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Caesar Rodney's Amazing Ride for Colonial Independence

Updated on December 18, 2017
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Chris has written more than 175 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.

Delaware State Quarter

Source

Introducing Caesar Rodney

The days leading up to national independence of the American colonies can be looked at from various perspectives, such as that of George Washington, President of the Continental Congress, or that of Thomas Jefferson, the writer of the Declaration of Independence. But in 1776 there was a man who, in spite of his remarkable accomplishments, is relatively unknown in the modern world. Caesar Rodney, as well as having been a member of the Continental Congress, is distinguished by having been the Delawarean who has held more public offices than any other.

Pennsylvania State House/Independence Hall

Location of the Second continental Congress. Declaration of Independence and Constitution debated and ratified here.
Location of the Second continental Congress. Declaration of Independence and Constitution debated and ratified here. | Source

The Call for Independence

Philadelphia, June 7, 1776. The Second Continental Congress was in session at the Pennsylvania State House. Delegates from the thirteen colonies were in attendance when a Virginia delegate by the name of Richard Henry Lee made this sixteen word resolution:

"Resolved, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states.”

No immediate action was taken by the Congress on the Lee Resolution in order that the colonies could take time to resolve any differences. It was of the utmost importance that decisions regarding independence from Britain be made unanimously. Any sign of division would certainly be exploited by King George III. Such lack of resolve would also act as a wedge between the differing parties. The colonies could ill afford either of these to become a reality.

Front of Independence Hall

Location of the Second Continental Congress
Location of the Second Continental Congress | Source

Caesar Rodney Back in Delaware

In these early days leading up to independence, delegates to the Continental Congress from each colony cast, as a group, one vote which reflected the will of their home assembly. Delaware made the decision to allow their three delegates to vote individually according to their own personal convictions. Thomas McKean, George Read and Caesar Rodney, the three Delaware delegates, were divided on the subject of independence. McKean and Rodney supported independence while Read opposed it.

On June 15, 1776, Delaware became the first of the colonies to declare itself to be a free and independent state, owing no allegiance to the British crown. The response in Delaware by those who opposed independence was to form a counter revolutionary force. Not only was Caesar Rodney a delegate to the Constitutional Congress, he was also brigadier general of the Delaware militia. It fell to him to deal with the uprisings in the Colony. Consequently, Rodney left Philadelphia to return to Delaware sometime prior to June 30 even as the push for national independence was reaching its zenith.

Carpenters' Hall

Location of the First continental Congress
Location of the First continental Congress | Source

Threat to Independence: Lack of Unity in Congress

On July 1, Richard Henry Lee’s resolution that the colonies declare independence, was discussed by the Congress as a whole. A vote regarding the resolution was scheduled for the next day, July 2. The delegates from each colony, other than the three from Delaware, would have a single vote reflecting the will of the governing body in their respective colonies. The Delaware delegates had been freed to vote as individuals. Since Rodney was not in Philadelphia, only Read and McKean would vote on behalf of Delaware. With Read being opposed to independence and McKean being for it, they would succeed only in canceling each other’s vote. In that case, Delaware would not take a stand on the issue and therefore, unanimity of the colonies would be sacrificed.

McKean saw this unacceptable scenario unfolding and sent a messenger to Dover, Delaware to impress upon Rodney the need to immediately return to Philadelphia. Rodney responded without delay, leaving Dover on July 1 with the hope of arriving in Philadelphia, 80 miles away, on the following day, July 2.

George Washington

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The actual chair George Washington sat in during the Second Continental Congress and the early years of the nation.Cobblestone street in the Old City of Philadelphia.The Liberty Bell with its former home, Independence Hall, aka Pennsylvania State House, in the background.
The actual chair George Washington sat in during the Second Continental Congress and the early years of the nation.
The actual chair George Washington sat in during the Second Continental Congress and the early years of the nation. | Source
Cobblestone street in the Old City of Philadelphia.
Cobblestone street in the Old City of Philadelphia. | Source
The Liberty Bell with its former home, Independence Hall, aka Pennsylvania State House, in the background.
The Liberty Bell with its former home, Independence Hall, aka Pennsylvania State House, in the background. | Source

Caesar Rodney's Ride

At this point it would be good to reveal the ill health of Caesar Rodney. He was afflicted with a terrible case of facial cancer. The condition was so advanced that he made a practice of wearing a green, silk covering over the side of his face. In addition, he suffered greatly with asthma.

In spite of these ailments, Rodney headed out for Philadelphia. The exact route is not known for sure, but it is believed that he would have taken the quickest route, that of the post riders. As far as is known, Rodney rode, stopping only to change horses and eat.

