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De Lancey, Oliver (1749-1822) (DNB00)


DE LANCEY, OLIVER, the elder (1749–1822), general, was the elder son of General Oliver de Lancey, American loyalist during the war of independence (whose daughter Susannah married General Sir William Draper, K.B.), and nephew of James de Lancey, a celebrated New York lawyer, who was chief-justice of that colony from 1733 to 1760, and lieutenant-governor from 1753 to 1760. These two brothers were the sons of a wealthy Huguenot of Caen in Normandy, who emigrated to America on the revocation of the edict of Nantes, and bought large estates in the colony of New York, where they ranked among the wealthiest and most powerful citizens. The younger Oliver de Lancey was educated in Europe, and entered the English army as a cornet in the 14th dragoons on 1 Oct. 1766, and was promoted lieutenant on 12 Dec. 1770, and captain into the 17th dragoons on 16 May 1773. When the American war of independence broke out in 1774, he was at once despatched to his native colony to make arrangements for the accommodation and remounting of his own regiment and of the royal artillery, then under orders for active service. He found on his arrival there that his father had warmly espoused the royalist cause, and in the following year the elder Oliver de Lancey raised and equipped at his own expense three battalions of loyalist Americans, which he commanded with the rank of brigadier-general. The younger Oliver de Lancey accompanied his regiment to Nova Scotia, to Staten Island in June 1775, and then in the expedition to Long Island, where he commanded the cavalry outposts in the smart action of 28 Aug., in which the American General Woodhull surrendered to him, but was unfortunately murdered, in spite of all De Lancey's efforts, by the soldiers. He commanded the advance of the right column of the English army under Sir Henry Clinton and Sir William Erskine at the battle of Brooklyn, served at the capture of New York and the battle of White Plains, and was promoted major in his regiment on 3 July 1778. With this rank he covered the retreat of Knyphausen's column in Clinton's retreat from Philadelphia, and was present at the battle of Monmouth Court-house, and in temporary command of the 17th dragoons, which was the only cavalry regiment in America (Cornwallis Correspondence, i. 38), he commanded the outposts in front of the New York lines from the middle of 1778 to the end of 1779. De Lancey then went upon the staff as deputy quartermaster-general to the force sent to South Carolina, and after serving at the capture of Charleston he became aide-de-camp to Lord Cornwallis, and eventually succeeded Major André as adjutant-general to the army at New York. He was promoted lieutenant-colonel of the 17th dragoons on 3 Oct. 1781, and retired to England with his father on the conclusion of peace and the recognition of the independence of the United States of America. The king appointed De Lancey, on Lord Sydney's recommendation, to settle the military claims of the loyal Americans, and head of a commission for settling all the army accounts connected with the American war; and on 18 Nov. 1790 he was promoted colonel and made deputy adjutant-general at the Horse Guards. In 1794 he received the post of barrack-master-general, with an income of 1,500l. a year, and on 20 May 1795 George III gave him the colonelcy of the 17th dragoons, ‘spontaneously, to the great surprise of the said De Lancey, and I believe of every other person’ (ib. ii. 288). On 3 Oct. 1794 he was promoted major-general, and in September 1796 he entered parliament as M.P. for Maidstone, a seat which he held till June 1802. On 1 Jan. 1801 he was promoted lieutenant-general, but in November 1804 the commissioners of military inquiry found serious mistakes in his barrack accounts, and defalcations amounting to many thousands of pounds. He was removed from his post as barrack-master-general, but in spite of the violent attacks of the opposition, headed on this question by John Calcraft, he was not prosecuted, and was treated rather as having been culpably careless than actually fraudulent. He remained a member of the consolidated board of general officers, and was promoted general on 1 Jan. 1812, and he eventually retired to Edinburgh, where he died in September 1822.

[Royal Military Calendar; Drake's Dictionary of American Biography. See also, on his defalcations, his Observations upon the Reports of the Commissioners of Military Inquiry.]

H. M. S.