James John Van Alen   [1848-1923]

Notable Dutch-American

James John Van Alen was a wealthy man and he spent most of his life enjoying that wealth. He had the wealth acquired from his father, who was Brigadier General James Henry Van Alen [1819-1886], also a wealthy man, who started his military career by equipping the Third New York Cavalry Regiment as a unit in the Union Army during the Civil War.

During the 1890’s James John financially supported Grover Cleveland with a gift of $60,000 for the presidential campaign. Grover Cleveland won the election, became president and rewarded Van Alen with the US Ambassadorship to Italy in 1893. Apparently he preferred to stay in New York City and declined the appointment. President Cleveland decided to sweeten the deal and then offered him the US Ambassadorship to Great Britain. But again Van Alen declined it.

Many years later, in 1919 he sold his home on East 65th Street and decided to move to France. Whereas in 1893 he had turned down living in Great Britain as the US Ambassador, 26 years later Europe looked attractive because of the apparent tax advantages. The wealthy apparently enjoyed lower taxes, at least in France. In France he lived in a villa in Cannes until his death three years later. He did not have a chance to enjoy the tax advantages of France for very long.

At the age of 26, in 1854 James John Van Alen married Emily Astor [1854-1881], the oldest daughter of William Backhouse Astor, Jr. [1829-1892] and Caroline Webster Schermerhorn [1830-1908].  Since Emily’s mother was a Schermerhorn, Emily was also a Dutch American like her husband James John Van Alen. They had three children together during her rather short life. Emily passed away at the age of 27 in 1881. Their marriage lasted only five years. She probably passed away during the birth of her youngest child.

Emily and James had three children together during the rather short marriage. They were: Mary Van Alen [1876-1959], James Laurence Van Alen [1878-1927] and Sarah Steward Van Alen [1881-1963].

James John Van Alen died while in London. His estate was valued at $20 million, about equivalent to $ 300 million in 2017. The funds were fairly distributed to his close family and none of them clearly were short of money for the remainder of their respective lives.

The two daughters of James and Emily had no children. The son, James Laurence Van Alen had three children. His eldest child was James Henry Van Alen II [1902-1991]. He became the founder of the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

James John Van Alen was also known as the American Prince of Wales. Why he was given that name is not clear. He was a wealthy man and obviously did not have to work for a living. He could live like a prince and that may have earned him that name.



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For over three decades, NNI has helped cast light on America's Dutch roots. In 2010, it partnered with the New York State Office of Cultural Education to establish the New Netherland Research Center, with matching funds from the State of the Netherlands. NNI is registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Contributions are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. More

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