Thomas L. Hume



Thomas L. Hume (1838-1881)

Thomas L. Hume (1838-1881)




Thomas L. Hume’s father was Charles Hume, a Clerk of the Second Auditor in the Treasury who had come to Georgetown in 1861 or 1862, and died in 1863. In 1866, Thomas Hume married Annie, the only daughter of a neighbor on P Street, Adolphus Pickrell, a Georgetown merchant, and the 1862 buyer of the Burrows farm that is now Wesley Heights.  (Georgetown Courier, April 17, 1866)

In 1866 Thomas L. Hume was a partner in a wholesale and retail grocery firm in Washington City, a purveyor of fancy comestibles. In the years after the Civil War, the most urgent threat to merchants like Hume, and to Washington’s financial interests in general, was the agitation, in the press and in Congress, to move the United States capital to some less decrepit city (such as St. Louis). Washington’s business interests rallied to prevent this disaster. Alexander Shepherd and the newly formed Board of Trade petitioned Congress in 1867 for a single unified government for the cities of Washington and Georgetown, and for Washington County, as a first step in modernizing the District of Columbia. When the reorganization took effect in 1871, President Grant appointed Henry Cooke as Territorial Governor. Cooke and Shepherd set about using the streamlined government structure to improve their city so thoroughly that the departure of government from Washington would be prevented. Not coincidentally, “Improvers” also believed that government could be used to make local business flourish. These were the people Thomas L. Hume first appears with, politically, after Territorial government was instituted.  (“Improvement or Anti-Improvement?”,  Star, June 30, 1871; William M. Maury, Alexander “Boss“ Shepherd and the Board of Public Works, George Washington University Washington Series, 1975; Alan Lessoff, The Nation and Its City: Politics, “Corruption,” and Progress in Washington, D.C., 1861–1902, 1994)

Thomas L. Hume’s name was often linked to that of Alexander Shepherd; both men were on the celebration committee in 1871, when Pennsylvania Avenue was paved with wooden blocks, and Hume is listed as a Fire Commissioner under Shepherd, in April, 1873. “A large number of the friends of Mr. Thomas L. Hume spent the day on his invitation at “Tunlaw” just beyond Georgetown Heights. Among the number were Attorney General Williams, Gen. Sherman, Ex-Governors Cooke and Shepherd, and Governor Dennison.”  In 1875, Alexander Shepherd was again present at Hume’s annual party: “Our public spirited and large hearted fellow citizen, Thomas L. Hume, esq., gave yesterday his fifth annual Fourth-of-July entertainment at his country seat near Tenallytown.” When the construction of Ascension Episcopal Church at 12th and Massachusetts Avenue NW was reported in the press, Hume was a vestryman, and Shepherd did the plumbing. Hume also helped to organize former governor’s farewell dinner at Willard’s Hotel.   (Philip L. Nicholson: History of the Volunteer and Paid Fire Department of the District of Columbia, 1936; Star, July 6, 1874; “The Day at Tunlaw”, Star, July 5, 1875; Chronicle, July 4, 1875; Star, May 1, 1880)



“Presentation to Mr. T. L. Hume.––On Wednesday evening the intimate friends of Mr. T.L. Hume presented him with a handsome silver punch bowl, as a testimonial of their friendship, with a letter accompanying it containing the autographs of the donors. The bowl is solid sterling silver, weighing 200 ounces, and it is 16 inches high. It holds 11 quarts, and was manufactured to order by Mr. H. Semken, at whose store it now is on exhibition. The designs are very elaborate and appropriate––Arabic scrolls on oxydized ground and gold Greek borders ornament the base and bowl; also gold leaves modeled from the old walnut tree of “Tunlaw Farm.” Two large medallions project two inches above the brim of the bowl, one containing a representation in gold of the old walnut tree of Tunlaw farm, surmounted by the rustic table. It is richly embossed basso relievo. The other bears the appropriate description: “Presented to Thomas L. Hume, esq., by the guests of Tunlaw Farm.” The case is of black veneered walnut, lined with sky-blue satin. The handles of the bowl and ladle are oxydized, so as not to be easily tarnished.  (National Republican, October 8, 1875. A photograph of the punchbowl appears in The City of Washington: An Illustrated History of the City of Washington, 1977, p.290)



The presentation punch bowl, with a depiction of the walnut tree at Tunlaw Farm. (The City of Washington: An Illustrated History)



