Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Read, John (planter)

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READ, John, planter, b. in Dublin, Ireland, in 1688; d. at his seat in Delaware, 17 June, 1756. He was the son of an English gentleman of large fortune belonging to the family of Read of Berkshire, Hertfordshire, and Oxfordshire. Having received a severe shock by the death of a young lady to whom he was attached, he came to the American colonies and, with a view of diverting his mind, entered into extensive enterprises in Maryland and Delaware. He purchased, soon after his arrival, a large landed estate in Cecil county, Md., and founded, with six associates, the city of Charlestown, on the head-waters of Chesapeake bay, twelve years after Baltimore was begun, with the intention of creating a rival mart for the northern trade, and thus developing northern Maryland and building up the neighboring iron-works of the Principio company, in which the older generations of the Washington family and, at a later period, the general himself, were also largely interested. As an original proprietor of the town, he was appointed by the colonial legislature of Maryland one of the commissioners to lay it out and govern it. He held various military offices during his life, and in his later years resided on his plantation in Newcastle county, Del. — 

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His eldest son, George, signer of the Declaration of Independence, b. at the family-seat, Cecil county, Md., 17 Sept., 1733; d. in Newcastle, Del., 21 Sept., 1798, was one of the two statesmen, and the only southern one, that signed the three great state papers that underlie the foundations of our government: the original petition to the king of the 1st Continental congress, the Declaration of Independence, and the constitution of the United States. He received a classical education, first at Chester, Pa., and afterward at New London, and at the age of nineteen was admitted to the Philadelphia bar. He removed in 1754 to Newcastle, where the family had large landed estates. While holding the office of attorney-general of Kent, Delaware, and Sussex counties in 1763-'74, he pointed out to the British government the danger of taxing the colonies without giving them direct representation in parliament, and in a letter to Sir Richard Neave, afterward governor of the Bank of England, written in 1765, he prophesied that a continuance in such a policy would ultimately lead not only to independence, but to the colonies surpassing England in her staple manufactures. He was for twelve years a member of the Delaware assembly, during which period, as chairman of its committee, he wrote the address to the king which Lord Shelburne said so impressed George III. that the latter read it twice. Chagrined at the unchanged attitude of the mother country, he resigned the attorney-generalship, and was elected to the first congress which met at Philadelphia in 1774. Although he voted against independence, he finally signed the Declaration, and thenceforth was one of the stanchest supporters of the cause of the colonies. He was president of the first naval committee in 1775; of the Constitutional convention in 1776; author of the first constitution of Delaware, and the first edition of her laws; vice-president of Delaware, and acting president of that state after the capture of President McKinley; judge of the national court of admiralty cases in 1782; and a commissioner to settle a territorial controversy between Massachusetts and New York in 1785. Mr. Read was a delegate to the Annapolis convention in 1786, which gave rise to the convention that met in Philadelphia in 1787 and framed the constitution of the United States. In the latter convention he ably advocated the rights of the smaller states to an equal representation in the U. S. senate. He was twice elected U. S. senator, serving from 1789 till 1793, when he resigned to assume the office of chief justice of Delaware, which post he filled until his death. In person, Read was tall, slightly and gracefully formed, with pleasing features and lustrous brown eyes. His manners were dignified, bordering upon austerity, but courteous, and at times captivating. He commanded entire confidence, not only from his profound legal knowledge, sound judgment, and impartial decisions, but from his severe integrity and the purity of his private character. He married in 1763 Gertrude, daughter of the Rev. George Ross, and sister of George Ross, a signer of the Declaration. See his “Life and Correspondence,” by William T. Read (Philadelphia, 1870). — Another son, Thomas, naval officer, b. in Newcastle, Del., in 1740; d. at White Hill, N. J., 26 Oct., 1788, was the first naval officer to obtain the rank of commodore in command of an American fleet. He was appointed on 23 Oct., 1775, commodore of the Pennsylvania navy, having as the surgeon of his fleet Dr. Benjamin Rush, and while holding this command he made a successful