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Once Upon A Time In Delaware was written for Delaware children by Katharine Pyle, sister of writer and artist Howard Pyle. It was first published in 1911.
The foreword by the Delaware Society of the Colonial Dames of America begins, "Dear Girls and Boys, these true stories are written just for you." In such books, I doubt too many people worry overmuch about a little apocrypha sneaking in here and there.
(Well, I know someone like Hendrik Van Loon, who got America enthused about world history in the 1920s with his book The Story Of Man, also aimed at young readers, would argue adamantly that truth is far more amazing and entertaining than fiction. And since I brought it up, let me invite you to track down a copy of Van Loon's book so you might see what the stir was about and why it had gone through 32 printings between 1921 and 1926; imagine the buzz created by his tie-in radio show; and mourn the lack of any such figure in our time to get Americans excited about knowledge.)
Katharine Pyle's detailed account of Caesar Rodney's ride had me wondering more than any of her other chapters about the dividing line between the bare facts and the brushed-in color. After all, every version you hear is at least a little different. In fact, whenever Caesar Rodney comes up, the writer or speaker is obliged to point out how sketchy our knowledge is of, not only his ride, but also of the man, himself.
So maybe Katharine Pyle really had her sources for the following account?
ONCE UPON A TIME IN DELAWARE by Katharine Pyle 61 Chapter V. How Once Upon A Time Caesar Rodney Rode For Freedom YEARS passed, and the Counties on the Delaware(1), under the wise laws of William Penn(2) grew and prospered. Dover was laid out and settled; New Castle flourished; Lewes became a town. Instead of the rough buildings of the early settlers, handsome country houses and comfortable farms were to be seen. The manners and customs of the people were still very plain and simple. Very few foreign articles were used in this part of the country. Clothes were woven, cut and sewed at home. Beef, pork, poultry, milk, butter, cheese, wheat and Indian corn were raised on the farms; the fruit trees yielded freely, and there was a great deal of wild game; the people lived not only comfortably but luxuriously(3). The Counties on the Delaware were very fertile, 62 and very little labor was needed to make the land yield all that was required. The people had a great deal of leisure time for visiting and pleasure. They were always gathering together at one house or another, the younger people to dance or frolic, and the older men to amuse themselves with wrestling, running races, jumping, throwing the disc and other rustic and manly exercises. On Christmas Eve there was a universal firing of guns, and all through the holidays the people traveled from house to house, feasting and eating Twelfth cake, and playing games(4). So for years, life slipped pleasantly by in these southern Counties, and then suddenly there came a change. There began to be talk of war with England. News was eagerly watched for. There was no mail at that time. Letters were carried by stage-coach, or by messengers riding on horseback from town to town. In the old days, the people had been content to send their servants for letters. Now, when a messenger, hot and dusty, came galloping into the town, a crowd would be waiting, and would gather round him. And it was thrilling news that the dusty messengers carried in those days, the days of 1775. England was determined to tax her colonies, and the colonies were rising in rebellion. Boston had thrown whole cargoes of tea into her harbor rather than pay the tax on it. Then the first shots of the Revolution were fired at Concord and Lexington. At the sound of those shots the Counties on Delaware awoke. Drums were beat, muskets were cleaned, ladies sewed flags for the troops 63 to carry; men enlisted, and the militia drilled. But still it was hoped by many that things would settle back peaceably. But worse and worse news came from the north. Boston harbor had been shut up by the English. The people were starving. Warships from England had brought over more troops (many of them hired Germans), and had quartered them on the town. All the country was hot with anger over these things. Food and clothing were sent to Boston. General Washington raised troops of a thousand men, at his own expense, and