Caesar Rodney

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This article is about the lawyer and politician from late eighteenth century Delaware, for the U.S. Attorney General see Caesar A. Rodney.
Caesar Rodney
CaesarRodney.jpeg
20th century image; no contemporary portrait exists probably because his face was scarred from cancer.[1]
President of Delaware
In office
March 31, 1778 – November 6, 1781
Preceded by George Read
Succeeded by John Dickinson
Continental Congressman
from Delaware
In office
August 2, 1774 – November 7, 1776
Personal details
Born (1728-10-07)October 7, 1728
Kent County, Delaware
Died June 26, 1784(1784-06-26) (aged 55)
Kent County, Delaware
Residence Kent County, Delaware
Profession Lawyer
Religion Episcopalian
Signature
Military service
Service/branch Militia
Battles/wars American Revolutionary War

Caesar Rodney (October 7, 1728 – June 26, 1784)[2] was an American lawyer and politician from St. Jones Neck in Dover Hundred, Kent County, Delaware, east of Dover. He was an officer of the Delaware militia during the French and Indian War and the American Revolution, a Continental Congressman from Delaware, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and President of Delaware during most of the American Revolution.

Rodney family and early years[edit]

Caesar Rodney was born in 1728 on his family's farm, "Byfield", on St. Jones Neck in East Dover Hundred, Kent County, Delaware. He was the son of Caesar and Elizabeth Crawford Rodney and grandson of William Rodney, who came to America in the 1680s and had been Speaker of the Colonial Assembly of the Delaware Counties in 1704. Rodney's mother was the daughter of the Rev. Thomas Crawford, Anglican rector of Christ Church at Dover. Among the Rodney family ancestors were the prominent Adelmare family in Treviso, Italy.[citation needed]

Byfield was an 800-acre (320 ha) prosperous farm, worked by slaves. With the addition of other adjacent properties, the Rodneys were, by the standards of the day, wealthy members of the local gentry. Sufficient income was earned from the sale of wheat and barley to the Philadelphia and West Indies market to provide enough cash and leisure to allow members of the family to participate in the social and political life of Kent County.

At the age of 17 and upon the death of his father in 1746, Caesar's guardianship was entrusted to Nicholas Ridgely by the Delaware Orphan's Court.

Professional and political career[edit]

Thomas Rodney described his brother at this time as having a "great fund of wit and humor of the pleasing kind, so that his conversation was always bright and strong and conducted by wisdom... He always lived a bachelor, was generally esteemed, and indeed very popular." Accordingly, he easily moved into the political world formerly occupied by his father and guardian. In 1755 he was elected Sheriff of Kent County and served the maximum three years allowed. This was a powerful and financially rewarding position in that it supervised elections and chose the grand jurors who set the county tax rate. After serving his three years he was appointed to a series of positions including Register of Wills, Recorder of Deeds, Clerk of the Orphan's Court, Justice of the Peace, and judge in the lower courts. During the French and Indian War, he was commissioned captain of the Dover Hundred company in Col. John Vining's regiment of the Delaware militia. They never saw active service. From 1769 through 1777 he was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Lower Counties.

Eighteenth century Delaware was politically divided into loose factions known as the "Court Party" and the "Country Party." The majority Court Party was generally Anglican, strongest in Kent and Sussex County, worked well with the colonial Proprietary government, and were in favor of reconciliation with the British government. The minority Country Party was largely Ulster-Scot, centered in New Castle County, and quickly advocated independence from the British. In spite of being members of the Anglican, Kent County gentry, Rodney and his brother, Thomas Rodney, increasingly aligned themselves with the Country Party, a distinct minority in Kent Country. As such, he generally worked in partnership with Thomas McKean from New Castle Country and in opposition to George Read.

American Revolution[edit]

Rodney joined Thomas McKean as a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress in 1765 and was a leader of the Delaware Committee of Correspondence. He began his service in the Assembly of Delaware in the 1761/62 session and continued in office through the 1775/76 session. Several times he served as Speaker, including the momentous day of June 15, 1775 when "with Rodney in the chair and Thomas McKean leading the debate on the floor," the Assembly of Delaware voted to separate all ties with the British Parliament and King.