defence of the Delaware. He was appointed, 7 June, 1776, to the highest grade in the Continental navy, and assigned to one of its four largest ships, the 32-gun frigate “George Washington,” then building on Delaware river. While awaiting the completion of his ship he volunteered for land service, and was sent as captain by the committee of safety to join Washington. He gave valuable assistance in the crossing of the Delaware, and at the battle of Trenton commanded a battery made up of guns from his frigate, and with it raked the stone bridge across the Assaunpink. For this service he received the formal thanks of all the general officers that participated in that action, as is stated in a letter of 14 Jan., 1777, written by his brother, Col. James Read (who was near him during the engagement), to his wife. After much service on sea and land he resigned his commission, and, retiring to his seat near Bordentown, N. J., dispensed a liberal hospitality to his old companions-in-arms, especially to his brother members of the Society of the Cincinnati. Shortly afterward he was induced by his friend, Robert Morris, to take command of his old frigate, the “Alliance,” which had recently been bought by Morris for commercial purposes, and make a joint adventure to the China seas. Taking with him as chief officer one of his old subordinates, Richard Dale, afterward Com. Dale, and George Harrison, who became an eminent citizen of Philadelphia, as supercargo, he sailed from the Delaware, 7 June, 1787, and arrived at Canton on 22 Dec., following, after sailing on a track that had never before been taken by any other vessel, and making the first “out-of-season” passage to China. In this voyage he discovered two islands, which he named, respectively, “Morris” and “Alliance” islands, and which form part of the Caroline group. By this discovery the United States became entitled to rights which have never been properly asserted. In his obituary of Read, Robert Morris said: “While integrity, benevolence, patriotism, and courage, united with the most gentle manners, are respected and admired among men, the name of this valuable citizen and soldier will be reverenced and beloved by all who knew him.” — Another son, James, soldier, b. at the family-seat, Newcastle county, Del., in 1743; d. in Philadelphia, 31 Dec., 1822, was promoted from 1st lieutenant to colonel for gallant services at the battles of Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine, and Germantown, appointed by congress, 4 Nov., 1778, one of the three commissioners of the navy for the middle states, and on 11 Jan., 1781, was invested by the same body with sole power to conduct the navy board. When his friend, Robert Morris, became agent he was elected secretary, and was the virtual head of the marine department, while Morris managed the finances of the American confederacy. — George's son, John, lawyer, b. in Newcastle, Del., 7 July, 1769; d. in Trenton, N. J., 13 July, 1854, was graduated at Princeton in 1787, studied law with his father, and, removing in 1789 to Philadelphia, rose to high rank in his profession. He was appointed in 1797 by President Adams agent-general of the United States under Jay's treaty, and held that office until its expiration in 1809. Mr. Read was also a member of the supreme and common councils of Philadelphia and of the Pennsylvania legislature, and in 1816 chairman of its celebrated committee of seventeen. He succeeded Nicholas Biddle in the Pennsylvania senate in 1816, was state director of the Philadelphia bank in 1817, and succeeding his wife's uncle, George Clymer, as president of that bank in 1819, he filled that post till 1841, when he resigned. He was prominent in the councils of the Episcopal church. During the yellow-fever plague in Philadelphia in 1793, Mr. Read and Stephen Girard remained in the city, and he opened his purse and exposed his life in behalf of his suffering fellow-citizens. Mr. Read was the author of a valuable work entitled “Arguments on the British Debts” (Philadelphia, 1798). — John's son, John Meredith, jurist, b. in Philadelphia, Pa., 21 July, 1797; d. in Philadelphia, 29 Nov., 1874, was graduated at the University of Pennsylvania in 1812, and admitted to the bar in 1818. He was a member of the Pennsylvania legislature in 1822-'3, city solicitor and member of the select council, in which capacity he drew up the first clear exposition of the finances of Philadelphia, U. S. attorney for the eastern district of Pennsylvania in 1837-'44, solicitor-general of the United States, attorney general of Pennsylvania, and chief justice of that state from 1860 until his death. He early became a Democrat, and was one of the founders of the free-soil wing of that party. This induced opposition to his confirmation by the U. S. senate when he was nominated in 1845 as judge of the U. S. supreme court, and caused him to withdraw his name. He was one of the earliest and stanchest advocates of the annexation of Texas and the building of railroads to the Pacific, and was also a powerful supporter of President Jackson in his war against the U. S. bank. He was leading counsel with Thaddeus Stevens and Judge Joseph J. Lewis in the defence of Castner Hanway for constructive treason, his speech on this occasion giving him a wide reputation. He entered the Republican party on its formation, and at the beginning of the presidential canvass of 1850 delivered a speech on the “Power of Congress over Slavery in the Territories,” which was used throughout that canvass (Philadelphia, 1856). The Republican party gained its first victory in Pennsylvania in 1858, electing him judge of the supreme court by 30,000 majority. This brought him forward as a candidate for the presidency of the United States in 1860; and Abraham Lincoln's friends were prepared to nominate him for that office, with the former for the vice-presidency, which arrangement was defeated by Simon Cameron in the Pennsylvania Republican convention in February of that year. He nevertheless received several votes in the Chicago convention, notwithstanding that all his personal influence was used in favor of Mr. Lincoln. The opinions of Judge Read run through forty-one volumes of reports. His “Views on the Suspension of the Habeas Corpus” (Philadelphia, 1863) were adopted as the basis of the act of 3 March, 1863, which authorized the president of the United States to suspend the habeas corpus act. He refused an injunction to prevent the running of horse-cars on Sunday, since he could not consent to stop “poor men's carriages.” Many thousand copies of this opinion (Philadelphia, 1867) were printed. His amendments form an essential part of the constitutions of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and his ideas were formulated in many of the statutes of the United States. Brown gave him the degree of LL. D. in 1860. Judge Read was the author of a great number of published addresses and legal opinions. Among them are “Plan for the Administration of the Girard Trust”(Philadelphia. 1833); “The Law of Evidence” (1864); and “Jefferson Davis and his Complicity in the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln” (1866). — John Meredith's son, John Meredith, diplomatist, b. in Philadelphia, 21 Feb., 1837; d. in Paris, France, 27 Dec., 1896. He was a graduate of Brown, where he received the degree of A. M. in 1866, was graduated at Albany law-school in 1859, studied international law in Europe, was admitted to the bar in Philadelphia, and afterward removed to Albany, N. Y. He was adjutant-general of New York in 1860-'6, was one of the originators of the “Wide-Awake” political clubs in 1860. He was chairman in April of the same year of the committee of three to draft a bill in behalf of New York state, appropriating $300,000 for the purchase of arms and equipments, and he subsequently received the thanks of the war department for his ability and zeal in organizing, equipping, and forwarding troops. He was first U. S. consul-general for France and Algeria in 1869-'73 and 1870-'2, acting consul-general for Germany during the Franco-German war. After the war he was appointed by Gen. de Cissey, minister of war, to form and preside over a commission to examine into the desirability of teaching the English language to the French troops. In November, 1873, he was appointed U. S. minister resident in Greece. One of his first acts was to secure the release of the American ship “Armenia” and to obtain from the Greek government a revocation of the order that prohibited the sale of the Bible in Greece. During the Russo-Turkish war he discovered that only one port in Russia was still open, and he pointed out to Secretary Evarts the advantages that would accrue to the commerce of the United States were a grain-fleet despatched from New York to that port. The event justified his judgment, since the exports of cereals from the United States showed an increase within a year of $73,000,000. While minister to Greece he received the thanks of his government for his effectual protection of American persons and interests in the dangerous crisis of 1878. Soon afterward congress, from motives of economy, refused the appropriation for the legation at Athens, and Gen. Read, believing that the time was too critical to withdraw the mission, carried it on at his individual expense until his resignation, 23 Sept., 1879. In 1881, when, owing in part to his efforts, after his resignation, the territory that had been adjudged to Greece had been finally transferred, King George created him a Knight grand cross of the order of the Redeemer, the highest dignity in the gift of the Greek government. Gen. Read was president of the Social science congress at Albany, N. Y., in 1868, and vice-president of the one at Plymouth, England, in 1872. He is the author of an “Historical Enquiry concerning Henry Hudson,” which first threw light upon his origin, and the sources of the ideas that guided that navigator (Albany, 1866), and contributions to current literature.