It must have been a grueling ride, not only because of the distance and his poor health, but also because of the weather. A Thunderstorm dogged his steps for much of the journey. When it wasn’t raining, the heat was nearly unbearable. Following cobble streets, dirt roads, dangerous river crossings and dilapidated bridges he arrived in time to vote in favor of independence. Wearing boots and spurs, Caesar Rodney strode into the Pennsylvania State House and walked out of Independence Hall.

Declaration of Independence

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Declaration House (Rebuilt mid 1970s).  Where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence.Copy of Declaration of Independence made on July 5, 1776 by John DunlapCopy of Declaration of Independence made on July 5, 1776 by John Dunlap
Declaration House (Rebuilt mid 1970s).  Where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence.
Declaration House (Rebuilt mid 1970s). Where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. | Source
Copy of Declaration of Independence made on July 5, 1776 by John Dunlap
Copy of Declaration of Independence made on July 5, 1776 by John Dunlap | Source
Copy of Declaration of Independence made on July 5, 1776 by John Dunlap
Copy of Declaration of Independence made on July 5, 1776 by John Dunlap | Source

Declaration of Independence

It is not known for certain what Rodney said to the assembly when he arrived, but the following words have been handed down as representative of his statement.

As I believe the voice of my constituents and of all

sensible and honest men is in favor of independence,

my own judgment concurs with them. I vote for independence.

The outcome was impacted by much more than Rodney’s single vote. Prior to July 2, Pennsylvania and South Carolina were settled on voting against Independence. Moved by Rodney’s determination, the delegates of both colonies voted in favor of Independence. New York was prevented from voting on July 2 because they had not received their voting instructions from the New York Assembly. Ten days later, they joined the rest of the colonies, voting for independence.

Two days later, on July 4, 1776, The Continental Congress voted to adopt the Declaration of Independence, although New York abstained for ten days before they added their votes in favor.

The unity of the colonies was preserved and a new nation was born.

Caesar Rodney's Ride

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    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Having lived in Delaware, I was acquainted with Mr. Rodney. I also lived near Rodney Square.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      3 years ago from Flagstaff, AZ

      Alancaster, it can be a little disconcerting to realize who has held the reins of history.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      3 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Determination often makes heroes of sick men.

      Strictly speaking Georgie wasn't considered fit to reign - not even over Britain. The broadsheets (this was in the early days of newspapers) lampooned 'Farmer George', who was interned at various insititutions in England during the course of his reign, when he wasn't talking to trees. His son George, the Prince Regent, was equally lampooned for his profligacy, spending money as if it grew on trees whilst the population at large was smothered by the taxman (this was in the days of smuggling, when everything was taxed to the eaves to pay for campaigns against the French, and to prop up the regime - even minor nobility were 'customers' of the smuggling gangs). So we didn't fare any better, and couldn't get shot of the Hanoverians as easily as you did.

      George IV had to have his spending curbed by Parliament, and his brother the Duke of York owed money everywhere. His youngest brother William - 'silly Billy' - managed to halt the Hanoverian spending spree, but wasn't known for much else. Victoria ushered in a different age... Empire and all that, Crimea, Afghanistan (first time), Zulu War, Boer War (x 2), Sudan... We couldn't ship our convicts to the American colonies any more, so they went to Australia instead. That says as much about us as Australia. Still, it was more merciful than hanging them for pilfering or setting up trade unions (Tolpuddle Martyrs)..

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      3 years ago from Flagstaff, AZ

      I really liked that story. The first time I heard about it was during my first tour of Independence Hall here in Philadelphia. I've been there so many times now, that it has become very familiar. It is somewhat of a surreal feeling to be so well acquainted with the places where Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and all the others lived and worked.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      3 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Interesting read. I've never heard of Rodney even though he played an important part in our independence from England. Thank's for sharing. Voted up..

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      3 years ago from Flagstaff, AZ

      Hi Stella, Thanks for taking time to read my article. I'm working in Philadelphia temporarily, so I try to write some things about the city now and then. Nice to see you today.

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 

      3 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Hi great read, but I must admit I never heard of Rodney. A lot of History that I do not know. My husband is from Delaware and he knew who Rodney was. Nice hub Stella

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Great historical read. This old history teacher thanks you.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      3 years ago from Flagstaff, AZ

      Hi Eric, Yes, he was a fine patriot, indeed. Thanks for stopping by on this beautiful Sunday morning.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Wonderful, as always a delightful read, thank you. I had never heard of this fine patriot.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      3 years ago from Flagstaff, AZ

      Don, I'm happy I have been able to introduce you to this interesting person. I'm looking for one of those Delaware Quarters to hang onto. Thanks for visiting and for sharing my article.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      3 years ago from Flagstaff, AZ

      Frank, thanks for reading and sharing. Glad you enjoyed it.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      3 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I had never heard of Rodney, until now. Great bit of American History. Up and sharing.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      3 years ago from Shelton

      this docu-story really delivers Cam.. the photos add to this histroy and makes it a wonderful read honestly... voted up and shared

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