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Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889 and 1999. Virtualology.com warns that these 19th Century biographies contain errors and bias. We rely on volunteers to edit the historic biographies on a continual basis. If you would like to edit this biography please submit a rewritten biography in text form . If acceptable, the new biography will be published above the 19th Century Appleton's Cyclopedia Biography citing the volunteer editor





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John Delafield

DELAFIELD, John, merchant, born in England, 16 March 1748; died in New York City, 3 July 1824. Soon after coming of age he emigrated to this country. the ship upon which he took passage bore letters of marque, and captured a French vessel. Mr. Delafield volunteered in the action, and shared the prize money to the extent of £100. He landed in New York City, 5 April 1783, and found himself especially welcomed as the bearer of a manuscript copy of the text of the treaty of peace, which had been handed him at the moment of sailing by an official in the British service. The conditions of peace were known, but the text had not yet been made public in England; and, although the official copy had been forwarded, the '"Vigilant" had outstripped the bearer of the government dispatches by some days. After several experiments, Sir Delafiehl established himself in New York as a merchant. He was exceptionally successful, retiring in 1798 one of the wealthiest men in the country.

A twelvemonth afterward he was at the head of the private underwriters of the City. Time brought reverses, as both the French and the English were striving to sweep American commerce from the seas. While many of the private underwriters were obliged to suspend, Mr. Delafield was among those who paid every loss, but only by sacrificing his entire capital and mortgaging his real estate. He was a founder and director of the Mutual insurance company, established 15 June 1787, that being the first company organized to take risks against fire in the City of New York after the Revolution. On 12 January 1792, he was appointed n director of the branch of the U. S. bank, and was afterward elected to the same office. He was one of forty gentlemen who subscribed $10,000 each, and founded (1 February 1796) the United insurance company, also acting as a director, and serving as president for many years. His summer residence on the East River, opposite Blackwell's island, known as" Sunswick," built in 1791, was one of the largest and best appointed private houses near New York. Mr. Delafield had nine sons and four daughters. Two of his sons died young.

His son John Delafield, banker, born in New York City, 22 January 1786; died 22 October 1853, was graduated at Columbia in 1802, and immediately obtained employment as confidential clerk and supercargo. A few years later, having embarked in the shipping business, and being on board one of his own vessels, he was driven by stress of weather into the harbor of Corunna, Spain, and witnessed the storming of that City by the French. On the night of 17 January 1808, the enemy having opened fire on the shipping, the cables were cut, and Mr. Delafield put to sea with a family of noble Spanish refugees in addition to his crew. Although short of provisions and almost in a sinking condition, the vessel was brought safely to London. There he established himself as a banker, 1808'10. During the war of 1812'14 he was held as a prisoner, but, through the influence of relatives in England, he was permitted to continue his business, with the privilege of traveling fifteen miles around Uxbridge, where he had a countryseat, and to the City of London. His large fortune was suddenly swept away in a financial crisis, and it was then that his friend, Washington Irving, dedicated to him the graceful story entitled " The Wife," published in the "SketchBook."

In 1820 he returned to New York and served as cashier and president of the Phoenix bank from 1820 till 1838, when he resigned to accept the presidency of the New York banking company. Mr. Delafield was the first president of the New York philharmonic society, which for several years met at his house. He also suggested the plan, and was an original member, of the Musical fund society. He obtained large subscriptions for, and greatly aided in establishing, the New York University, and expended time and money in reviving the New York historical society. However deeply engaged in similar pursuits, or in business, he still found leisure to devote to the embellishment of his country seat at Hell Gate, making it a marvel of horticultural beauty. Owing to the repudiation of their obligations by some of the western states, the New York banking company was forced to suspend, and for a second time Mr. Delafield found himself suddenly impoverished.

The remainder of his life was devoted to agriculture, his favorite occupation. He purchased large estate, "Oaklands," near Geneva, New York, and removed there in 1842. Before many years his was known as the model farm of the state. He was among the first to urge the importance of a chemical analysis of the soil, scientific drainage, and the value and uses of various kinds of manure. A description of his farm is given in the" Transactions" of the New York state agricultural society for 1847, pp. 200 - 211, of which association he was for several years chosen president. He was also the first presiding officer elected by the State agricultural College.

Another son, Joseph Delafield, scientist, born in New York City, 22 August 1790; died in New York City, 12 February 1875, was graduated at Yale in 1808, studied law, and was admitted to practice in 1811. He was appointed lieutenant in the 5th regiment, New York state militia, in 1810, and captain of drafted militia in 1812. At the close of the latter year he was commissioned in the U. S. service as a captain in Hawkins's regiment, and promoted to be major of the 46th infantry, 15 April 1814, but resigned at the close of the war. He was appointed U. S. agent, under the 6th and 7th articles of the treaty of Ghent, for setting off the northern boundary of the United States, and had command of the parties in the field from 1821 till 1828. Both the president and congress formally acknowledged the fidelity with which Major Delafield had discharged his duties. During his sojourn in the north, he began the formation of the collection of minerals that for many years ranked as one of the best in private hands in the country. Major Delafield was a member of many scientific associations, both in the United States and in Europe.

