Col John Read

Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland
Death 17 Jun 1756 (aged 67–68)
Burial New Castle, New Castle County, Delaware, USA
Memorial ID 13341512 · View Source
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The agreement recommended by Mr. Read was soon very generally adopted. It was dated August 17, 1769, and after stating in energetic language the grievances which compelled the Delawareans to co-operate with their fellow-colonists in the measures best calculated to invite or enforce redress, they "mutually promise, declare and agree, upon our word of honor and the faith of Christians,—

"First. That from and after this date we will not import into any part of America any goods, wares or merchandise whatsoever from any part of Great Britain contrary to the spirit and intention of the agreement of the merchants of the City of Philadelphia.

"Second. That we never will have any dealing, commerce or intercourse whatever with any man residing in any part of the British dominions, who shall for lucre or any other purpose import into any part of America any article contrary to the said agreement.

"Third. That any one of us who shall wilfully break this agreement shall have his name published in the public newspapers as a betrayer of the civil rights of Americans, and be forever after deemed infamous and a betrayer of his country."

The compact was subsequently violated by some shop-keepers, and to arrest this evil, which threatened a dissolution of the covenant, two persons, sound patriots, were appointed in each town as a committee of inspection to watch the trade. George Read was elected chairman of the general committee, and the subordinate committees performed their duties with such diligence and activity that they equaled the agents of the best organized police in the discovery of delinquents. The adherents of Great Britain were too few in number to shield the apostates. When information was given against them they usually appeared before the general committee, which inflicted no other punishment than requiring from the offender a public declaration of sorrow for the offense, a promise not to repeat it, and payment to the committee of the proceeds of illegitimate sales for the use of the poor.

Events were rapidly marching to the crisis. On April 12, 1770, Parliament repealed all the obnoxious duties except that upon tea, but re-affirmed the right of taxing the colonies.

In 1773 the East India Company, finding that the Colonies would take no tea on which the duty was charged, tried a new plan, and kindled a new flame from the smouldering embers of old excitements. An act of Parliament was passed authorizing that company to export their teas to America free of the duty enacted by the home government, and only charged with the three-penny colonial duty. It was intended to tempt the colonies by offering them tea far cheaper than it could be landed in London. The news of the passage of this act called for new measures of resistance. News of the initial shipments of tea reached Philaadelphia on the 27th of September. The ship "Polly," with "the detested plant," had sailed from London on the 12th or 15th of September, and her arrival was looked for in the Delaware about the third week in November. The patriotic inhabitants formed an association and entered into combinations to prevent the landing and the sale of the tea. Among the first measures adopted was to issue an address to the Delaware pilots. It said, "We need not point out to you the steps you ought to take if the tea-ship falls in your way. You cannot be at a loss how to prevent, or, if that cannot be done, how to give the merchants of the city timely notice of her arrival. But this you may depend on, that whatever pilot brings her into the river, such pilot will be marked for his treason and will never afterwards meet with the least encouragement in his business. Like Cain, he will be hung out as a spectacle to all nations, and be forever recorded as the damned traitorous pilot who brought up the tea-ship. This, however, cannot be the case with you. You have proved scourges to evil-doers, to infamous informers and tide-waiters, and we may venture to predict that you will give us a faithful and satisfactory account of the tea-ship if you should meet with her, and that your zeal on this occasion will entitle you to every favor it may be in the power of the merchants of Philadelphia to confer upon you." This address was signed by "The Committee for tarring and feathering." On Christmas day, intelligence was received of the arrival of the "Polly" at Chester, and a meeting of over eight thousand citizens of Philadelphia compelled her to return home without breaking bulk. This was the first and the last of the detested tea-ships in the Delaware.

It will be most fitting in this place to say a few words in regard to the most prominent leaders of the people of Delaware in this time of approach to the Revolutionary War— of their characters and circumstances we mean, their acts will not need comment. There were George, Thomas and James Read, Thomas McKean, Caesar Rodney, George Ross, Allen McLane, Caleb P. Bennett, Lewis Bush, Philemon Dickinson, John Haslett, Richard Howell, David Jones, Robert Kirkwood, Shepherd Kollock, John Patten, Bedford Gunning, Nathaniel Mitchell, Richard Bassett, David Hall and many others who were in the front of affairs at home or on the threshold of battle. These men, directly or by marriage, were connected with the leading families of Delaware of all the sects. They were all men of ability and influence, differing greatly in character, temperaments and political opinions, but all honest and earnest men.

