Captain James De Lancey (1732 – 8 April 1800) was born in New York City, the eldest son of New York Lt. Gov. James De Lancey (1703–1760) and grandson of Etienne de Lancey (1663–1741). The De Lancey family was of Huguenot origin. James was educated in England at Eton and the University of Cambridge, then became a commissioned officer in the British Army.
On his return to New York in 1755, Captain De Lancey served as aide-de-camp to General James Abercrombie during the French and Indian War. He served with distinction in the Niagara Campaign of 1759, playing a central role in the French surrender of Fort Niagara. On 24 July 1759, De Lancey led a bayonet charge that routed the French forces from their defensive positions within the fort. With their defeat at Fort Niagara, the French lost their foothold in New England, and within a year the fighting was over.
On the death of his father in August 1760, Captain De Lancey resigned his commission in the British Army and returned to New York City to maintain his family’s lucrative dry goods business. He established his residence at the sprawling estate built by his father at the foot of Bowery Lane, and built a full-sized racetrack and stables for the breeding of racehorses. De Lancey was a member of both the Macaroni Club of New York and the Jockey Club of Philadelphia, his stable racking up a remarkable number of wins over a fifteen-year period.
In 1761, De Lancey lost his bid for a seat in the Province of New York House of Assembly, with control of that body shifting from the De Lancey faction to the Livingston faction for the next seven years. In the election of 1768, however, De Lancey and his faction regained control of the New York Assembly. A year later, in one of the most contentious political campaigns of the colonial era, the De Lancey faction further solidified its majority position in the New York legislature by securing the support of the Sons of Liberty in a quasi-populist campaign against further British encroachment in the colonies.
Over the next few years, it became increasingly apparent that De Lancey had been speaking out of both sides of his mouth — telling the Sons of Liberty what they wanted to hear, while privately assuring representatives of the Crown of his steadfast loyalty. The matter finally came to a head in February 1775, when the legislature demanded that De Lancey reveal his true allegiance to the Crown. Over the next two months, De Lancey secretly sold some of his assets in prescient anticipation of the final rupture of relations between King George III and the colonies. That rupture came on 19 April 1775, with the Battles of Lexington and Concord. James De Lancey departed from New York City on 5 May 1775, never to return.
Following the American Revolution, De Lancey’s properties in New York were formally confiscated by the Commission of Forfeitures for the State of New York, and were sold at auction in 1787. At the time of sale, the value of his estates were estimated to have been approximately £50,000.
Seeking compensation for his loyalty to the Crown, De Lancey petitioned the British government and eventually obtained £26,000, the third largest sum to be paid to anyone by the government for service and losses during the American Revolution. James De Lancey died in Bath, Somerset, in the West of England, on April 8, 1800.
James married twice:
1) Mary (d. 1770)
* John De Lancey (1765–?)
* James De Lancey (1767–?)
* Mary De Lancey (1769–?) married in 1790 to Captain James Harris
2) In 1771, Margaret Allen, daughter of William Allen, Chief Justice of Pennsylvania and Mayor of Philadelphia, no issue