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James Duane (February 6, 1733 – February 1, 1797) was an American attorney, jurist, and American Revolutionary leader from New York. He served as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress and the Congress of the Confederation, a New York state senator, the 44th Mayor of New York City, the 1st post-colonial Mayor of New York City and a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of New York. Duane was a signatory of the Continental Association and the Articles of Confederation.

James Duane
James Duane.jpg
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of New York
In office
September 26, 1789 – March 17, 1794
Appointed byGeorge Washington
Preceded bySeat established by 1 Stat. 73
Succeeded byJohn Laurance
44th Mayor of New York City
In office
Preceded byDavid Mathews
Succeeded byRichard Varick
Personal details
James Duane

(1733-02-06)February 6, 1733
New York City,
Province of New York,
British America
DiedFebruary 1, 1797(1797-02-01) (aged 63)
Schenectady, New York
Resting placeChrist Episcopal Church
Duanesburg, New York
42°46′08″N 74°09′19″W / 42.76896°N 74.15517°W / 42.76896; -74.15517
Political partyFederalist
FatherAnthony Duane
Robert Livingston (guardian)
RelativesGeorge W. Featherstonhaugh Jr.
James Chatham Duane
Educationread law

Education and careerEdit

Born on February 6, 1733, in New York City, Province of New York, British America,[1] Duane completed preparatory studies[2] and read law in 1754,[3] with James Alexander.[citation needed] He was admitted to the bar on August 3, 1754,[2] and entered private practice in New York City from 1754 to 1762.[1] He was a clerk of the Chancery Court of New York in 1762.[1] He was acting Attorney General of the Province of New York in 1767.[3] He was a boundary commissioner in 1768 and 1784.[2] He was Indian Commissioner for the Province of New York in 1774.[1] He resumed private practice in New York City until 1774, and in 1775.[1] He was a delegate to the Provincial Convention in 1775.[2] He was a member of the Revolutionary Committee of One Hundred in 1775.[2] He was a delegate to the Second Continental Congress and the Congress of the Confederation from 1776 to 1783.[1] He was a member of the Provincial Congress of New York from 1776 to 1777.[1] He was a member of the New York State Senate from 1782 to 1785, and from 1788 to 1790.[1] He was the 44th Mayor of New York City from 1784 to 1789,[1] appointed by the Council of Appointment.[3][4] He was chosen a member of the Annapolis Convention in 1786, but did not attend.[2] He was a delegate to the New York Convention which ratified the United States Constitution in 1788.[2] Duane was a member of the Federalist Party.[3]

Law practice and other activitiesEdit

As a lawyer, Duane represented Trinity Church in the very protracted legal action brought by heirs of Anneke Jans, who claimed that they, and not the church, were the lawful owners of much of lower Manhattan, a tract which had been given to the church by the British crown.[5] By the early 1770s, his practice earned him 1,400 pounds annually.[6] At the height of his success, Duane had a house in Manhattan, one in the country, and an estate near Schenectady, New York, of 36,000 acres (15,000 ha) and 253 tenants.[6] He was a vestryman of Trinity Church, was appointed one of the church's nine trustees during a post-war crisis about the church's Tory-leanings,[7] and was also a trustee of Kings College, the precursor to Columbia University.[3]

American RevolutionEdit

Duane was a member of the Committee of Sixty that began the revolution in New York.[citation needed] He was made a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1774 and was continuously re-appointed through 1784, although he missed some sessions due to other duties.[citation needed] Like many other Americans, he had inherited his forefathers' patriotism to the British crown as well as their instinctive jealousy for their own rights as Englishmen.[citation needed]

Duane was politically conservative.[6] Until his marriage to Mary Livingston, he had been a member of James De Lancey's political faction.[3] Like many men of the time, he distrusted the intelligence of common people, warning against the "mob rule" of a democratic republic.[citation needed]

Nevertheless, Duane wrestled with his allegiance to the British Empire and his desire to maintain and protect his ideals of English liberty and American self-government from what was perceived as encroachments upon their rights by an increasingly centralized imperial state.[citation needed] Thus, in the early Congress, he was one of the many who were most disposed to reconciliation with Britain.[citation needed] He supported the Galloway Plan of Union and opposed the Declaration of Independence.[citation needed] However, as the British government sent the largest combined navy and army force the British government had ever dispatched outside of Europe, he saw the futility of any further concord with the British government and advocated independence.[citation needed]

