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Mathew Kemp

Member From: 1679 - 1686

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  • Birth Date: Unknown Birth Place:
  • Death Date: December 13 or 14, 1679
  • Gender: Male Race: Caucasian
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  • Military Service: Gloucester County militia; he led the Gloucester County cavalry during Bacon's Rebellion
  • Occupation/Profession:
  • Additional Info: Elevated to the Council on July 8, 1680, and therefore served only in the June 1680 session.
  • Bio: MATHEW KEMP was Speaker of the House of Burgesses at the assembly of 1679. Gloucester County returned him to the first session of the assembly of 1680-1682. He lost the election for Speaker, but was appointed to the Council on 8 July 1680. Kemp had resided in Lancaster County until 1674. He had inherited 1,100 acres from his father, Edmund, and he had served as sheriff of Lancaster County in 1659. The 500-acre tract near the falls of the Potomac River that he had patented in 1660 was probably a trading outpost; in March 1661 the assembly relied on his experience with the Indians when it named him to arrange a land transaction between Moore Fauntleroy and the Rappahannock Indians. In 1663 Kemp and Peter Jennings, who died in 1672, had patented another 1,000 acres on the Potomac; they were agents for the collection of quitrents in Lancaster, Gloucester, and northern New Kent counties. After Jennings's death Kemp relocated in Gloucester County. By January 1675 he had purchased 400 acres there and claimed another 173 acres for the importation of immigrants, and in 1677 he sold the Potomac River tract he had owned with Peter Jennings.
    Throughout his career Speaker Kemp was active in county government, especially as a militia leader. He sat on courts-martial in 1673 and 1677. Nathaniel Bacon, Jr., named Kemp as one of his enemies in his 30 July 1676 declaration, and the royal commissioners who investigated Bacon's Rebellion described him as "a gentleman of an honest Loyall family, a very deserving Person and much a sufferer by the Rebels." Kemp had led the Gloucester County cavalry during the rebellion.
    Both in civil and militia affairs Kemp was an associate of former Speaker Augustine Warner. In 1680 Kemp presided over the Gloucester County Court and commanded the horse, while Warner had overall command of the county militia. Speaker Kemp's connection with Warner suggests that he was among the moderate group of Governor Sir William Berkeley's former adherents-the men who made peace with Berkeley's successors as distinct from the Green Spring faction, which included: Robert Beverley, Sr., clerk of the House of Burgesses and a man who had refused to assist the royal commissioners' investigation; Berkeley's widow, Frances; Philip Ludwell, Sr., whom she married; Thomas Ballard; and Edward Hill, Jr. The assembly of 1679, over which Kemp presided, sidestepped its potentially most divisive issue by postponing until the next assembly all discussion of public claims arising from Bacon's Rebellion.
    Historians have long agreed that when the assembly called to meet on 8 June 1680 recommended the appointment of Robert Beverley as clerk, it took a step toward confrontation with the governor. Before taking that step, however, the burgesses had put their own house in order by their careful choice of the Speaker. Of the three nominees, they chose first between Thomas Ballard, one of the '' discontented persons of the late Governor's party," and the more moderate Speaker Kemp, who had presided at the last assembly. Ballard won by a vote of fifteen to thirteen. The House then chose between the two extremes: Thomas Ballard. and Isaac Allerton, whom Governor Culpeper later described privately as ''Extremely well affected, . . . Very Instrumentall in Inducing the Assembly to passe the Revenue Act in 1680 ... [and who] did Assure me of his utmost services in whatsoever the King should command Him by His Governor." The House chose Ballard as Speaker and, that afternoon, recommended Beverley as clerk. Ballard was the most independent of the three candidates. After the 1680 session ended, Governor Culpeper rewarded Kemp with a seat on Council, to which he was sworn on 8 July 1680.
    During the next year tobacco prices dropped, and the populace pressed for a one-year cessation of planting to relieve the flooded market. Many hoped that when the assembly reconvened on 18 April 1682 it would restrict tobacco planting in order to raise prices. The House of Burgesses discussed the problem and wrote an address to the Council, but after four days Deputy Governor Sir Henry Chicheley prorogued the House. This he did at the order of Governor Culpeper, who had gone to England and who hoped that tobacco prices would drop further and force Virginians to develop industries and diversify their agricultural production. Within two weeks the disappointed people of Gloucester County ''in a tumultuous manner cut of[f] half the Tobacco plants on their own plantations'' and "soe proceeded from plantation to plantation." Three days later Deputy Governor Chicheley learned of the tobacco cutting and commissioned Colonel Kemp, '' one of the Council here, to suppress them by force." Leading the militia's horse and foot, Kemp suppressed ''the Mutineers whom with his Horse hee surrounded.'' Most of the tobacco cutters were pardoned and released; two were held prisoner.
    Many of the councillors then accused Deputy Governor Chicheley of being in sympathy with the tobacco-cutting mobs and of having been too friendly with Robert Beverley, Sr., who, they correctly suspected, had instigated the tobacco cutting. Beverley was arrested and held without benefit of habeas corpus, and on 26 May Kemp and two others were sent to seize the records and papers of the House of Burgesses "in the possession of Robert Beverley and to break open doors if they are refused.'' Speaker Mathew Kemp had chosen to stand on Governor Culpeper's side against the privileges of the House of Burgesses over which he had once presided. When the House reconvened in November 1682, lines of confrontation had been clearly drawn. Kemp died on 13 or 14 December 1682 while the assembly was in session and just a few days before Culpeper returned from England. Kemp did not live to see Bartholomew Black Austen, one of the tobacco cutters, hanged before the Gloucester County courthouse.
  • Other Notable Service and/or Elected Offices: Sheriff of Lancaster County: 1659
    Speaker of the House of Burgesses: 1679
    Member of the Council of State: 1680 - 1682
Session District District Number Party Leadership Committees
1679 Gloucester Speaker of the House
1680-1682 Gloucester Propositions

*The information within this interactive and searchable application has been researched extensively by the House Clerk’s Office. As with any historical records of this age and breadth, there may be discrepancies and/or inconsistencies within records obtained from a variety of credible sources. Any feedback is encouraged at history@house.virginia.gov.

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