The Read family, inheriting an ancient name of honorable repute in the Old World, has rendered its patronymic historical in America by its patriotic services during the colonial and Revolutionary periods, and by its large contributions to the foundation and subsequent consolidation of the government of the United States.

The first ancestor in this country was Colonel John Read, a wealthy and public-spirited Southern planter, who was born in Dublin, of English parentage, in the last year of the reign of James the Second, 1688. His mother was the scion of an old Oxfordshire house, and his father, an English gentleman of large fortune, then residing in Dublin, was fifth in descent from Thomas Read, lord of the manors of Barton Court and Beedon, in Berkshire, and high sheriff of Berks in 1581, and tenth in descent from Edward Read, lord of the manor of Beedon, and high sheriff of Berks in 1439 and again in 1451. One of the latter’s brothers, William Read, six times mayor of Reading, was member of Parliament for Reading in 1453, 1460, 1462 and 1472. An older brother, Sir Thomas Read, was one of the knights who accompanied King Henry the Sixth when he held his Parliament at Reading in 1439, and they were all sons of Thomas Read, lord of various manors in Northumberland.

In the civil wars of the seventeenth century, says Mr. Charles Reade, the family declared for the crown, and its then chief, Sir Compton Read, was for his services one of the first baronets created by Charles the Second after the Restoration. A younger son of the family went over to Ireland in the same troubles, and it was his son who was the progenitor of the American house. Besides the baronetcy of the 4th March, 1660, an earlier one had been conferred upon Sir John Read on the 16th March, 1641. Through a clerical error in one of the patents an e was added to the name, and was subsequently adopted by the English branches. The historical American branch retained the ancient form which the name had when it left England, and it figures thus on the petition to the King of the Congress of 1774, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States and many other earlier and later State papers.*

John Read had a romantic history. He fell in love at an early age in the old country with his cousin, a beautiful and accomplished English girl, who died suddenly before their engagement ended in marriage. This shock so overcame the lover that, after struggling in vain against his melancholy amidst familiar scenes, he determined, in spite of the earnest opposition of his parents, to seek relief in entire change. Crossing the ocean to Maryland, he purchased lands in several counties in that province, to which he added others in Delaware. On his plantation in Cecil County, Maryland, he possessed a spacious brick mansion, subsequently destroyed by fire, with out-buildings and offices and comfortable quarters for his slaves, whom he treated with an unvarying humanity which became hereditary in his family. Groves of oak grew near the house, and tulips of great rarity grew in the gardens. Jim was the head of his house servants, as Juba was the head of those in the next generation. The produce of the wheat and tobacco plantations were dispatched to Philadelphia and to England, and found their way back in various attractive and practical shapes for the use of the household. He was fond of field sports, and the woods rang with the sound of his dogs and his guns. He was both hospitable and generous. He gave the land to endow the church in his vicinity, and his life was honorable in all its relations. Being largely interested in various enterprises, he joined a few other gentlemen in founding the city of Charlestown, at the head-waters of the Chesapeake Bay, twelve years after Baltimore was begun, hoping to make it a great commercial mart to absorb Northern trade, to develop Northern Maryland, and to give a suitable impetus and outlet to the adjoining forges and furnaces of the Principio Company, in which his friends, the elder generations of the Washington family, and eventually General Washington himself, were deeply interested. Tradition preserves in this connection an account of the youthful Major Washington’s visit to Colonel Read at the close of the latter’s active and well-spent life.

As one of the original proprietors of Charlestown, John Read was appointed by the Colonial Legislature one of the commissioners to lay out and govern the new town, and he was assiduous in his attentions to these duties.

After a long period of single life his early sorrow was consoled by his marriage with Mary Howell, a charming young Welsh gentlewoman, many years his junior, who was as energetic and spirited as she was attractive and handsome. Sprung from the Howells of Caerleon, County Monmouth, her immediate ancestors were seated in the neighborhood of Caerphilly, Glamorganshire, Wales, where she was born in 1711, and from whence, at a tender age, she removed with her parents to Delaware, where her father was a large planter.