He served as president of the New York lyceum of natural history from 1827 till 1866, when he declined a reelection, and was a member of the society for fifty-two years. In 1830 Major Delafield built at his countryseat on the Hudson, in the southern part of the town of Yonkers known as "Fieldston," a limekiln so constructed as to burn continuously, on a plan until then unknown in this country. For several years the works yielded large profits, and served as the model for others.

Henry and William Delafield, merchants, twin brothers of the preceding, born in "Sunswick" (now a part of Long Island City, N. Y.), 19,July 1792: Henry died in New York City, 15 February 1875 ; William died in New York City, 20 November 1858. They were prepared to enter Yale, but their father yielded to their desire to begin business at once. A few years later the firm of H. & W. Delafield was founded, dealing at first with England, then with China, India, and South America, and in the end almost exclusively with the West Indies. Both the brothers held many positions of trust and responsibility in business corporations. Henry, during the reign of the Emperor Soulouque, acted as consul for Haiti. Both brothers served as volunteers during the war of 1812.

Edward Delafield, physician, brother of the preceding, born in New York City, 17 May 1812; died there, 13 February 1875, was graduated at Yale in 1812, and at the College of physicians and surgeons in 1815. He served as a surgeon in the U. S. army in 1814. In 1817 he sailed for London, studied under Sir Astley Cooper and Dr. Abernethy, and passed several months in the hospitals of Paris. In 1820, in connection with Dr. J. Kearny Rodgers, he founded the New York eye and ear infirmary, of which institution he was attending surgeon until 1850, and consulting surgeon until 1870. He soon afterward entered into partnership with Dr. Borrowe, and almost immediately found himself possessed of a large and lucrative practice. In 1834 he was appointed one of the attending physicians of the New York hospital, and in 1835 became professor of obstetrics and diseases of women and children in the College of physicians and surgeons, but resigned both offices in 1838 on account of his increasing private practice. In 1842 he organized the society for the relief of widows and orphans of medical men, serving as its first president. He was a founder (1865) and first president of the New York Ophthalmological Society, and in 1858 was chosen president of the College of physicians and surgeons, remaining at its head until his death. From 1858 he was the senior consulting physician of St. Luke's hospital, and from its establishment in 1872 senior consulting physician of the Woman's hospital, and president of the medical board. From its foundation in 1854 he served as president of the medical board of the Nursery and child's hospital. At the organization of the Roosevelt hospital, in 1867, he became a member of the board of governors, and was afterward chosen president, retaining the office during his tife.

Francis Delafield, physician, son of Edward, born in New York City, 3 August 1841, was graduated at Yale in 1860, and at the College of physicians and surgeons in 1863. He was attached for a time to the house staff of Bellevue hospital, and studied medicine in Paris, Berlin, and London. He has filled the following, among other, offices: surgeon in the New York eye and ear infirmary, and physician and pathologist to the Roosevelt hospital (1871); physician to Bellevue hospital (1874); adjunct professor (1875), and subsequently (1882) professor, of pathology and the practice of medicine in the New York College of physicians and surgeons; consulting physician to Bellevue hospital (1885); and (1886) first president of the Association of American physicians and pathologists. He has written: " Manual of Physical Diagnosis" (1878); "Handbook of PostMortem Examinations and Morbid Anatomy" (1872); " Studies in Pathological Anatomy" (1882); and" Handbook of Pathological Anatomy" (1885).

Richard Delafield, military engineer, son of John, senior" born in New York City, 1 September 1798; died in Washington, 5 November 1873. He was graduated at the U. S. military academy in 1818 at the head of his class, and was immediately promoted to be 2d lieutenant of engineers, being assigned to duty with the American boundary commission under the treaty of Ghent. In 1820 he received his commission as 1st lieutenant, and in 1828 was made captain. >From 1819 till 1838 he was employed in the construction of the defenses of Hampton Roads, as superintending engineer on the fortifications in the vicinity of the Mississippi, and those on or near Delaware River and bay. Promoted to the rank of major in 1838, he was appointed superintendent of the U. S. military academy at West Point, where he remained for seven years, and subsequently held the office from 1.856 till March 1861, when he was relieved, at his own request. From 1846 till 1855 he superintended the defenses of New York harbor and the Hudson River improvements, with the exception of ten months, when he acted as chief engineer of the Department of Texas. During the Crimean war (1855'6) he was ordered to Europe in company with Captain (afterward Major General) McClellan and submitted a report on any changes that had been made in modern warfare. His elaborate report was printed by congress in 1860. He was made lieutenant colonel in 1861, colonel in 1863, brigadier general and chief of engineers in 1864, and received the brevet rank of major general, 13 May 1865, "for faithful, meritorious, and distinguished services in the engineer department during the rebellion." He was retired 8 August 1866, his name having been borne on the army register for over forty-five years. He rendered valuable service to the government during the civil War, on the staff of Governor Morgan, of New York (1861'3), in the reorganization and equipment of the state forces. From 1864 rill 1870 he was on duty at Washington as commander of the engineer corps, and in charge of the bureau of engineers of the war department, and served as inspector of the military academy, as member of the lighthouse board, and of the commission for the improvement of Boston harbor. He was also one of the regents of the Smithsonian institution.

Edited Appletons Encyclopedia, Copyright © 2001 VirtualologyTM

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