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Nicholas Van Dyke

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Nicholas Van Dyke (September 25, 1738 - February 19, 1789) was an American lawyer and politician from New Castle, in New Castle County, Delaware. He served in the Delaware General Assembly, as a Continental Congressman from Delaware, and as President of Delaware.

Early life and family

Van Dyke was born September 25, 1738 at Berwick, his family's home in St. George's Hundred, New Castle County, Delaware, near the present location of Delaware City. He was the son of Nicholas and Rachael Alee Van Dyke, whose father, Andrew Van Dyke, had moved there from Long Island in New York in 1704. Young Nicholas was educated at home, then read law in Philadelphia where he was admitted to the Bar in 1765.

Van Dyke returned to New Castle where he lived with his family and began a law practice. He married twice, first in 1766 to Elizabeth Nixon who died bearing their first child, Rachael, in 1767. After her death he married Charlotte Stanley. They made their home in New Castle and had four children, Nancy Ann, Mary, Nicholas, and Henry. They were members of Immanuel Episcopal Church.

Political career

Van Dyke entered political life in 1774 as a member of the Boston Relief Committee in Delaware. He then was a member of the Delaware Constitutional Convention of 1776 and served in the State Senate for two years beginning with the 1776/77 session. That same year he was appointed as Judge of Delaware's Admiralty Court, and on February 22, 1777 he was elected to the Continental Congress to replace John Evans who had declined to serve. He would remain in Congress through 1781, and signed the Articles of Confederation for Delaware. For five sessions from 1778/79 until he became President of Delaware in 1783 he served in the State House and was the Speaker in the 1780/81 session.

A few months after John Dickinson resigned as President of Delaware in 1782, the Delaware General Assembly held a special vote to chose a successor to the conservative President John Cook. The conservative faction tried to elect John McKinly, who had been the first President, but the patriot faction won by electing Van Dyke. He took office February 1, 1783, and served until October 27, 1786.

It was during his tenure as President of Delaware that the American Revolution officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in September 1783. In an attempt to solve one problem resulting from the war, Van Dyke proposed and carried out a plan to pay Delaware's portion of the war debt. Another difficult unresolved war problem was the fate of loyalist Cheney Clow. Arrested in 1778, tried for and acquitted of treason in 1782, he was then charged with the murder of a member of the posse sent to capture him in 1778. Though there was no evidence that Clow actually killed the man, in May 1783 a jury convicted him and sentenced him to death. Unable politically to pardon Clow, but aware that many responsible people, including Caesar Rodney's brother, Thomas Rodney, believed the man innocent, Van Dyke postponed the execution indefinitely.

Van Dyke returned to the State Senate for single session tenures in 1786/87 and briefly until his death in the 1788/89 session, when he was the Speaker.

President of Delaware
Previous Service Dates Successor
John Cook February 1, 1783 - October 27, 1786 Thomas Collins

Delaware General Assembly
(sessions while President)
Year Assembly Senate Majority Speaker House Majority Speaker
1782/83 7th non-partisan John Cook non-partisan vacant
1783/84 8th non-partisan Caesar Rodney non-partisan Robert Bryan
1784/85 9th non-partisan Thomas McDonough non-partisan Thomas Duff
1785/86 10th non-partisan Thomas McDonough non-partisan Thomas Duff

Death and legacy

Van Dyke died February 19, 1789 at Berwick, in St. George's Hundred, New Castle County, Delaware, and was buried there at first. Later his remains were removed to the Immanuel Episcopal Church Cemetery in New Castle, Delaware.

His son, also Nicholas, would later represent Delaware in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate. His daughter, Nancy Ann, married Kensey Johns at a 1784 wedding in the Amstel House in New Castle that was attended by General George Washington. Their son, Kensey Johns, Jr., would later serve in the U.S. House.

Much of the property surrounding Van Dyke's original home Berwick was taken in 1829 for the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, but the house itself remained through the American Civil War. All the remaining lands and home are believed to have been taken when the canal was expanded in 1929. His New Castle home, now known as the Amstel House, still stands on Fourth Street in New Castle and is open to the public.

No known portrait of Nicholas Van Dyke exists.


Elections were held October 1st and members of the General Assembly took office on October 20th, or the following weekday. Legislative Councilmen had a three year term and the Assemblymen had a one year term. The General Assembly chose the Continental Congressmen for a term of one year and the State President for a term of three years.

Public Offices
Office Type Location Took Office Left Office notes
Delegate Convention Dover August 27, 1776 September 20, 1776 State Constitution
Councilman Legislature New Castle October 20, 1776 October 20, 1778
Delegate Legislature Philadelphia February 22, 1777 February 2, 1782 Continental Congress
Assemblyman Legislature Dover October 20, 1778 October 20, 1779
Assemblyman Legislature Dover October 20, 1779 October 20, 1780
Assemblyman Legislature Dover October 20, 1780 October 20, 1781
Assemblyman Legislature Dover October 20, 1781 October 20, 1782
Assemblyman Legislature Dover October 20, 1782 February 1, 1783
State President Executive Dover February 1, 1783 October 26, 1786
Councilman Legislature Dover October 20, 1786 October 21, 1787
Councilman Legislature Dover October 20, 1788 February 19, 1789

Delaware General Assembly service
Dates Assembly Chamber Majority Governor Committees District
1776/77 1st State Council non-partisan John McKinly New Castle at-large
1777/78 2nd State Council non-partisan George Read New Castle at-large
1778/79 3rd State House non-partisan Caesar Rodney New Castle at-large
1779/80 4th State House non-partisan Caesar Rodney New Castle at-large
1780/81 5th State House non-partisan Caesar Rodney New Castle at-large
1781/82 6th State House non-partisan John Dickinson New Castle at-large
1782/83 7th State House non-partisan John Cook New Castle at-large
1786/87 11th State Council non-partisan Thomas Collins New Castle at-large
1787/88 12th State Council non-partisan Thomas Collins New Castle at-large
1788/89 13th State Council non-partisan Thomas Collins New Castle at-large


  • Conrad, Henry C. (1908). History of the State of Delaware. Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Wickersham Company. 
  • Martin, Roger A. (1984). A History of Delaware Through its Governors. Wilmington, Delaware: McClafferty Press. 
  • Martin, Roger A. (1995). Memoirs of the Senate. Newark, Delaware: Roger A. Martin. 
  • Munroe, John A. (2004). The Philadelawareans. Newark, Delaware: University of Delaware Press. ISBN 0-87413-872-8. 
  • Munroe, John A. (1954). Federalist Delaware 1775-1815. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University. 
  • Scharf, John Thomas (1888). History of Delaware 1609-1888. 2 vols. Philadelphia: L. J. Richards & Co. ISBN 0-87413-493-5. 
  • Racino, John W. (1980). Biographical Directory of American and Revolutionary Governors 1607-1789. Westport, CT: Meckler Books. ISBN 0-930466-00-4. 
  • Wilson, Emerson. (1969). Forgotten Heroes of Delaware. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Deltos Publishing Company. 

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