West Dean Estate – The James Family

West Dean House

The West Dean estate, situated near Chichester, West Sussex was purchased in 1891 by William Dodge James.  He bought the property from Frederick Bowers, a merchant who had owned West Dean since the death of its previous owner, Caroline Mary (Peachey) Vernon Harcourt (1785-1871).  She had inherited the estate when her brother, Henry John Peachey, 3rd Baron Selsey died in 1838.

William Dodge James’s wealth came from his father, American merchant Daniel James, who was a farmer’s son born in Truxton, New York State in 1801.  He moved to New York City to start a wholesale grocery business in the 1820s where he met and married Elizabeth Woodbridge Phelps.  She was the eldest daughter of a successful businessman, Anson Green Phelps, who exported cotton to England and in return imported manufactured goods.  He sold these in America using peddlers who travelled to inland settlements, selling or bartering their goods in exchange for furs.

The rapidly expanding population in America created an almost limitless market for both raw and manufactured goods from Britain. In about 1821, Phelps sent a partner to Liverpool, England, called Elisha Peck to act as the company’s agent.  Peck used his specialist knowledge of the metals market to lay the foundations for an organisation that would become the dominant importer of metal into America during the 19th century.

In 1832 Phelps and Peck attempted to set up their own metal manufacturing works in America by importing equipment such as rolling mills and skilled labour from Britain.  Peck left Liverpool to front this operation and was replaced in England by Daniel James who was made a partner in his father-in-law’s business.  He had limited knowledge of the metal trades and was new to the British business environment so relied heavily on his senior clerk, Welshman, Thomas Bank.  Due to a world recession the business failed in 1837, but James gradually paid off his creditors and by the early 1840s was again solvent.  He spent the rest of his life in Liverpool becoming one of the most respected American merchants in the country.  The exports to America that passed through his side of the operation during this period were in excess of $300 million.  In 1866 he also became a naturalized British citizen.

Naturalization application May 21, 1866


Daniel married three times.  There were five children from his first marriage to Elizabeth.  Their eldest son, Anson, was tragically killed in an accident in America while visiting his grandparents when a horse bolted and threw the boy from a carriage.  Their youngest son, Henry, born in 1839 died when just a few months old and their eldest daughter, Elizabeth was an invalid with a spinal problem.  Their surviving son, Daniel Willis James, moved to America when he was fifteen to work with his grandfather and his uncle, eventually becoming a senior partner in the business.  Their youngest daughter, Olivia, born in 1837 married Robert Hoe, who designed printing presses for the newspaper industry.

In 1847 Daniel’s first wife Elizabeth died; she had contracting small pox several years before and never fully recovered.  Two years later he married another American called Sofia Hall Hitchcock who was twenty seven.  They had three children, all boys – Frank Linsly born in 1851, John Arthur in 1853 and William Dodge in 1854.  They grew up and were educated in Britain, attending establishments such as Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge.  Sofia died in 1870, and the following year Daniel remarried to his children’s former governess, Ruth Lancaster Dickinson, who was 49.  They had five years together before Daniel died in 1876.

Daniel James (1801-1876) m. 1829 Elizabeth Woodbridge Phelps (1807-1847)  Children:

  • Anson Greene Phelps James (1830-1842)
  • Daniel Willis James(1832-1907) m.1854 Ellen Stebbins Curtiss (1833-1916)
  • Elizabeth Eggleston James (1833-1868)
  • Olivia James (1837-1935) m.1863 Robert Hoe III (1839-1909)
  • Henry James (1839-1839

Daniel James (1801-1876) m. 1849 Sophia Hall Hitchcock (1820-1870)  Children:

  • Frank Linsly James (1851-1890)
  • John Arthur James (1853-1917) m.1885 Mary Venetia Cavendish-Bentinck (1861-1948)
  • William Dodge James (1854-1912) m.1889 Evelyn Elizabeth Forbes (1867-1927)

Daniel James (1801-1876) m. 1871 Ruth Lancaster Dickinson (1824-1907)  No children from this union.

