Trist, Nicholas P.

Born: 1800-06-02 Charlottesville, Virginia

Died: 1874-02-11 Alexandria, Virginia

Nicholas Trist was a Virginia lawyer, federal government employee, diplomat, and railroad clerk and payment. He relocated from his native state to the Mississippi Territory when Thomas Jefferson appointed his father, Hore Browse Trist, collector of customs at Natchez, Mississippi. Following the Louisiana Purchase, Trist moved again to New Orleans where he attended the College of Orleans - graduating in 1817. He then lived as a guest at Jefferson's Monticello before entering West Point in 1818. He did not graduate from the academy but instead returned to Monticello after his third year and proposed to Jefferson's granddaughter, Virginia Randolph, with whom he had three children. He briefly returned to Louisiana to study law before returning to marry Virginia in 1824 and settled at Monticello.

Trist was tasked with administering Jefferson's estate and also worked as an administrator at the University of Virginia. He bought a share in a local pro-Andrew Jackson newspaper, the Virginia Advocate, in 1828 and was given a clerkship in the State Department by Henry Clay, necessitating Trist's relocation to Washington, DC. There, Trist eventually became Jackson's personal secretary and a vocal supporter of his administration. In 1833, he accepted an appointment as consul to Havana and remained in that office until 1840, after which he stayed in Havana with his family. He returned to Washington in 1845, when James K. Polk appointed him chief clerk of the State Department. Due to Trist's proficiency in the position, Secretary of State James Buchanan sent him to Mexico in 1847 to secretly begin negotiations for a treaty to conclude the Mexican War. There, despite a feud with Winfield Scott and a recall order from Polk, Trist successfully negotiated the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the war and largely established the current southern border of the United States.

Upon returning to Washington, Trist was ostracized by the administration for pursuing the treaty after Polk's recall order, and he relocated to West Chester, Pennsylvania, where he lived briefly before finally settling in Philadelphia. There, Trist began a long career as a railroad clerk and paymaster. He became a supporter of the Republican Party and Abraham Lincoln's 1860 presidential campaign.

Willard Carl Klunder, "Trist, Nicholas Philip," American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 21:832-834; Wallace Ohrt, Defiant Peacemaker: Nicholas Trist in the Mexican War (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1998).