GEORGE READ was born in Cecil County, Delaware, on September 17, 1733. His mother was the daughter of a Welsh planter, and his Dublin-born father a landholder of means. Soon after his birth, his family moved to New Castle, where George and his five brothers grew up. He received a classical education first at Chester, Pennsylvania and afterward at Reverend Francis Alison’s Academy in New London. Around 1748 he began reading with a Philadelphia lawyer and at the age of nineteen was admitted to the Philadelphia bar and began to practice. The following year, he moved back to New Castle, where the family had large landed estates, and opened his law practice.
Before long, George had enlisted a clientele that extended into Maryland. During this time he resided in New Castle but maintained Stonum, a country retreat near the city. In 1763 he wed Gertrude Ross Till, the widowed sister of George Ross, who also was to sign the Declaration of Independence. She bore him four sons and a daughter. While holding office as the crown attorney general for the three lower counties of Kent, Delaware, and Sussex, he pointed out to the British government the danger of taxing the colonies without giving them direct representation in parliament. Chagrined at the unchanged attitude of the mother country, he resigned the attorney generalship. His opposition to the Stamp Act assured his seats on both the First and Second Congress.
George Read was a shrewd and talented lawyer who was above all else cautious. He did not believe in jumping into a vote for independence until all efforts toward reconciliation were exhausted. Read worked hard as a delegate, sitting in on numerous committee meetings from early morning until late in the evening. By January 1776 he was almost worn down and in need of a vacation. He left for home, but his rest was short lived. Read was summoned back to Congress for the vote for independence on July 2, 1776. When his name was called from the roll, Read voted against independence, the only signer of the Declaration to do so. A month later, however, he did sign the Declaration, and from then on he became one of the strongest supporters of the cause of the colonies.
That same year, Read gave priority to state responsibilities. He presided over the Delaware constitutional convention, in which he chaired the drafting committee, and began a term as speaker of the legislative council, which in effect made him vice president of the state. During 1779, in poor health, Read resigned from the legislative council, refused reelection to Congress, and began a period of inactivity. During the years 1782-88, he again sat on the council and concurrently held the position of judge of the court of appeals in admiralty cases. Read was a United States Senator from the beginning of the new government until 1793, when he resigned to become Chief Justice of Delaware, a post he filled until his death. He died on September 21, 1798 at his mansion in New Castle, Delaware.
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