Thomas Collins

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Thomas Collins (1732 - March 29, 1789) was an American lawyer and politician from Smyrna, in Kent County, Delaware. He was an officer of the Delaware militia during the American Revolution, and served in the Delaware General Assembly and as President of Delaware.

Early life and family

Collins was born in 1732 in Duck Creek, now Smyrna, Delaware, married Sarah, and had four children, William, Elizabeth, Mary, and Sarah. His sister was the wife of former Governor John Cook. Collins was trained in the law, but never practiced, and must have had considerable wealth available to him as he purchased several large tracts of land in the Duck Creek area early in life. They lived first at Gloster on the south side of Dawson's Branch and after 1771 at Belmont Hall now on U.S. Highway 13, south of Smyrna. They were members of St. Peter's Episcopal Church.

American Revolution

Collins began his military career during the American Revolution as Lieutenant Colonel in Caesar Rodney's Upper Kent militia and within a year was a Brigadier General of the Delaware Militia. Collins served with General George Washington in New Jersey in 1777, but returned home to contend with loyalist uprisings in Sussex County. He was probably involved in the efforts to block General William Howe on his march from the Elk River, but there is no evidence that he was at the actual Battle of Brandywine.

Political career

Collins served as Sheriff of Kent County in 1764, and was a member of the Colonial Assembly in five of the nine annual sessions during the period from the 1767/68 session through the 1775/76 session. He was a member of the Delaware Constitutional Convention of 1776 and was elected to two terms in the Legislative Council beginning with the 1776/77 session and continuing through the 1782/83 session, serving as the Speaker in the 1778/79 session and in the 1781/82 session. In 1782 he became a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas. The Delaware General Assembly unanimously elected him State President in 1786 and he served from October 28, 1786 until his death on March 29, 1789. It was during his term of office that Delaware became the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution on December 7, 1787.

President of Delaware
Previous Service Dates Successor
Nicholas Van Dyke October 28, 1786 - March 29, 1789 Jehu Davis

Delaware General Assembly
(sessions while President)
Year Assembly Senate Majority Speaker House Majority Speaker
1786/87 11th non-partisan George Craighead non-partisan John Cook
1787/88 12th non-partisan Thomas McDonough non-partisan Thomas Rodney
1788/89 13th non-partisan George Mitchell non-partisan Jehu Davis

Death and legacy

Collins died March 29, 1789 in Duck Creek, now Smyrna, Delaware. He was buried in the Collins Family Cemetery, but his remains were later moved to the St. Peter's Episcopal Church Cemetery in Smyrna. He was the first State President to die in office.

The Thomas Collins state office building on U.S. Highway 13 in Dover, Delaware is named in his honor.


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

Public Offices
Office Type Location Took Office Left Office notes
Sheriff Judiciary Dover 1764 1767 Kent County
Assemblyman Legislature New Castle October 20, 1767 October 21, 1768
Assemblyman Legislature New Castle October 21, 1768 October 20, 1769
Assemblyman Legislature New Castle October 21, 1769 October 20, 1770
Assemblyman Legislature New Castle October 21, 1772 October 20, 1773
Assemblyman Legislature New Castle October 21, 1775 June 15, 1776
Delegate Convention Dover August 27, 1776 September 20, 1776 State Constitution
Councilman Legislature New Castle October 20, 1776 October 20, 1779
Councilman Legislature Dover October 20, 1779 October 20, 1782
Judge Judiciary Dover 1782 1786 Court of Common Pleas
State President Executive Dover October 28, 1786 March 29, 1789

Delaware General Assembly service
Dates Assembly Chamber Majority Governor Committees District
1776/77 1st State Council non-partisan John McKinly Kent at-large
1777/78 2nd State Council non-partisan George Read Kent at-large
1778/79 3rd State Council non-partisan Caesar Rodney Speaker Kent at-large
1779/80 4th State Council non-partisan Caesar Rodney Kent at-large
1780/81 5th State Council non-partisan Caesar Rodney Speaker Kent at-large
1781/82 6th State Council non-partisan John Dickinson Speaker Kent at-large


  • Conrad, Henry C. (1908). History of the State of Delaware. Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Wickersham Company. 
  • Martin, Roger A. (1984). History of Delaware Through its Governors. Wilmington, Delaware: McClafferty Press. 
  • Martin, Roger A. (1995). Memoirs of the Senate. Newark, DE: Roger A. Martin. 
  • Munroe, John A. (1954). Federalist Delaware 1775-1815. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University. 
  • Racino, John W. (1980). Biographical Directory of American and Revolutionary Governors 1607-1789. Westport, CT: Meckler Books. ISBN 0-930466-00-4. 
  • Scharf, John Thomas (1888). History of Delaware 1609-1888. 2 vols. Philadelphia: L. J. Richards & Co. 
  • Ward, Christopher L. (1941). Delaware Continentals, 1776-1783. Wilmington, DE: Historical Society of Delaware. ISBN 0-924117-21-4. 
  • Wilson, Emerson. (1969). Forgotten Heroes of Delaware. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Deltos Publishing Company. 


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