Caesar Rodney was a well known soldier, politician, and judge from Dover, Delaware. He is a Founding Father because he signed the Declaration of Independence and participated in key events that shaped the American Revolution, including the Stamp Act Congress, First Continental Congress, and Second Continental Congress.
- Rodney was born on October 17, 1728, in Dover, Delaware, on his family’s farm, which was called “Byefield.”
- His father was Caesar Rodney and his mother was Elizabeth Crawford.
- His father died when he was 17 years old.
- Rodney attended school up until his father died, including the College of Philadelphia (University of Pennsylvania).
- Rodney never married.
- In 1755 he was High Sheriff of Kent County.
- In 1762 and 1763 he represented Kent County in the General Assembly.
- In 1765, he represented Delaware at the Stamp Act Congress.
- From 1769 to 1773, he was an Associate Justice.
- In 1774, he represented Delaware at the First Continental Congress.
- In 1775, he represented Delaware at the Second Continental Congress.
- In 1756, he was Captain of the Kent County Militia.
- In 1759, he was the commissioner of a committee that supported raising a company for the French and Indian war.
Delegate to the Stamp Act Congress
On March 22, 1765, Parliament passed the Stamp Act, which required a stamp to be placed on all legal documents and many printed materials in the colonies.
In May, news of the new law reached the colonies. There was immediate opposition, including riots in Boston, Massachusetts, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Savannah, Georgia.
On June 8, 1765, the Massachusetts Assembly sent a circular letter to the legislatures of the other colonies, inviting them to send delegates to a congress in New York to discuss a unified response to the Stamp Act. The precedent for such a meeting had been set by the Albany Congress in 1754.
Nine of the 13 colonies, including Delaware, chose to send delegates to the meeting, which was held in New York City. Rodney was elected as a delegate from Delaware, along with Thomas McKean.
The Stamp Act Congress convened on October 7, 1765. On October 19, the Stamp Act Congress issued a Declaration of Rights and Grievances. Congress sent petitions to the King and both houses of Parliament and asked for the Stamp Act to be repealed.
On November 1, 1765, the Stamp Act took effect, but there were no stamp masters available to distribute the stamps. They had resigned or refused to perform their job due to violence and intimidation against them.
On March 18, 1766, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act, primarily due to protest from British merchants who believed it would damage their prospects of doing business in the colonies. However, on that same day, Parliament passed the Declaratory Act, which declared its ability to levy taxes on the colonies.
After the Stamp Act was repealed, Rodney was one of three commissioners appointed by the Delaware legislature to write a letter to King George III to thank him for repealing the law.
French and Indian War
- Rodney was Captain of the Dover Hundred of the Delaware Militia. The company was in the regiment of Colonel John Vining. The company did not see action during the war.
Delaware Committee of Correspondence
- Rodney was the leader of the Delaware Committee of Correspondence.
First Continental Congress
- In 1774, Rodney was elected as a delegate to the First Continental Congress.
- He was a member of the committee that documented the rights and grievances of the colonists.
Second Continental Congress
- In March 1775, the Delaware Assembly elected him unanimously to the Second Continental Congress.
Declaration of Independence
- Rodney was not in Philadelphia when the topic of independence was raised. He was traveling through the southern part of Delaware, talking to people about the potential change in the government.
- The other delegates from Delaware, Thomas McKean and George Read, were divided. McKean favored independence. Read was against it. McKean knew Rodney would vote for independence, so he sent a message to him and asked him to return to Philadelphia as soon as he could.
- Rodney arrived in time for the final debate and voted for independence, which secured the consent of Delaware.
- Rodney signed the Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776.
Illustration of Caesar Rodney riding through a thunderstorm in an effort to return to Philadelphia as soon as possible so he could vote in favor of independence [Archive.org].
Military Service During the American Revolutionary War
- In May 1775, he was appointed a Colonel in the Delaware Militia.
- In September 1775, he became Brigadier General.
- In 1776, he worked to rally the Patriots in Delaware as a member of the Council of Safety and the Council of Inspection. He collected supplies for the Delaware troops that were with General George Washington in New Jersey. He went to Trenton, where he was made Post Commandant by Lord Stirling, and then to Morristown.
- In February 1777, General Washington gave him permission to return to his home.
- In the summer of 1777, he helped suppress a Loyalist insurrection in Sussex County.
- In August 1777, the British were advancing on Delaware. He gathered troops and Washington stationed him on the Elk River in Maryland to watch the British movements and, if necessary, cut the British off from their fleet.
- In September 1777, he was appointed Major General of the Delaware militia.
Political Service During the American Revolutionary War
- Rodney served in the Continental Congress in 1776, but lost his seat in 1777, due to the efforts of Loyalists..
- In February 1777, he was appointed as a Judge on the new Supreme Court of Delaware, but he refused the position.
- On June 5, 1777, he was chosen as an Admiralty Judge, but he declined so he could keep his position in the military.
- In December 1777, he was elected to the Continental Congress but did not take his seat.
- On March 31, 1778, he was elected President of Delaware.
- On November 6, 1781, he resigned as President, due to poor health.
- In 1782 and 1783, he was elected to the Confederation Congress, but he was unable to attend due to his health.
- In 1783, the Delaware Legislative Council elected him Speaker. The appointment was largely out of respect, as his health was rapidly declining. The Council met at his home so he could participate in their sessions.
A bill for regulating slaves was introduced in the Delaware legislature. A motion was made to amend the bill to prohibit importation of slaves into the colony, which Rodney supported. Unfortunately, the legislature voted against the amendment.
However, Rodney’s will, at the time of his death, showed he owned 15 slaves.
- Rodney suffered from asthma most of his life, and skin cancer on his face for many years.
- He died on June 29, 1784, in Dover, Delaware.
- He was buried in an unmarked grave on the grounds of Byefied.
Caesar Rodney is important because he signed the Declaration of Independence and was a delegate from Delaware to the Stamp Act Congress, First Continental Congress, and Second Continental Congress.
Caesar Rodney is considered a Founding Father because he signed the Declaration of Independence and because he contributed to the Stamp Act Congress, First Continental Congress, and Second Continental Congress.