This paper was read before the Historical Society of Delaware by the late Caesar A. Rodney, on January 2, 1787. His brother, Mr. John M. C. Rodney, at the request of the society, has kindly permitted its publication.
MR. PRESIDENT, MEMBERS OF THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN:
The sinking of the sun behind the western hills tonight completes the century that has elapsed since the close of the second battle of Trenton, or, as the writers of that period frequently called it, the cannonade at Trent Town.
And as the rays of the rising sun break forth tomorrow morning, they will mark the passage of one hundred years since the glorious battle of Princeton was fought and won; a battle that, in the short space of one-half hour, decided the fate of the United States, and assured the world that they would maintain their position among the nations of the earth.
It therefore seems appropriate, at this centennial anniversary of so important an event, that we should recall to mind the history of that period, and that any additional information that exists concerning it should be made public.
Our historians have told us of the dreadful condition of public affairs on the 1st of December, 1776, when the cause of American Independence seemed lost forever, and have fully informed us how that brilliant campaign, which began on the night of Christmas, 1776, and ended when our army encamped at Morristown, rolled back the dark cloud that threatened our national existence.
I shall not, therefore, attempt to present a compilation of what has already been written and re-written so often, but will at once make known to you the facts in regard to the remarkable narrative that I shall bring to your notice this evening.
The papers and correspondence of my great-grandfather, Thomas Rodney, and his brother, Caesar Rodney, having come by descent into my possession, I find among them a vast amount of interesting matter, correspondence, and official documents relating to the early history of our nation, and especially our Diamond State; and none exceed in interest those which relate to the Princeton campaign of 1776 and 1777. The historical material in my hands bearing upon this period is so voluminous that it might be, with slight amplification, be readily extended into a bulky volume, but want of time will, in this paper, compel me to exclude much I would gladly introduce and confine myself to the main facts, without commenting at all upon many points which require further explanation.
The history of General Caesar Rodney, the signer of the Declaration of Independence, is too well known to require repetition here, but his youngest brother it may be necessary to say that he was born on the 4th of June, 17744, near Dover, and during his life filled many positions of trust and honor.
I find that he was register and judge of the Probate of Wills and clerk of Orphansí Court. Member of the General Assembly many times, member of the Council of Safety, and member and president of the Committee of Inspection of Kent County. He was judge of the Admiralty Court and Court of Common Pleas of the Delaware State; twice a delegate to the Continental Congress, which he entered for the first time in 1781, and in 1803 was appointed chief-justice of the Mississippi Territory, and died at Natchez in 1811. The town of Rodney, on the Mississippi, was named for him.
During the war Thomas Rodney was captain of a militia company known as the Dover Light Infantry, was afterwards colonel of the Eighth Regiment of Delaware militia.
Early in September, 1775, the Council of Safety of the Three Lower Counties, a body composed of seven members from each county, and charged by the General Assembly with the safety of the colony, organized the militia of the counties by causing lists to be made of all the able-bodied male inhabitants, between the ages of sixteen and fifty years, and enrolling them into companies. From these companies eight regiments were formed, three from New Castle, two from Kent, and three from Sussex Counties, and John McKinly, Caesar Rodney, and John Dagworthy were appointed brigadier-generals. Caesar Rodney was subsequently made major-general and commander-in-chief of the State forces. In this capacity he twice led a portion of the State troops into active service, once during the Princeton campaign, during which he was placed in command of the post at Trenton, where he remained nearly two months, and again during the invasion of the State previous to the battle of Brandywine.
The generalís star indicating the military rank of Caesar Rodney, and worn by him during the war, is now in my possession. It is rather rudely cut from a thin sheet of silver, and closely resembles a policemanís badge of the present day. It was worn upon the left breast instead of upon the shoulder-strap, as is the custom of the present time.
Under the authority of the Council of Safety the regiment of Colonel Haslet was raised, he having been previously appointed colonel of one of the militia regiments from Kent County; but its glorious deeds, its trials and sufferings, have been so ably described by Colonel Whiteley in a recent paper as to leave but little more to be said concerning it.
But the time for which Colonel Hasletís regiment enlisted expired on the 1st of January, 1777, and another, a Continental regiment, was being organized at home, in Delaware, to replace it.
These facts induced most of the officers and men of the small remaining portion of this regiment to overlook the necessities of the situation, and return home in the hope of obtaining positions in the permanent organization, so that at the battle of Trenton the First Delaware Regiment was represented by only four officers, Colonel Haslet, Captain Holland, Doctor Gilder, and Ensign Wilson, and two privates, according to Colonel Hasletís own statement, and when the army reached Morristown, the adjutant, Captain Holland, was the only member of the regiment left.
In September, 1776, a regiment of militia, under command of Colonel Samuel Patterson, left this State to join the ďFlying Camp.Ē They were to serve for three months, and left the army promptly on the expiration of their term of service, on the 1st of December following, just when their aid was most needed.
In the alarming crisis which arose at this time, Congress, then sitting in Philadelphia, made the most urgent appeal to the militia of the neighboring States turn out and support General Washington until the Continental army could be reorganized, and under this appeal three companies of New Castle County militia left Wilmington on the 16th day of December, 1776, under the command of Major Thomas Duff.
It appears from a note of General Mifflin that Major Duff, through a mistake of orders, did not join him on the march to Trenton, and therefore the troops under his command were not in the engagements at either Trenton or Princeton, and I find no evidence that there were any Delaware troops engaged in those battles except that a few remained of Colonel Hasletís First Delaware, and one company of Kent County militia under command of Captain Thomas Rodney.
When the militia colony was organized, Thomas Rodney was elected captain of the Dover company.
Acting under the dictates of patriotism, and in obedience to the appeal of the Continental Congress, a portion of this company marched from Dover on the 14th of December, 1776, under command of their captain, who, during the whole time they were in his service, kept an accurate daily record of every occurrence of any importance. This journal I now propose to read to you as it was written one hundred years ago.