Biography and History

The Delafields were avid collectors of family history and family-related memorabilia in the Hudson River Valley region. The most represented in this collection are Joseph Delafield (1790-1875) and John Ross Delafield (1875-1964). Joseph Delafield was president of the Lyceum of Natural History (later the New York Academy of Sciences) from 1827 to 1866, a vestryman at Trinity Church in New York City, and an agent and director of the Apalachicola (Fla.) Land Company. John Ross Delafield was president of the Reserve Officers Association from 1923 to 1926 and of the Military Order of World War from 1930 to 1933.

John Ross Delafield (1874-1964, Princeton Class of 1896), scion of two distinguished New York state families, was born in Fieldston, the Bronx, to Maturin Livingston Delafield and Mary Coleman Livingston Delafield. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1899, he served for a time in the law firm of Strong and Cadwalader. Later he was a founding partner in several law firms including Delafield and Howe, Delafield, Thorne, Burleigh and Marsh, and Delafield, Marsh and Hope, concentrating primarily on corporate and trial law and becoming a well-known figure of the New York bar. He enjoyed an equally distinguished career in the military starting as a member of the Veterans Corps of America (1916) and later in the New York National Guard (1917). Delafield was commissioned a colonel in the Ordnance Department of the Army (1919) and later was named chairman of the Board of Contract Adjustment of the War Department. Honorably discharged from the army (1920), he remained active in the reserves all his life and was promoted to the rank of brigadier general, Ordnance Reserves, in 1923. His professional interests in law and the army were joined when he served as counsel to the Army Ordnance Association.

Active in many patriotic, historical, and genealogical organizations, Delafield was a member of the Reserve Officers Association of the United States, serving as president from 1923 to 1926, the Sons of the Revolution, Society of the Cincinnati, the New York Historical Society, the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, the Delafield Family Association, and the American Society of Genealogy. His interest in genealogy extended to the writing of a two-volume history of the Delafield family. He was honored with the Distinguished Service Medal as well as decorations from foreign governments.

In 1904 he married Violetta S. E. White (1875-1949) with whom he had two sons, John White (1905-1985, Princeton Class of 1927) and Richard Montgomery (1909-1945, Princeton Class of 1930), who was killed during World War II, and in 1950 married his second wife, Elsie Lush Funkhouser.

Violetta Susan Elizabeth White, daughter of Louisa Lawrence Wetmore and John Jay White, was born in 1875. In 1904 she legally added Violetta to her name, having been called that for most of her life. The same year she married John Ross Delafield with whom she had two sons, John White (1905-1985) and Richard Montgomery (1909-1945). Violetta Delafield was an active member of the Garden Club of America, often writing about mycology, her special interest. She was fluent in Italian and translated several family documents. She died in 1949.

Maturin Livingston Delafield was born at home in New York City in 1836, the second son of Joseph and Julia Livingston Delafield. After receiving private tutoring at home, he went on to Columbia College where he earned an undergraduate degree in 1856 and a master's degree in 1859. A skillful doodler, his college notebooks were often decorated with pen-and-ink drawings. After graduation, he joined the countinghouse of his uncle Henry Delafield, and during that time traveled to Haiti and Puerto Rico. Later on his own he developed trade in the West Indies, particularly in Haiti and Santo Domingo, retiring from the business world in 1868. That same year he married Mary Coleman Livingston (1847-1922) with whom he had eight children, including John Ross Delafield.

Delafield lived at Fieldston on the Hudson where he built a house in 1873, and in 1876 he built “Sunswyck,” a summer home in Westhampton Beach, Long Island. He also owned homes in New York City. An enthusiastic genealogist, he wrote the first comprehensive history of the Delafield family and was a member of the New York Genealogical and Biological Society. He also belonged to the New York Historical Society, Museum of Natural History, and American Geographical Society. He died in 1917.

Mary Coleman Livingston Delafield was born in 1847 at Teviot, Tivoli on Hudson, to Harriet Coleman of Philadelphia and Eugene Augustus Livingston of Clermont on Hudson. In 1868 she married Maturin Livingston Delafield and lived in New York City, Fieldston on the Hudson, and Sunswyck, Westhampton Beach, Long Island, raising a family of five sons and three daughters. She died in 1922 at her New York City home.

Joseph Delafield, lawyer, soldier, and scientist, was born in New York City in 1790, the fourth child of John and Ann Hallet. As a boy, he was educated privately in New York City and later attended boarding schools in Connecticut at Stamford and New Haven. He matriculated at Yale where he was graduated in 1808 and began reading law in the office of Josiah Ogden Hoffman. By 1811, he was admitted to practice law in the Supreme Court of New York, although his interests extended beyond the legal field.

