Gouverneur Kemble

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Appletons' Kemble Gouverneur.jpg
Appletons' Kemble Gouverneur signature.jpg

Gouverneur Kemble (January 25, 1786 – September 18, 1875) was a two-term United States Congressman, diplomat and industrialist. He helped found the West Point Foundry, a major producer of artillery during the American Civil War.

Life[edit]

Kemble was born to a prominent family in New York City, the eldest son of prosperous attorney and merchant Peter Kemble. Ships of the firm Gouverneur & Kemble conducted trade in the West Indies, Europe and China.[1] Kemble was educated in New York and graduated from Columbia College in 1803, then entered the mercantile business. He was friends with Washington Irving and other members of city society, who enjoyed socializing at Cockloft Hall (an old family mansion on the Passaic River inherited by Kemble).[2] He was a founding member of the “Lads of Kilkenny”. His sister, Gertrude, married James Kirke Paulding in November, 1818.[3] Through his grandmother Gertrude Bayard, Kemble is a descendant of the Schuyler family and the Van Cortlandt family.

West Point Foundry[edit]

He was sent to the Mediterranean as a naval agent during the Second Barbary War with Tripoli. As a young man with political connections, in 1816 he was appointed United States Consul at Cádiz in Spain, where it is said that his attention was attracted to the Spanish government's state-of-the-art process of casting cannon.[2]

Returning home, he saw an opportunity to introduce the process in the United States. Along with other partners including his brother William and a consortium of investors including General Joseph Gardner Swift of the U.S. Army, around 1817 he founded the West Point Foundry Association to produce artillery pieces for the United States Government. The need of such an establishment was demonstrated by the War of 1812.[2] The foundry was built across the Hudson River from West Point in the village of Cold Spring, New York, and soon began to make cast iron steam engines for locomotives, gears, water pipes, and other iron products, as well as artillery. Despite the lack of local artisans and craftsmen skilled in ironworking, Kemble and his partners succeeded, especially after they hired William Young, a native of Belfast, Ireland. Robert P. Parrott became superintendent in 1836 and the Foundry weathered the Panic of 1837. Kemble continued to be president of the association until the expiration of the charter. He became known as the "Patriarch of Cold Spring" for his charitable activities in the village.

In 1823, Gouverneur Kemble leased land in Orange County, New York for the mineral rights to mine iron ore. Four years later, the Kembles acquired most of the nearby Greenwood Iron Foundry and related industries. In 1839, the brothers sold the foundry to Parrott. A year later, his sister Mary married Parrott.

Political career[edit]

Kemble was an active member of the Democratic Party and became involved in politics. He was elected to the Twenty-fifth and Twenty-sixth Congresses representing Westchester and Putnam counties, serving two terms during the presidency of Martin Van Buren. In 1840, he declined a nomination for a third term. He served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1840 and 1860. He was elected as a delegate to the 1846 convention for the revising New York's state constitution.[4]

In his later years, he was an active supporter of the Hudson River Railroad[5] and the Panama Railway, and was a lifelong art collector and patron. In 1854 he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Honorary Academician.

Kemble was one of the last survivors of the Tontine Association.[5] He died in Cold Spring at the age of 89 and was buried in Cold Spring Cemetery.

An 1853 oil portrait of Gouverneur Kemble by Asher Brown Durand is in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.[6]

Famed Civil War general Gouverneur Kemble Warren, born in Cold Spring in 1830, was named for Kemble, a close friend of his father, Sylvanus Warren.

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United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Aaron Ward
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 4th congressional district

1837–1841
Succeeded by
Aaron Ward