Daniel’s Will

At the time of his death, the Phelps Dodge/Phelps James company was owned and run by three families, all related by marriage.  Daniel James and his American based son, Daniel Willis James, had a 36% share of the business, the Dodge family had 34% and the Stokes 30%.  The business was capitalised at $4,500,000 made up of 100 shares each worth $45,000 apportioned as follows:

Partner Shares
Daniel James 18
Daniel Willis James 18
William Earl Dodge 10
William E. Dodge Jr. 18
Charles C. Dodge 6
James Stokes 9
Anson P. Stokes 16
Thomas Stokes 5

Daniel James made his will in 1870, adding two codicils at later dates.  Although not published, an estimate of his wealth at this time was $6 million.   He appointed executors in both Britain and America.  Those in the UK were his son Frank Linsly plus his business partner, Welshman, William Daniel Rees.  In America he appointed his younger brother, Henry, and his son Daniel Willis James.  The first codicil added in 1874 made provision for his wife, Ruth Dickinson.  She was allowed to live in the family home during her lifetime; she also received an immediate £1000 and the income for life from $300,000 invested on her behalf by the American trustees.  She died in 1907 leaving over £56,000.

Daniel left $100,000 to each of his four sons.  The eldest son, American based Daniel Willis James, received his legacy in cash.  The three boys living in England were given the interest only from these cash sums by trustees until the youngest of them reached the age of twenty five, at which time they all received the capital sums from this plus other investments and business interests.   In his will, Daniel James left instructions that his three sons in England were to be given the opportunity to take over his partnerships if they so wished.   For a period, John Arthur became a partner in Phelps Dodge/Phelps James, working with William Daniel Rees, but at the beginning of 1879  changes happened, with Rees being replaced and John Arthur leaving.  This date coincided with William Dodge James becoming twenty-five years of age, triggering the release of the capital from Daniel James estate to the three sons in England.

Daniel James had shares in large areas of lumber in America and a partnership with his brother Henry who marketed the processed timber for Phelps Dodge in Baltimore.  Daniel’s son in America, Daniel Willis  James and his cousin William Earl Dodge Jr. ran Phelps Dodge in partnership for the next 25+ years, changing it from a mercantile operation into one of the largest copper mining and copper production companies in the world.  Daniel Willis James had a son, Arthur Curtiss James, who joined the business and also invested in railroads, becoming one of the richest men in America before the depression reduced his wealth to $38 million.

In England, Daniel and Sophia’s three sons became English gentlemen, enjoying their inherited wealth, big game hunting and exploring.  Frank Linsly James died in 1890 during a hunting trip in Africa; he was unmarried and his wealth was left to his two brothers.  They married into British high society and became friends of Edward, Prince of Wales who later became Edward VII.  John Arthur James married Mary Venetia Cavendish-Bentinck and they bred race horses in Coton House near Rugby.  William Dodge James married Evelyn Elizabeth Forbes and they lived in West Dean House in West Sussex.

Charitable Legacies

Daniel James was a religious man, a Presbyterians from English puritan descent, as were his American partners.   They saw it as a duty to help those less fortunate and to spread the word of God.  In his will Daniel left the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions $10,000; the  London Missionary Society £2000; the Liverpool Town Missionary Society £1000; the governors of the Lancashire Congregational Union the sum of £500; the Liverpool Seamen’s Friend and Emigrant Society the sum of £500 and the British and Foreign Bible Society the sum of £500 pounds.  (£100 in 1876 is probably the equivalent of £10,400 today)

daniel-james-will-1Probate granted September 27, 1878

Final Resting Place

Daniel and Elizabeth James’s headstone is in the churchyard of St. Andrew behind West Dean House.  However they are not buried there.  Their remains are several hundred mile away in Liverpool in land that was once the Liverpool Necropolis.  This cemetery became hazardous due to the  large number of burial (80,000) and was closed.  It was landscaped with ornamental gardens and renamed the Grant Gardens.  The James’ headstones were moved to West Dean in the early part of the 20th century but the graves were not disturbed, and are now  unmarked.  The Liverpool Necropolis cemetery was used for the burial of nonconformists and this would have been in keeping with Daniel James’s Presbyterian beliefs.  This may also have been a consideration at the time for not exhuming the James family remains and moving them to the Episcopal church of St. Andrew in West Dean.  In contrast, the remains of Frank Linsly James, who was killed in Africa by a wounded elephant in 1890, were moved from Kensal Green Cemetery in 1917 and reburied in the James family plot in West Dean.

James Family Burial Plot
Tombstone of Elizabeth & Daniel James
Elizabeth Eccleston James and Sofia Hall (Hitchcock) James



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