Artifact Corner: James and Elizabeth Kent

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at two portraits in our collections. These portraits are of James Kent and his wife Elizabeth Bailey Kent. Both of the pieces are prints from original portraits. The original pieces were done in the late 1700’s. The portrait of James was done when he was 25, and the portrait of Elizabeth was done when she was 20 years old. Let’s learn a bit more about James and Elizabeth Kent.

James Kent was born in 1763 in the town of Fredericksburg, in Duchess County, NY. His father, Moss Kent was an attorney in Duchess County, and also served as at the Surrogates court for the State of New York for Rensselaer County. Not much is known about his very early life, but he followed in his father’s footsteps and attended Yale for law. He graduated in 1781, and returned to New York. He was admitted to the New York State Bar in 1785, and began practicing law in Poughkeepsie, NY. In April of this year he also married Elizabeth Bailey. By all accounts it was a very happy union, and the two were very devoted to each other. By 1793, James was having trouble supporting his growing family, and moved them to New York City. He had been offered and accepted a position as a professor of law at Columbia University in Manhattan. He taught there for five years. His career really flourished when he was appointed to be a justice in the New York State Supreme Court in 1798. In 1804 he was appointed to the Chief Justice role in the New York State Supreme Court, a position he held for 10 years. In 1814 he became the Chancellor of New York, which the New York Court of Chancery was the highest court in the State of New York from 1701 to 1847. During this time, James and Elizabeth had four children, three of which survived to adulthood, named Elizabeth, Mary, and William Kent.

According to Amelia Kessler in the paper “Our Inquisitorial Tradition: Equity Procedure, Due Process, and the Search for an Alternative to the Adversarial,” as chancellor, Kent inspired the development of modern American discovery by allowing masters to actively examine witnesses during depositions (rather than following the old English procedure of merely reading static interrogatories), and he allowed parties and counsel to be present for depositions. These innovations led to the modern deposition by oral examination. In 1837 James retired, and he and Elizabeth moved to Summit New Jersey. James passed away in 1847, and Elizabeth died in 1851.

Now, the name Kent is probably ringing a lot of bells for you, given that we are the Kent Delord House museum. And that’s part of the reason we are exploring these portraits. Why are we named the Kent Delord House museum? What did James Kent have to do with our house? Well, the property was owned initially by Elizabeth Bailey Kent and James Kent. In 1810 Henry Delord and his wife Betsey purchased the property from them. The property had a small two room cabin with a half story above it, which the Delord’s expanded into the home you see today. When the last member of our family passed away, it was eventually decided that the home would be turned into a museum. At the time, in the 1930’s, how many people knew the Delord name, versus how many people knew the Kent name? Well, James Kent had served as the Chief Justice for the New York State Supreme Court, so his name was very recognizable. Hence we became the Kent Delord House museum. Both of these prints are in good condition with very little fading or discoloration, and we are so lucky to have them in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by!

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Sunny Morning by MusicLFiles
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