I wrote this over a decade ago. With the exception of those living in Delaware, most of our citizens have never heard of this man. His actions and their impact on this country cannot be understated. It’s a shame that this kind of history is no longer taught in this country. Since we here in the United States are preparing to celebrate our independence, I believe it is important that a little exposure to our history might be in order.
To our brothers in the United Kingdom; I am sure that you are familiar with our shared history concerning the American 4th of July Holiday, Independence Day. The following could be considered historical minutia. However, I believe that it is in the minutia that reality / real history is revealed and thus brought to life. I am attempting to shed some light on to the motivations, and insight into the minds of those whom Americans consider heros of the America’s War for Independence.
I hope that this little essay, will allow us all to think about and understand the American Revolution and what it did mean and does mean to our respective countries.
* The word Prothonotary is pronounced: Pro - tho - notary.
Who was Caesar Rodney?
In 1999, the United States Mint began producing a series of commemorative quarter dollars representing the fifty states which comprise the United States. Every six to eight weeks, a new quarter dollar representing a different state will be placed into circulation. This commemorative series will be completed in the year 2008. Hawaii, the fiftieth state to be admitted into the United States, will be the last state to be honored with this commemorative series.
The first commemorative quarter dollar in this series is quite unique. On the obverse side, there is a picture of a gentleman riding a horse at a full gallop - this mysterious gentleman is the subject of this paper. The figure is a man, wearing a three-cornered hat and typical colonial attire circa AD 1776. The figure of this gentleman is on the commemorative quarter dollar representing Delaware. Many people think this gentleman is Paul Revere, it is not. If these people study their history books, they will discover that Paul Revere was from Massachusetts. Close inspection of the Delaware commemorative quarter dollar will reveal the name of the rider. The rider’s name is Caesar Rodney. WHO WAS CAESAR RODNEY?
October 7, 1728:
Hung some tobacco, came in got dinner and killed some squirrels…about eleven o’clock at night, my wife awakened me for she was very bad. I got up and sent for ye midwife and women. But before any came, ye child was born and it was a SON. There was no soul with her but myself, being I believe just about midnight. (Pickett, Delaware’s 1)
Caesar Augustus Rodney was born on October 7, 1728, on the family farm in East Dover Hundred, Kent County, Delaware. Caesar Rodney, “Delaware’s Hero”(Pickett, Delaware’s1), is of English and Italian extraction. He was the oldest of eight children born to Caesar Rodney, Sr. and Elizabeth Crawford Rodney. Caesar Rodney’s grandfather, William Rodeney, immigrated to the New World in the 1680’s and settled in the Dover area of what is now Delaware during the 1690’s. Caesar Augustus Rodney’s mother was the daughter of the first Episcopalian missionary sent from England by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, Reverend Thomas Crawford.
No portrait of Caesar Rodney exists. His face was terribly disfigured by a painful and malignant facial cancer. He wore a green silk vale over half of his face so he could spare the ladies an unpleasant sight. Rodney is, however, immortalized in marble in Statuary Hall in Washington DC. The statue of Rodney resembles Thomas Jefferson. Caesar Augustus Rodney also suffered from athsma. John Adams described Rodney as “…the oddest looking man in the world; he is tall thin and slender as a reed, pale; his face is not bigger than a large apple, yet there is a sense and fire, spirit, wit and humor in this countenance.”(Independence, Caesar 1) Rodney’s sense of humor was droll. In a letter to his brother, Thomas Rodney, written on September 24, 1774, he writes “You may tell those whom it may concern that Miss Charlton who used to take Some of our Kent Ladies to Lodge, was buried the day before Yesterday from whence they will (no Doubt) readily Suppose She is dead- ” (Ryden, Letters 52)
Caesar Rodney worked on the family’s farm until the age of 14, when he was sent to Latin school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1745, Rodney lost his father and returned home to run the family farm. Rodney was 17 years of age. He had yet to reach the age of majority. Because Caesar Rodney was underage, Nicholas Ridgley of Dover was named as his legal guardian. Ridgley was Prothonotary and Clerk of the Peace for the Kent County Court. Being an officer of the Kent County Court, Ridgley had an extensive knowledge of both law and books. His influence on young Caesar Rodney cannot be understated. Under Ridgley’s tutelage, Caesar and his younger brother, Thomas, became very civic-minded young men. Caesar and his brother, Thomas, under their guardian, learned the law. In 1755, at the age of 27, Caesar Rodney became the High Sheriff of Kent County. Rodney would serve in some public appointment, office or trust for the next 29 years. After the office of the High Sheriff, he served in the following offices: the Registrar of Wills, Deputy Recorder of Deeds, and Recorder of Deeds in Kent County. He also acted as Clerk of the Peace (the same office held by his guardian, Ridgley), Justice of the Peace, and served periodically as Clerk of the Orphans Court. Caesar Rodney was a very civic-minded individual.