Testimonial to Thomas L. Hume Esq., 1875



Among the hundred subscribers to the presentation testimonial were newspapermen Samuel H. Kauffmann (The Evening Star), Almon M. Clapp (The National Republican), and Hallet Kilbourne (The Washington Critic). Hume knew the value of a cultivating newspapermen––”It seemed to be an especial pleasure to him to entertain a party of friends from legal or journalistic circles”––and his fancy livestock and other agricultural operations at Tunlaw farm got good press. Hume’s career was sketched in an 1879 survey of the region’s prominent men (in which the subjects were also its subscribers): “He has always been a member of the Episcopal Church, though his parents were of Baptist stock… Mr. Hume’s father died, and upon him devolved the support of his mother and seven children. With characteristic filial and brotherly affection he performed what he considered his duty, and he did it eminently well, giving to each of his brothers and sisters a good education, and rendering them every assistance in his power. Besides his city residence in Washington, Mr. Hume owns a beautiful country place called “Tunlaw.” Here during the summer months he spends his time with his devoted and accomplished wife and children, dispensing a generous hospitality to his friends, and helping those who need aid, for his kindness is without limit. On his farm he has some of the finest Jersey cattle in the United States. Mr. Hume is a cultivated, well-bred man, of fine personal appearance… and has an abundance of this world’s goods, which he uses to the best possible advantage. He is emphatically a self-made man. His popularity, his integrity, his devotion to principle, need no comment from his biographers.”   (Washington Post, October 24, 1881; “Tunlaw Farm––Country-seat of Colonel Thomas L. Hume Useful Example––High Farming––Thoroughbred Stock”, National Republican, August 22, 1877; Biographical Cyclopedia of the Representative Men of Maryland and the District of Columbia (1879)


Thomas L. Hume built the iron-fronted building that stood for more than a century at 807 Pennsylvania Avenue. James M. Goode (Capital Losses, 257, 339) says the year of construction was 1866; the Historic American Buildings Survey says 1868.


Hall & Hume, Fine Family Groceries, 807 Market Space, The date may be prior to 1871, as the street appears to be unpaved. (OldTimeDC, photo otherwise unsourced)



The Hume Building, 807 Market Space, 1967 (Library of Congress)





Thomas L. Hume––Stricken Dead With Apoplexy.

“On Saturday afternoon Mr. Hume went up to his private office in the third story of the firm’s store, 807 Market Space, alone, to conclude some important business in connection with his withdrawal from the firm of Hume, Cleary & Co. Some time afterward the attention of the attaches of the establishment was attracted by the sound of a heavy fall in the direction of the upper floor. Upon ascending to the third story it was discovered that Mr. Hume had fallen down the stairway leading from his private office, and when found was sitting at the foot of the stairs with his face bleeding from one or two cuts resulting from the fall. He assured the clerks, who came to his assistance, that he was not hurt, and only desired to rest a few moments until he recovered from the shock. He was made as comfortable as possible, and upon the arrival of Mr. Cleary at the store a short time afterward he was notified of the matter. He went up the stairs immediately, and, becoming alarmed at the symptoms of the case, Drs. Mackall, Murphy, and McBlair were summoned by telephone to attend the injured man. About nine o’clock on Saturday evening he became insensible, and despite the best efforts of the physicians never rallied up to the hour of his death on Sunday morning.” “The cause of death was apoplexy, and it was evident that he must have felt the premonitory symptoms of the attack and endeavored to reach the lower floor, when he fell the full length of the stairway to the story below.” “The royal hospitality that Mr. Hume dispensed at Tunlaw has been frequently enjoyed by his large circle of friends, and pleasant reunions that have taken place there will never be forgotten.”  (“Thomas L. Hume––Stricken Dead With Apoplexy.”, National Republican, October 24, 1881, p.1)

“He was a member of the Fire Board of the District under its original constitution, and also under the reorganization. With the men of the Fire Department he was extremely popular, and they were always certain of a generous entertainment at Mr. Hume’s private expense after a successful fight with the flames.”  (“Death of Thomas L. Hume.––Stricken With Fatal Paralysis In His Private Office.––A Sketch of the Life of One of Washington’s Foremost Business Men and Best Citizens.”, Washington Post, October 24, 1881, p.1).

