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The life and death of a patriot

This page - text and images - is taken from the News Journal, Delaware, 9 February 2008. I am grateful to Joseph A Dickerson for sending me the article. If the page is deemed to breach copyright, I will remove it.

interpreter1Vertie Fiola is one of the historic interpreters at the Dickinson plantation. Here she demonstrates how to make brown sugar shortbread.

Though patriot John Dickinson died 200 years ago, his works and writings are still relevant today. To commemorate his achievements, ceremonies and exhibits are planned to coincide with the anniversary of his death, Feb. 14.

At 11 a.m. the Friends of John Dickinson Mansion will lay a memorial wreath at Dickinson's gravesite, at the Friends burial grounds in Wilmington. Simultaneously, the Dover plantation will open a related exhibit.

firing musketInterpreter Doug Miller fires an 18th-century musket for visitors

"Valentine's Day is not a very good time to focus on death; so we're going to concentrate on what he did in life", said Eunice Craig, vice president of the friends group. "This, is just one more way to recognize the man." ( Not only did Dickinson die on Valentine's Day, he' was born on Nov. 2, the Day of the Dead. Dickinson scholar Jane E. Calvert, a professor of history at the University of Kentucky, joked that Dickinson had it backward.)

While the remembrance ceremony might focus on Dickinson's life, death was a big part of it. Out of12 children fathered by Samuel Dickinson, John's father, only John and his brother Philemon survived into adulthood. Only two of John's five children survived into adulthood.

Dickinson houseAs part of the mansion exhibit, interpreters will share stories of how deaths were handled, such as that of Pompey, Samuel's manservant. His body was carried around the house in a funeral procession.

Documents on display will include John Dickinson's death certificate as well as other papers and letters dealing with death and funeral arrangements. One such letter had the two Dickinson brothers writing about the arrangements for their mother's death. They needed to relay the dimensions needed for the coffin and how much fabric to buy to have black gloves made for the funeral.

While history often views Dickinson as a "loser" because he did not sign the Declaration of Independence, many believe he was one of the most important founders of our country.


The Dickinson Plantation. Dickinson's peaceful stance during the Revolution was consistent with his beliefs, a scholar said.

Calvert, who will be writing the eulogy for Dickinson that will be read at the remembrance ceremony in Wilmington, said Dickinson "was consistent but complex." She said his peaceful stance during the Revolution was simply a reflection of his belief that revolution was not the best route to change.

The topics that politicians are discussing this election year are things Dickinson brought up 200 years ago, said Calvert, who has written a book about Dickinson due out this year.

He believed that religion had a central role to play in the country's life, without putting one over another, and that the country needed to be more unified. He sought change to improve people's lives and believed in diplomacy over war.

The friends group hopes the ceremony and exhibit will get more people interested in Dickinson and his boyhood home. "It's a wonderful historical site right here in Kent County," said Craig. "John Dickinson was one of our founding fathers and a very important Delawarean."

Delaware's Founding Fathers

Researched with the help of the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs ( J, Hagley, the Historical Society of Delaware and W. Barksdale Maynard, author of the upcoming "Buildings of Delaware."

Five men signed the U.S. Constitution for Delaware: Richard Bassett, Gunning Bedford Jr., Jacob Broom, John Dickinson and George Read. Three signed the Declaration of Independence for Delaware: Thomas McKean, Read and Caesar Rodney.

Portraits and objects

The New Castle Court House has portraits of Dickinson, McKean and Read. Portraits of Bassett, Bedford, Dickinson, McKean and Read are part of the Hall of Governors, in Legislative Hall in Dover. No portraits of Broom exist, and none of Rodney either, because his face was disfigured by cancer. Statues of the five signers of the Constitution are part of the permanent exhibit at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, and it's common for visitors to take snapshots of themselves posed with the statues. Two books displayed in the New Castle courtroom belonged to Read. The Dickinson Plantation has a portrait of Dickinson and a desk that belonged to Rodney.


Dover mansionHistoric interpreter Barbara Carrow leads a visitor on a tour of the John Dickinson mansion in Dover


[1] I am grateful to Wayne Mower, a past President of the Lombardy Foundation, for this information, and also for the photograph of Bedford's grave. Copyright of the image remains with Mr Mower.
Mr Mower also points out that Mr Gunning was never buried at Lombardy Hall. His family was deceased with no descendants by the time the church graveyard was moved. Gunning's body was never was taken to Lombardy Hall. When it came time to move the remains the Masons removed them to the Masonic Home.

February 2016 A further update to the burial of Gunning Bedford, Jr., from Mr Wayne Mower, past Pres. Lombardy Hall Foundation. Mr Mower tells me that Gunning Bedford now reposes at the Wilmington & Brandywine Cemetery, Wilmington, DE. The Masonic Home was sold and he and his family were moved to protect them.  This was done in April of 2014.Hopefully he can spend the rest of eternity here.

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Last modified 29 February, 2016

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