Nonetheless, because of his vacillation in contrast to more ardent independence-minded delegates, as well as his noted familial loyalty to New York, it was considered a better use of his talents working on the frontier against British agitation among the Indian tribes.[citation needed] Thus, in 1775 he represented Congress as an Indian Commissioner at Albany, New York.[citation needed] However, his local constituency later returned him to the new state constitutional convention from 1776 to 1777.[citation needed] Due to his excellent legal and political philosophical background, he served on the committee that drafted New York's constitution.[citation needed] Subsequently he was elected as a delegate by the State of New York to the Continental Congress.[citation needed] When the British occupied New York in 1776, he was forced from his home.[citation needed] With the British Army forces quick on his tail and those of other American leaders, he withdrew his wife and family to the relative safety of her father's home at Livingston Manor.[citation needed] In 1778 he signed the Articles of Confederation in Philadelphia.[citation needed] He remained active as a political leader throughout the war and returned home to Gramercy Park in 1783, commenting that his home looked "as if they had been inhabited by wild beasts".[8]

Service as Mayor and anti-slavery effortsEdit

As Mayor, one of Duane's first acts was to donate to the poor the money usually spent on entertainment for his Inauguration – about 20 guineas.[4] During his time in office, he strove to help the city revive itself after the damage done by the war and the British occupation, but he was unable to maintain the city's status as the capital of the United States.[3] As head of the Mayor's Court, he heard the case of Rutgers v. Waddington, handing down a Solomonic decision which pleased neither party. After he was called before the State Assembly to explain his thinking, he was censured by that body.[9]

In 1785 Duane was one of 32 prominent New Yorkers who met to create the New York Manumission Society, intended to put pressure on the state of New York to abolish slavery, as every state in the north had done except New York and New Jersey.[10]

Federal judicial serviceEdit

Duane was nominated by President George Washington on September 25, 1789, to the United States District Court for the District of New York, to a new seat authorized by 1 Stat. 73.[1] He was confirmed by the United States Senate on September 25, 1789, and received his commission on September 26, 1789.[1] His service terminated on March 17, 1794, due to his resignation.[1]


Duane died on February 1, 1797, in Duanesburg, Schenectady County, New York.[Note 1][2][1] He was interred under Christ Church in Duanesburg.[2]

Ancestry and early lifeEdit

Duane's parents were Eva Benson and Anthony Duane (c. 1679–1747), a Protestant Irishman from County Galway in Ireland who first came to New York as an officer of the Royal Navy in 1698. By the time of his James' birth, Anthony had become a wealthy Anglo-Irish colonial settler.[6] Like others of colonial background, Anthony considered himself merely settling from one part of the British Empire to another as a free subject.[citation needed] Consequently, he maintained strong allegiance to the crown throughout his life, values which he later passed on to his son.[citation needed] He met and courted Eva Benson, whose father, Dirck, was a local American merchant. In 1702 Anthony left the navy, settled in New York, and married Eva. They had two sons before her death. When Eva died, Anthony remarried, this time to Althea Ketaltas (Hettletas), the daughter of a wealthy Dutch merchant family.[11] Anthony entered commerce and prospered, and the couple had a son, James.[citation needed]

Duane's mother, Althea, died in 1736, and his father married a third time in 1741 to Margaret Riken (Rycken),[11] the widow of Thomas Lynch of Flushing, New York.[citation needed] When Anthony died in 1747, James became the ward of American aristocrat Robert Livingston, who was known as the 3rd Lord of the Manor.[citation needed] He completed his early education at Livingston Manor,[citation needed] then read law as a clerk in the offices of James Alexander.[citation needed]


On October 21, 1759, Duane married Mary Livingston (1738–1821),[12] the eldest living daughter of his former guardian Robert.[13] In 1766, after Mary's mother, Maria Thong (1711–1765) (the granddaughter of Governor Rip Van Dam) died, Robert married the widow Gertrude (Van Rensselaer) Schuyler.[6] Together, James and Mary had[14]

