, Albany, and Hudson from 1800 to 1812.[9]

Van Ness, a friend of Aaron Burr, was an active participant in the 1800 presidential campaign as a vocal supporter of the Democratic-Republican candidates, Burr for Vice President and Thomas Jefferson for President.[10]

In 1801 Van Ness served as a delegate to the New York Constitutional Convention, which was called to amend the state constitution of 1777.[11]

Van Buren completed his legal studies in Van Ness's office in 1802 and became an attorney in Columbia County, New York.[12]

In July 1804, Van Ness served as Aaron Burr's second in Burr's duel with Alexander Hamilton and was present when Burr fatally shot Hamilton.[13]

Judicial career[edit]

On May 25, 1812, President James Madison nominated Van Ness to a new seat on the United States District Court for the District of New York. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on May 26, 1812, and received his commission on May 27, 1812. On April 9, 1814, he was reassigned by operation of law to the newly subdivided United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.[14]

In 1818 Congress appointed a special committee to look into the official conduct of Van Ness and his judicial colleague, Matthias B. Tallmadge, who apparently did not work well together. The committee investigated and recommended that no action be taken against Van Ness or Tallmadge.

Career as an author[edit]

Van Ness was the author of several political and judicial works, including: Examination of Charges against Aaron Burr (1803); The Laws of New York, with Notes, (with John Woodworth), (2 vols. 1813); Reports of Two Cases in the Prize Court for New York District (1814); and Concise Narrative of Gen. Jackson's First Invasion of Florida (1826).[15]

Death and burial[edit]

Van Ness served on the bench until his death in New York City. He was buried in Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery.[16]


In 1800 Van Ness married Anne McEvers (1767-1829) in Red Hook. They were members of the Dutch Reformed Church, and the parents of five children: Edward (November 3, 1801 – March 11, 1879), married Catherine Holcomb; Harriet Mary (August 16, 1803 – March 28, 1825), the wife of William Maury of England; Eugene (December 6, 1804 – May 28, 1862), who married Julia A. Brush; Martha Eliza (April 10, 1806 – 1869), who never married; and Charles William Van Ness (October 1, 1807 – March 13, 1883).


Ness is mentioned in the song "The World Was Wide Enough" in the hit musical Hamilton.


  1. ^ William Peter Van Ness. Federal Judicial Center. Retrieved 2011-05-21. Born February 13, 1778, in Claverack, NY. Died September 6, 1826, in New York City, NY. Federal Judicial Service: Judge, U. S. District Court, District of New York. Nominated by James Madison on May 25, 1812, to a new seat created by 2 Stat. 719; Confirmed by the Senate on May 26, 1812, and received commission on May 27, 1812. Service terminated on April 9, 1814, due to assignment to another court. Judge, U. S. District Court, Southern District of New York. Reassigned April 9, 1814; Service terminated on September 6, 1826, due to death. 
  2. ^ New York, a Guide to the Empire State, sponsored by New York State Historical Association, published by Oxford University Press, New York, 1940, pages 564 to 565
  3. ^ The Life and Times of Martin Van Buren: The Correspondence of his Friends, Family and Pupils, by William Lyon Mackenzie, 1846, page 23
  4. ^ Early History of Vermont, LaFayette Wilbur, Volume 4, 1903, page 124
  5. ^ The Parsonage Between Two Manors: Annals of Clover-Reach, by Elizabeth Louise Gebhard, 1910, page 45
  6. ^ Officers and Graduates of Columbia University, published by Columbia University, 1916, page 88
  7. ^ Biographical sketches of the distinguished men of Columbia County, by William Raymond, 1851, page 33
  8. ^ A Group of Great Lawyers of Columbia County, New York, by Peyton Farrell Miller, 1904, pages 133 to 135
  9. ^ American Biographical Notes, edited by Franklin Benjamin Hough, 1974, page 404
  10. ^ History of the United States of America during the administrations of Thomas Jefferson, by Henry Adams, 1986 edition, page 417
  11. ^ The Democratic Party of the State of New York, by Martin Wilie Littleton, Volume 1, 1905, page 47
  12. ^ US Presidents and Foreign Policy, by Carl Cavanagh Hodge and Cathal J. Nolan, 2007, page 73
  13. ^ Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic, by Joanne B. Freeman, 2002, page 180
  14. ^ History of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, by H. Paul Burak, 1962, pages 3 to 4
  15. ^ Lamb's Biographical Dictionary of the United States, edited by John Howard Brown, Volume 7, 1903, page 430
  16. ^ Baltimore: Its History and Its People, by Lewis Historical Publishing Co., Volume III, 1912, page 533

External resources[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
new seat
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of New York
Succeeded by
seat abolished
Preceded by
new seat
Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
Succeeded by
Samuel Rossiter Betts