marched north to her relief. General Caesar Rodney was one of the important men of Dover at that time. He was a tall, pale, strange looking man, with flashing eyes, and a face, as we are told, "no larger than a good sized apple." He was a general in the militia, and was heart and soul for independence. He rode about the country, calling meetings, speaking to the people, and urging them to enlist, and urging them, too, to raise money to give to the government. He was at this time suffering from a painful disease, but he spared neither strength nor comfort in the cause of freedom. Mr. George Read of New Castle was a very important man in the colonies, too. He was a patriot, and belonged to the militia, but he was very anxious not to begin a war. He agreed that the time might come when the colonies would have to be free, but he thought that time had not yet come. He hoped that when it did, the colonies might win their freedom peaceably, and not by battle and bloodshed. He was a calm, quiet, 64 learned man, rather slow of speech, and different in many ways from his quick and fiery friend, Rodney. A third man who was important in Colonial times was Mr. Thomas McKean. He was a lawyer in New Castle, and was a friend of both these men. Like Rodney, he was for freedom at any cost. In 1776, when the Colonial Congress was called to meet in Philadelphia, these three men, Rodney, Read and McKean, were sent to it as delegates by the Counties on the Delaware(5). This meeting of Congress in the summer of 1776 was the most important meeting that had ever been held. From north and south the delegates came riding to it, from all the thirteen colonies; and they met in the Committee Room of the State House in Philadelphia, Many serious questions were to be decided by these delegates this year. But the most serious of all the questions was whether the Colonies should declare themselves free and independent states. If they did this, it would mean war with England. While the question was still argued about in the committee room, Caesar Rodney was sent for to come back to the Counties on the Delaware. Riots and quarrels and disturbances had broken out there, and no one could quiet them as well as Caesar Rodney. He was very glad to go, for it seemed as though it might be a long time before the delegates would decide on anything, and he hoped to be able to raise some money for the government. He started out early one morning on horseback, 65 cantering easily along through the cool of the day. It was eighty miles from Philadelphia to Dover, and he broke it by stopping overnight at New Castle, which was rather more than half way home. The road he took was the old King's Highroad, which ran on down through the Counties on Delaware, through Wilmington and New Castle and Dover, as far as Lewes. General Rodney found a great deal to do down in the Counties. The Whigs and Tories had come to blows. One Tory gentleman only just escaped being tarred and feathered, and carried on a rail. Caesar Rodney was the one who had to quiet all the troubles. Beside this he made speeches, raised moneys and helped get together fresh troops of militia. But busy though he was, he managed to find some time for visiting about among his friends. Especially he found time to visit at the house of a young Quaker widow named Sarah Rowland. Mistress Rowland lived in Lewes. She was a Tory, but she was very beautiful and witty, and Caesar Rodney was said to be in love with her. He might often have been seen, between his busy times, cantering along the road that led to Lewes and to her house. Mistress Rowland, as a Quaker, believed all fighting to be wrong, but she was always friendly with the General. Perhaps she hoped in some way to be able to help the Tories by things the General told her, or by having him at her house. At any rate she always made him welcome. Now, while General Rodney was still busy down in the Counties on the Delaware, with his work and pleasure, great things were happening in Philadelphia. 