DeLANCEY (de Lancey, De Lancey, Delancey), JAMES, army officer and politician; b. 6 Sept. 1746 in Westchester County (New York City), fourth son and seventh child of Peter De Lancey and Elizabeth Colden; m. c. 1780 Martha Tippett (Tippetts), and they had six sons and four daughters; d. 2 May 1804 in Round Hill, N.S.
James DeLancey was a member of one of the most prominent families in the colony of New York. Although several DeLanceys were active politically, James served quietly as sheriff of Westchester County (1769–76) and as an officer of the county militia. Most of his time was devoted to looking after the family estates. In the years immediately prior to the American revolution, James was openly and emphatically tory in his sentiments. After the outbreak of fighting, he was forced by local patriot leaders to give his parole, which he promptly broke, having decided that it was neither morally nor legally binding.
DeLancey then made his way to New York City, where in 1777 he raised a picked force of horsemen drawn from his own county. The company was to harass the enemy near New York City and to procure supplies for the use of the British army from the so called “Neutral Ground” between the British and American positions. Governor William Tryon of New York commented, “This Troop is truly [the] ‘Elite’ of the Country . . . I have much confidence in them, for their spirited behaviour.” Over the next five years DeLancey’s “Cowboys,” as they were called, became one of the best known and most feared of the loyalist units. The many exciting adventures of the “Outlaw of the Bronx” (DeLancey had his headquarters near the Bronx River) gave him a glamorous image among both loyalists and patriots in New York. Although taken once, he was exchanged, and he continued to harass the enemy throughout the war; even George Washington was well aware of his activities and much desired his capture.
The cessation of fighting in the New York region in 1782 ended DeLancey’s military career. Having suffered proscription and the confiscation of his property by the New York Act of Attainder of 1779, he decided to leave and in late 1782 or early 1783 arrived in Nova Scotia along with thousands of other loyalists. With his young wife, infant child, and six slaves, DeLancey settled on his 640-acre land grant at Round Hill in Annapolis County, where his other nine children were born. It is probable that he had been able to bring at least part of his wealth with him, since by the 1790s he was certainly a well-to-do man.
DeLancey took an active part in the development both of his own farm and of Annapolis County in general. In 1790 he was elected to the House of Assembly, in succession to his brother Stephen, to represent Annapolis Township, an office he held until his elevation to the Council in June 1794. He resigned from this position in June 1801 because of ill health.
Near the end of his life DeLancey became involved in a famous debate over the legality of slavery in Nova Scotia. One of his slaves, Jack, ran away to Halifax, where he was employed by one William Woodin. In 1801 DeLancey sued in the Supreme Court for the payment of the wages Jack had earned. Woodin’s lawyer, Attorney General Richard John Uniacke*, argued that Jack was a free man since Nova Scotia had no law to make him otherwise. When the court awarded DeLancey £70 in damages, Uniacke appealed, giving the subject of slavery a full airing. At DeLancey’s request, Joseph Aplin, former attorney general of Prince Edward Island, prepared an extensive legal defence of slavery. Aplin’s brief had no effect upon the case, however, and the charge of trespass which DeLancey subsequently brought against Woodin was dismissed. DeLancey offered documentary proof of his ownership of Jack, but the court did not order that he be returned, and DeLancey died before he could regain possession of his slave.
After several years of declining health, DeLancey died at Round Hill on 2 May 1804. A family tradition maintains that he was poisoned by a disgruntled female slave to whom he had promised freedom on his death, but there is nothing to point to the validity of this story. His widow survived until 22 Dec. 1836.
DeLancey family burying ground (Round Hill, N.S.), James DeLancey, gravestone. PANS, MG 100, 133, no.36. [George Washington], The writings of George Washington, from the original manuscript sources, 1745–1799, ed. J. C. Fitzpatrick (39v., Washington, 1931–44), 18: 343; 22: 303. DAB. Directory of N.S. MLAs, 87. Calnek, Hist. of Annapolis (Savary), 341. R. S. Longley, “The DeLancey brothers, loyalists of Annapolis County,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., 32 (1959): 55–77. T. W. Smith, “The slave in Canada,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., 10 (1899): 105–11.