McDowell Delaney

McDowell Delaney (ca. 1844–after 1924)

McDowell Delaney represented Amelia County for one term in the House of Delegates (1871–1873). Born to free parents, Delaney worked for a Confederate infantry company during the American Civil War (1861–1865) and likely held a job later with the Freedmen's Bureau. He entered politics by 1869, when he lost a race for the county's House of Delegates seat. Two years later Delaney won by a large margin and sided with the majority in trying to circumvent the Funding Act of 1871. Divisions within the local Republican Party likely caused his failed reelection bid, though he did represent Amelia at a state convention of African Americans in 1875. In subsequent years Delaney served in a variety of local offices, including justice of the peace, coroner, and constable. He also became engaged in such occupations as operating an ordinary, repairing bridges, teaching, ministering in a Baptist church, and farming. He moved to Cumberland County and successfully applied for a Confederate pension in 1924. The date and location of his death are unknown. MORE...

 

Delaney was born about 1844 in Amelia County to free parents, Sarah Hughes Delaney and Edmund Delaney. His father, a man of mixed white and black ancestry, worked at various times as a bricklayer and miller and by 1853 owned sixty-six acres of land. In 1862 Alpheus M. Chappell, a local merchant recently elected captain of Company A of the 14th Virginia Infantry Regiment, employed McDowell Delaney as a cook. Delaney also worked as a teamster for the regiment before returning home because of poor health. After the Civil War, he received instruction from his father, who taught at what may have been the first Amelia County school for blacks after emancipation. He likely was the McDowell Delaney who was hired in 1865 to manage property at the Freedmen's Bureau hospital in Farmville.

Although not active in Republican state conventions or African American mass meetings, Delaney believed he had gained enough local prominence to seek public office in the first election in which African Americans could vote for members of the General Assembly. On July 6, 1869, however, he finished last in a three-way race for Amelia County's seat in the House of Delegates. The following year census enumerators recorded Delaney as residing with his parents and working as a laborer. In 1871 he campaigned again to represent Amelia County in the House of Delegates. In the November election Delaney received 965 votes of 1,367 ballots cast in defeating three other candidates to win a two-year term. During the three assembly sessions that met from December 6, 1871, to April 2, 1873, he served on the Committees of Claims and on Retrenchment and Economy.

Delaney introduced several pieces of legislation, including a bill to modify the 1860 state code with respect to offenses committed by African Americans, a bill requiring a license to carry certain weapons, and a resolution calling on the Committee for Courts of Justice to submit a bill repealing laws imposing whipping as punishment. He also joined a majority in House efforts to circumvent the Funding Act of 1871, passed during the previous session, which forced the state to fund high-interest bonds issued for debt contracted during the antebellum years. Settlement of the debt became the most divisive political issue of the 1870s. Delaney's opposition to the act anticipated the views of the overwhelming majority of other African American voters and politicians, who later allied with the Readjusters, a coalition that sought to repudiate a portion of the public debt and to redirect remaining resources in support of the new public school system and other state institutions. Facing opposition from two other candidates and contending with party divisions, Delaney lost his reelection bid in November 1873 in a contest for which his father was one of the election commissioners.

In June 1872 Delaney appeared before the Amelia County Court as a duly elected justice of the peace for Leigh Township, to serve for three years beginning on July 1. By July 1873 he was also acting coroner and continued in that capacity until at least December of that year. In August 1875 Delaney represented Amelia at a state convention of African Americans held in Richmond. After winning election as constable for his district in May 1876, he resigned as a justice the following month and took the oath for the new office. Having been directed to execute a new bond or show cause why he should not, Delaney failed to appear before the court in January 1877, and his powers as constable were revoked.

Delaney engaged in several vocations. In January 1873 he received a license to operate an ordinary. The county paid him for bridge repairs, and he reportedly taught school for a time. Delaney purchased thirty-seven acres from his father and by 1880 had begun farming. By April 1883 he also had been ordained as a Baptist minister. He served several Amelia County churches as pastor and may have organized an area Baptist association.

