Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor
Volume VIII, Issue XXa
Caesar Rodney's Midnight Ride
Now one was neither Tory nor Whig; it was either dependence or independence.” Caesar Rodney, after Lexington and Concord.
We all know the famous story of Paul Revere's midnight ride. Virginians celebrate the memory of Jack Jouett, who rode to Monticello to warn Thomas Jefferson of approaching British troops.Jefferson and the Virginia Legislature were able to escape across the Blue Ridge Mountains to Staunton. Still, the most memorable midnight ride that saved the young republic has to be that of Caesar Rodney. Without Rodney's ride, there would not have been a republic at all.
Caesar Rodney was born in 1728 on his family's 800 acre farm, Byfield, on St. Jones Neck in East Dover Hundred, Kent County, Delaware. The family could trace its ancestry to the Adelmare family of Treviso, Italy. Caesar Rodney's farm was a large one, worked by slaves, and it provided wheat and barley to markets in Philadelphia. His brother Thomas described him as possessing a: "great fund of wit and humor of the pleasing kind, so that his conversation was always bright and strong and conducted by wisdom... He always lived a bachelor, was generally esteemed, and indeed very popular." Indeed, his talents found him taking his place in public service. He served as sheriff and in a number of other positions. He joined Thomas McKean as a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress in 1765 and was the Brigadier General of the Delaware Militia. He went on to serve in the Continental Congress.
Here is where he made his most courageous contribution to the cause of American independence. In 1776 the vote to adopt the Declaration saw the Delaware delegation deadlocked. This was a problem as the delegates to the convention had decided that an all or nothing approach was essential. Of Delaware's two present delegates Mckean favored independence. The other delegate, George Read, did not. Rodney, who was also qualified to vote, was at home performing his duties as General of the militia when the initial voting took place. Mckean had sent word to Rodney that his vote would be needed in Philadelphia... but the message never got to him. Rodney was a bachelor and his love interest at the time was being used by the Tories to divert his participation! She was intercepting the messages! By the time McKean's message finally got to Rodney, the first deadlocked vote had already taken place and it was well into the evening. Rodney mounted his horse and rode through a great thunderstorm along the muddy road to Philadelphia. Lightning illuminated the wet road as he sloshed along as rapidly as conditions would allow. For seventy miles he rode.
Rodney was not a well man. He suffered from a rare form of cancer that disfigured his face and sapped his strength. No doubt he knew the ride could kill him, but he pressed on. He was committed to an act of treason that might lead to his death if he did survive. But he pressed on through the darkness. He reached Philadelphia by mid-morning. Spattered with mud, he stepped into the chamber just in time to cast his historic vote. Now the votes by all colonies who actually voted was unanimous! The framers rightly considered this essential to the success of the Declaration. Without Caesar Rodney's heroic ride, there would have not been a July 4th for us to celebrate! Rodney served in the war effort, even fighting alongside George Washington, who said of him: “The readiness with which you took to the field at the period most critical to our affairs, the industry you used in bringing out the militia of the Delaware State and the alertness observed by you in forwarding on the troops from Trenton, reflect the highest honor on your character and place your attachment to the cause in a most distinguished point of view.” As a young republic took its place in the world, Rodney continued to serve but his health was now rapidly declining. He died in 1784. [1.]
His legacy lives on today though. My friend Brandy Leigh Messick and her four sons are proud descendents of this great patriot and continue his mission to promote the values of this great nation to this day! Special thanks to her for providing additional background for this article.