66 The Declaration of Independence was finally drawn up and written out. It was laid on the table before the Colonial Congress, and the delegates were given five days to make up their minds to agree, whether they would sign it or not. They considered and discussed it in secret behind closed doors. One after another, the delegates from various colonies agreed to sign. At last, only the Counties on the Delaware were needed to carry the agreement. They could not sign the Declaration, for they had now only two delegates present at Congress. Of these, one (McKean) was for it, and one (Mr. Read) was against it, so it was a tie between them, and Rodney, whose vote could have decided the matter, was down in the Counties on Delaware, eighty miles away. McKean was in despair. He sent message after message down to Delaware, begging the General to return to Philadelphia and give his deciding vote, but no answer came. The fact was that General Rodney did not receive any of these messages McKean sent. He was visiting Mistress Rowland in Lewes at the time, and she managed to keep the letters back from him. She hoped that he might know nothing about the Declaration until it had been voted on and the whole matter decided. Even if all the other Colonies decided to sign, it would weaken the union very much if the Colonies on the Delaware did not sign. On the third of July, McKean sent a last message down to ROdney, passionately begging him to come to 67 Philadelphia. The vote of the delegates was to be taken July the fourth, and if the General was not there the vote of the Counties on Delaware could not be cast for the Declaration of Independence, and it might be lost. On this same day, July the third, 1776, Caesar Rodney was chatting with Mistress Rowland in the parlor of her house at Lewes, so one tradition goes. It had seemed strange to him that he had not heard from McKean lately, but he felt sure that if anything important were happening at Philadelphia he would receive word at once. So he put his anxieties aside and laughed and talked with the widow. Suddenly, the parlor door was thrown open and a maid-servant came into the room. She crossed over to where General Rodney was sitting. "There!" she cried. "I'm an honest girl and I won't keep those back any longer!" and she threw a packet of letters into the General's lap. Rodney picked them up and looked at them. They were in Mr. McKean's hand-writing. Hastily he ran through them. They were the letters Sarah Rowland had been keeping back,--the letters begging and imploring him to hasten north to Philadelphia. Without a word, General Rodney started to his feet, and ran out to where his horse was standing before the house(6). Sarah Rowland called to him, but he did not heed her. He sprang to the saddle and gathered up the reins, and a moment later he was galloping madly north toward Dover. It was a long ride, but a 68 longer still was before him. The heat was stifling, and the dust rose in clouds as he thundered along the King's Highroad. At Dover, he stopped to change his horse, and here he was met by McKean's last messenger, with a letter, urging him to haste, haste. Indeed, there was not an hour to waste. Philadelphia was eighty miles away, and the vote was to be taken the next morning. On went Rodney on his fresh horse. Daylight was gone. The moon sailed slowly up the sky, and the trees were clumps of blackness on either hand as he rode. At Chester, he again changed horses, but he did not stop for either rest or food. Soon, he was riding on again. It was in the morning of July fourth, that the rider, exhausted and white with dust, drew rein before the State House door in Philadelphia. McKean was there watching for him. "Am I in time?" called Rodney as he swung himself from. his horse. "In time, but no more," answered McKean. Side by side he and Rodney entered Independence Hall. There sat the delegates in a semi-circle. Rodney and McKean took their places. The Declaration of Independence lay on the table before them. It was being voted on. One after the other the colonies were called on and one after another they gave their votes for it. The Counties on Delaware were called on. Mr. McKean rose and voted for it. Mr. Read was, as usual against it. Then Caesar Rodney rose in his place. His face 69 looked white and worn under its dust, but he spoke in a clear, firm voice. "I vote for Independence." And so the day was won. From the belfry of Independence Hall, the bells pealed out over the Quaker City. Bonfires blazed out, people shouted for joy, and the thirteen American Colonies, strong in union, stood pledged together for liberty.
Has to be be true if they even have a picture of Sarah Rowland's house, right?
Then I stumbled on a slim book called "Caesar Rodney - Patriot; Delaware's hero for all times and all seasons" by William P. Frank (1975). It had a chapter called "The Sarah Rowland Myth", which set the record straight.