“The funeral of the late Thos. L. Hume, which took place from the family residence, No. 3319 P street, West Washington, at 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon, as stated in last evening’s STAR, was largely attended.”  (“The Hume Obsequies”, Star, October 25, 1881)

“To the Editor of The Republican: This is the tribute of a friend. I want to put a flower on the breast of him whose hands are folded. I am sure that no man was ever enclosed within the walls of a coffin who enjoyed so entirely the respect of his friends. For myself I will say that a grander man in many senses never went down to the grave. In all that goes to make up true nobility, in all the things that inspire deeds of worth, Tom Hume was without peer. I hope he is aside from discomfort now. His life justifies the belief that he is with the angels.  J.A.R.” (“Requiescat in Pace”, National Republican, October 26, 1881)



Thomas L. Hume was a few days short of his forty-third birthday when he died, and his memorial in Oak Hill Cemetery gives his age as forty-three. As his obituary reported, Hume’s death coincided with the announcement of the dissolution of his business: “The firm of Hume, Cleary & Co. is this day dissolved by the retirement of Thomas L. Hume. The business heretofore conducted by said firm will hereafter be conducted by Frank Hume and James K. Cleary, under the firm name of Hume, Cleary & Co., at the old stand, No. 807 Market Space.” (National Republican, October 25, 1881)


Mr. T.L. Hume’s Estate: Complications Over Settlement––The Widow Enjoined. “The bill [in equity by the Central National Bank] further declares that Mr. Hume, for a long time, had been insolvent and unable to pay his debts, and while in that condition he diverted money that should properly have gone to his creditors to taking out policies of insurance. A short time prior to his death he obtained a policy in the Maryland Insurance company of Baltimore, for the sum of$10,000, payable to his wife, one of the defendants to the bill. Before that he had procured policies in other companies until he carried an insurance of $30,000.” (Washington Post, November 3, 1881)


“Thomas L. Hume’s Life Insurance.––In the case of Perry and Fendall, administrators, against the Life Insurance Company of Virginia and others the answer of Annie G. Hume and the defendants, has been filed. She denies the insolvency of Thomas L. Hume on the 1st day of January, 1871, and that he so continued until the time of his death, and knows nothing of her own knowledge in regard to his indebtedness. She admits that the Life Insurance Company of Virginia and other insurance companies issued policies on the life of Thomas L. Hume, payable to her for her sole use. She denies that Thomas L. Hume was insolvent when the policy was taken out and the premium paid. She denies that the estate is worth $100,000, and claims that in consequence of certain suits against the estate, if they are decided against it, the estate will yield nothing she denies that anybody except herself and children have any interest in the policies, and that they were issued for her sole benefit. She makes general denial of the allegations in the plaintiff’s bill, and claims that as the policies were taken out for her and for her benefit, and paid for when the deceased was solvent, they cannot be transferred or used for any other purpose.” (National Republican, March 2, 1882)


“Thomas L. Hume’s Life Insurance.––Justice Hagner to-day made a decision in the suits of the Central National bank and Messrs. Perry and Fendall, administrators of the estate of Thomas L. Hume against his widow, Mrs. Annie G. Hume, the Life Insurance Company of Virginia, Maryland Life Insurance Company of Baltimore, Md.; the Hartford annuity and the Connecticut General Life Insurance Company of Hartford, Conn. The actions were brought to restrain the payment of the amounts insured on the life of the late Thomas L. Hume, of $35,000, and to subject them to the payments of the debts of the deceased.” (The Evening Critic, January 3, 1883, p.1)


“A Forged Indorsement.––In the circuit court yesterday the case of the Farmers’ and Mechanics’ Bank of Georgetown against Frank Hume was commenced. The bank brought suit to recover $5,000 on a promissory note alleged to have been made by the late Thomas L. Hume, and indorsed, it is claimed, by Frank Hume, to whom the bank now looks for payment. The indorser now asserts that his signature on the note is a forgery, and the action is to determine whether this is true or not. The jury found a verdict for the defendant.” (National Republican, January 5, 1883)


“It appears that Mrs. Hume, at the time she became the wife of Mr. Hume, was the daughter of a man of considerable means, Mr. Pickrell, owning an estate near the city… after the marriage Mr. Hume and his family lived mostly at that estate… as if he had been born into it.” (The Central National Bank et al. vs. Annie G. Hume et al; Decided December 19, 1884; Equity. Nos. 7,906, 8,011, 8,012, and 8,013, consolidated.)


In cases that eventually reached the Supreme Court of the United States, it emerged that Thomas L. Hume had been “hopelessly” insolvent for years prior to his death, with debts exceeding $100,000, and assets of only $6000; that he had used his firm’s credit to cover personal losses; and that he had tripled his life insurance in the year before he died. To defend themselves against his creditors, Hume’s widow, and his brother Frank, were obliged to argue that certain signatures on promissory notes had been forged by Thomas L. Hume.  (Hume 
 Central National Bank et al; Central National Bank et al  
 Hume et al; U.S. Supreme Court, Central National Bank v. Hume, 128 U.S. 195, November 12, 1888)



Carlton Fletcher

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