James Duane

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James Duane
James Duane.jpg
44th Mayor of New York City
In office
Preceded by David Mathews
Succeeded by Richard Varick
United States District Judge for the District of New York
In office
September 26, 1789 – March 17, 1794
Succeeded by John Laurance
Personal details
Born February 6, 1733
New York City, Province of New York
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Schenectady County, New York
Resting place Christ Church in Duanesburg, NY
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Spouse(s) Mary Livingston[1]
Relations Grandfather of James Chatham Duane
Children James Chatham Duane
Mary Duane
Sara Duane
Catharine L. Duane
Adelia Duane

James Duane (February 6, 1733 – February 1, 1797) was an American lawyer, jurist, and Revolutionary leader from New York. He served as a delegate to the Continental Congress, a New York state senator, the 44th Mayor of New York City – the first post-colonial American mayor – and a U.S. District Judge. Duane was a signer of both the Continental Association and the Articles of Confederation.

Family and early career

James Duane was the son of a wealthy[2] Anglo-Irish colonial settler. His father, Anthony Duane (c. 1679–1747), was a Protestant Irishman from County Galway in Ireland and first came to New York as an officer of the Royal Navy in 1698. Like others of colonial background, Anthony considered himself merely settling from one part of the British Empire to another as a free subject. Consequently, he maintained strong allegiance to the crown throughout his life, values which he later passed on to his son. 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.[3] Anthony entered commerce and prospered, and the couple had a son, James.

Duane's mother, Althea, died in 1736, and his father married a third time in 1741 to Margaret Riken (Rycken),[3] the widow of Thomas Lynch of Flushing, New York. When Anthony Duane died in 1747, Duane became the ward of American aristocrat Robert Livingston, who was known as the 3rd Lord of the Manor. He completed his early education at Livingston Manor, then read law as a clerk in the offices of James Alexander. He was admitted to the bar in 1754.[4]

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, Duane's practice earned him 1,400 pounds annually.[2] At the height of his success, Duane had a house in Manhattan, and one in the country, as well as an estate near Schenectady, New York of 36,000 acres (15,000 ha) and 253 tenants.[2] 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,[6] and was also a trustee of Kings College, the precursor to Columbia University.[4]

On October 21, 1759, Duane married Mary Livingston, the eldest daughter of his former guardian Robert.[7] After Livingston, Duane married Gertrude Schuyler.[2]

Duane was Clerk of the Chancery Court of New York in 1762, acting provincial Attorney General in 1767[4] and Indian Commissioner for the Province of New York in 1774.

American revolution

Duane was a member of the Committee of Sixty that began the revolution in New York. 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. Duane, like many other Americans, had inherited their forefathers' patriotism to the British crown as well as their instinctive jealousy for their own rights as Englishmen.

Duane was politically conservative.[2] Until his marriage to Mary Livingston, he had been a member of James De Lancey's political faction.[4] Like many men of the time, he distrusted the intelligence of common people, and warned against the "mob rule" of a democratic republic.

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. Thus, in the early Congress, he was one of the many who were most disposed to reconciliation with Britain. He supported the Galloway Plan of Union, and opposed the Declaration of Independence. However, as the British government sent the largest combined navy and army force the British government had ever dispatched outside of Europe, Duane saw the futility of any further concord with the British government and advocated independence.

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 amongst the Indian tribes. Thus, in 1775 he represented Congress as an Indian Commissioner at Albany, New York. However, his local constituency later returned him to the new state constitutional convention from 1776-1777. Due to his excellent legal and political philosophical background, he served on the committee that drafted New York's constitution. Subsequently he was elected as a delegate by the State of New York to the Continental Congress. When the British occupied New York in 1776, he was forced from his home. 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. In 1778 he signed the Articles of Confederation in Philadelphia. 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]

Later years

Duane was a member of the Federalist Party.[4] He served in the New York State Senate from 1783 to 1790 and was appointed Mayor of New York by the Council of Appointment in 1784, serving until 1789.[4][9] As mayor, one of his first acts was to donate to the poor the money usually spent on entertainment for his Inauguration – about 20 guineas.[9] 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.[4] As head of the Mayor's Court, he heard the case of Rutgers v. Waddington, handing down a Solomonic decision which pleased neither party. Duane was called before the State Assembly to explain his thinking, and was censured by that body.[10]

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.[11]

Duane was a delegate to the New York convention that ratified the Federal Constitution.

On September 25, 1789, President Washington named him the first judge of the United States District Court for the District of New York, created by 1 Stat. 73. He was immediately confirmed by the United States Senate, and received his commission the following day. Richard Varick followed him as mayor. Duane served on the Federal bench until March 17, 1794, when his health forced him to resign.

Throughout his life, he had worked to establish his own estate, inherited from his father, and centered at Duanesburg, New York. He had started erecting a home there for himself, but did not live to see it completed. He died at Schenectady, New York, and is buried at Christ Episcopal Church in Duanesburg.[12]


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.[13]



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  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Burrows & Wallace (1999), p. 221
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  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Vorhees, David William. "Duane, James" in Jackson, Kenneth T. (ed.), (2010) The Encyclopedia of New York City (2nd edition). New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-11465-2, p. 380
  5. 5.0 5.1 Moscow, Henry. The Street Book: An Encyclopedia of Manhattan's Street Names and Their Origins. New York: Hagstrom, 1978. ISBN 0823212750, p. 45
  6. Burrows & Wallace (1999), p. 269
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  8. Burrows & Wallace (1999), p. 265
  9. 9.0 9.1 Burrows & Wallace (1999), p. 267
  10. Burrows & Wallace (1999), p. 278
  11. Burrows & Wallace (1999), p. 285
  12. James Duane at Find a Grave
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Further reading

  • Alexander, Edward. Revolutionary Conservative: James Duane of New York; New York: AMS Press, 1978. ISBN 0-404-00321-4.

External links

Preceded by Mayor of New York City
Succeeded by
Richard Varick
Legal offices
Preceded by
new seat
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina
Succeeded by
John Laurance