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From the time he was 27, Rodney, who had a strong sense of community, held more public offices than anyone else in Delaware’s history, Mr. Pack says — among them Kent County sheriff, major-general of the Delaware militia, president of the state of Delaware (an office comparable to governor) and member of the upper house of the state Assembly.

“He wasn’t nearly as well-educated as some of the other Founding Fathers, but he had the respect of men like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.”

Yet he was not a well man, Mr. Pack says. He suffered from asthma and gout, and had a facial cancer that left him disfigured.

Mr. Pack doesn’t wear a scarf, as Rodney did to disguise his disfigurement. “I found it too limiting as a actor,” he says, but in his performance he does mention the affliction.

Rodney’s ride

Rodney’s ride came on July 1 and 2, 1776, as the delegates in Philadelphia had reached an impasse. Nine of the 13 colonies had voted for a break from Great Britain, but the push was on for unanimity: Anything short of that, the Congress feared, would indicate division — and weakness.

Delaware was undecided. One of its delegates, Thomas McKean, had voted yes. Another, George Read, who thought a proclamation of independence too hasty a move, voted no. Rodney, the third delegate and the man who could break the tie, was 80 miles from Philadelphia, helping to quell a loyalist rebellion in Sussex County, south of his home county of Kent.

When news of the impasse reached Rodney, he hastened northward. By horseback or carriage or a combination of both (historians differ, but Mr. Pack suspects he went the whole way by carriage), Rodney arrived at the Congress on July 2, casting his vote for independence.

South Carolina and Pennsylvania, initially opposed, went along. That brought the total to 12 voting for independence and none against. New York (whose delegates were instructed by their legislature to seek reconciliation) withheld its vote so that there would be no negative votes.

And so the Declaration was proclaimed on July 4, and Caesar Rodney was one of its signers. When news of the proclamation reached Dover, Mr. Davidson says, “it was met with loud huzzahs by crowds of patriots on the Green.”

A divided people

The most enlightening part of Mr. Davidson’s tour may be his description of the warring factions that rent Dover during those early Revolutionary days.

Indeed, Delaware had become so divided by the summer of 1776 that things might have gone either way, for independence or against. Witness George Read’s “no” vote on independence and Caesar Rodney’s trouble with the Sussex Tories, who had besieged the port town of Lewes.

In fact, news of the Sussex rebellion had reached England and was received as proof that the Americans’ push for independence would fail.

At that time Dover was a town of about 1,200 and Delaware’s three counties altogether had a population of about 60,000, according to William Henry Williams’ “The First State.” But even in such a small population, the Revolution deepened the divisions more profoundly than they had been before.

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