CAESAR RODNEY - PATRIOT by William P. Frank 27 Chapter: The Sarah Rowland Myth It is ironic that two native Delawareans were responsible for the greatest damage to the image of Caesar Rodney. Without any foundation in fact, George Alfred Townsend and Katharine Pyle perpetrated a story that Rodney had been frittering away his time in Lewes with a Tory woman when he should have been in Philadelphia, debating and getting ready to vote for independence. Townsend concocted this yarn in a lengthy poem he wrote and orated in Georgetown on July 5, 1880. Miss Pyle accepted it as factual. She interwove it in her story of Rodney in her otherwise delightful child's history, Once Upon a Time in Delaware, first published in 1911. Townsend was born in Georgetown in 1841 and during the Civil War (1861-1865) became a noted correspondent for Philadelphia and 28 New York newspapers. After the war, he saw himself as a popular novelist; he never suffered any feelings of guilt about changing historic facts. Townsend also imagined himself as a poet laureate of Delaware and, so inspired, turned out scores of doggerel verses, with themes dipped from Delaware history. And so, on July 5, 1880, he read a lengthy poem about Rodney's ride. In it, he portrayed Rodney as staying in Lewes enraptured by the wiles of one Sarah Rowland, a widow and member of a leading Tory family. Townsend did tell of Rodney's concern over not having heard from Thomas McKean about what was going on in Philadelphia. But he also depicted Mistress Rowland as a kind of Sussex County Delilah, feeding Rodney dishes of terrapin and always filling his glass with the best Madeira in Lewes. But at the crucial time, which Townsend estimates was July 3, Mistress Rowland's maid upset the plot to keep Delaware from joining other states in the Declaration of Independence by throwing a packet of McKean's letters into Rodney's lap, telling him Mistress Rowland had kept them from him on purpose. After scanning the letters, Rodney, horrified and shocked, called for his horse. Ignoring the pleas of Mistress Rowland, he dashed off for Philadelphia. Enroute, Townsend noted, Rodney was greeted by another messenger from McKean, urging him on because time was running out. As Townsend's story went, Rodney arrived in Philadelphia on July 4, just in the nick of time to vote for independence. It was a dramatic story, involving the wiles of a charming woman, and all that. But was it true? Sussex Countians delighted in the yarn. Many believed it to be true, some even to this day. Miss Pyle took up the story and incorporated it in her chapter "Caesar Rodney Rode for Freedom" in Once Upon a Time in Delaware, published by the Colonial Dames of Delaware. In a footnote, it was stated: "After much thought and trouble, the Colonial Dames have decided to choose the most detailed tradition as being possibly also the most accurate - the Sarah Rowland story." But a Wilmington manufacturer, Samuel Bancroft, Jr., became interested in the authenticity of the story in 1911. Bancroft, who had 29 financed the publication of Townsend's poems, persisted in getting from Townsend the background of the Rodney poem. Finally, somewhat begrudgingly, Townsend confessed in a letter postmarked May 14, 1911. He wrote that he had composed the poem from notes while staying in the Burton Hotel, Rehoboth Beach. Townsend also wrote: "I would not have started Rodney at Lewes without having book authority for that point. I may have got my matter from Sanderson's Lives of the Signers but am not sure. "I think Sarah Rowland was my creation to account for Rodney's absence from Congress such a [long] time. The Rodneys appear to think nobody should handle their ancient dead, except with scripture evidence." Except for Townsend and Miss Pyle, no student or scholar of Delaware history ever took the Lewes-to-Philadelphia ride seriously. Townsend, in 1880, apparently was not familiar with Thomas Rodney's diary in which he tells of Caesar's starting out from his farm near Dover to vote for Lee's resolution for Independence in Philadelphia. Also, in 1889, at the unveiling of the Caesar Rodney monument in the graveyard of Christ Episcopal Church, Dover, the principal speaker was Thomas F. Bayard, Sr., former U. S. Senator from Delaware, U. S. Secretary of State, and later ambassador to Great Britain. Bayard didn't dignify the Townsend story of Sarah Rowland with even the slightest reference. Instead, he told the story of Rodney's ride pretty much as we know it today, except that even Bayard was hazy as to whether Rodney arrived in Philadelphia July 2 or 4. But the Rodney-Sarah Rowland myth cannot be dismissed entirely out of hand. Had Townsend been a better poet instead of a master of mediocre doggerel, the story might well have been more widely accepted. Even the generally-accepted "official" version of the Rodney ride is based on extremely thin shreds of historical evidence. And, had Katharine Pyle's book, Once Upon a Time in Delaware, written for Delaware schoolchildren, not gone out of print and out of use in the schools, surviving only as a collector's item, the Rodney Sarah Rowland story might have persisted with greater credibility to this day. Finally, had it not been for an autograph collector grubbing through the debris of Samuel Bancroft, Jr.'s letters in the 1940's, Townsend's letter confessing that he created the Sarah Rowland romance would never have survived to demolish the myth Townsend created.
(Reprinted with the permission of the Delaware Heritage Commission.)
Think about that - had it not been for an autograph collector grubbing through the debris... Makes you wonder how much of what we accept as "history" snuck through courtesy of a shortage of grubbing autograph collectors.
