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Caesar Rodney

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Caesar Rodney
20th-century image; no contemporary portrait exists.[1]
4th President of Delaware
In office
March 31, 1778 – November 6, 1781
Preceded byGeorge Read
Succeeded byJohn 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 Colony
DiedJune 26, 1784(1784-06-26) (aged 55)
Kent County, Delaware
Resting placeKent County, Delaware
Political partyIndependent
Professionpolitician, lawyer
Military service
Branch/serviceDelaware Militia
RankMajor General

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

Rodney family and early years

Coat of Arms of Caesar Rodney

Rodney was born on October 7, 1728, on his family's plantation, "Byfield", on St. Jones Neck in East Dover Hundred, Kent County, Delaware. Caesar was the eldest son of 2 children of Caesar and Elizabeth Crawford Rodney and grandson of William Rodney. William Rodney emigrated to the American colonies in 1681–1682, along with William Penn,[3] and was speaker of the Colonial Assembly of the Delaware Counties in 1704.[3][4] Rodney's mother was the daughter of the Rev. Thomas Crawford, Anglican rector of Christ Church at Dover.[3] Among the Rodney family ancestors were the prominent Adelmare family in Treviso, Italy,[5] as attested by genealogy studies.[6]

Byfield was an 849-acre farm worked by enslaved labor.[7] The Rodneys were, by the standards of the day, prosperous members of the local gentry. The farm earned sufficient income from the sale of wheat and barley to the Philadelphia and West Indies markets to provide enough cash and leisure to allow members of the family to participate in the social and political life of Kent County.[3] At Rodney's death, he enslaved 18 people. His will manumitted three of advanced age upon his death, and held the others to a manumission schedule he devised.[8]

Caesar was educated when he was 13 or 14 years old. He attended The Latin School, part of the academy and the College of Philadelphia (now known as University of Pennsylvania) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania[9] until his father's death. Caesar was the only one of the Rodney children to receive anything approaching a formal education.[10] Caesar Rodney's father died in 1746, and Caesar's guardianship was entrusted to Delaware Supreme Court Justice Nicholas Ridgely by the Delaware Orphan's Court.[3]

Professional and political career


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..."[10] He lived as a bachelor, was generally esteemed and was indeed very popular. He had professed his love and affection for several Delaware ladies at various times but was never a successful suitor.[3] Accordingly, he easily moved into the political world formerly occupied by his father and guardian.

At age twenty-seven in 1755, he was elected sheriff of Kent County and served the maximum three years allowed.[3] 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.[11] 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."[11] The majority Court Party was generally Anglican, strongest in Kent and Sussex Counties, worked well with the colonial proprietary government, and was 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 increasingly aligned themselves with the Country Party, a distinct minority in Kent County.[11] As such, he generally worked in partnership with Thomas McKean from New Castle County and in opposition to George Read.

American Revolution


Rodney joined McKean as a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress in 1765 and was a leader of the Delaware Committee of Correspondence.[12] He began his service in the Assembly of Delaware in the 1761/1762 session and continued in office through the 1775/1776 session. Several times he served as speaker, including the momentous day of June 15, 1776, when "with Rodney in the chair and Thomas McKean leading the debate on the floor," the Assembly of Delaware voted to sever all ties with the British Parliament and King.[13]

Declaration of Independence, by John Trumbull (1818) portrays the presentation of the Declaration of Independence to Congress. Rodney is not depicted.[14]
Caesar Rodney on the 1999 Delaware State Quarter.

Rodney served in the Continental Congress along with McKean and Read from 1774 through 1776.[3] Rodney was in Dover tending to Loyalist activity in Sussex County when he received word from McKean that he and Read were deadlocked on the vote for independence. To break the deadlock, Rodney rode 70 miles 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 had begun.[13] 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.[13][15]

Equestrian statue of Caesar Rodney on Rodney Square. (Removed from its pedestal at least temporarily on June 12, 2020. Location currently unknown.)[16][17]

Upon learning of the death of his friend John Haslet at the Battle of Princeton, Rodney rushed to the Continental Army to try to fill his place. Haslet was succeeded as colonel by David Hall as General George Washington returned Rodney home to be Delaware's wartime governor and major-general of Delaware militia. The regiment Haslet had built was virtually destroyed at the Battle of Camden in 1780.[18] Rodney, as major-general of the Delaware militia, protected the state from British military intrusions and controlled continued Loyalist activity, particularly in Sussex County, site of the 1780 Black Camp Rebellion.

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 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. Via his distant Italian heritage, one source has identified Rodney as the first Italian-American governor of a U.S. state.[19]

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 on 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.