Mary, the only daughter of John and Mary (Howell) Read, married Gunning Bedford, Sr., who was a lieutenant in the war against the French in 1755, and took an active part in the Revolutionary struggle. He was commissioned major on the 20th of March, 1775, and becoming lieutenant-colonel of the Delaware Regiment on the 19th of January, 1776, was afterwards wounded at the battle of White Plains while leading his men to the attack. He was likewise muster-master general, member of the Continental Congress and Governor of Delaware. Governor and Mrs. Bedford (née Read) left no issue Three distinguished sons of Colonel John Read were George, Col. James and Commodore Thomas Read. George Read was in a peculiar sense the father of the State of Delaware, for he was the author of her first Constitution in 1776, and of the first edition of her laws. He figured in her Assembly no less than twelve years, was Vice-President of the State, and at one time her acting chief magistrate. He penned the address from Delaware to the King, which Lord Shelbourne said so impressed George III. that he read it over twice. He is the most conspicuous figure in the Delaware record, for Thomas McKean and John Dickinson were more closely allied to Pennsylvania than to Delaware; and while Caesar Rodney was prominent in the time of the Declaration, and afterwards as President of Delaware, his premature death in 1783 cut short his career. In person, Read was tall, slight, graceful, with a finely-shaped head, strong, but refined features, and dark-brown, lustrous eyes. His manners were dignified, and he could not tolerate the slightest familiarity, but he was most courteous, and at times captivating; and he dressed with the most scrupulous care and elegance. He was one of the two statesmen, and the only Southern statesman, who signed all three of the great State papers on which our history is based— the original petition to the King of the Congress of 1774, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. He was the eldest son of Colonel John Read, of Maryland and Delaware, and was born on the 17th of September, 1733, on one of the family estates in Cecil County, Maryland. After receiving a classical education under Dr. Francis Allison, he studied law, and was called to the bar at the age of nineteen in the city of Philadelphia, and in 1754 removed to New Castle, Delaware, in which province the family also had important landed interests. On the 11th of January, 1763, he married Gertrude, daughter of the Rev. George Ross, for nearly fifty years rector of Emmanuel Church, New Castle, a vigorous pillar of the Established Church in America. Mrs. Read’s brother, John Ross, had been attorney-general under the crown. Another brother, the Rev. AEneas Ross, became celebrated as the author of eloquent and patriotic sermons during the Revolution; while still another brother, George Ross, was an eminent judge and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Having been appointed attorney-general under the crown at the early age of twenty-nine, Mr. Read felt it to be his duty, as a friend to the mother country, to warn the British government of the danger of attempting to tax the colonies without giving them direct representation in Parliament, and in his correspondence with his friend Sir Richard Neave, afterwards governor of the Bank of England, he gave utterance, eleven years before the Declaration of Independence, to the remarkable prophecy that a continuance in this mistaken policy would lead to independence and eventually to the colonies surpassing England in her staple manufactures. Finding no manifestation of change in the position towards the colonies, he resigned the attorney-generalship, and accepted a seat in the First Congress, which met at Philadelphia in 1774. He still, however, hoped for reconciliation, and he voted against the motion for independence. But he finally signed the Declaration of Independence when he found there was no hope, and henceforward was the constant originator and ardent supporter of measures in behalf of the national cause. He was president of the Constitutional Convention in 1776, and the author of the first Constitution of Delaware and of the first edition of her laws. In 1782 he was appointed by Congress a judge in the national Court of Appeals in Admiralty. Three years later Congress made him one of the commissioners of a federal court to determine an important controversy in relation to territory between New York and Massachusetts. In 1786 he was a delegate to the convention which met at Annapolis, Maryland, and he took an active part in those proceedings which culminated in the calling together, in 1787, of the convention in Philadelphia which framed the Constitution of the United States. In this august body he was also a prominent figure, especially in his able advocacy of the rights of the smaller States to a proper representation in the Senate. Immediately after the adoption of the Constitution, which Delaware, largely under his direction, was the first to ratify, he was elected to the Senate of the United States. At the expiration of his term he was re-elected. He resigned