A small, unassuming stone in the Wilmington Friends Meeting Burial Ground marks the grave of John Dickinson, lawyer and statesman, known for his political writings as “The Penman of the Revolution.” Dickinson was born in Talbot County, Maryland, the son of a wealthy landowner and was raised at Poplar Hall, his father’s plantation in Kent County, Delaware. Dickinson studied law in Philadelphia with John Moland and then went to England to study law at the Middle Temple. He returned to America and began his career as an attorney in Philadelphia. During his lifetime he lived in both Pennsylvania and Delaware.
In the 1760s he wrote his Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, arguing against the Townshend Acts and for the rights of the colonists. These pamphlets made him famous throughout the American colonies. He was a Pennsylvania delegate to the Continental Congress where he urged moderation and refused to sign the Declaration of Independence. This refusal made him unpopular for a time. He did however, serve in the Revolution as an officer in the Pennsylvania Militia and a private in the Delaware Militia. During the Revolution he was Delaware’s delegate to the Continental Congress and in 1781 was elected president of Delaware and in 1783 president of Pennsylvania. He wrote the first draft of the Articles of Confederation.
In 1787 Dickinson was chosen as one of Delaware’s representatives to the Constitutional Convention and also was president of the committee that revised Delaware’s constitution in 1791. Although he never formally joined the Friends Meeting, most of his family were Quakers and he was influenced by Quaker ideas. He became an abolitionist and freed the slaves on his plantation in 1777. When he died in 1808, he was buried in the Wilmington Friends Meeting Burial Ground.
Poplar Hall, John Dickinson’s boyhood home and plantation in Kent County is still standing. It is now a museum and is open to the public.
Photo credits: Nate Davidson, the Historical Marker Database and Wikimedia Commons
For more information on John Dickinson see:
Charles Janeway Stillé. The Life and Times of John Dickinson, 1732-1808. Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1891.
Milton E. Flower. John Dickinson, Conservative Revolutionary. University Press of Virginia, 1983. E302.6.D5 F57 1983
The Political Writings of John Dickinson, esquire. Wilmington, 1801.