James DeLong was born in Dutchess County, in New York State, on July 4, 1790. He came to Utica in January 1812, twenty years before it became a city.
DeLong, a white who owned a tannery on Water street just west of Bagg's Square, was one of the very early abolitionists, and one of the most consistent and earnest. During the years when the cause was so extremely unpopular, and subsequently, when the fugitive slave law made it very dangerous to property and liberty, ( the penalty being $1,000 fine and three years imprisonment to shield the slave or help him escape from his master, ) DeLong never wavered, and never ceased to labor to help those who were oppressed.
DeLong was a trustee with the Methodists. He was one of the early members of the Methodist church when the place of worship was on Main street, and when the church moved to Bleecker street, he contributed largely to erect the new building. He was also an alderman in the early history of the city and connected with the city fire department.
A man of strong convictions, DeLong was at the Utica Convention in 1835 and became an active ‘conductor' on the underground railroad, pressing his family into the service. His home was one of the ‘stations' and he often secreted runaway slaves in the Bleecker Street Methodist Church building.
For a number of years, he lived at various locations: Main Street, Whitesboro Street and Broad Street. Later in life, his home was located at 101 John street near Rutger St. intersection. Delong's John Street home was where he sheltered fugitives and was probably located on the triangle of land bordered by John , Blandina, and ( then ) Bridge Streets ( now Park Ave. ). He deeded this house to his son Martin in 1862.
The back door of the house was left unlocked for fugitive slaves from the South on their way to Canada who traveled only by night and hid by day. When the DeLongs arose in the morning it was not unusual for them to find one or two negroes asleep on the kitchen floor.
Some of the fugitives who reached the Utica station were sent west to Syracuse, on to Rochester, and thence across the lake, while others, some of whom were afraid to go far by cars, struck across from here north, and were sometimes aided at Watertown. They would have to walk the whole distance to the Canadian line.
Once twenty-one refugees turned up in Utica, all at one time, and inquired the way to Mr. DeLong's house. There they found him ready, as always, with food and warmth, and plans for further advance. The next day was a Sunday and with his strong reverence for religion, DeLong marched the whole company off to the Methodist church which he attended. When darkness fell, their son Martin was detailed as guide to start the fugitives on their way north. They crossed the river bridge at the foot of Genesee Street and went through to Deerfield Corners. Having showed the fugitives the way north, Martin returned to the city.
The Utica City Directory of 1839-40 lists the following officers of the New York State Anti-Slavery Society, office 56 Genesee: Gerrit Smith, President, Peterboro, W. H. Chaplin, Corresponding Secretary and General Agent, Utica; J. C. DeLong , Chairman of Executive Committee, Utica; Spencer Kellogg, Treasurer. Kellogg subsequently served as president, but in the spring 1840 he became mayor of Utica on the Whig ticket and was replaced by DeLong.
About 300 of the 600 delegates went to Peterboro. Beriah Green became corresponding secretary, Oliver Wetmore as recording secretary. Spencer Kellogg, a Utica businessman, was treasurer. The executive Committee were Alvan Stewart, chair; James C. DeLong , Jacob Snyder, Francis Wright, Joseph T. Lyman, and Rev. Amos Savage, all of Utica; Rev. Lewis H. Loss of New York Mills, Dr. Welcome Clark of Whitesboro; and Dr. Arba Blair from Rome.
James DeLong, enjoying a life relatively free of illness and the infirmaties associated with old age, died at the age of ninety-two. He was married three times. Of the seven children born of the first marriage, the three who survived were: Mrs. Morrison Paulding and George B. DeLong, of Monroe, Michigan, and Mrs. C. H. Buhl of Detroit, Michigan. Of three children born from the second union, only one survived, M. B. DeLong, the well-known furniture dealer of Utica. DeLong's third wife, whose maiden name was Miss Harriet Thompson and to whom he was married for fifteen years, survived him. They had no children.