in 1793, and accepted the office of chief justice of Delaware, which he filled until his death, on the 21st of September, 1798. Chief Justice Read commanded public confidence, not only from his profound legal knowledge, sound judgment, and impartial decisions, but from his severe integrity and estimable private character. Those who differed from him in opinion believed that he was acting from a sense of duty, and declared that there was not a dishonest fibre in his heart nor an element of meanness in his soul. He left three distinguished sons, George Read, second for thirty years United States district attorney of Delaware; William Read, consul-general of the kingdom of Naples; and John Read, Senator of Pennsylvania; and one daughter, Mary Read, who married Colonel Matthew Pearce, of Poplar Neck, Cecil County, Maryland. George Read, the signer, was an ardent member of the Church of England and afterwards of the American Episcopal Communion, and for many years one of the wardens of Emmanuel Church, New Castle; and he lies in that beautiful and quiet church-yard, where seven generations of the Read family repose. The colonial Read mansion, on the west bank of Delaware Bay, in New Castle, in which George Read, the Signer, lived and died, was the scene of elegant hospitality for many long years. Here the leading magnates of the colonies were entertained before the Revolution, and within its hospitable walls were gathered from time to time groups of fashionable friends from the different parts of the South, as well as from Philadelphia, Annapolis, and New York, Washington and many of the native and foreign Revolutionary generals and all the foremost statesmen of the republic slept under its roof-tree, and enjoyed the courtly hospitalities of its owners. A portion of this mansion was destroyed by fire in 1824, but it was restored and is still standing on the Delaware front in New Castle. It was one of the finest family residences in the South. In the extensive gardens about it grew venerable box, cut in fantastic shapes, and tulips of the greatest variety and beauty, this being the favorite flower of the family— as the oak was its favorite tree. In the rear of the extensive offices and out-buildings were the quarters of the slaves— that is, of the house servants, the field-hands being on the outlying plantations and at Mr. Read’s country-seat, farther south on the Delaware shore. George Read was a man not only of the highest integrity, but of the greatest liberality, and he gave so generously both his time and his money to the service of his country that the aggregate dispensed amounted to a very large sum of money for that day. George Read was a man who gathered about him a large circle of warm friends who looked up to him for guidance and advice. One of the most notable proofs of his own devotion to friendship was the proof which he gave of his enduring affection for John Dickinson. The latter, having not only opposed but refused to sign the Declaration of Independence, thereby lost his popularity entirely. But through the friendship and political and personal influence of George Read he was after a time restored to public life, became President successively of the States of Delaware and Pennsylvania, and afterwards one of the delegates to the convention which framed the Constitution of the United States. There are at least three original portraits of George Read, of Delaware. One is by Gilbert Stuart, another by Robert Edge Pine, and a third by Trumbull, in the historical painting "The Declararation of Independence," which is in the Capitol at Washington. He figures prominently also in various other historical pictures,— among others, in "The Signing of the Constitution of the United States," by Rossiter, and in a "Dinner at General Washington’s to George Read, of Delaware," by M. Armand Dumaresq. The latter was painted for General Meredith Read, the great grandson of George Read, and a copy taken by permission of the owner is in the possession of William Astor, Esq., of New York. The principal personages represented are General and Mrs. Washington, Chief Justice Read, the Marquis de Lafayette and Richard Henry Lee. Monsieur Dumaresq had previously sketched the portraits in the Trumbull collection at New Haven. George Read is also an important figure in "The Dinner Club of the Congress of 1775," also painted for General Meredith Read by M. Armand Dumaresq. The correspondence of George Read has preserved the memory of this interesting and select social gathering. It was composed of the following eight members (who dined together every day except Saturday), viz., Randolph, Lee, Washington and Harrison of Virginia, Chase of Maryland, Rodney and Read of Delaware, and Alsop of New York.

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  • Created by: Gregory Speciale
  • Added: 13 Feb 2006
  • Find a Grave Memorial 13341512
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Col John Read (1688–17 Jun 1756), Find a Grave Memorial no. 13341512, citing Immanuel Episcopal Churchyard, New Castle, New Castle County, Delaware, USA ; Maintained by Gregory Speciale (contributor 31762373) .