  • Mary Duane (b. 1762), who married Gen. William North (1755–1836) on October 14, 1787[15]
  • Catharine L. Duane[citation needed]
  • Adelia Duane (1765–1860), who married Alfred Sands Pell (1786–1831)[citation needed]
  • James Chatham Duane (1769–1842), who married Mary Ann Bowers (1773–1828)[16]
  • Cornelius Duane (1774-1781), who died young[17]
  • Sarah Duane (1775-1828),[18] who married George W. Featherstonhaugh (1780–1866) on November 6, 1808[19]

Duane's grandchildren included George W. Featherstonhaugh Jr. (1814–1900),[19] Robert Livingston Pell (1811–1880), James Duane Pell (1813–1881), George W. Pell (1820–1896), and Richard Montgomery Pell (1822–1882).[citation needed] His great-grandchildren included Alfred Duane Pell (1864–1937) and James Chatham Duane (1824–1897).[16]

Throughout his life, he had worked to establish his own estate, inherited from his father, and centered at Duanesburg, New York.[citation needed] He had started erecting a home there for himself, but did not live to see it completed.[citation needed]


Duane Street in Manhattan was named in his honor.[5] The Fire Department of New York operated a fireboat named James Duane from 1908 to 1959.[20] The town of Duanesburg, New York, in the western part of Schenectady County, is named for James Duane, who held most of it as an original land grant.[21][22]


  • Burrows, Edwin G. & Wallace, Mike (1999), Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, New York: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-195-11634-8

Further readingEdit

  • Alexander, Edward. Revolutionary Conservative: James Duane of New York; New York: AMS Press, 1978. ISBN 0-404-00321-4.
  • Randall, Willard Sterne, 2011. Ethan Allen: His Life and Times, W.W. Norton & Co., New York and London, 617 pp.


  1. ^ He may have died in New York City, according to his Congressional Biography.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m James Duane at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i United States Congress. "James Duane (id: D000508)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Vorhees, David William. "Duane, James" in Jackson, Kenneth T., ed. (2010), The Encyclopedia of New York City (2nd ed.), New Haven: Yale University Press, ISBN 978-0-300-11465-2, p. 380
  4. ^ a b Burrows & Wallace (1999), p. 267
  5. ^ a b Moscow, Henry (1978), The Street Book: An Encyclopedia of Manhattan's Street Names and Their Origins, New York: Hagstrom Company, ISBN 0823212750, p. 45
  6. ^ a b c d e Burrows & Wallace (1999), p. 221
  7. ^ Burrows & Wallace (1999), p. 269
  8. ^ Burrows & Wallace (1999), p. 265
  9. ^ Burrows & Wallace (1999), p. 278
  10. ^ Burrows & Wallace (1999), p. 285
  11. ^ a b "Finding aid to the Duane Family and Duanesburg Patent Land Papers, 1734–1835". New York State Library. Retrieved September 4, 2012.
  12. ^ "Gallery of Peers: Mrs. James Duane". The New-York Historical Society. 2004. Retrieved June 16, 2009.
  13. ^ Rees, John. "Sewalls of Coventry: James Duane". Retrieved June 16, 2009.
  14. ^ Johnson, William (1883). Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of the State of New York: Johnson v.1-20. Albany, NY: Banks & Brothers Law Publishers.
  15. ^ "Christ Church Duanesburg History". Christ Church Duanesburg. Retrieved September 16, 2016.
  16. ^ a b Harrison, Bruce (2005). The Family Forest Descendants of Lady Joan Beaufort. Kamuela, HI: Millisecond Publishing Company, Inc.
  17. ^ Collections of the New York Historical Society for the Year. New York: Order of the Society. 1871.
  18. ^ Dolan, Megan. "Guide to the Duane Family Papers 1700-1945 MS 179". New-York Historical Society. Retrieved September 16, 2016.
  19. ^ a b "Growing With Schenectady – American Locomotive Company". The story of a century of locomotive building in Schenectady. The Schenectady Digital History Archive. 1972. Retrieved November 27, 2006.
  20. ^ Clarence E. Meek (July 1954). "Fireboats Through The Years". Retrieved June 28, 2015.
  21. ^ Duanesburg Historical Society (2005). "Introduction". Duanesburg and Princetown. Images of America. Arthur Willis, Duanesburg, New York Town Historian; Irma Mastrean, Princetown, New York Town Historian. Arcadia Publishing. pp. 7–8. ISBN 0-7385-3803-5
  22. ^ The Colonial Laws of New York. James B. Lyon (State of New York). 1894. p. 383. Retrieved 2009-09-01.