William Sampson (lawyer)

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William Sampson
Born 26 January 1764
Derry, Ireland
Died 28 December 1836
New York City, New York, United States
Occupation Lawyer
Spouse(s) Grace Clark
Children William, John, and Catherine Anne

William Sampson (26 January 1764 – 28 December 1836) was an Irish Protestant lawyer known for his defence of religious liberty in Ireland and America.

Early life

Sampson was born in Derry, Ireland to an affluent Anglican family. He attended Trinity College Dublin and studied law at Lincoln's Inn in London.[1]. In his twenties, he briefly visited an uncle in North Carolina. In 1790 he married Grace Clark; they had two sons, William and John, and a daughter, Catherine Anne.

Admitted to the Irish Bar, Sampson became Junior Counsel to John Philpot Curran, and helped him provide legal defences for many members of the Society of United Irishmen. A member of the Church of Ireland, Sampson was disturbed by anti-Catholic violence and contributed writings to the Society's newspapers. He was arrested at the time of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, imprisoned, and compelled to leave Ireland for exile in Europe. Shipwrecked at Pwllheli (he spelt it "Pulhelly") in Wales, he made his way to exile in Oporto, Portugal, where he was again arrested, imprisoned in Lisbon, and then expelled. After living some years in France, and then Hamburg, he fled the approach of Napoleon's armies to England where he was re-arrested. After unsuccessfully petitioning for a return to Ireland, he arrived in New York City on 4 July 1806.[2]

The Catholic Question in America

In America, Sampson successfully continued his career in the law, eventually sending for his family. He set up a business publishing detailed accounts of the court proceedings in cases with popular appeal. In 1809 he reported on the case of a Navy Lieutenant Renshaw prosecuted for dueling.[3] That same year he handled 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.[1] The authorities in Ireland had disbarred Sampson, which caused him some bitter amusement, as it didn't affect his work in the United States.

Sampson's most important case in America was in 1813 and is referred to as "The Catholic Question in America".[4] Police investigating the misdemeanor of receiving stolen goods questioned the suspects' priest, the Reverend Mr. Kohlman; he declined to given any information that he had heard in confession. The priest was called to testify at the trial in the Court of General Sessions in the City of New-York; he again declined. The issue whether to compel the testimony was fully briefed and carefully argued on both sides, with a detailed examination of the common law; in the end, the confessional privilege was accepted for the first time in a court of the United States.

He died in December 1836 and was buried in the Riker Family graveyard on Long Island[5] in what is now East Elmhurst, Queens, New York.[6] He was later reinterred in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, 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.[7]

Miscellaneous writings

  • A faithful report of the trial of Hurdy-Gurdy, tried and convicted of a seditious libel in the court of King's Bench, on the testimony of French Horn
  • Trial of Capt. Henry Whitby, for the murder of John Pierce, with his dying declaration: Also, the trial of Capt. George Crimp, for piracy and manstealing
  • The case of George W. Niven, Esq., attorney and counsellor at law, charged with mal-practices and suspended by order of the court of common pleas
  • Mr. Sampson's reply, on the trial of James Cheetham for a libel on Mrs. Margaret Brazier Bonneville


  1. ^ a b Beale, Charles Currier. William Sampson, Lawyer and Stenographer (1907) This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  2. ^ William Sampson (1817). "Memoirs of William Sampson". Retrieved 5 August 2012.
  3. ^ James Renshaw, William Sampson (1809). The Trial of Lieutenant Renshaw of the U.S. Navy. Edward Gillespy. Retrieved 9 December 2007.
  4. ^ William Sampson (1813). The Catholic Question in America. Frank, White and Co. Retrieved 9 December 2007.
  5. ^ E. J. Best. "Counsellor: A Portrait of Counsellor William Sampson". Lisburn Historical Society. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 9 December 2007.
  6. ^ http://www.rikerhome.com
  7. ^ Alice L. Milligan. Life of Theobald Wolfe Tone (1898), Appendix. J.W. Boyd, Belfast. Retrieved 5 September 2010.

See also

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