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Joseph Reed


General Joseph Reed was one of the most prominent characters of the Revolution. He was born on the 27th of August, 1741, in New Jersey.
   In 1757, at the age of sixteen, he graduated at Princeton College. After studying law in that place, he repaired to England, where he prosecuted his studies until the disturbances produced in the colonies by the stamp act. On his return, he commenced the practice of his profession in Philadelphia, and met with distinguished success. He embarked actively in the political struggle of the day, on the side of independence, and, in 1774, was appointed one of the committee of correspondence of Philadelphia. He was in the same year, also, president of the first provincial convention held in Pennsylvania, and a delegate to the Continental Congress. On the formation of the army, he resigned a lucrative practice, and, at the solicitation of General Washington, repaired to the camp at Cambridge, where he was appointed aid-de-camp and secretary to the commander-in-chief. Throughout this campaign, though acting merely as a volunteer, he displayed great courage and military ability.
   In the beginning of 1776, Mr. Reed was made adjutant-general, and contributed materially, by his local knowledge, to the success of the affairs at Trenton and Princeton. During the week which elapsed between the two actions, he proposed to six Philadelphia gentlemen, members of the city troop, to accompany him on an excursion to obtain information. They advanced into the vicinity of Princeton, where the enemy was stationed, and surprised twelve British dragoons in a farmhouse, who surrendered to this party of half their number, and were conducted by them to the American camp. At the end of the year, he resigned the office of adjutant-general. In 1777, within a period of less than two months, he was appointed chief-justice of Pennsylvania, and named by Congress a brigadier-general. He declined both offices, however, but continued to serve as a volunteer until the close of the campaign. He was present at almost every engagement in the northern and eastern section of the Union; and, although at each of the battles of Brandywine, White Marsh and Monmouth, he had a horse killed under him, he had the good fortune never to receive a wound. In 1778, Mr. Reed was elected a member of Congress, and signed the Articles of Confederation. About this time, the British commissioners, Governor Johnstone, Lord Carlisle and Mr. Eden, invested with power to treat concerning peace, arrived in America; the former of whom addressed private letters to Mr. Laurens, Mr. Dana, Mr. Morris, and Mr. Reed, offering them various inducements to lend themselves to his views. He caused information to be secretly communicated to General Reed, that, if he would exert his abilities to promote a reconciliation, 10,000 sterling, and the most valuable office in the colonies, should be at his disposal. The answer of Reed was, " I am not worth purchasing; but, such as I am, the King of Great Britain is not rich enough to do it." In the same year, he was unanimously elected president of the supreme executive council of Pennsylvania, and continued in the office for the constitutional period of three years. At the time, there were violent parties in the State, and several serious commotions occurred, particularly a large armed insurrection in Philadelphia, which he suppressed, while he rescued a number of distinguished citizens from the most imminent danger of their lives, at the risk of his own, for which he received a vote of thanks from the legislature of the State. The revolt of the Pennsylvania line, also, in 1781, was suppressed through his instrumentality; and he was deputed, with General Potter, by the council of the state, with ample powers to redress the grievances complained of. To him, likewise, belongs the honor of having been the original detecter and exposer of the character of Arnold, whom he brought to trial for mal-practices while in command at Philadelphia, notwithstanding a violent opposition on the floor of Congress, and the exertions of a powerful party in Pennsylvania.
   Amid the most difficult and trying scenes, the administration of Mr. Reed exhibited the most disinterested zeal and the greatest firmness and energy. His knowledge of law was very useful in a new and unsettled government; so that, although he found it in no small weakness and confusion, he left it, at the expiration of his term of office, in 1781, in as much tranquillity and stability as could be expected from the time and circumstances of the war. He then returned to his profession. In 1784, he again visited England, for the sake of his health; but his voyage was attended with but little good effect. On the 5th of March, in the following year, he died, in his forty-third year.
   General Reed displayed inflexible patriotism, boldness, and a comprehensive mind in his public career, wielding a vast influence in council and field. In private life he was known to be purely moral, and a faithful friend.

Source: Marshall, James V. The United States Manual of Biography and History. Philadelphia: James B. Smith & Co., 1856. Pages 141 and 142. (Some minor spelling changes may have been made.)


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Last modified January 1, 2004