Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
James Duncan Papers, 1673-1875

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, November 1995

Summary Information
Title: James Duncan papers
Creator: Duncan, James, d. 1803
Inclusive dates: 1673-1875
Extent: 51 items (0.25 linear feet)
James Duncan was a British naval captain who served during the Seven Years' War and the Revolutionary War. His papers contain information related to his military service, probate records, and a proposal for ending slavery in Britain.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1986. M-2276.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Preferred Citation:

James Duncan Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan

Biographical/Historical Note

The British sea captain, James Duncan, saw action during the Seven Years' War in 1762 and 1763 as a seaman aboard the Anson . Following the war, he entered the merchant marine, commanding a commercial vessel, but at the outbreak of the American Revolution, he outfitted a ship at his own expense, christened her the Rose , and sailed for the American coast as a privateer. Shortly after his arrival off the coast of North America, he engaged in battle with a French vessel and lost; the Rose was sunk and Duncan was taken as a prisoner of war to Philadelphia. During his captivity, a fire in New York City destroyed some of his property, but whether this property was in goods or real estate on shore, or aboard a ship moored in the harbor is not known.

Upon his release from prison, Duncan re-entered the Royal Navy and served on several vessels for the next seven years, returning to England in 1783, as he put it, "reduced to Bankruptcy occasioned by… having lost during the war £5,500 belonging to other people, & 12,000 £ and upwards" of his own. Apparently, he regained much of his lost wealth, for at his death in 1803, he left an estate valued in the thousands of pounds. His widow, Ann, spent £300 for mourning clothes alone, and his brick home at Roehampton in Surrey, thirty-four acres of land located six miles from London's Hyde Park Corner, was valued at £7,000.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Duncan Papers include manuscripts relating to James Duncan's Revolutionary War service, principally his attempts to gain compensation for losses sustained while in the service of the British crown. The series of documents concerning the settlement of his estate are useful for study of English probate, and the remainder of the collection relates mainly to the legal affairs of the family. Of particular interest, however, are an account by James Duncan's ancestor, William Duncan (1613-ca.1673) about a shipwreck in 1631, and a draft of a manuscript written by James Duncan proposing a plan for ending slavery in Great Britain and ridding the country of its former slaves.

Subject Terms

    • Estates (Law)--Great Britain.
    • Great Britain. Navy--Officers.
    • Privateers--Great Britain.
    • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Claims.
    • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Naval operations.
    • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Personal narratives.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    James Duncan Papers [series]
    Box   1  
     1673 March 4-1875 April 28
    Folder   : Oversize Manuscripts  
    Estate Documents,  1803-1813
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Partial Subject Index
    African Americans--Colonization
    • undated
    Estates (Law)--Great Britain
    • 28 September 1801; oversize [1803-1813]; 29 September 1804; 12 September 1840; 20 October 1840; 24 March 1842; 19 April 1842
    Great Britain. Navy--Officers
    • 30 November 1783; 9 August 1784; 25 February 1786; 25 March 1789; [1794]; undated
    Privateers--Great Britain
    • 30 November 1783; 9 August 1784; 25 February; 1786; 25 March 1789; [1794]; undated
    • 4 March 1673 [copied 27 May 1797]
    Slave-trade--Great Britain
    • undated
    Slavery--Great Britain
    • undated
    United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Claims
    • 30 November 1783; 9 August 1784; 25 February 1786; 25 March 1789; [1794]; undated
    United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Naval operations
    • 30 November 1783; 9 August 1784; 25 February 1786; 25 March 1789; [1794]; undated
    United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Personal narratives
    • 30 November 1783; 9 August 1784; 25 February 1786; 25 March 1789; [1794]; undated