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John Dickinson (1732-1808)

Updated: Feb 3, 2019

Just as my 3rd great-grandfather, John Dickinson (1830-1889), was a founding father of my Dickinson family in America, this John Dickinson, who preceded him by nearly a century, was a Founding Father of the United States.

John Dickinson was born in 1732 in Trappe, Talbot County, Maryland, to an affluent Quaker family. John's great-grandfather, Walter Dickinson, had emigrated from England in 1654, about 225 years before my Dickinson ancestor arrived. Whether or not they had a common ancestor in England has yet to be determined.

Walter Dickinson arrived in Virginia in 1654 and joined the Society of Friends. He moved to Talbot County, Maryland by 1659. On 400 acres of land on the banks of the Choptank River, he built a tobacco plantation called "Croisadore", meaning "Cross of Gold".

Today, the portion of the Chesapeake Bay where the Dickinson plantation had been, is called Dickinson Bay, with Croisadore creek just above it.

He also lived at Poplar Hill until it was burned by loyalists in 1804. The property is now owned by the State of Delaware and is open to the public.

John Dickinson was known as the penman of the Revolution and played an important role in attempting to negotiate with King George III of Britain. He was President of the 1786 Annapolis Convention, and a delegate at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. He helped draft the Articles of Confederation and the U.S. Constitution. He was the 5th President of Pennsylvania from November 1782 to October 1785 and was succeeded by Benjamin Franklin. He was also President of Delaware from November 1781 to January 1783. He was a signed of the Declaration of Independence and informal adviser to President Thomas Jefferson.

He and his wife, Mary Norris Dickinson, started John and Mary's College, now Dickinson College. He is the namesake of the Dickinson School of Law of Penn State University, the Dickinson Complex at the University of Delaware, and John Dickinson High School in Northern Delaware. He died in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1808.

John Dickinson wrote one of the first patriotic songs of America, "The Liberty Song" in 1768:

Come, join hand in hand, brave Americans all, And rouse your bold hearts at fair Liberty's call; No tyrannous acts shall suppress your just claim, Or stain with dishonor America's name.

[Chorus: In Freedom we're born and in Freedom we'll live. Our purses are ready. Steady, friends, steady; Not as slaves, but as Freemen our money we'll give.]

Our worthy forefathers, let's give them a cheer, To climates unknown did courageously steer; Thro' oceans to deserts for Freedom they came, And dying, bequeath'd us their freedom and fame.


Their generous bosoms all dangers despis'd, So highly, so wisely, their Birthrights they priz'd; We'll keep what they gave, we will piously keep, Nor frustrate their toils on the land and the deep.


The tree their own hands had to Liberty rear'd; They lived to behold growing strong and revered; With transport they cried, "Now our wishes we gain, For our children shall gather the fruits of our pain."


Swarms of placemen and pensioners soon will appear Like locusts deforming the charms of the year; Suns vainly will rise, showers vainly descend, If we are to drudge for what others shall defend.


Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all, By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall; In so righteous a cause let us hope to succeed, For heaven approves of each generous deed.


All ages shall speak with amaze and applause, Of the courage we'll show in support of our Laws; To die we can bear, but to serve we disdain. For shame is to Freedom more dreadful than pain.


This bumper I crown for our Sovereign's health, And this for Britannia's glory and wealth; That wealth and that glory immortal may be, If She is but Just, and if we are but Free.


Read more in Pennsylvania Archives, Fourth Series, Volume III:



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