Caesar Rodney

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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 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
DiedJune 26, 1784(1784-06-26) (aged 55)
Kent County, Delaware
ResidenceKent County, Delaware
ProfessionLawyer
ReligionEpiscopalian
Signature
Military service
Service/branchMilitia
Battles/warsAmerican Revolutionary War
 
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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 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
DiedJune 26, 1784(1784-06-26) (aged 55)
Kent County, Delaware
ResidenceKent County, Delaware
ProfessionLawyer
ReligionEpiscopalian
Signature
Military service
Service/branchMilitia
Battles/warsAmerican 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)
YearAssemblySenate MajoritySpeakerHouse MajoritySpeaker
1777/782ndnon-partisanGeorge Readnon-partisanSamuel West
1778/793rdnon-partisanThomas Collinsnon-partisanSimon Kollock
1779/804thnon-partisanJohn Clowesnon-partisanSimon Kollock
1780/815thnon-partisanJohn Clowesnon-partisanSimon 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
OfficeTypeLocationBegan officeEnded officenotes
SheriffExecutiveDoverOctober 1, 1755October 1, 1756Kent County
SheriffExecutiveDoverOctober 1, 1756October 1, 1757Kent County
SheriffExecutiveDoverOctober 1, 1757October 2, 1758Kent County
Justice of the PeaceJudiciaryNew Castle17591769Court of Common Pleas
AssemblymanLegislatureNew CastleOctober 20, 1761October 20, 1762
AssemblymanLegislatureNew CastleOctober 20, 1762October 20, 1763
AssemblymanLegislatureNew CastleOctober 20, 1763October 20, 1764
AssemblymanLegislatureNew CastleOctober 20, 1764October 20, 1765
DelegateLegislatureNew YorkOctober 7, 1765October 19, 1765Stamp Act Congress [5]
AssemblymanLegislatureNew CastleOctober 20, 1765October 20, 1766
AssemblymanLegislatureNew CastleOctober 20, 1766October 20, 1767
AssemblymanLegislatureNew CastleOctober 20, 1767October 20, 1768
AssemblymanLegislatureNew CastleOctober 20, 1768October 20, 1769
Associate JusticeJudiciaryNew Castle17691777Supreme Court
AssemblymanLegislatureNew CastleOctober 20, 1769October 20, 1770Speaker
AssemblymanLegislatureNew CastleOctober 20, 1770October 20, 1771Speaker
AssemblymanLegislatureNew CastleOctober 20, 1771October 20, 1772
AssemblymanLegislatureNew CastleOctober 20, 1772October 20, 1773
AssemblymanLegislatureNew CastleOctober 20, 1773October 20, 1774
DelegateLegislaturePhiladelphiaAugust 2, 1774March 16, 1775Continental Congress
AssemblymanLegislatureNew CastleOctober 20, 1774October 20, 1775
DelegateLegislaturePhiladelphiaMarch 16, 1775October 21, 1775Continental Congress
AssemblymanLegislatureNew CastleOctober 20, 1775June 15, 1776Speaker
DelegateLegislaturePhiladelphiaOctober 21, 1775November 7, 1776Continental Congress
DelegateLegislatureYorkDecember 17, 1777June 27, 1778Continental Congress (did not serve)
DelegateLegislaturePhiladelphiaJuly 2, 1778January 18, 1779Continental Congress (did not serve)
State PresidentExecutiveDoverMarch 31, 1778November 6, 1781
DelegateLegislaturePhiladelphiaFebruary 2, 1782February 1, 1783Continental Congress (did not serve)
DelegateLegislaturePhiladelphiaFebruary 1, 1783June 21, 1783Continental Congress (did not serve)
DelegateLegislaturePrincetonJune 30, 1783November 4, 1783Continental Congress (did not serve)
DelegateLegislatureAnnapolisNovember 26, 1783April 8, 1784Continental Congress (did not serve)
CouncilmanLegislatureDoverOctober 20, 1783June 26, 1784


Delaware General Assembly service
DatesAssemblyChamberMajorityGovernorCommitteesDistrict
1783/848thState Councilnon-partisanNicholas Van DykeSpeakerKent 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]

External links[edit]