While still a student in 1810, Delafield was commissioned a lieutenant in the 5th Regiment, 1st Brigade of the New York militia. In 1812 he was appointed captain in the 1st Regiment (Van Buren's) New York militia called Joseph Delafield's Company, and with the declaration of war in that year, he raised a company of volunteers known as Delafield's Artillery.

By the end of 1812, he was commissioned a captain in the volunteers and served in this capacity until 1814 when he recruited a regiment for the 46th Infantry, in which he served as a major. With the cessation of hostilities, this regiment was disbanded and distributed among other regiments. Delafield continued to serve the government after the War of 1812 by accepting an appointment with the United States Boundary Commission as an agent to settle the northern boundary of the United States with Great Britain under the Treaty of Ghent (1814), and was given command of the field work from 1821 until 1828. It was during this time in the north, that he began to form a collection of minerals which achieved national renown.

Delafield was a member of many scientific associations in the United States including the New York Lyceum of Natural History (later known as the Academy of Science) of which he served as president from 1827-1866, the College of Physicians and Surgeons, and the Eye and Ear Infirmary, as well as scientific organizations in Europe. His scientific interests extended to the building of a continuously burning lime-kiln (1830) after the French model, at Fieldston, his country seat, which yielded large profits and served as a model for others.

In 1833 he married Julia Livingston (1801-1882) with whom he had four children including Maturin Livingston Delafield (1836-1917), the father of John Ross Delafield. He died in 1875.

Julia Livingston Delafield, daughter of Maturin and Margaret Lewis Livingston, was born in Staatsburgh, New York, in 1801. Her illustrious forebears included her grandfather Major General Morgan Lewis (1754-1844), great-grandfather Francis Lewis (1713-1802), and great-uncle Edward Livingston (1764-1836). An avid reader, she was familiar with the classics in Latin, English, French, Spanish, and Italian and learned German later in life so as to teach her children the language. Also, in order to read the Gospels in the original language, she learned Greek after the age of seventy. In 1833 she married Joseph Delafield with whom she had four children. An author as well as a linguist, Mrs. Delafield wrote Biographies of Francis Lewis and Morgan Lewis (1877) and In Memoriam, (1878) for her son Joseph Delafield, 1839-1848. She was known for her intelligence and aesthetic sense, and her friends included President Martin Van Buren, Washington Irving, William Cullen Bryant, Louis Napoleon, and Jerome Bonaparte. After a long and full life, she died in 1882, still in command of her vigorous mind.

John Delafield, merchant and marine insurance underwriter, was born in 1748 in London where his father was a prosperous cheese merchant, and the family lived in comfortable circumstances. His sister Martha was the mother of Dr. Thomas Arnold of Rugby, thus making

Delafield the great-uncle of the poet Matthew Arnold. After accumulating wealth and prosperity, he came to the United States in 1783, becoming one of the first Englishmen to emigrate to the new country after the Revolutionary War. He brought with him the first copy of the provisional peace treaty between Great Britain and the United States, and it was the first text of the treaty to reach Congress.

Delafield settled in New York where he became a successful merchant and one of the richest men in the city. He served as a director of the New York branch of the United States Bank (1792) and was a charter member of the Manhattan Company Bank (1799). In 1794 he helped to found the Tontine Coffee House and purchased shares for his children. An original director of the Mutual Assurance Company of New York organized by Alexander Hamilton (1787), Delafield was also a founding member of the United Insurance Company (1796). One of the first marine underwriters in New York, he served as head of the private underwriters of the city. His personal fortune was greatly diminished when he had to cover losses sustained during the War of 1812 when American ships were attacked by both the British and French with subsequent loss of ships and cargoes. His oldest son, John, helped to restore the family fortunes through his successful efforts in banking.

In 1784 Delafield married Ann Hallett (1766-1839) with whom he had twelve children including Joseph (1790-1875), Henry (1792-1875), and Susan (1805-1861), later Mrs. Henry Parish. He built a country home, “Sunswick,” on the east bank of the East River in 1791. Delafield was the American patriarch of generations well-known in New York in law, commerce, the army, medicine, and finance.

