Friday, July 2, 2010

A Real American Hero

Magnet # 282:  Sights of Delaware

Material:  Wood, Laminated Paper

Purchased By:  Me

Delaware may be a pretty small state, but it has a few fierce figures associated with it, like the Blue Hen Chicken, featured on this magnet. It's the official state bird and back when cock fighting was acceptable, it achieved a renowned reputation for being a fierce fighter during the Revolutionary War. But there was another tough individual in Delaware at that time who had one of his finest moments on this day in 1776. That was when Caesar Rodney marched into Independence Hall in boots and spurs still dirty from a night of riding. Thanks to his late arrival, Delaware had the votes it needed to declare its independence from Britain.

Even though he is featured on the Delaware state quarter, I had never heard of Caesar Rodney until I traveled to the state last year. And now that I'm more familiar with this historic figure, it's odd to consider that someone like Paul Revere is a household name while much fewer people even know of Rodney's accomplishment. His midnight ride certainly has its similarities with that of Revere's.  He was born in Kent County near Dover in 1728 to a wealthy family.  Rodney grew up to be a very wise, humorous man who never married and entered into public service.  He first served as Sheriff of Kent County for three years, the maximum, then went on to other jobs such as Register of Wills and Justice of the Peace and became involved with Delaware's Country Party, which was in favor of separating from Britain.  He served as a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress and the First Continental Congress.  Rodney had a good deal of obligations and it was because of his post as Brigadier General of Delaware's militia that he had to spend a significant time away from his role as a delegate at the Second Continental Congress.  Delaware had a large Loyalist population and he was having to put down their insurrections.  But when a motion for independence had been put to the floor on June 30, it became clear that the only two other Delaware delegates present were divided on the vote.  And it was very important to the Congress to have a unanimous vote from all of the colonies.  So Thomas McKean, the other Delaware delegate who was planning to vote for independence sent urgent word to Rodney of the dire situation.  The message reached him on the night of July 1 and Rodney wasted no time, riding into a night that was filled with wind and thunderstorms.  Part of the ride may have been in a carriage, but for most of it, he simply rode on his horse.  He was 48 years old then. That seems a little old now, but in 1776 that would have been really old and I imagine the ride wasn't easy on him.  But he made it through the 80 mile journey to participate in the unanimous vote for independence.  And when the time came to sign the Declaration of Independence, like all the rest of the men who wrote their names, Rodney knew that the signature he put on the document might bring about his death.  But in his case it was particularly dire.  He had been suffering from a cancerous growth on his face and it's believed that his best hope for a cure was to travel to Britain, as doctors in the colonies had not been able to help him.  But now that would be impossible.  The move also cost him politically, for a time, but he was undeterred and even briefly assisted George Washington on the battlefield.  But Washington thought Rodney would be able to help best if he returned to Delaware and put down the British and their sympathizers.  In 1778, he was made President of Delaware, a position he would hold for over three years.  This role allowed him to do all he could to raise troops, money, and supplies to defeat the British.  But his health began to decline and he was eventually forced to relinquish his role.  He was so popular with political leaders in Delaware that he continued to be elected to office, sometimes just to pay him respect.  Fortunately, Rodney was able to see the efforts he had made on behalf of America pay off when they won the Revolutionary War.  But he was not able to witness much of the creation of the United States as he passed away on June 29, 1784 at the family plantation where he had been born.

Would the colonies have voted to separate from Britain if Caesar Rodney had not rode all through that dark and stormy night?  It's likely, but his efforts certainly made the process much less complicated.  History may have forgotten Rodney to a certain degree, but he was a devoted patriot who gave all he could for America.  And when we soon celebrate the anniversary of our country's independence, we should keep this hero, his contemporaries, and the sacrifices they made to create the freedom we have in mind.

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