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Caesar Rodney may very well be one of those unknown patriots of the American Revolution that people see every day. If you were asked who is the man in the tricorn hat riding a horse on Delaware’s State Commemorative Quarter, most say Paul Revere but they are wrong. The State quarter, one of only a few dedicated to a person is dedicated to Caesar Rodney. So why such an honor? Rodney 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.

The family, from which Caesar Rodney was descended, was of ancient date, and is honorably spoken of in the history of early times. We read of Sir Walter De Rodeney, of Sir George De Rodeney, and Sir Henry De Rodeney, with several others of the same name, even earlier than the year 1234. Sir Richard De Rodeney accompanied the gallant Richard Coeur de Lion in his crusade to the Holy Land, where he fell, while fighting at the siege of Acre. Caesar Rodney, himself, was born on his father’s farm near Dover, Delaware, in October of 1728. He was tutored by his parents and may have attended a local Parson’s school, but received no formal education.

The Rodney’s were, by the standards of the day, wealthy members of society. 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. His mother was the daughter of the Rev. Thomas Crawford, Anglican rector of Christ Church at Dover. Caesar Rodney was identified as an Episcopalian in the book, “A History of Delaware Through its Governors 1776-1984 by Roger A. Martin.” His maternal grandfather was an esteemed clergyman.

His father died when Caesar was 17 and was placed in the guardianship of Nicholas Ridgely who was a clerk of the peace in Kent county, and this seems to be the root of Rodney’s life in politics. In 1755, under the royal government, Rodney was commissioned High Sheriff of Kent County Delaware. This was quite a distinction for a man twenty-two years of age and he apparently honored the distinction, for in succeeding years his official capacities grew to include registrar of wills, recorder of deeds, clerk of the orphan’s court, and justice of the peace. At age thirty he attained his first elected office as a representative in the colonial legislature at Newcastle. He served in that position, reelected each year except 1771, until the legislature was dissolved in 1776-and then resumed the seat as a representative to the Upper House of the State of Delaware until 1784.

Because of Rodney’s later military experience, he 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’s fame was generated by his famous nighttime ride. 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 that deadlock, Rodney rode 70 miles on horseback 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.

Rodney remained a leading patriot in his colony, a member of the Stamp Act Congress in 1765, a formative member of the Delaware Committee of Correspondence, a military leader in the colonial militia, and a delegate to the Continental Congress from formation until 1777. The following year he was elected President of the State of Delaware for a three year term, a duty that he assumed even as he served as Major-General of the Delaware Militia. In this office he played a crucial part not only in the defense of his own colony but in support of Washington’s Continental Army, for Delaware had a record of meeting or exceeding its quotas for troops and provisions throughout the revolutionary conflict. Rodney’s health and strength flagged for a time. He suffered from asthma and from a cancerous growth on his face, for which he never attained proper treatment. He saw his colony through the war at the cost of personal neglect.

In 1782 he was again elected to the national Congress, but was forced to decline the office due to failing health. He nonetheless continued to serve as Speaker to the Upper House of the Delaware Assembly. He died in that office, in June of 1784 of cancer.

Information was taken from the following references: