Historic Happenings: The Life and Times of Philemon Dickinson

Historic Happenings: The Life and Times of Philemon Dickinson

Philemon Dickinson was born on April 5th, 1739 in Talbot County, Maryland. As Dickinson grew older and pursued an education, he left behind his life in Maryland to continue his studies at the College of Philadelphia, where he’d join his older brother John in the study of the law. Although Philemon was a bright student, he often lived in the shadow of his brother, who is remembered for being a brilliant and prolific writer.

While Philemon’s brother, John, was leading the charge in the creation and distribution of literature which would ultimately go on to fan the flames of the Revolution, Philemon ultimately withdrew from his legal studies to head his family’s estate right here in Trenton. While settling in this community, Philemon met his soon to be wife, and in 1767, he was wed to his bride, Mary Cadwalader. Together, the two built a life right up the road, with the Dickinson estate located on the Delaware just a mile above Trenton.

As murmurings of war drew nearer, Philemon Dickinson would establish himself as a patriot in the face of the Revolutionary War. As tensions with England became sharper by the day, Dickinson would prove to be an instrumental member in leading our troops to victory. On October 19th, 1775, Dickinson was officially named a brigadier general of the militia. He would continue to grow in ranks and esteem – in fact, after just a year and a half in the militia, he had already ascended to Major General. Dickinson led his troops through a number of treacherous battles, causing major blows to British forces in the process. Dickinson would continue to serve in his capacity as commander in chief of New Jersey’s militia.

After his service with the New Jersey militia, Dickinson later went on to serve our newly founded state in another capacity: as a state representative. In 1776, Philemon was appointed as the Hunterdon County representation of the New Jersey Provincial Congress. Dickinson also served for two years as a member of the Continental Congress, although at the time, he was representing Delaware. Throughout his political career, Dickinson would serve at a number of posts, including Vice President of the NJ Senate. During his time in politics, Dickinson was best-remembered for his advocacy to make Trenton the capital of the United States. And although we may be a bit biased, we can’t help but agree with Mr. Dickinson on that front – the Capital City would have made a wonderful home for this nation’s seat of government!

After a long career serving the newly formed United States, Dickinson would ultimately go on to retire to his estate, spending the rest of his days working his private legal practice. Although he did ultimately withdraw from the world of politics, Dickinson would continue to remain engaged in civic affairs for the remainder of his life. Philemon Dickinson lived to be 70 years old before passing away on February 4th, 1809. As a man who bore witness to the founding of our nation, Dickinson lived a full life, helping to shape our fledging country into what it is today. As the Trenton community, we can be proud knowing just how many revolutionaries have been a part of this special place we all call home.

Philemon Dickinson - Wikipedia

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