Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Kent Family papers, 1785-1901

Summary Information


The Kent Family Papers contains letters, manuscripts, journals, and documents of the Kent family. The bulk of this material is the papers of James Kent and of William Kent. Also included are autographs, letters, and various ephemera collected by the Kent, Pinckney, and Webster families.

At a Glance

Call No.: MS#0703
Bib ID 4078978 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Kent family ; Pinckney Family ; Webster Family
Title Kent Family papers, 1785-1901
Physical Description 2.10 linear feet (5 document boxes)
Language(s) English .
Access You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located on-site.

This collection has no restrictions.



This collection is arranged in 5 series. Series I, II, and IV are arranged chronologically. Series III is arranged chronologically by subject. Series V is predominantly arranged alphabetically, not including sub series 5 (Public Addresses) which is arranged chronologically.



The Kent Family Papers contains letters, manuscripts, journals, and documents of the Kent family. The bulk of this material is the papers of James Kent and of William Kent.

The correspondence represents a broad spectrum of 19th century figures prominent in the legal, political, and literary fields.

The manuscripts and documents, primarily legal in character, include essays, legal opinions by different jurists, memoranda on legal questions, and resolutions of various groups upon the death of Chancellor Kent. The documents also include wills, deeds, invitations, certificates, Chancellor Kent's legal opinions of cases submitted to him, and his notes on various authors.

In addition to material relating to the Kent family there are journals, autographs, letters, and memorabilia collected by the Pinckney and Webster families while they were in London during the 1790s and, the1830s. This includes calling cards, stamps, clippings, engravings, currency, silhouettes, and many autographs of the Revolutionary period.

There are also several diaries and journals. These include an account of a journey from New York to the eastern states; Chancellor Kent's journal on the Napoleonic Campaign, 1807-1808, his journal of the campaigns including action between the United States and Great Britain in the War of 1812, and his personal diaries, 1843-1847; and a journal of a tour in Europe, 1826, kept by Mary Kent Stone (Mrs. John Seely Stone).

  • Series I. Personal Correspondence, 1787-1881, undated

    This series contains the personal correspondence of James Kent, William Kent, and James Kent, Jr. as well as their friends and family members. It is arranged chronologically in 101 folders.

  • Series II. Legal Opinions, Notes, and Correspondence Regarding Issues of the Law, 1791-1851, undated

    Most items of correspondence in this series are of William Kent and James Kent but there are several without proprietary signatures or penned by other men of the law, for example Martin Van Buren and George S. Yerger as well as other individuals. This series is arranged chronologically in 82 folders.

  • Series III. Legal Documents and Other Items, 1820-1901, undated

    This series contains diplomas, certificates to practice, certificates of membership, wills, executor documents, copyrights, and various memorabilia collected by the Kent family such as calling cards, stamps, clippings, engravings, currency, silhouettes, and many autographs of the Revolutionary period. This series is divided into 9 sub-series and arranged chronologically. There are 68 folders.

  • Series IV. Journals and Catalogs, 1797-1847

    This series contains the journals and library catalog of James Kent and John Seely Stone. There are 9 Items, arranged chronologically.

  • Series V. Lecture Notes and Reading Notes, 1783-1860, undated

    This series is comprised of notes and transcriptions of various authors, philosophers, and scholars taken predominantly by James Kent and William Kent. It is divided into 5 sub-series that vary in arrangement (organized alphabetically by author or topic). There are 78 folders in this series.

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located on-site.

This collection has no restrictions.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. Permission to publish material from the collection must be requested from the Curator of Manuscripts/University Archivist, Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML). The RBML approves permission to publish that which it physically owns; the responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Name of Collection; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

Selected Related Material-- Other Repositories

James Kent Papers, 1779-1854, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.


No additions are expected

Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact rbml@columbia.edu for more information.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Source of acquisition--Kent, Louisa. Method of acquisition--Gift; Date of acquisition--1965. Accession number--M-65.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Cataloged Christina Hilton Fenn 07/--/89.

Papers processed Vanessa Cano, Pratt Institute 2011.

Finding aid written by Vanessa Cano February 2011.

Collection is processed to folder level.

Revision Description

2011-03-11 File created.