The presentation of the Declaration of Independence to Congress.[3]

Because of his military experience, Rodney was named Brigadier General of Delaware's militia. As Delaware and the other colonies moved from protest to self-government and then to independence, the situation in strongly loyalist Kent and Sussex County rapidly deteriorated. Numerous local leaders spoke strongly in favor of maintaining the ties with Great Britain. Rodney and his militia were repeatedly required to suppress the resultant insurrections. Some of the Loyalists were arrested and jailed, some escaped to the swamps or British ships, and some just remained quietly resistant to the new government.

Caesar Rodney on the 1999 Delaware State Quarter.

Meanwhile, Rodney served in the Continental Congress along with Thomas McKean and George Read from 1774 through 1776. Rodney was in Dover attending to Loyalist activity in Sussex County when he received word from Thomas McKean that he and Read were deadlocked on the vote for independence. To break the deadlock, Rodney rode 70 miles (110 km) through a thunderstorm on the night of July 1, 1776, arriving in Philadelphia "in his boots and spurs" on July 2, just as the voting was beginning. He voted with McKean and thereby allowed Delaware to join eleven other states in voting in favor of the resolution of independence. The wording of the Declaration of Independence was approved two days later; Rodney signed it on August 2. Backlash in Delaware led to Rodney's electoral defeat in Kent County for a seat in the upcoming Delaware Constitutional Convention and the new Delaware General Assembly.

Caesar Rodney statue on Rodney Square.

Learning of the death of his friend John Haslet at the Battle of Princeton, Rodney went to join General George Washington briefly in early 1777. Washington soon returned him to Delaware, where as Major-General of the Delaware militia, he protected the state from British military intrusions and controlled continued loyalist activity, particularly in Sussex County.

Amidst the catastrophic events following the Battle of Brandywine, and the British occupation of Wilmington and Philadelphia, a new General Assembly was elected in October 1777. First, it promptly put Rodney and Thomas McKean back into the Continental Congress. Then, with State President John McKinly in captivity, and President George Read completely exhausted, they elected Rodney as President of Delaware on March 31, 1778. The office did not have the authority of a modern Governor in the United States, so Rodney's success came from his popularity with the General Assembly, where the real authority lay, and from the loyalty of the Delaware militia, which was the only means of enforcing that authority.

Meanwhile Rodney scoured the state for money, supplies and soldiers to support the national war effort. Delaware Continentals had fought well in many battles from the Battle of Long Island to the Battle of Monmouth, but in 1780 the army suffered its worst defeat at the Battle of Camden in South Carolina. The regiment was nearly destroyed and the remnant was so reduced it could only fight with a Maryland regiment for the remainder of the war. Rodney had done much to stabilize the situation, but his health was worsening and he resigned his office November 6, 1781, just after the conclusive Battle of Yorktown.

Rodney was elected by the Delaware General Assembly to the United States Congress under the Articles of Confederation in 1782 and 1783, but was unable to attend because of ill health. However, two years after leaving the State Presidency he was elected to the 1783/84 session of the Legislative Council and, as a final gesture of respect, the Council selected him to be their Speaker. His health was now in rapid decline and even though the Legislative Council met at his home for a short time, he died before the session ended. He was buried in the cemetery at Christ Church in Dover, Delaware.[4]

Delaware General Assembly
(sessions while President)
Year Assembly Senate Majority Speaker House Majority Speaker
1777/78 2nd non-partisan George Read non-partisan Samuel West
1778/79 3rd non-partisan Thomas Collins non-partisan Simon Kollock
1779/80 4th non-partisan John Clowes non-partisan Simon Kollock
1780/81 5th non-partisan John Clowes non-partisan Simon Kollock

Almanac[edit]

Statue of Caesar Rodney

Elections were held October 1 and members of the General Assembly took office on October 20 or the following weekday. The State Legislative Council was created in 1776 and its Legislative Councilmen had a three-year term. State Assemblymen had a one-year term. The whole General Assembly chose the Continental Congressmen for a one-year term and the State President for a three-year term. The county sheriff also had a three-year term. Associate Justices of the state Supreme Court were also selected by the General Assembly for the life of the person appointed.