On January 29, 1873, Delaney married Mary P. Bolling, of Cumberland County. They had at least two sons and two daughters. Beginning in the 1890s Delaney was a defendant in a chancery cause stemming from a lien against his Amelia County land. The plaintiff attempted to have the property rented out to satisfy the debt, but ultimately the suit was settled in 1907. About 1912 Delaney moved to Cumberland County, where he worked as a blacksmith despite his age. In August 1924 he successfully applied for benefits under a Confederate pension act passed that year. The date and place that Delaney died and the location of his grave are unknown; a biographical reference work states without documentation that he died in 1929.

Time Line

  • ca. 1844 - McDowell Delaney is born in Amelia County to free black parents of mixed race.
  • 1862 - McDowell Delaney works for the 14th Virginia Infantry Regiment as a cook and teamster.
  • 1865 - McDowell Delaney likely manages property for the Freedmen's Bureau hospital in Farmville.
  • July 6, 1869 - McDowell Delaney loses his bid for a seat in the House of Delegates as a Republican from Amelia County.
  • 1870 - The federal census lists McDowell Delaney as living with his parents and working as a laborer.
  • November 1871 - McDowell Delaney wins a seat in the House of Delegates as a Republican representing Amelia County.
  • January 1873 - McDowell Delaney receives a license to operate an ordinary.
  • January 29, 1873 - McDowell Delaney and Mary P. Bolling, of Cumberland County, marry. They will have at least two sons and two daughters.
  • July 1, 1873 - McDowell Delaney serves as a justice of the peace for Leigh Township, Amelia County.
  • July 1873 - By this date, McDowell Delaney serves as acting coroner for Leigh Township, Amelia County.
  • November 1873 - McDowell Delaney loses reelection to the House of Delegates as a Republican representing Amelia County.
  • August 1875 - McDowell Delaney represents Amelia County at a state convention of African Americans in Richmond.
  • May 1876 - McDowell Delaney wins election as constable in Amelia County and resigns as justice of the peace to serve.
  • January 1877 - McDowell Delaney's powers as constable are revoked after he fails to appear before the Amelia County Court and execute a new bond.
  • 1880 - By this year, McDowell Delaney is farming on thirty-seven acres he purchased from his father.
  • April 1883 - By this time, McDowell Delaney is an ordained Baptist minister and serves several churches in Amelia County.
  • 1890s - Beginning at this time, McDowell Delaney is a defendant in a chancery cause stemming from a lien against his Amelia County land.
  • 1907 - The chancery suit against McDowell Delaney is settled.
  • ca. 1912 - McDowell Delaney moves to Cumberland County, where he works as a blacksmith.
  • August 1924 - McDowell Delaney successfully applies for a Confederate pension.
  • After 1924 - McDowell Delaney dies on an unknown date and at an unknown location. One undocumented source lists 1929 as his death date.

References

Further Reading
Hadfield, Kathleen Halverson, ed. Historical Notes on Amelia County, Virginia. Amelia, Virginia: Amelia County Historical Society: 1982.
Jackson, Luther Porter. Negro Office-Holders in Virginia, 1865–1895. Norfolk, Virginia: Guide Quality Press, 1945.
Lowe, Richard. Republicans and Reconstruction in Virginia, 1856–70. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991.
Moore, James Tice. Two Paths to the New South: The Virginia Debt Controversy, 1870–1883. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1974.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Gunter, D. W., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. McDowell Delaney (ca. 1844–after 1924). (2015, July 8). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Delaney_McDowell_ca_1844-after_1924.

  • MLA Citation:

    Gunter, Donald W. and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "McDowell Delaney (ca. 1844–after 1924)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 8 Jul. 2015. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: July 2, 2015 | Last modified: July 8, 2015