On June 26, 1784, one of the most important founding fathers you’ve likely never heard of died.
Caesar Rodney was born in Kent County, Delaware on Oct. 7, 1728. He was a central figure in Delaware’s quest for independence from Great Britain.
Rodney was one of Delaware’s three delegates to the Second Continental Congress, along with Thomas McKean and George Read. He also served as the Speaker of the Assembly of the Lower Counties of Pennsylvania. In June 1776, that assembly proposed the Lower Counties of New Castle, Kent and Sussex simultaneously separate from Pennsylvania and the British crown. On June 15, the assembly unanimously voted to form “The Delaware State.”
Just a few weeks later, Rodney made perhaps his most important contribution to the revolutionary cause.
On June 7, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia introduced a brief thunderbolt of a resolution: “Resolved, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states . . .”
On the same day the Delaware Assembly declared independence, it released its three divided delegates to the Continental Congress to vote their individual judgment on the resolution in Philadelphia.
The Congress reconvened on July 1, 1776. Read and McKean returned to Philadelphia, but Rodney stayed behind to help create a state militia. With the Continental Congress set to vote on independence, the Delaware delegation was deadlocked, with McKean for and Read against. McKean sent a courier to Rodney advising him that without his vote, Delaware would not sign the Declaration of Independence.
Rodney sprung into action, embarking on the 80-mile trek to Philadelphia. He rode through the night in a torrential rainstorm. A letter written by his brother states that Rodney arrived at Independence Hall on July 2 muddy, wet, and fatigued, but “booted and spurred.” He was also seriously ill. But he was able to cast the tie-breaking vote, adding Delaware to the Declaration of Independence.
Rodney recounted the experience in a letter to his brother.
“I arrived in Congress (tho detained by thunder and rain) time enough to give my voice in the matter of independence . . . We have now got through the whole of the declaration and ordered it to be printed so that you will soon have the pleasure of seeing it.”
When British troops occupied northern Delaware in 1777, Rodney commanded American troops in the field for a short time at the request of George Washington. He was elected President of Delaware in 1778 and served for three-and-a-half years.
Rodney was in ill health. He battled asthma most of his life and was suffering from facial cancer during the revolutionary period. That cancer eventually took his life.
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