19 July 2010

Meet the Signers - Richard Bassett of Delaware

The son of a tavern keeper, Richard Bassett was born 2 April 1745, at Bohemia Ferry, Cecil County, Maryland to Michael and Judith Bassett. Michael Bassett would abandon his family and Judith would send Richard to be raised by a relative, Peter Lawson.

Bassett was educated in Philadelphia, studied law under Judge Goldsborough of Maryland, and received his license to practice law in Dover in 1770. In September 1775, he became a captain in the Kent County Cavalry. After serving the state constitutional convention and serving in both houses of the state legislature, Basset resigned his senate seat in 1793 to the first Chief Justice of the State Court of Common Pleas.

On March 3, 1801 President John Adams appointed him US Circuit Judge for the Third Circuit, which served Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, making him one of the group of “midnight judges” whose judicial seats were eliminated with the repeal of Judiciary Act. Instead of returning to the bench, Bassett became Governor.

Bassett was considered wealthy for his day with homes in Dover and Wilmington, Delaware and Bohemia Manor, Maryland (p. 201). Initially, his property was maintained through the use of slave labor; however, Bassett freed his slaves and then hired them as laborers.

He died 15 September 1815 and is best remembered for his contributions to the development of his chosen church; he was a Methodist. I found no information on his wife and only one mention of any children. His daughter Ann married Senator James A. Bayard and one the early political dynasties was born; two of Bassett’s grandsons and a great grandson would also become senators.

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