Daily Archives: February 6, 2006

Item of the Day: Letter from John Tabor Kempe to Daniel Horsmanden (1763)

Full Title: Letter from John Tabor Kempe to Daniel Horsmanden with response from Horsmanden, July 14, 1763.

[John Tabor Kempe (1735-1795) served as the last Royal Attorney General of the Colonial Province of New York in 1759 . A Loyalist, Kempe returned to England after the Revolutionary War in 1783. Daniel Horsmanden (1691-1778) was appointed Chief Justice of New York in 1763. Horsmanden’s reputation rested on his involvement in the notorious 1741 New York slave conspiracy. What is now widely viewed as a witch hunt based on the testimony of a single witness fueled by mass hysteria, Horsmanden presided over the trials of hundreds of slaves suspected of conspiracy. By the time it ended, Horsmanden had sentenced thirteen blacks to burn at the stake, seventeen to hang, and another seventy with banishment from the colony. This signed letter from Kempe to Horsmanden was written over twenty years after the conspiracy trials. The letter points to Kempe’s more sympathetic view of freed blacks as he raises concerns about their re-enslavement when forcibly taken across state lines — an early foreshadowing of the nation’s deepening sectional divisions.]


If what the Bearer hereof says is to be credited the Negro Man in whose Behalf he applies to you is certainly free and if so, he ought to be protected in his Liberty as much as a White Man — He is put on board a ship now at the watering place which will sail tomorrow, for South Carolina, where he is to be sold as a slave, from which situation he may never be able to extricate himself there for want of Proof of his Freedom.

In this view of things his case seems to me very hard nor can I think of any step to relieve him unless a warrant be obtained to bring him up again, and to bind over the persons concerned in kidnapping him, which step I conceive the nature of the case requires — The Bearer hereof will make affid. of his Freedom, and he waits on you to know whether if that be made to appear before you on oath, you think it proper to issue such warrant. — I would have waited on you myself, but am quite undressed having been very much engaged all day, and will if you require written Proof of the Negros Freedom, draw the Bearers affid. to be laid before you. I hope you will excuse the Trouble of this Letter, which I am prompted to write in commiseration of the poor Fellow and by Detestation of the cruel practice of infringing the Liberty of a poor Man because he is so unfortunate as to have a Black Face, and be Friendless and unable to assist himself.

I am
most obedient humble servant.

J.T. Kempe
July 14, 1763


Be so good as draw the affidavit & if full to the purposes, the Warrant & what is proper for me I shall readily comply with.

Your Humble Servant

Dan Horsmanden

To John Tabor Kempe, Esq
Attorney General

Leave a comment

Filed under 1760's, Legal, Posted by Rebecca Dresser, Slavery