Delaware Society of the Sons of the American Revolution
America 250
Daughters of the American Revolution
Children of the American Revolution
Sons of the Revolution
Atlantic Middle States of the Sons of the American Revolution
The Delaware Society of the
Sons of the American Revolution

Delaware Leaders and Documents, 1775-1783

Delaware and the Congresses | Signers of Key Documents | Presidents (Governors) of Delaware

Further Study I

Delaware's Representation at the Various Congresses 

Several "congresses" held by representatives from many of the British colonies in North America. Canada and Florida were usually not present.

The Stamp Act Congress met in Albany, New York in October 1765. It was assembled to make evident and explicit the general concensus among the colonies that the Stamp Act (passed by Parliament in March 1765) was both unjust and illegal. The Stamp Act required that (printed) stamps be purchased and applied (glued-on) to many items (such as deeds, licenses, playing cards, and almanacs). It was essentially a tax that was levied by the British Parliament rather than by the colonial assemblies -- which had previously been the only bodies that levied taxes related to transactions internal to the colonies.

The First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia PA on Sept 5, 1774. It was assembled to develop and present a unified position on taxation and trade. It issued a Declaration of Rights in October, 1774, stating that colonial assemblies had the right to enact laws on all subjects except foreign (outside the British territories) trade. This group planned for a Second Congress to meet in May, 1775.

As delegates to the Second Continental Congress were gathering in April of 1775 the battles of Lexington and Concord (Massachusetts) occurred. The representatives turned their attention from fighting British-imposed taxes to providing a defense against further British military incursions and to evaluating the feasibility of declaring independence from Great Britain.

When the Second Continental Congress started Delaware was not a colony, but simply the "lower three counties" of Pennsylvania. However, Delaware had a long tradition of managing its own affairs, and on June 15, 1776 -- now known in Delaware as "Separation Day" -- Delaware declared independence from both Pennsylvania and Britain, thus gaining the right to its own vote in the Second Continental Congress. Each state had only one vote in this Congress, and the state's vote was determined by majority vote of the representatives sent from that state.

There was no legal basis (no Constitution or Bylaws) when the Second Continental Congress first met, and the colonial assemblies had not granted it any authority. Still, this Congress declared independence, raised an army and navy, secured income from the states, negotiated for foreign aid, and coordinated U.S. military, political, and economic activities for nearly six years (May 1775-March 1781) by mutual consent of the states.

On March 1, 1781, the Congress of the Confederation became the governing body under the Articles of Confederation. This unicameral (single-body) body governed for eight years.

The U.S. Constitution was approved by the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in September, 1787, but it would not become "the law of the land" until it was ratified by two-thirds of the states. In June of 1788 New Hampshire became the nineth state to ratify (making two-thirds of the states), and the states began the process of electing the first Congress and the first President and Vice President. When we speak about Congress of the United States we refer to the House of Representatives and the Senate together -- a bicameral (two-body), which was first sworn in on March 4, 1789.

Delaware is called "the First State" because it was the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution -- doing so on December 7, 1787, known as "Ratification Day" in Delaware. The first motion passed by the Delaware Society SAR at its organizational meeting in January, 1890, was to hold an annual Ratification Day Dinner to commemorate this event.


Signers of Key Documents 

Links below are to Bios of the Founding Fathers, by John Vinci, a Web site which has biographies of all signers of these documents.
Delaware Patriot 1776: Declaration
of Independence
1781: Articles of
1787: U. S.
Richard Bassett not a delegate not a delegate SIGNER
Gunning Bedford not a delegate not a delegate SIGNER
Jacob Broom not a delegate not a delegate SIGNER
John Dickinson a PA delegate;
did not vote or sign
Thomas McKean SIGNER SIGNER made motion in PA
for PA to ratify it
George Read SIGNER (after
initial opposition)
too ill
to be a delegate
Caesar Rodney SIGNER busy as president
(governor) of DE
died in 1783
Nicholas vanDyke not a delegate not a delegate SIGNER

Presidents (Governors) of Delaware 1777-1789 

On June 15, 1776 the Assembly of the Lower Three Counties (of the colony of Pennsylvania) declared themselves to be named Delaware and to be independent from both Pennsylvania and Britain. That act further specified that all incumbent officials should continue in their positions until a constitution was written. Strange though it may seem, no one was named to be chief executive of Delaware (to take the place of the royal governor -- William Penn) until the constitution -- adopted in November 1776 -- defined how to elect the chief executive, at that time called the President of Delaware. John McKinley was elected as the first President of Delaware and took office in February, 1777. After 1793 the chief executive was called the Governor of Delaware.
Person Dates
John McKinley February 12, 1777 - September 22, 1777
Thomas McKean September 22, 1777 - October 20, 1777
George Read, Sr. October 20, 1777 - March 31, 1778
Caesar Rodney March 31, 1778 - November 6, 1781
John Dickinson November 13, 1781 - November 4, 1782
John Cook November 4, 1782 - February 1, 1783
Nicholas VanDyke February 1, 1783 - October 27, 1786
Thomas Collins October 28, 1786 - March 29, 1789


Delaware’s Oath of Allegiance

This form was used as the official record of a person's
commitment to the struggle for independence.

Affirmation or Oath

I........................ do solemnly declare and affirm (or swear as the case may be) that I do not hold my self bound to yield any allegiance or obedience to the king of Great Brittain [sic], his heirs or successors and that I will be true and faithful to the Delaware State, and will support and maintain the freedom and independence and constitution thereof against all open and traitorous conspiracies, and will disclose and make known to the Commander-in-chief for the time being, or to some Judge or Justice of the Peace for this State all treasons or traiterous conspiracies, attempts or combinations against the same, or the government thereof, which shall come to my knowledge.

                    Aug. 19, 1778


For Further Study 

Biographies of Delaware's Congressional delegates 1774-1788 [by Russ Pickett] covers the Second Continental Congress and the Congress of the Confederation.

Delaware's Governors [by Russ Pickett] has more information on these and later governors,

The Delaware Public Archives has Delaware's original copy of the Bill of Rights on public display for six months of the year.

Barratts Chapel Museum, near Dover DE, holds the archival records of the Methodist Church, many of which date from the time of the Revolution.

Revolutionary Patriots of Delaware, 1775-1783, by Henry Peden, contains information on 5,000 Delawareans who served the American cause. We presented the author (a member of the Maryland Society SAR) with an award for this service to the people of Delaware.