seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of William Sampson, United Irishman, Author & Lawyer

william-sampsonWilliam Sampson, member of the Society of United Irishmen, author and Irish Protestant lawyer known for his defence of religious liberty in Ireland and the United States, dies in New York City on December 28, 1836.

Sampson is born in Derry, County Londonderry, to an affluent Anglican family. He attends Trinity College Dublin and studies law at Lincoln’s Inn in London. In his twenties, he briefly visits an uncle in North Carolina. In 1790 he marries Grace Clark and they have two sons, William and John, and a daughter, Catherine Anne.

Admitted to the Irish Bar, Sampson becomes Junior Counsel to John Philpot Curran, and helps him provide legal defences for many members of the Society of United Irishmen. A member of the Church of Ireland, he is disturbed by anti-Catholic violence and contributes writings to the Society’s newspapers. He is arrested at the time of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, imprisoned, and compelled to leave Ireland for exile in Europe.

Shipwrecked at Pwllheli in Wales, Sampson makes his way to exile in Porto, Portugal, where he is again arrested, imprisoned in Lisbon, and then expelled. After living some years in France, and then Hamburg, he flees to England ahead of the approach of Napoleon‘s armies where he is re-arrested. After unsuccessfully petitioning for a return to Ireland, he arrives in New York City on July 4, 1806.

In the United States, Sampson successfully continues his career in the law, eventually sending for his family. He sets up a business publishing detailed accounts of the court proceedings in cases with popular appeal. In 1809 he reports on the case of a Navy Lieutenant Renshaw prosecuted for dueling. That same year he handles a case against Amos and Demis Broad, accused of brutally beating their slave, Betty, and her 3-year-old daughter where Sampson succeeded in having both slaves manumitted. The authorities in Ireland had disbarred Sampson, which causes him some bitter amusement, as it does not affect his work in the United States.

Sampson’s most important case in the United States is in 1813 and is referred to as “The Catholic Question in America.” Police investigating the misdemeanor of receiving stolen goods question the suspects’ priest, the Reverend Mr. Kohlman. He declines to given any information that he has heard in confession. The priest is called to testify at the trial in the Court of General Sessions in the City of New York. He again declines. The issue whether to compel the testimony is fully briefed and carefully argued on both sides, with a detailed examination of the common law. In the end, the confessional privilege is accepted for the first time in a court of the United States.

William Sampson dies on December 28, 1836 and is buried in the Riker Family graveyard on Long Island in what is now East Elmhurst, Queens, New York. He is later reinterred in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, where he is now buried in the same plot as Matilda Witherington Tone and William Theobald Wolfe Tone, the wife and son of the Irish revolutionary Wolfe Tone, and his daughter Catherine, the wife of William Theobald Wolfe Tone.


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Birth of Melesina Trench, Writer, Poet & Diarist

melesina-trenchMelesina Trench (née Chenevix), Irish writer, poet and diarist, is born in Dublin on March 22, 1768. During her lifetime she is known more for her beauty than her writing. It is not until her son, Richard Chenevix Trench, publishes her diaries posthumously in 1861 that her work receives notice.

Melesina Chenevix is born to Philip Chenevix and Mary Elizabeth Gervais. She is orphaned before her fourth birthday and is brought up by her paternal grandfather, Richard Chenevix (1698–1779), the Anglican Bishop of Waterford and Lismore. The family is of Huguenot extraction.

After the death of Richard Chenevix she goes to live with her other grandfather, the Archdeacon Gervais. On October 31, 1786 she marries Colonel Richard St. George, who dies only four years later in Portugal, leaving one son, Charles Manners St. George, who becomes a diplomat.

Between 1799 and 1800, Melesina travels around Europe, especially Germany. It is during these travels that she meets Lord Horatio Nelson, Lady Hamilton and the cream of European society, including Antoine de Rivarol, Lucien Bonaparte, and John Quincy Adams while living in Germany. She later recounts anecdotes of these meetings in her memoirs.

On March 3, 1803 in Paris she marries her second husband, Richard Trench, who is the sixth son of Frederick Trench and brother of Frederick Trench, 1st Baron Ashtown.

After the breakdown of the Peace of Amiens, Richard Trench is detained in France by Napoleon‘s armies, and in August 1805 Melesina takes it upon herself to petition Napoleon in person and pleads for her husband’s release. Her husband is released in 1807 and the couple settles at Elm Lodge in Bursledon, Hampshire, England.

Their son, Francis Chenevix Trench, is born in 1805. In 1807, when they are on holiday in Dublin, their son Richard Chenevix Trench is born. He goes on to be the Archbishop of Dublin, renowned poet and contemporary of Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Her only daughter dies a few years later at the age of four.

Trench corresponds with, amongst others, Mary Leadbeater, with whom she works to improve the lot of the peasantry at her estate at Ballybarney. She dies at the age of 59 in Malvern, Worcestershire on May 27, 1827.

Melesina Trench’s diaries and letters are compiled posthumously by Richard Chenevix Trench as The remains of the late Mrs. Richard Trench in 1861 with an engraving of her taken from a painting by George Romney. Another oil painting, The Evening Star by Sir Thomas Lawrence, has her as a subject, and she is reproduced in portrait miniatures – one in Paris by Jean-Baptiste Isabey and another by Hamilton that is copied by the engraver Francis Engleheart.

Copies of a number of her works are held at Chawton House Library.

(Pictured: “Melesina Chenevix, Mrs. George, later Mrs. Trench,” attributed to George Romney (British, 1734–1802), oil on canvas)