In 1756, Caesar Rodney enlisted in the military. He felt it was his duty to enlist and defend his colony during the French and Indian Wars. Rodney enlisted in the regiment of Colonel John Vining and Rodney was given the rank Captain of the Dover Hundred Company. His company, however, was never called into battle. In the same year, Rodney was elected to the Stamp Act Congress along with Thomas McKean. Even though the Stamp Act was repealed, other outrages were to follow: the Townshend Act of 1767, the Boston Port Bill of 1774, and other “injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object, the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states”. (Drummey, Their 2) These usurpations only fed Rodney’s already strong patriotic sentiment. In 1776, Rodney was appointed to the Supreme Court of Delaware and elected to the Delaware Assembly. (The Delaware Assembly was similar to a state legislature.) He was elected Speaker of the Delaware Assembly and, in 1769 he attempted but failed to pass a law “prohibiting the importation of slaves”. (Pickett, Delaware’s 2)
On May 15, 1776, Congress passed a resolution suggesting that all colonies set up independent governments. One month later, on June 15, 1776, Rodney was elected to serve as a delegate at the Second Continental Congress, along with Thomas McKean and George Read. (Rodney was also a delegate to the First Continental Congress). By this time he was a Brigadier General in the Delaware militia and Speaker of the Delaware Assembly. On the same day he was elected to the Second Continental Congress, Delaware declared her independence from the tyrannical British Crown and the Province of Pennsylvania.
June 15, 1776 was a monumental day in American History. Rodney, as Speaker, proposed a resolution to the House of Assembly at New Castle to hold a constitutional convention to frame a state government independent of Pennsylvania. Each county was to elect 10 delegates on August 19, 1776. The constitutional convention was to convene in New Castle on August 27, 1776, and “there to ordain and declare the future Form of Government for this State”. (Ryden, Letters 13) The resolution was passed without dissension.
Prior to June 15, 1776, the Three Lower Counties (known today as The State of Delaware) was a part of the Province of Pennsylvania, a colony of the British Crown. Caesar Rodney was the speaker of the last Delaware colonial assembly. The House of Assembly at New Castle had previously appointed Caesar Rodney, Thomas McKean, and George Read to write to Parliament and to the King to assure that the Three Lower Counties were grateful for the repeal of the Stamp Act and to express their loyalty to the Crown. These same three men (now delegates to the Second Continental Congress) were given instructions by the House Assembly at New Castle on June 15, 1776, to join the other colonies “in forming such farther compacts between the United Colonies, concluding such treaties with foreign Kingdoms and states, and in adopting such other measures as shall be judged necessary for promoting the liberty, safety, and the interests of America, reserving to the people of this Colony the sole and exclusive right of regulating the internal government and police of the same”. (Ryden, Letters 10) During his tenure Rodney, as the Speaker of the House of Assembly at New Castle, signed the instructions for the delegates to both the First and the Second Continental Congress. He also signed the resolution to disband the House of Assembly at New Castle. When the resolution was passed and the instructions were issued to the three delegates, The Three Lower Counties, to all intents and purposes, declared their independence from the British Crown. The Three Lower Counties were now to be called The Delaware State.
Not withstanding the accomplishments that have earned Caesar Rodney his place in the history books, his most important, and perhaps his greatest achievement had yet to be attempted. It was to be one of the most important independent acts of selfless determination in American History….
On July 1, 1776, Rodney was not in attendance at the Second Continental Congress due to the fact he was in Delaware investigating and subduing a Tory uprising. On July 1, 1776, Thomas McKean, also a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, sent an urgent message to Rodney requesting his immediate return to Philadelphia. The Congress had taken a vote on independence. Nine colonies voted for independence, with South Carolina and Pennsylvania dissenting, and New York abstaining. Delaware was deadlocked with McKean voting for independence and George Reed against. A unanimous vote was desperately needed for political and psychological reasons if independence were to succeed.
