Collecting Delaware Books

Letters to and from Caesar Rodney, 1756 - 1784

Published December 1995

Go to Update

Caesar Rodney

In 1919, the Historical Society of Delaware purchased a collection of the letters to and from patriot Caesar Rodney.

Additional letters were found in the holdings of other historical societies, libraries, and collectors throughout the country. When these could not be purchased, photocopies were obtained. All the letters deemed to be of historical importance were published in 1933 in a 482-page book edited by George Herbert Ryden, State Archivist and a history and political science professor at the University of Delaware. It was reprinted in 1975.

Rodney is best known in popular culture for his 1776 overnight ride from Dover to Philadelphia, where he broke the tie in Delaware's delegation to the Continental Congress and voted for independence from Britain. His more important contributions to his state and nation came throughout the last ten years of his life. As speaker of the last Delaware colonial legislature, he was a leader in the separation of Delaware from Pennsylvania and England. He was a general officer of the Delaware militia, before being elected President (governor) of the Delaware State in 1778. Again, his leadership on the course toward independence was vital.

Rodney was born in 1728 in St. Jones Neck east of Dover. He was 17 when his fathered died and Nicholas Ridgely was appointed his guardian. It is unknown what education he had, but he entered politics at age 27 and began a lifetime of service.

He sought medical help in 1781 for health problems, possibly cancer, that had plagued him for 15 years. He continued to decline and died in 1784. Rodney was buried on his farm, and his grave was unmarked for about 100 years. In 1888, his remains were moved to Christ Episcopal Church in Dover. A monument was erected the following year. See update.

The Letters

Many of the published letters deal with the everyday business of the legislature and the problems of equipping an army. On October 14, 1776, Rodney wrote to George Read as follows.

"We have bought all the Clothes we have been able to lay our hands on, Shall fall on the method you proposed to secure what Blankets we can, all for the purposes you mentioned — and Shall be glad you'd write me by Next Post, when you think we shall get the money to pay for the Clothes & blankets, Whether we shall look to Congress or to this Government … "

Two days later, Reed wrote back.

"I have yours of the 14th wherein you query where money is to be had for payment of ye Clothes & Blankets to be procured for the Delaware Battalion. I presume it may be obtained from Congress as soon as one or more Officers shall be sent from Camp upon this Errand. It seems it was given out in orders before Parson Montgomery left Camp that 2 officers from each regiment should be sent for this purpose … "

Such was procurement before the days of bureaucrats. Other letters deal with the progress of the Revolution, including the arrival of a British fleet in Delaware Bay. A few involve personal matters such as his battle with cancer.

Update 2006

There is a good biography of Rodney on Russ Pickett's site at

There is some doubt about whether the remains moved to Dover are truly those of Rodney. Several investigations have been undertaken recently with no conlusion.

In 1999, Delaware's coin was issued in the series of state quarters. It pictured Rodney in his famous 1776 ride to sign the Declaration of Independence.

Back to Articles List

Back to home page

Contact John P. Reid