By John William Tuohy
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 Carrolls and the Notley-Youngs were crossed in blood line smany times)
Notley Young and his wife
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 Capital 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.