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Beacon Historians Mark Restoration Of Famed American Jurist's Grave

Historical Society president Robert Murphy and Mayor Randy Casale admire that newly restored grave marker of American jurist James Kent at St. Luke’s Cemetery in Beacon. Photo Credit: Contributed
Jurist James Kent is depicted in an 1835 painting by Rembrandt Peale. Kent is buried at St. Luke's Cemetery in Beacon. His grave was recently restored by the local historical society. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

BEACON, N.Y. -- James Kent’s grave marker in a Beacon cemetery was cracked in four places and so covered with soil that it couldn’t be seen, say local historians.

Kent, an American jurist and legal scholar, was born in 1763 in Fredericksburgh (then in Dutchess County, but now part of Putnam County).

When Kent’s modest gravestone in St. Luke’s Cemetery off Wolcott Avenue first toppled over in 1939, it grabbed the attention of the local newspaper, which ran a picture of his grave with the headline “Here Lies Beacon’s Most Illustrious Son.”

Actually, Kent, who died in 1847, had few ties to Beacon other than being buried there.

His family had his body removed from Marble Cemetery in Manhattan and moved to St. Luke’s Cemetery in Beacon, then called the village of Mattaewan.

His son, William, who is buried near his father, had an estate on Sargent Avenue called “Beaconside.”

Kent descendants continued to live in Beacon for several more generations.

A few years ago, the Beacon’s Historical Society’s vice president, Mary Colbert, was able to locate the elder Kent’s grave.

It has now been restored, through, the society said, the “generosity” of Kent’s descendants, many of whom attended a recent service at St. Luke’s marking his grave’s restoration.

People who do this kind of restoration work are rare nowadays, she said, but the society was able to track one down, Colbert said Wednesday.

It cost about $7,000 to piece together, support and clean the white marble stone, she said.

The society found a description of what the original supposedly looked like, and added four white marble pillars.

Known as the ““Father of American Jurisprudence,” Kent was the son of a Dutchess County lawyer.

He graduated from Yale in 1781 and opened a law practice in Poughkeepsie in 1785. He served on the state Assembly twice and was a master in chancery for New York City. He was Columbia College’s first law professor and was also a state Supreme Court justice.

As a member of the state Constitutional Convention he fought – unsuccessfully -- against a measure that would have raised the property qualification for African-American voters. The $250 property requirement, which was abolished for white men, kept more than 90 percent of free black men.

After he retired, Kent lived in Summit, N.J.

According to the historical society, Chicago-Kent College of Law is named in his honor as is the Chancellor Kent Professorship at Columbia Law School. Students who have high honors status at Columbia Law School are called James Kent Scholars.

There is also a Chancellor Kent Professorship at Yale Law School.

A bronze statue of Chancellor Kent and Solon (the Athenian lawmaker whose reforms laid the foundations for democracy) represent law on the balustrade of the galleries of the Main Reading Room in the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

These statues are among 16 that represent men whose works shaped human development and civilization, the historical society said.

To find out the names of other famous folks buried at St. Luke’s in Beacon, click here.

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