History - The First Generation of United States Marshals
Marshal of Rhode Island: William Peck
William Peck was born on December 15, 1755, in Lyme, Conn. Twenty years
later he graduated from Yale. Immediately after, he joined the
Continental Army as a First Lieutenant and Adjutant of the Seventeenth
Regiment. According to a
resume he sent George Washington in February 1790, he was appointed
in February 1776. His promotions continued at a rapid pace. The
July, Peck was promoted to major and aidedecamp to Maj. Gen. Joseph
Spenser. A year later, he became Deputy Adjutant General of the Eastern
Department with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He retired from the post
and from the army in December 1781.
Sometime after the war, Peck moved to Rhode Island, where he entered
what he called "Mercantile pursuits." These did not prove
profitable for him.
Throughout the 1780s, he teetered on the edge of bankruptcy, though he
seems to have managed to stay out of debtor's prison. In 1784, his first
wife died, leaving him with the care of two young sons and a daughter.
He married again two years later and had another daughter by his second
wife. Unfortunately, in 1790 he was penniless and out of work. He
applied to the president for the job of naval officer of Providence.
Like North Carolina, Rhode Island originally refused to ratify the new
Constitution. However, unlike North Carolina, Rhode Island was not
appeased by the incorporation of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution.
It delayed joining the
union until a boycott by the states isolated it economically. Under this
pressure, a convention was called and the Constitution narrowly approved
on May 29, 1790. Peck, anticipating the approval of the Constitution and
job, wrote Washington in February. Several months later, two of
sent the President letters of recommendation. William Greene, for
told Washington that during the Revolution, Peck "was very active and
the defense of his Country, since obtaining our independence hath been a
Federalist and is a man of integrity and ability." William Arnold
nomination by telling the president that Peck had "a young and growing
family." But Washington did not offer Peck the job he wanted. Instead,
he appointed the 34-year-old Peck as a Marshal.
He kept the job twenty years, the longest tenure of any of the first
Marshals. After his retirement in 1810, he again found himself unable to
living. In 1818, after Congress approved a bill granting Revolutionary
War veterans a pension, Peck wrote Judge David Howek seeking help in
his benefits. He told the judge that he was more than 60 years old and
Peck said that he had "an amiable wife and family dependent on him for
their daily support; his means to effect which are very scanty-that
early in life he was accustomed to the enjoyment of all reasonable and
necessary comforts, but that his present reduced situation obliges him
(painful as it is) to apply for.. .assistance." In a sworn statement
dated April 23,1818, Peck listed his property and income. He was not in
any business "nor has he been for some time past." He was also in
debt in the amount of several hundred dollars. He admitted that he could
not support himself, his 56-year-old wife, or two daughters without his
pension. One of his daughters, the statement added, was in poor health.
The records do not indicate if Peck received his pension. According to
tombstone, which was located Deputy Michael F. Reynolds and former
Marshal Donald W. Wyatt (District of Rhode Island), Peck died on
May 19, 1832, at
the age of 77. Former U.S. Marshal Donald W. Wyatt and Deputy U.S.
Marshal Michael F. Reynolds have done extensive research on the
background of Colonel William Peck as the first United States Marshal
for the District of Rhode Island. In 1985, U.S. Marshal Wyatt (above)
visits the grave of U.S. Marshal Peck in Providence.