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Page 1

Gertrude Ross Read

ca. 1734-?

Wife of George Read

Gertrude Ross Till, the young widow of Thomas Till, who in 1763 put aside her weeds to become the wife of George Read,8 a prominent young lawyer of Newcastle, Delaware, was the daughter of Reverend George Ross, who was for more than half a century a clergyman of that town. Also, she was the sister of George Ross, afterward, like her husband, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a half-sister of John Ross, an eminent legal practitioner at the Philadelphia bar.

She seems to have been admirably fitted to be the life companion of the public-spirited and patriotic young man she married. Read, who after having received an excellent classical education was admitted to the bar at the age of nineteen, was a man of the highest principles. As the eldest of his father's six children, he was entitled, under existing Delaware laws, to two fifths of his father's estate. As soon as he came of age, he made over all his rights in the estate to the younger children on the plea that the amount spent upon his education was all that he could ask from the estate by right. When the contest between Great Britain and her Colonies began in 1765, he held office under the Crown, Attorney-General for the "lower counties" in Delaware, but that did not prevent him from entering actively into every measure to protect the rights of the people. From that time until his death in 1798, he was always in the public service, member of Congress, Judge of the Court of Appeals, United States Senator, and Chief Justice of Delaware. Gertrude had been highly educated by her father. Her understanding, naturally strong, was carefully cultivated by him, beyond the common lot of most girls of her days even in educated families. Moreover, it is said, "her person was beautiful, her manners elegant, and her piety exemplary."

"During the Revolution," says Sanderson, "she was almost constantly separated from her husband owing to his unremitting service to his country. She herself suffered considerable hardship, being often compelled to fly from her home at a moment's notice and this encumbered with an infant family. But she was never dejected or complaining; on the contrary, encouraged her husband in every possible way, not only by word but by the cheerful manner in which she bore the hardships and burdens which fell to her lot."

Mrs. Read's life during the Revolution was a troubled one. The enemy was almost constantly on the maritime border of Delaware and kept the little Province in a continuous state of alarm by predatory incursions. The British army at different periods occupied parts of its territory or went across it making frequent changes of habitation necessary.

While in Congress, Mr. Read wrote as freely to his wife about public affairs as about their domestic concerns, and always in the same spirit of delightful comradeship. In 1774, two days before the adjournment of Congress he wrote:

MY DEAR G----, I am still uncertain as to the time of my return home. As I expected it, the New England men declined doing any business on Sunday and though we sat until four o'clock this afternoon, I am well persuaded that our business can by no means be left until Wednesday evening and even then very doubtful, so that I have no prospect in being with you till Thursday evening. Five of the Virginia men are gone. The two remaining ones have power to act in their stead. The two objects before us, and what we are to go through to-morrow, are an address to the king and one to the people of Canada. This last was recommitted this evening in order to be remodelled. Your brother George (the Signer) came to Congress this afternoon. All your friends are well. No news but the burning of the vessel and tea at Annapolis (the Peggy Stewart) which I take for granted you will have heard before this comes to hand. We are all well at my lodgings, and send their love to you.

Another letter, written in 1776, is as follows:

MY DEAR G----, I have this morning wrote to Katy Thompson (his sister wife of General Thompson) proposing to her to send her oldest son George, to Philadelphia, to the college, where Ned Biddle (another brother-in-law) will provide him with board and lodging, and that she should send her second son to Wilmington, where you will do the like for him. I presume that you will approve of this last.

The Province ship left the town yesterday, being hurried off in consequence of intelligence that the Roebuck, man-of-war, was ashore near the cape. A ship fitted out by Congress and called the Reprisal, is ordered down also with several of the gondolas, but a report prevailed last evening that the Roebuck had got off. Little else has been talked of since the Sunday noon that the news came. I flatter myself that I shall see you on Saturday next. Last Saturday the Congress sat, and I could not be absent. I saw Mr. Bedford last evening: he had a little gout in both feet, attended with a fever: of this last he most complained, but it is gone off. This day is their election for additional members of Assembly. Great strife is expected. Their fixed candidates are not known. One aide talk of Thomas Willing, Andrew Allen, Alexander Wilcox, and Samuel Howell, against independence: the other, Daniel Robertdeau, George Clymer, Mark Kuhl, and the fourth I do not recollect: but it is thought that other persons will be put up. My love to our little ones, and compliments to all acquaintances.


Mrs. Read was noted for her fondness and taste for horticulture and was very fond of the profusion of flowers, especially tulips, which grew in the extensive garden of the old-fashioned mansion, in Newcastle. There she spent most of her life except for the short periods, during the Revolution, when she was forced, for safety, to take her family to Wilmington or Philadelphia.

There were five children born to Gertrude and George Read, four sons and one daughter. John Read, the first born, died in infancy; George Read, Jr., the next son, born in 1765, was U. S. District Attorney for Delaware for thirty years, receiving his first appointment from Washington. He married his cousin, Mary Thompson. William, born 1767, married Anne McCall. He was Consul-General for Naples at Philadelphia for many years; John, born 1769, married Martha, eldest daughter of Samuel Meredith, brother-in-law of George Clymer, the signer. He was a prominent member of the Philadelphia bar and Judge of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. His son, Gen. John M. Read was U. S. Consul-General at Paris. Mary Howell, the signer's only daughter, married Matthew Pearce of Maryland.

Source: Wives of the Signers: The Women Behind the Declaration of Independence, by Harry Clinton Green and Mary Wolcott Green, A.B. (Aledo, TX: Wallbuilder Press, 1997). Orignaly Published in 1912 as volume 3 of The Pioneer Mothers of America: A Record of the More Notable Women of the Early Days of the Country, and Particularly of the Colonial and Revolutionary Periods (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons). Pages 209-215. (Some minor spelling changes may have been made.)


1[From pg. 280, n. 8] Caesar Rodney, the first of Delaware's signers of the Declaration, of Independence, was never married. The late Thomas F. Bayard, in an oration pronounced at the unveiling of a monument to Caesar Rodney erected at Dover in 1889, said: "Caesar Rodney never married, and the happiness of conjugal life, which he was so fitted by his amiable disposition to enjoy, was denied him. There are: certain confidences so purely personal that the right to have them maintained survives. Mr. Rodney was too warm-hearted a man not to have cherished an attachment warmer and stronger than friendship. Among his papers proof of such dedication of his love and devotion have been found, but it was not his happy fate to form the union which his heart desired."

 
 


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Last modified January 5, 2005