It would make sense to also reprint here Frank's own chapter on Rodney's ride incorporating the most reliable information available. But that chapter along with the one above make up about a third of his book, and I feel that would be overdoing it. Perhaps the Delaware Heritage Commission will put the whole book on the web? In any case, I hope you can easily find a trustworthy account.
In all fairness, you did learn a lot from Katharine Pyle's version, didn't you?
With all the uncertainty surrounding Rodney's ride, the thing I'm most curious about is Rodney's reason for leaving Philadelphia. The claim he had to tend to the Tory uprising in the lowest of the three "Counties on the Delaware" fits so nicely and sounds so heroic that it's a shame not to believe it. In Frank's chapter on Rodney's ride, he tells (p21) about the serious Tory trouble and Rodney returning home from the convention in the same paragraph - but does not draw a connection between the two.
A couple of final observations: in Frank's chapter quoted above, he gives full authority to Thomas Rodney's diary regarding the starting point of Caesar Rodney's ride. But note that in his chapter on Rodney's ride, Frank doesn't mince words (p21) in calling Thomas Rodney "highly imaginative" regarding his (Thomas Rodney's) account of the part he played in urging brother Caesar to hie on back to Philadelphia to vote for independence.
And I hope someone has double-checked Sanderson's "Lives Of The Signers".
Update (August 2015): Sanderson's book can be found on archive.org. He discusses Rodney's trip to Sussex County on page 448, and disappointingly, there are no great revelations there; no Rowlands of any sort, or any sort of specifics on his activities there; just that he was successful. I guess it's time for Sarah Rowland fans to throw in the towel at this point. :-(
These are the footnotes to Katharine Pyle's Chapter V, "How Once Upon A Time Caesar Rodney Rode For Freedom".
It looks like footnote 4 is some sort of misfire. Moreover, my sources say that the 200 acres purchased as the site of Dover in 1694/95 came from a larger tract which had been purchased from the Indians in 1683.
70 NOTES 1. It was not until after the Declaration of Independence that these "Counties upon the Delaware" received the name of Delaware State, and not until 1792 that it was called the "State of Delaware." 2. Edmund Burke spoke of Penn's Charter to his colonies of Pennsylvania and Delaware as "a noble charter of privileges, by which he made the people more free than any people on earth, and which by securing both civil and religious liberty caused the eyes of the oppressed from all parts of the world to look on his counties for relief." 3. This account of the life in Delaware before the Revolutionary War is taken from a letter from Thomas Rodney, a younger brother of Caesar Rodney. 4. The land upon which Dover stands was bought from the Indians in 1697, for two match coats, twelve bottles of drink and four handfuls of powder. 5. Rodney, Read and McKean were appointed Delegates in March, 1775. 6. While Caesar Rodney's famous ride is a story of which Delaware is proud, the exact time when he started, and the place he started from have been much disputed. One tradition says that he left Sarah Rowland's house at Lewes, and another tradition insists that he started from his own house near Dover. As for the hours of starting and arrival, the archives show how different the versions are. After much thought and trouble, the Colonial Dames have decided to choose the most detailed tradition as being possibly also the most accurate. They do not claim to decide the matter, which will always, probably, remain unsolved. The following was the Congress express rider's time from Lewes to Philadelphia: Leave Lewes at noon, reach Wilmington next day at 4 o'clock, A.M. Or leave Lewes at 7 o'clock, P.M., Cedar Creek, 10:30; Dover, 4:15; Cantwell's Bridge, 9:05; Wilmington, 12:55; Chester, 2:37; arrive Philadelphia 4 o'clock P.M., or 21 hours. (See American Archives.)
Calendar note: 1694/95 above represents old style/new style year reckoning. Up through 1752 in the colonies, March 25 was the start of the new year. So what the colonists called Feb 4 near the end of 1694 (the date the purchase of the land for Dover was authorized), we would call Feb 4 1695, after pushing New Year's Day back to good, old Jan 1.
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