Caesar Rodney


Caesar Rodney (October 7, 1728 – June 26, 1784) 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 signer of the Declaration of
Independence, a Continental Congressman from Delaware, and President of Delaware during most of
the American Revolution.

Rodney family of Delaware

Caesar Rodney was born on his family's farm Byfield, on St. Jones Neck, in Dover Hundred, Kent
County, Delaware.  He was the son of Caesar and Mary 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. Among the Rodney family ancestors were the prominent Adelmare family
in Treviso, Italy. His mother was the daughter of the Rev. Thomas Crawford, the Anglican rector of
Christ Church at Dover.
Byfield was a 800 acre farm, worked by a small number of 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.

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... 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 "Count 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 County. As such
he generally worked in partnership with Thomas McKean from New Castle County and in opposition
to George Read.

American Revolution

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.

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.

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 George Read were deadlocked on the vote for
independence. To break that deadlock, Rodney rode eighty miles through a thunderstorm on the
night of July 1, 1776, dramatically arriving in Philadelphia "in his boots and spurs" on July 2, just as
the voting was beginning. At least part of Rodney's famous ride was probably made in a carriage. 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, and Rodney signed the famous parchment copy on August 2. A conservative 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.

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, his leadership was badly needed to protect the state from
British military intrusions and to control 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. Delaware now had a dedicated, energetic and competent
leader, but the office of State President in 1778 did not have the authority of a modern Governor in the
United States. Rodney's effectiveness came from his popularity with the General Assembly where the
real authority lay, and from the loyalty he had from the Delaware militia, which was the only
available 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 famously well in many battles from the Battle of Long Island
to the Battle of Monmouth, but in 1780 the whole army suffered its worst defeat at the Battle of
Camden in South Carolina. The small Delaware regiment was nearly destroyed and the remnant was
so reduced it could only fight with a Maryland regiment for the remainder of the war. And still the
Loyalists and privateers along the coast kept Sussex County seething. 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 due to 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. Regrettably, 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 Military History