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Guide to the Duane Family Papers
1700-1945
 MS 179

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400


© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Megan Dolan

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on February 03, 2016
Description is in English

Biographical/Historical note

The most prominent family members reflected in this collection are James Duane, James Chatham Duane I, and George William Featherstonhaugh. A brief description of each appears below.

James Duane James Duane (1733-1797), also known as James the Jurist, was the son of an Irishman, Anthony Duane, who came to New York as an officer among the British fleet in 1698. After his first wife, Eve Benson, died, Anthony Duane married Altheas Keteltas, with whom he had four children. He invested his profits in the neighborhood of Schenectady and also owned property in the Grammercy Park region of New York City.

After Anthony Duane’s death (c.1734), James Duane became the ward of Robert Livingston, the executor and guardian under the wills of both his father and grandfather. To ensure his education in person, Livingston took Duane into his home, where he fell in love with Livingston’s daughter, Mary (or ‘Poppy’) Livingston. They were married in 1759, after which Duane took the bar and became a prominent lawyer in New York. He made a number of investments in the Duanesburgh area of Schnectady and increased it in size through many land purchases. He also aided the emigration process of Scottish, Irish, and German families; facilitating their travel and supplying them with houses and land.

James Duane played an active role in the development of New York during the late 1700s through his involvement in a number of organizations and committees. He was a member of the Revolutionary Committee of New York, the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1784, and was one of the signers of the Articles of Confederation at Philadelphia in 1777. In 1775 he took part in consummating the Indian treaty at Albany. In 1776 and 1777 he was a member of the Constitutional Convention and was on one of the committees that drafted the Constitution. He was also a member of the Committee of Safety during the War of Independence and was very involved with this cause. Following the Revolution, Duane served as New York State Senator from 1782-1785 and 1788-1790. He was elected as Mayor of the City of New York in 1794 and served under this post until 1789. He was a delegate to the convention which adopted the Federal Constitution and made the Empire State part of the Union. He served as United States district judge from 1789-1794, the first person to hold this title. It was also said that James Duane was a supporter of the expansion of suffrage as there was a larger admission of freemen to the New York City rolls during his time in office than ever before.

Throughout his life he worked to establish his own estate, referred to as Duanesburg, on land he inherited from his father in Schnectady, New York. He died at Schenectady, New York, and is buried at Christ Episcopal Church in Duanesburg.

James Chatham Duane James C. Duane (1770-1842), son of James Duane, was a lawyer of Schnectady, New York. He married Marianne Bowers, daughter of Henry Bowers of New York City, in 1792; they had ten children together. James C. Duane spent his life working on the development of the Duane estate at Duanesburg. Although his father had increased the estate by 4000 acres, due to political changes, industrial discontent, financial panics, and anti-rent riots, he lost much of the property.

George William Featherstonhaugh: George William Featherstonhaugh was the son of Dorothy (nee Simpson) and George Featherstonhaugh. He was born in London but was brought up in Scarborough, Yorkshire. After spending some time working for British firms in both England and on the continent he moved to the United States in 1807. He married Sarah Duane (1775-1828), daughter of James Duane, and settled near Schenectady, New York, on land she had inherited from her father. They had four children together. In 1825 two of his daughters died of diphtheria and in 1828 his wife died when their house burned down due to a complication with a chimney. After their deaths Featherstonhaugh sold his estate at Duanesburg. He later came to Philadelphia and, in 1831, married Charlotte Williams Carter in Schenectady County, New York, with whom he had three children.

Featherstonhaugh was a geologist and geographer; he promoted agricultural and commercial development by applying scientific principles to farming, stressing proper drainage, and drawing attention to soil composition. He organized the first New York State Board of Agriculture, and became the first agricultural commissioner in the United States. He was also hugely influential in the establishment of steel railroads in the United States. Featherstonhaugh was instrumental in the development of a steam railroad that would connect the Hudson River at Albany, New York with the Mohawk River at Schenectady. In December 1825, Featherstonhaugh applied for a charter to implement this, which was granted on 17 April 1826. Construction of the railroad began in July 1830 and was completed one year later. The railroad was originally called the Mohawk & Hudson railroad however the name was changed to the Albany & Schenectady Railroad in 1847. It was the first railroad built in the State of New York and one of the first railroads built in the United States. The Albany and Schenectady Railroad made the Mohawk Valley the center of early railroad construction in New York State.

In 1834 Featherstonhaugh was appointed the first US government geologist. After acquiring a large quantity of unexplored land in the Louisiana Purchase 1803, the United States government sought to document the mineral resources of the territory. Soon after his appointment, Featherstonhaugh was instructed to survey the structure and mineral resources of Arkansas and adjacent territories. He provided detailed descriptions of his geological findings and his observations on the local inhabitants in the region in his book Excursion Through the Slave States, 1844. He notably recorded much of their dialogue in their dialects. Featherstonhaugh also surveyed and published a number of official and popular reports on the region.

In 1839, Featherstonhaugh served as boundary commissioner on the North American Boundary Commission to survey the area disputed between the United States and Britain on the border between Maine and New Brunswick. His conclusion that Britain had a rightful claim to the territory earned him much criticism within his adopted country. Although the Webster-Ashburton treaty of 1842 largely ignored his findings, Britain did not. In 1844 he was appointed the British consul at Le Havre, a position that he held until his death in 1866. Featherstonhaugh was a key player in the emergence of the steel railroad in the 19th century and he was also a respected geologist. The recognition he received for his accomplishments as a geologist is evident through his election to the American Philosophical Society in 1809, and to the Geological Society of London in 1827.