George Read

Associated Locations:

  • Cecil County, Maryland – Birthplace

Associated Dates:

  • September 18, 1733 – Born

Life Sketch from “Lives of the Signers”

Character Sketch from Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, B.J. Lossing, the 1848 original.

George Read was born in Cecil county, in the Province of Maryland, in the year 1734, and was the eldest of six brothers. He was of Irish descent. His grandfather was a wealthy resident of Dublin, his native city, and his father emigrated to America from Ireland, about 1726.

George was placed in a school of considerable repute at Chester, in Pennsylvania, where he made much progress in Latin and Greek, his father having previously instructed him in all the common branches of a. good English education. He was afterward placed under the care of the Reverend Doctor Allison, who at various times had charge of several pupils, who were afterward members of the Continental Congress, or held other high official stations.

At the age of seventeen years young Read commenced the study of the law in the ofice of John Morland, a distinguished barrister of Philadelphia. He was very studious, and during his pupilage in the profession, he obsessed the entire confidence of his instructor, who also became his warm friend. He was admitted to the bar in 1753, at the early age of nineteen years, and then commenced a career of honor and usefulness to himself and others! In 1754, he settled in the county of New Castle, Delaware, and commenced the practice of his profession. Although competitors of eminence were, all around him, Mr. Read soon rose to their level, and at the age of twenty-nine, he succeeded John Ross, as Attorney General for the “lower counties on the Delaware” of Kent, Sussex and New Castle. This office he held until elected a delegate to the Continental Congress, in 1774.

In 1765 Mr. Read was elected a member of the General Assembly of Delaware, and was re-elected to the office eleven consecutive years. He was one of a committee of that body, who, in view of the odious features of the Stamp Act, proposed an address to the King in behalf of the people of the Province. Mr. Read clearly perceived however, that remonstrance’s from isolated Colonies would have but little effect, and he was one of those patriots of prudence and sound judgment, who looked to a general Convention of representatives of the several Colonies, as the surest means through which the sense of justice in the home government could be reached. He also heartily approved of the system of non-importation agreements, and by assiduous labor, he succeeded in engaging the people of Delaware in the measure.

When the sufferings of the people of Boston, from the effects of the Act of Parliament known as the “Boston Port Bill,” excited the warmest sympathy throughout the Colonies, and subscriptions for their relief were everywhere made Mr. Read, with Nicholas Van Dyke, was made the channel of transmission of the donations of the people of Delaware, and he was exceedingly active himself in procuring pecuniary and other aid.

In 1774, Mr. Read, with Caesar Rodney and Thomas M’Kean for colleagues, was appointed by the Assembly of Delaware, a delegate to the General Congress that met in September of that year, at Philadelphia. He was a delegate also in 1775 and 1776, and during the early part of the latter year, his labors were divided between his duties in Congress, and the affairs of his own State. He was an earnest advocate for the Declaration of Independence, and considered it a high privilege when he placed his name upon the parchment. Alter the Declaration, the people of Delaware formed a State Constitution, and Mr. Read was President of the Convention that framed the instrument. His arduous duties at length affected his health, and in August, 1779, he resigned his seat in the Assembly of Delaware. He was re-elected, however, the next year. In 1782, he was appointed one of the Judges of the Court of Appeals in Admiralty cases, and he retained the office until that tribunal was abolished. In 1785, Mr. Read was appointed by Congress one of the Justices of a special Court to adjudicate in a case of dispute about territory between Massachusetts and New York. In 1786, he was a member of the Convention that met at Annapolis, in Maryland, to consider and repair the defects in the Articles of Confederation. This Convention was the egg of the one, which, in the following year, framed the Federal Constitution. In 1788, he was elected a member of the Senate of Delaware, under the new Constitution, and he occupied at seat there until 1793, when he was elevated to the bench, as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of his State. He occupied that station until the autumn of 1798, when death, by sudden illness, closed his useful life, in the sixty fourth year of his age. 1

Character Sketch from Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, Rev. Charles A. Goodrich, the 1829 original.

George Read was a native of the province of Maryland, where he was born in the year 1734. His grandfather was an Irishman, who resided in the city of Dublin, and was pos-sessed of a considerable fortune. His son, John Read, the father of the subject of the present memoir, having emigrated to America, took up his residence in Cecil county, where he pursued the occupation of a planter. Not long after the birth of his eldest son, he removed with his family into the province of Delaware, and settled in the county of Newcastle. Mr. Read designing his son for one of the learned professions, placed him in a seminary at Chester, in the province of Pennsylvania. Having there acquired the rudiments of the learned languages, he was transferred to the care of that learned and accomplished scholar, the Rev. Dr. Allison, a gentleman eminently qualified to superintend the education of young men. With this gentleman young Mr. Read continued his studies until his seventeenth year, when he entered the office of John Moland, Esq. a distinguished lawyer in the city of Philadelphia, for the purpose of acquiring a knowledge of the legal profession. The intense application, and the sober habits of Mr. Read, were at this time highly honorable to him. While yet a student, he gave promise of future eminence in his profession. Mr. Moland reposed so great confidence in his abilities, that even before he had finished his preparatory studies, he entrusted to him a considerable share of his attorney business.