Upon returning home from the Tory uprising, Rodney received the message from McKean stating that the vote was scheduled for July 2, 1776. Physically weak from his cancer and asthma, and exhausted from the riots, Brigadier General Caesar Augustus Rodney embarked on an epic ride, as great as, or greater than the “famous” ride of Paul Revere. During a tremendous thunderstorm, complete with heavy rain and spectacular lightning, Rodney immediately left his home and headed for Philadelphia to cast the most important vote of his life. He rode the entire night and into the next day, which was oppressively hot. He had ridden eighty miles, stopping only to change horses. Rodney arrived at the meeting covered in baked-on mud and dust, just in time to cast his vote. He has been credited with saying, “As I believe the voice of my constituents and of all sensible and honest men is in favor of independence, my own judgement concurs with them. I vote for independence”. (Drummey, Their 3)
Once the voting was completed and unanimity achieved, Caesar Rodney’s sense of humor, during the ensuing debate, asserted itself when he deflated the self-important Virginian delegation. The Virginians had expressed reservations concerning Britain’s possible response to the vote for American independence. He was quoted as saying “Let Virginia be of good cheer, she has a friend in need; Delaware will take her under its protection and insure her safety”. (Independence, Caesar 1) Rodney’s sarcasm was not lost on the Virginian delegation because Virginia had the largest population, Delaware one of the smallest.
John Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. All the other delegates signed this important document on August 2, 1776, after several lengthy debates. When Caesar Rodney was signing his name on the Declaration of Independence, he knew he was signing his own death warrant. If he were not hung for treason against the British Crown, he would die from facial cancer. Rodney knew he would no longer be able to get the much-needed treatment for his cancer. Treatment was available — only in Britain.
After the final adjournment of the House of Assembly on July 28, 1776, Rodney was kept away from The Delaware State by the business of the fledgling United States. Rodney desired to be elected as a delegate to the constitutional convention of The Delaware State but met stiff opposition from the Tories and failed to be elected as a delegate. For the first time since 1755, Rodney was not a member of government. He was, however, still a brigadier general in The Delaware State’s militia. In 1777, only George Read was re-elected as a delegate to the Continental Congress. The Tories had managed to defeat both Caesar Rodney and Thomas McKean. It should be mentioned that George Read did not vote on July 4, 1776. Rather than vote, George Read stayed away from Congress after Rodney’s heroic and dramatic ride. On July 1, 1776, George Read voted against independence in direct violation of his instructions from the House Assembly.
Brigadier General Rodney was very active in the Revolutionary War. In November of 1776, he was appointed Chairmen of the Kent County Branch of the Council of Safety. While the British army was pursuing General George Washington, Brigadier General Rodney maintained a constant supply of new militia to General Washington. In January of 1777, after General Washington had crossed the Delaware and captured the Hessian mercenaries on December 26, 1776, Brigadier General Rodney was placed in command of the post at Trenton. It was Rodney’s duty to defend the vital river crossing at Trenton and forward new troops to General Washington.
September of 1777 witnessed the British Army capture the city of Wilmington in The Delaware State, and the capture of the first President of The Delaware State, Dr. John McKinley. Just prior to his capture, on September 26, 1777, Dr. McKinley promoted Brigadier General Rodney to Major General of The Delaware State. In December of 1777 Rodney was once again elected to the Continental Congress. Also, when it became apparent that President Dr. John McKinley would not be released, the Legislature of The Delaware State elected Rodney as President, where he served until November 6, 1781.
Caesar Rodney, dying from cancer and exhausted from a lifetime of service to the people, was no longer able to leave his home. He withdrew as governor on November 6, 1781. But in the fall of 1783, Rodney was elected by The Delaware State General Assembly as Speaker of the Upper House, a position equivalent to Lieutenant Governor today. Being very ill and unable to travel, the Assembly began meeting in Rodney’s home. The Upper House convened there until April 8, 1784.
There is no record with the exact date of Rodney’s death. However, it is known that Rodney was buried on his farm on June 28, 1784. His grave went unmarked for more than one hundred years. In 1885, Chief Justice Joseph P. Comegys had a small marker placed on Rodney’s grave. In 1889, Rodney’s body was moved to Christ’s Church in Dover. On October 30, 1889, a monument was dedicated at the site of his new grave. On July 4, 1923, a Bronze statue depicting Rodney’s ride of “Thunder and Rain” (Themal, At 1) was dedicated in Rodney Square in Wilmington, Delaware. In 1931, the Delaware State Legislature appropriated funds for a marble statue of Rodney. It now resides in Statuary Hall, Washington, DC. The statue of Rodney’s ride of “Thunder and Rain” (Themal, At 1) has now been copied on the Delaware commemorative quarter dollar.
How does one answer the question posed earlier: Who was Caesar Rodney? Caesar Rodney was “Delaware’s Hero”, (Pickett, Delaware’s 1) a fine soldier, judge, governor, farmer, patriot, and most importantly a real American hero. If it had not been for his ride of “Thunder and Rain” (Themal, At 1), we may not have the document that is so important to us all - the Declaration of Independence.
Prothonotary: The principal clerk in some courts.
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