Public offices
Office Type Location Began office Ended office notes
Sheriff Executive Dover October 1, 1755 October 1, 1756 Kent County
Sheriff Executive Dover October 1, 1756 October 1, 1757 Kent County
Sheriff Executive Dover October 1, 1757 October 2, 1758 Kent County
Justice of the Peace Judiciary New Castle 1759 1769 Court of Common Pleas
Assemblyman Legislature New Castle October 20, 1761 October 20, 1762
Assemblyman Legislature New Castle October 20, 1762 October 20, 1763
Assemblyman Legislature New Castle October 20, 1763 October 20, 1764
Assemblyman Legislature New Castle October 20, 1764 October 20, 1765
Delegate Legislature New York October 7, 1765 October 19, 1765 Stamp Act Congress [5]
Assemblyman Legislature New Castle October 20, 1765 October 20, 1766
Assemblyman Legislature New Castle October 20, 1766 October 20, 1767
Assemblyman Legislature New Castle October 20, 1767 October 20, 1768
Assemblyman Legislature New Castle October 20, 1768 October 20, 1769
Associate Justice Judiciary New Castle 1769 1777 Supreme Court
Assemblyman Legislature New Castle October 20, 1769 October 20, 1770 Speaker
Assemblyman Legislature New Castle October 20, 1770 October 20, 1771 Speaker
Assemblyman Legislature New Castle October 20, 1771 October 20, 1772
Assemblyman Legislature New Castle October 20, 1772 October 20, 1773
Assemblyman Legislature New Castle October 20, 1773 October 20, 1774
Delegate Legislature Philadelphia August 2, 1774 March 16, 1775 Continental Congress
Assemblyman Legislature New Castle October 20, 1774 October 20, 1775
Delegate Legislature Philadelphia March 16, 1775 October 21, 1775 Continental Congress
Assemblyman Legislature New Castle October 20, 1775 June 15, 1776 Speaker
Delegate Legislature Philadelphia October 21, 1775 November 7, 1776 Continental Congress
Delegate Legislature York December 17, 1777 June 27, 1778 Continental Congress (did not serve)
Delegate Legislature Philadelphia July 2, 1778 January 18, 1779 Continental Congress (did not serve)
State President Executive Dover March 31, 1778 November 6, 1781
Delegate Legislature Philadelphia February 2, 1782 February 1, 1783 Continental Congress (did not serve)
Delegate Legislature Philadelphia February 1, 1783 June 21, 1783 Continental Congress (did not serve)
Delegate Legislature Princeton June 30, 1783 November 4, 1783 Continental Congress (did not serve)
Delegate Legislature Annapolis November 26, 1783 April 8, 1784 Continental Congress (did not serve)
Councilman Legislature Dover October 20, 1783 June 26, 1784


Delaware General Assembly service
Dates Assembly Chamber Majority Governor Committees District
1783/84 8th State Council non-partisan Nicholas Van Dyke Speaker Kent at-large

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ John A. Munroe. "Rodney, Caesar"; American National Biography Online, February 2000.
  2. ^ U. S. House of Representatives (2005). Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-2005. Washington, D. C.: Joint Committee on Printing. p. 1828. Retrieved July 27, 2011. 
  3. ^ http://www.americanrevolution.org/deckey.html
  4. ^ Edward P. Heite (June 1972). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Christ Church". National Park Service. 
  5. ^ Members of the Delaware Assembly acted unofficially in selecting these delegates as the assembly was not in session.

Further reading[edit]

  • Conrad, Henry C. (1908). History of the State of Delaware, 3 vols. Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Wickersham Company. 
  • Scott, Jane Harrington (2000). Gentleman as Well as a Whig. Newark, Delaware: University of Delaware Press. ISBN 0-87413-700-4. 
  • Hoffecker, Carol E. (2004). Democracy in Delaware. Wilmington, Delaware: Cedar Tree Books. ISBN 1-892142-23-6. 
  • Martin, Roger A. (1984). History of Delaware Through its Governors. Wilmington, Delaware: McClafferty Press. 
  • Martin, Roger A. (1995). Memoirs of the Senate. Newark, Delaware: Roger A. Martin. 
  • Munroe, John A. (2004). Philadelawareans. Newark, Delaware: University of Delaware Press. ISBN 0-87413-872-8. 
  • Munroe, John A. (1954). Federalist Delaware 1775-1815. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University. 
  • Racino, John W. (1980). Biographical Directory of American and Revolutionary Governors 1607-1789. Westport, CT: Meckler Books. ISBN 0-930466-00-4. 
  • Scharf, John Thomas (1888). History of Delaware 1609-1888. 2 vols. Philadelphia: L. J. Richards & Co. ISBN 0-87413-493-5. 
  • Ward, Christopher L. (1941). Delaware Continentals, 1776-1783. Wilmington, Delaware: Historical Society of Delaware. ISBN 0-924117-21-4. 

External links[edit]