Henry Delafield and his twin brother William, were born in 1792. Until William's death, the brothers were inseparable, both in society and business. They prepared to enter Yale, but due to the loss of much of their father's fortune in the early 19th century, they decided to enter the business world of foreign trade. They founded the firm of H. & W. Delafield, which became highly successful. They divided their business interests with Henry in charge of the ships and William the countinghouse. Flying the Delafield arms flag on their own ships and at times on chartered vessels, the firm of H. & W. Delafield became well known in England, China, South America, and the West Indies. The great fire of 1835 severly reduced their fortune, but because of the their keen business acumen, they soon regained their former wealth. The business was eventually restricted to the West Indies and finally to Haiti. Under Emperor Faustin Soulouque and during part of President Jeffrard's administration, Henry served as consul for Haiti in New York City (1851-1859). With the death of William in 1853, Henry's interest in the business waned, and he invited his nephew Tallmadge Delafield into the firm, changing the name to Henry Delafield & Co. Henry retired from active foreign business and shipping in 1857, keeping only his interests in banking and trusts, but after a few years, these were transferred to another nephew, Maturin L. Delafield; together the two nephews successfully ran the business.

William and Henry lived with their parents, then with their unmarried sister, Emma, and upon her death, with another sister, Susan, Mrs. Henry Parish. When Mrs. Parish died in 1861, Henry purchased a house in New York City where he lived until he died. Henry had inherited “Hell Gate” on the East River in 1831, and it was here the brothers spent their summers. In 1865, at the age of seventy-three, he married Mary Parish Monson with whom he had a daughter, Mary Frances Henrietta Delafield. It is interesting to note that Henry died on February 15, 1875, just three and two days respectively after his brothers Joseph and Edward. A joint funeral for the three brothers was held at Trinity Church in New York City.

Susan Delafield was born in 1829, one of the twelve children of John and Ann Hallett Delafield. She married Henry Parish, a merchant, in 1829; they were childless. After the death of her unmarried sister, Emma, with whom her twin brothers Henry and William had lived, Susan opened here home to the brothers. They lived with her until her death in 1861. Susan Parish was a talented woman who created a miniature design of Central Park in 1858, but it was destroyed in a fire in 1881.

Albert Delafield, the only surviving son of General Richard Delafield and Harriet Baldwin Covington, was born in 1846 in New Brighton, State Island, New York. He was graduated from Churchill's Military Academy, Ossining, New York, the College of the City of New York (1868), and Columbia Law School (1870). Much of Delafield's legal practice consisted of settling his parents' and sisters' estates, over which litigation lasted for many years.

A student of military studies and an authority on the Civil War, Delafield desired to enter the army but bowed to his father's wishes not to make the army his career. (The elder Delafield was a graduate of the Military Academy at West Point and a distinguished soldier, serving twice, 1838-1845 and 1856-1861, as superintendent of the Academy.) Although the professional army was not his career, Albert Delafield served as an enthusiastic member of the Seventh Regiment of the New York State militia for forty years (1871-1911), most of that time as the quartermaster sergeant of Company I.

In 1882 Delafield married Julia Delafield Floyd (d. 1929) with whom he had one child, Grace Floyd Delafield. He died in New York City in 1920.

James Ross, U.S. senator, was born in 1762 in York County, Pa. He studied the classics at a Presbyterian school and then at the academy of Dr. Robert Smith in Pequea. He also studied at the school of the Reverend John McMillan at Canonsburg, Washington County (later to be called Washington and Jefferson College), and stayed for a while to teach Latin and Greek. In 1782 while at Canonsburg, he was urged to study law by the Pittsburgh attorney Hugh Henry Brackenridge, who became his friend and later his political ally. Ross was admitted to the bar in 1784, practicing in Washington County where he specialized in land cases. His practice flourished, and in 1795 he moved to Pittsburgh where he continued to prosper. Among his clients were prominent and wealthy businessmen including George Washington, for whom he acted as attorney and sole manager of Washington's estates in western Pennsylvania.

In 1789 Ross was elected a member of the Pennsylvania constitutional convention to help frame a new constitution, and it was here that his ability as a lawyer and orator attracted wide attention. A fervent Federalist, he insisted on a clause for religious liberty like that in the federal constitution. His reputation continued to grow, and in 1794 the Pennsylvania legislature elected him to the United States Senate to fill the remaining term of Albert Gallatin who had been disqualified. Within a few months of Ross's election, President Washington named him one of the federal commissioners to quell the Whiskey Rebellion, and the speedy suppression of the insurrection was credited to Ross's eloquence and courage. He was reelected to the senate in 1797, serving until 1803, and in 1799 was president pro tem of that body. An ardent Hamiltonian, Ross tried unsuccessfully to keep Pennsylvania within the Federalists ranks, defending legislation against Jeffersonian attacks. He urged the protection of Western commerce even if it should provoke a war with Spain. Three times (1799, 1802, and 1808) he was nominated by the Federalists for governor of Pennsylvania, losing because of his refusal to campaign and his liberal religious views. After 1808, Ross's political life was over, and he devoted himself to his law practice and land speculation, such as the development of Tarantum, Pa.