2011-04-01 XML document instance created by Catherine C. Ricciardi

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Autographs (manuscripts) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Court decisions and opinions Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Diaries Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Engravings (prints) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Poems Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Silhouettes Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Adams, John Quincy, 1767-1848 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Bailey, Theodorus, 1805-1877 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Baldwin, Simeon, 1761-1851 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Burr, Aaron, 1756-1836 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Clay, Henry, 1777-1852 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia College (New York, N.Y.) -- Faculty Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Europe -- Description and travel Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Europe -- History -- 1789-1900 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Everett, Edward, 1794-1865 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Families -- England -- London Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Families -- Massachusetts -- Boston Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Families -- New York (State) -- New York Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Harvard University -- Faculty Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Jackson, Andrew, 1767-1845 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Judges Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Kent, James, 1763-1847 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Kent, William, 1858-1910 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Lawyers Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth, 1807-1882 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Madison, Dorothea Payne, 1768-1849 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Napoleonic Wars, 1800-1815 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Panama Canal (Panama) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Political science -- History and Theory Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Presidents' spouses Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Seneca Indians Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Seward, William H (William Henry), 1801-1872 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Silliman, Benjamin, 1779-1864 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Stone, John S., John Seely, 1795-1882 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Stone, Mary Kent Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
United States -- History -- Revolution, 1775-1783 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
United States -- History -- War of 1812 -- Campaigns Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
United States -- Politics and government -- 18th century Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
United States -- Politics and government -- 19th century Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Webster, Daniel, 1782-1852 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical / Historical

James Kent (1763-1847) was an American jurist and legal scholar. He graduated from Yale College in 1781 and began to practice law at Poughkeepse, NY, in 1785 as an attorney, and in 1787 at the Bar. From 1791-1793 Kent was a representative of Dutchess County in the State Assembly. In 1793 he removed to New York, where Governer Jay, to whom Kent's Federalist sympathies were a strong recommendation, appointed him Master in Chancery for the City. Kent was the first professor of law at Columbia College in 1793-1798. He served the assembly again in 1796-1797. In 1797 he became Recorder of New York, in 1798 Judge of the Supreme Court of New York, in 1804 Chief Justice, and in 1814 Chancellor of New York. In 1822 Kent became a member of the convention to revise the state constitution where he unsuccessfully opposed the raising of the property qualification for African American voters. The following year Chancellor Kent resigned his office and resumed teaching at Columbia College. Out of the lectures he delivered at this time came his Commentaries on American Law (4 volumes, 1826-1830), modeled after his tremendous respect for William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-1769). Chancery law had been very unpopular during the Colonial and early American eras. Kent's opinions of this class are considered to be a basis for American equity jurisprudence. Kent was also responsible for first enunciating what would become the Cherokee doctrine, the idea that American Indian peoples, though subject, were sovereign nations.

Kent married Elizabeth Bailey, and they had four children: Elizabeth (died in infancy), Elizabeth, Mary, and William Kent.

James Kent's brother, Moss Kent (1766-1838) was a lawyer from Dutchess County, New York, and the first Surrogate of Rensselaer County, New York. He was appointed first judge of Jefferson County in 1795 and moved to Cooperstown. He was a member of the New York State Senate from 1799 to 1803 and served in the New York State Assembly in 1807 and 1810. He was appointed judge of Jefferson County in 1810, and was elected as a Federalist to the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Congresses (1813-1817) as the representative for the newly created New York's 18th congressional district. Afterword, he resumed the practice of law until his death in 1838.

William Kent (1802-1861), the only son of James Kent, was a circuit judge. He graduated from Union College with a B.A. in 1820 and a M.A. in 1823. William studied law and practiced in New York City. He was appointed Judge of the Circuit Court of New York City by Governor Seward, serving from 1841 to 1845. Kent resigned that post to accept the Royall professorship of law at Harvard, which he held in 1846-1847. He resigned that post, and returned to New York City where he became one of the founders of the New York University Law School. Shortly thereafter, in 1852, William Kent ran as a Whig for New York State Lieutenant Governor with Washington Hunt but lost to Democrat Sanford Church.

William Kent married Helen Riggs of New York City (the granddaughter of Col. William Burnett, the Surveyor-General of the Continental Army). They had one son, James, born on September 21, 1830. Judge William Kent died on January 4, 1861, at Fishkill Landing, NY.

John Seely Stone (1795-1882), whose journal is included in this collection, was a clergyman for St. Paul's Cathedral in Boston, MA, and the son in law of James Kent through his daughter, Mary. In Stone's congregation and also in the Kent's correspondence are Daniel Webster (1782-1852), American statesman, and his wife Catherine Le Roy Webster.

Lastly, the personal correspondence of Thomas Pinckney (1750-1828) and his wife are also represented in this collection. Pinckney was an early American statesman, diplomat, and veteran of both the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.