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Washington DC's first Mayors

Washington DC's first mayors
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John William Tuohy


Washington’s first Mayor



Washington’s first mayor was Robert Brent (born, circa 1763–died, September 7, 1819). He was born to American-Irish Catholic royalty, in Woodstock, Stafford County, Virginia, his mother was Ann Carroll, and sister to John Carroll was the first Catholic Bishop of the United States. Brent's father may not have had the best bloodlines but he was rich, he was a contractor and quarry owner.

Robert joined the family business and sold the sandstone to the U.S. government for the White House, U.S. Capitol, and other early construction projects across the District. Now wealthy in his own right, in 1789 Brent married Mary Young, the daughter of Notley Young, (He owned most of what is today Northeast DC then called Youngsborough) a plantation owner in Prince George's County, Maryland. (The Carroll’s and the Notley-Young’s were crossed in blood lines many times)


Notley Young House on Fourteenth and C Streets, SW (now demolished) Designed by Benjamin Latrobe in 1802, it was razed in 1913 to make way for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The young couple lived on property owned by Carrol family (Deeded to him by his mother who also gave him thousands of acres in Montgomery and Washington Counties.) on what is today Capitol Hill but that was property was annexed by the Federal government to make room for the US capital building. (The Carrol’s were shrewd land speculators who sold their DC property off in a lot system that is still used today in the District)


Brent moved to a massive home located on the southeast corner of the present 12th Street and Maryland Avenue SW in Washington and later to another on Florida Ave and 6th Street NE, now part of the Gallaudet University. The town Brentwood, in Prince George's County and the DC neighborhood of Brentwood take their names from his home, which formed most of the original estate.


In 1817, he built the Brentwood Mansion in Washington County as a present for his daughter Eleanor on her marriage to Congressman Joseph Pearson. Brentwood was designed by one of the Capitol's architects, Benjamin H. Latrobe.

In 1802, Congress officially incorporated the city, including in its incorporation and hired Brent as mayor. He was reappointed to the position seven times by Jefferson and three times by James Madison, finally relinquishing the position in June 1812.

It was Brent who built the districts government one office at a time. He established the public school system, a police department, a fire department, and a system for taxation. When city planner Pierre L'Enfant was dismissed before completion of his design, Brent took over and laid out many of the city’s streets.

 Brent never took a salary for his service as mayor.

During his lifetime, Brent also served as Paymaster General of the Army, Judge of the Orphan's Court for Washington County, Maryland and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Public Schools. He was the first president of the Patriotic Bank and of the Columbia Manufacturing Co.

Brent died in Washington, DC, on 7 September 1819 and is buried in Forest Glen (at St. Johns Church). The Robert Brent Museum Magnet School in D.C. is named in his honor.

DC second mayor 

Daniel Rapine (born, June 11, 1768 - died, July 28 or July 29, 1826) was a bookseller and printer from Philadelphia who moved to DC with intention of opening a bookstore. He ended up as the city’s second mayor, elected by the city council in June 1812 and served for one year.

Raphine had served on the City Council from 1802 to 1806 and then again in 1812, when Congress restructured city ordinances to create a council of aldermen for the city, which was empowered to elected the mayor. However, the incumbent mayor, Robert Brent, as wanted to be mayor. There was a vote which ended in a tie, so the council held a coin toss to determine who the next mayor would be.......Rapine won.  

Rapine received federal money to fund the city's defenses for the war of 1812...the defenses didn’t do much good, the British, being the British, burned the city to the ground. Rapine also held a lottery to build and fund two schools and a public water works. He served as Postmaster of the House of Representatives in the 1820s, until his death in July 1826.

Third mayor

 James Heighe Blake (1768 - 1819) of Calvert County, Maryland was a physician, and the third mayor of Washington, D.C., elected by the council of aldermen in 1813 and serving until 1817. The City Council elected him mayor on June 14, 1813 and reelected him three times afterwards.

When the English attacked an unprotected City of Washington on August 24, 1814, as part of the War of 1812, Blake urged First Lady Dolley Madison to flee the city before the British arrived and then sent his own family over to the safety of Virginia.


Blake rounded up men to defend the city, but by then most of the city’s residents had fled to Maryland, so his ranks were thin. Blake finally had to give up the fight and flee the city or be taken prisoner "I would exert myself” he wrote “to the last moment and agree to die in the streets rather than give up the city, but, if all resistance was given over, and our military abandoned it, I would then also leave it and not surrender myself a prisoner to the enemy."


Blake died on July 29, 1819 at the age of fifty two. The remains were interred in the Methodist Episcopal Burial Ground in Georgetown and then moved to the William A. Gordon lot in Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington D.C. on November 2, 1870.

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