In 1791 he married Ann Woods (1771-1805) of Bedford, Pa., with whom he had five children, the only surviving one being James Ross, Jr. (1799-1851), who never married. James Ross, Jr. (Princeton Class of 1819), received a master of arts degree from the university in 1822 and went on to become a director of the Pittsburgh Bank. It was through a daughter, Mary Jane Ross (1797-1825), that the Delafield descendents can be traced. Mary Jane married Edward Coleman and their daughter, Harriet Coleman (1820-1848), married Eugene A. Livingston. Their daughter, Mary Coleman Livingston (1847-1922), married Maturin L. Delafield (1836-1917), and they became the parents of John Ross Delafield. James Ross died in 1847 in Allegheny City, later incorporated into the city of Pittsburgh.

Prosper Montgomery Wetmore, merchant, author, and civic leader was born in Stratford, Conn., in 1798. He moved to New York City in 1807, and after the death of his father was placed in a counting house. Later, Wetmore and his brother Robert formed a partnership and engaged in the dry-goods trade.

While still in his teens, he began to write and at one time was connected with the New York Mirror. A popular speaker, Wetmore was often called on to recite his work in public, as in 1832 when he read one of his poems, “Ambition,” before the literary society of Hamilton College. His published works include Lexington and Other Fugitive Poems (1830), Observations on the War with Mexico (1847), and Souvenir (1864), and in an edition of the Poems of James Nack (1838) he wrote a memoir of the author.

In 1819 Wetmore joined the Eleventh Regiment of the New York State militia, rising to the rank of paymaster-general. His civic-mindedness extended to serving in the state legislature (1834-1835) where he was chairman of the committee on colleges and academies, supporting a bill to establish school district libraries, becoming a regent of the University of New York (1833), and being an active member of the New York Historical Society for many years. In 1861 he founded the Union Defense Committee and served as its secretary until the close of the Civil War.

Wetmore married Lucy Ann Ogsburg, and their granddaughter, Violetta Susan Elizabeth White, became the wife of John Ross Delafield.

Richard Delafield, soldier and military engineer, was born in New York City in 1798 to John and Ann Hallett Delafield. In 1814 he entered the United States Military Academy at West Point and was graduated four years later at the head of his class. As a second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers, Delafield served briefly with the American Boundary Commission together with his brother Joseph Delafield to establish the northern line between the U.S. and Canada as laid out by the Treaty of Ghent. During the next twenty-one years, he was in charge of constructing coastal defenses at Hampton Roads, Va., and Plaquemine Bend, La., on the Mississippi River, as well as building fortifications on the banks of the Delaware River and Bay. Many of his plans and drawings for these projects were admired for their accuracy and artistic execution.

In 1838 Delafield was commissioned a major and assigned the post of superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point, remaining in the position until 1845 when he was placed in charge of the construction of defenses and improvements of the New York harbor and the Hudson River. Also in 1855 he was appointed chief of the Commission to the Crimea, and his report which was printed in 1860 by Congress was suppressed during the Civil War so that Confederate engineers could not draw upon the excellent information and drawings of fortifications contained in the report. In 1856 he again served as superintendent of the Military Academy, a post he held until 1861. With the outbreak of the Civil War, Delafield worked to organize and equip the New York State volunteers, to supply ordnance stores for the Atlantic and Lake defenses, and to superintend the defenses for the New York harbor, Governors Island, and the fort at Sandy Hook. In 1864 he was made a brigadier-general and chief of engineers of the U.S. Army, and until his retirement in 1866 was in command of the U.S Corps of Engineers, in charge of the Bureau of Engineers of the War Department. During that time, he was brevetted a major-general for his distinguished service during the Civil War.

Delafield was married twice, briefly in 1824 to Helen Summers who died a few months later and again in 1833 to Harriet Baldwin Covington with whom he had eight children, including Albert Delafield.

Source: From the finding aid for C0391


  • Genealogists..
  • Delafield Family Papers. 1393-1985 (inclusive), 1800-1950 (bulk).

    Call Number: C0391

    The Delafields were avid collectors of family history and family-related memorabilia in the Hudson River Valley region. This collection consists of the papers of the Delafield family and related families, most prominently the Livingstons, containing both personal papers and papers collected for their genealogical and historical significance.