In 1753, at the early age of nineteen years, Mr. Read was admitted to the bar. On this event he performed an act of singular generosity in favor of the other children of the family. As the eldest son, he was entitled, by the existing laws, to two shares of his father’s estate, but he relinquished all his rights in favor of his brothers, assigning as a reason for this act, his belief that he had received his proper portion in the education which had been given him.

In the following year, he commenced the practice of law, in the town of Newcastle, and although surrounded by gen-tlemen of high attainments in the profession, he soon acquired the confidence of the public, and obtained a respectable share of business. In 1763, he was appointed to suc-ceed John Ross, as attorney general of the three lower counties on the Delaware. This office, Mr. Read held until the year 1775, when, on being elected to congress, he re-signed it.

During the same year, Mr. Read was connected by marriage with a daughter of the Rev. John Ross, a clergyman, who had long presided over an Episcopal church, in the town of Newcastle. The character of Mrs. Read was in every respect excellent. She possessed a vigorous understanding. In her person she was beautiful, and to elegant manners was added a deep and consistent piety. She was also imbued with the spirit of a pure patriotism. During the revolutionary war, she was often called to suffer many privations, and was frequently exposed with her infant family to imminent danger, by reason of the predatory incursions of the British. Yet. in the darkest hour, and amidst the most appalling danger, her fortitude was unshaken, and her courage undaunted.

In the year 1765, Mr. Read was elected a representative from Newcastle county to the general assembly of Delaware, a post which he occupied for twelve years. In this station, and indeed through his whole political course, he appears to have been actuated neither by motives of self-interest nor fear. By an adherence to the royal cause, he had reason to anticipate office, honor, and wealth. But his patriotism and integrity were of too pure a character to be influenced by worldly preferment, or pecuniary reward. The question with him was, not what a worldly policy might dictate, but what reason and justice and religion would approve.

On the first of August, 1774, Mr. Read was chosen a member of the continental congress, in connection with Caesar Rodney, and Thomas M’Kean. To this station he was annually re-elected, during the whole revolutionary war, and was indeed present in the national assembly, except for a few short intervals, during the whole of that period.

It has already been noticed, that when the great question of independence came before congress, Mr. Read was opposed to the measure, and ultimately gave his vote against it. This he did from a sense of duty: not that he was unfriendly to the liberties of his country, or was actuated by motives of selfishness or cowardice. But he deemed the agitation of the question, at the time, premature and inexpedient. In these sentiments, Mr. Read was not alone. Many gentlemen in the colonies, characterized for great wisdom, and a decided patriotism, deemed the measure impolitic, and would have voted, had they been in congress, as he did. The idle bodings of these, fortunately, were never realized. They proved to be false prophets, but they were as genuine patriots as others. Nor were they, like some in similar circumstances, dissatisfied with results, differing from those which they had predicted. On the contrary, they rejoiced to find their anticipations were groundless. When, at length, the measure had received the sanction of the great national council, and the time arrived for signing the instrument, Mr. Read affixed his signature to it, with all the cordiality of those who had voted in favor of the declaration itself.

In the following September, Mr. Read was elected president of the convention which formed the first constitution of the state of Delaware. On the completion of this, he was offered the executive chair, but chose at that time to de-cline the honor. In 1777, the governor, Mr. M’Kinley, was captured by a detachment of British troops, when Mr. M’Kean was called to take his place in this responsible office, the duties of which he continued to discharge, until the release of the former gentleman.

In 1779, ill health required him to retire for a season from public employment. In 1782, however, he accepted the appointment of judge of the court of appeals in admiralty cases, an office in which he continued till the abolition of the court.

In 1787, he represented the state of Delaware in the convention which framed the Constitution Of The United States, under which he was immediately elected a member of the Senate. The duties of this exalted station he discharged till 1793, when he accepted of a seat on the bench of the Supreme Court of the state of Delaware, as chief justice. In this station he continued till the autumn of 1798, when he was suddenly summoned to another world.

In all the offices with which Mr. Read was entrusted by his fellow citizens, he appeared with distinguished ability; but it was as a judge that he stood pre-eminent. For this station he was peculiarly fitted, not only by his unusual legal attainments, but by his singular patience in hearing all that council might deem important to bring forward, and by a cool and dispassionate deliberation of every circumstance which could bear upon the point in question. To this day his decisions are much respected in Delaware, and are often recurred to, as precedents of no doubtful authority.

In private life, the character of Mr. Read was not less estimable and respectable. He was consistent in all the relations of life, strict in the observance of his moral duties, and characterized by an expanded benevolence towards all around him. 2



Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence, John Morton

Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence, B.J. Lossing

  1. Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, B.J. Lossing, 1848 original
  2. Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, Rev. Charles A. Goodrich, 1829 original
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