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
The Memorial to the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence in Washington, D.C., Rodney's depicted signature is at the upper left

Death and legacy


Rodney was tormented throughout his life by asthma, and his adult years were plagued by a facial cancer. He experienced expensive, painful, and futile medical treatments for the cancer.[3] Caesar wore a green scarf to hide his disfigured face.[10] He died from the disease after eight years.[3] His body is buried at an unmarked grave on his beloved farm, "Poplar Grove" (known as "Byfield" today). While there is a marker that appears to be a gravestone for Caesar Rodney at Christ Episcopal Church, this is merely a monument. Many sources cite that he is buried there; however, most Delaware historians believe that the remains of one of Rodney's unidentified relatives is buried there instead.[3] Rodney actually is buried in an unmarked grave in his family's unmarked plot on their former 800-acre farm east of Dover Air Force Base.[20]

The Caesar Rodney School District in Delaware is named after him.[21]

Positions held

Caesar Rodney, by Bryant Baker, is exhibited in the National Statuary Hall Collection

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[22]
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

Caesar Rodney appears in the Broadway musical 1776 and its film adaptation. He is portrayed as an elderly man suffering severely from facial cancer, and he has to be taken home by fellow Delaware delegate Thomas McKean. Later, John Adams sends McKean back to Delaware to bring back Rodney to break the deadlock over independence between pro-independence McKean and anti-independence George Read. He is portrayed in the musical by Robert Gaus and in the film by William Hansen.

See also



  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 (PDF). Washington, D. C.: Joint Committee on Printing. p. 1828. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 12, 2012. Retrieved July 27, 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Jackson, Thomas Clark (2011-11-30). "Caesar Rodney". 2016 The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence. Retrieved 14 January 2016.
  4. ^ Bayard, Thomas (30 October 1889). Proceedings on Unveiling the Monument to Caesar Rodney, and the Oration Delivered on the Occasion by Thomas F. Bayard, at Dover Delaware, October 30th, 1889. Dover Delaware: Delaware Printing Company. p. 13.
  5. ^ McCormick, David (1 October 2014). "Freedom's Ride". Italian America. 2 (7975): 51. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(76)93018-x. PMID 59123. S2CID 36237366.
  6. ^ The Italic Way, Vol. XLII, p. 12, 2016
  7. ^ Delaware Public Archives, Sheriff's sale April 9, 1791 confirms acreage but does not include mention of enslaved persons associated with the property.
  8. ^ Public Archives picture of Caesar Rodney's will
  9. ^ "The Latin School and the College of Philadelphia, 1751–1791 | Department of Classical Studies".
  10. ^ a b c Decker, Ann (7 December 2005). The coalition of the two brothers : Caesar and Thomas Rodney and the making of the American Revolution in Delaware. Lehigh University: Theses and Dissertations. Paper 918. p. 19.
  11. ^ a b c Marchi, Daniel H (30 October 2013). Past Future Power Belongs to the Reserved Power Clause. AuthorHouse. p. 364.
  12. ^ Hancock, Harold B (1973). County committees and the growth of independence in the three lower counties on the Delaware, 1765–1776. pp. 269–94.
  13. ^ a b c Ryden, George Herbert (1933). Letters to and from Caesar Rodney. Historical Society of Delaware. p. 4.
  14. ^ "Key to Declaration". americanrevolution.org. Retrieved 19 October 2015.
  15. ^ Wilson, Timothy James. "Old Offenders": Loyalists in the Lower Delmarva Peninsula, 1775–1800, p. 197
  16. ^ Greene, Mike Phillips, Sean. "Wilmington's Caesar Rodney and Christopher Columbus statues come down". WDEL 101.7FM. Retrieved 2020-06-13.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  17. ^ "Wilmington removing, at least for now, Columbus and Caesar Rodney statues". WHYY. Retrieved 2020-06-13.
  18. ^ "Delaware Military History". Military Heritage. Archived from the original on 25 March 2016. Retrieved 20 January 2016.
  19. ^ Cavaioli, Frank J. "Italian-American Governors". Italian Americana. 25 (2): 133–159.
  20. ^ brown, robin (24 April 2007). "Where is Caesar Rodney really buried?". Gannett Company. Delaware online newspaper. Archived from the original on 11 December 2015. Retrieved 14 January 2016.
  21. ^ "The District 1915-1940's". Caesar Rodney School District. Retrieved 2021-06-16.
  22. ^ Members of the Delaware Assembly acted unofficially in selecting these delegates as the assembly was not in session.

Further reading

  • 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.
Political offices
Preceded by President of Delaware
Succeeded by