Annapolis Heritage Society | Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia

Colonel James DeLancey

Certain people stand out in the story of any community and Annapolis Royal had no shortage of interesting individuals in each distinct phase of its long history. For the Loyalist era of the late 19th century, Colonel James DeLancey, “The Outlaw of the Bronx”, was one of those seminal figures. A refugee of the American Revolution, he embraced Nova Scotia with enthusiasm, and was active in the social and political life of his adopted province. A word on his background is instructive in recognizing the degree to which the American Revolution altered his life.

He was born 6 Sept. 1747 at DeLancey’s Mills, West Farms, Westchester Co., New York, the 4th son of Peter DeLancey (1705-1770) and his wife, Elizabeth Colden (1720-1784). His paternal grandfather, Étienne (Stephen) DeLancey (1663-1741), was a Huguenot nobleman from Caen who, because of religious persecution, left France and settled in New York in 1686. Active politically, Stephen DeLancey served in the colonial assembly for 26 years and by the time of his death was one of the wealthiest men in America. He had married in 1700 Anne VanCortlandt (1676-1743), a member of an important Dutch family in New York who was one of the inheritors of Cortlandt Manor, a property of 83,000 acres in northern Westchester County. James DeLancey’s maternal grandfather was Doctor Cadwallader Colden (1688-1776), a Scotsman and Edinburgh-trained physician noted as a diverse thinker, an early American botanist, first colonial representative to the Iroquois Confederacy, and governor of New York from 1769 until 1771. His father, Peter, operated the family flour mills and also served in the assembly for many years. James DeLancey, chief justice of New York, and General Oliver DeLancey were uncles, and their sister, Susannah DeLancey, was the wife of Admiral Sir Peter Warren, who commanded the British naval forces at the reduction of Louisbourg in 1745. Related also to the revolutionary patriot John Jay, James DeLancey was connected by blood and marriage to the elite on both sides of the political divide.

On the death of their father in 1770, James DeLancey and his brother Oliver purchased the family property and flour mills in Westchester where he served as High Sheriff. In the uneasy days before the actual revolution, he remained neutral. It was reportedly his treatment at the hand of American patriots under General Mifflin in their retreat from New York in September 1776 that caused him to support the Loyalist cause, although it must be stated that most of his family were decidedly pro-British. First associated with his uncle, General Oliver DeLancey, in raising volunteers from among the Loyalists of Long Island for DeLancey’s Brigade, in 1777 he was appointed captain of an elite ‘Troop of Light Horse’ known as the Westchester Chasseurs. The troop was issued arms and equipment and harassed enemy depots. DeLancey was “attainted” and his estate confiscated in 1779. Taken prisoner late that same year, he was soon released on parole. In 1780 DeLancey was appointed colonel of the Westchester Refugees, a corps made up of displaced Loyalists. To their opponents, the Westchester Refugees were known as “DeLancey’s Cowboys” and he acquired the sobriquet “Outlaw of the Bronx”. Until May 1782 when hostilities were halted, the Westchester Refugees participated in 44 actions for which DeLancey received commendations.

James DeLancey resigned his commission on 3 Apr. 1783 and shortly thereafter left for London. He remained in England for over a year before his claim for reimbursement of losses was heard. In September 1784 he sailed for Halifax, Nova Scotia, and settled at Annapolis Royal where many friends and relatives had landed following the Loyalist exodus of the previous year, including the family of his brother, Stephen DeLancey. His household at that time included wife, Martha, and infant son, William, as well as his wards, James, John and Mary DeLancey, the grandchildren of his uncle, James DeLancey, the former chief justice of New York. Soon after his arrival, DeLancey was appointed a justice of the peace and justice of the inferior court of common pleas. He was elected to the provincial House of Assembly and took his seat there in Feb. 1790 and in 1793 was appointed to the governing council, a position he held until his death. On 1 Apr. 1785, James DeLancey purchased a 650 acre tract of land on the Annapolis River at Round Hill from David and Mary Bent. The home he built there was the birthplace for nine more children and where he would spend the remainder of his life. Never of robust health, James DeLancey died at Round Hill on 2 May 1804 age 56, a month before the birth of his youngest daughter. An entry in the Annapolis Township Book records the marriage by Rev. Jacob Bailey of Col. James DeLancey to Martha Tippet in 1796; and by his own account he was a single man in the claim he made as a Loyalist in 1784. These discrepancies fueled speculation on the legitimacy of his children, although there may have been an earlier ceremony, such as was performed on his brother Oliver by an artillery chaplain in 1782, and for which there is no record.

His children were:

  1. William DeLancey, b. New York 9 Apr. 1783, m. 1808 his first cousin, Elizabeth, daughter of Stephen DeLancey. They had five children (none of whom had issue).
  2. Maria DeLancey, b. Round Hill 23 Jan. 1786, m. 1808 Henry Goldsmith, assistant commissary general and storekeeper general at Annapolis (no issue).
  3. Elizabeth DeLancey, b. Round Hill 27 Aug. 1787, m. 1809 William Gilbert Bailey, lawyer and collector of customs at Annapolis, son of Rev. Jacob Bailey. One daughter, Maria Elizabeth, m. Peter Bonnett, high sheriff of Annapolis County (no issue).
  4. James DeLancey, b. Round Hill Apr. 1789, d. Kingston, Ontario 11 Dec. 1813 during the War of 1812; a lieutenant with the 104th regiment.
  5. John DeLancey, b. Round Hill June 1791, d. Bridgetown, N.S., unm.
  6. Oliver DeLancey, b. Round Hill 30 Apr. 1793; lieutenant in the 17th Dragoons and the 10th Dragoons, wounded, retired with half pay. Married, wife unknown. A son Oliver d. Nassau, Bahamas 1880 age 56 without issue.
  7. Susan DeLancey, b. Round Hill 3 Apr. 1798, d. Sept. 1813.
  8. Stephen DeLancey, b. Round Hill 27 March 1800, d. without issue.
  9. Peter DeLancey, b. Round Hill 24 Apr. 1802, d. Cheverie, Hants Co. 1889, m. 1836 Elizabeth Starratt and had two sons and three daughters, whose descendants represent the sole survivors of the Colonel’s line.
  10. Anne DeLancey, b.(posthumously) Round Hill 10 June 1804, m. 1825 Stephen Bromley, founder of the Acadian School in Halifax. Had two sons who d. without issue.