Daniel Dingee – “the fiction, of factual representation”

The headline in an article published in the Asbury Park Press, Thursday 19 March 2020, “Capt. Dingee was first to chart Delaware Bay in 1756” is contradicted by the caption underneath a faint and blurry image of the chart of Delaware Bay and River “… Miers Fisher, first person to chart Delaware Bay in 1756 courtesy of …“. [1]

This ambiguity and the fact Joshua Fisher, rather than his son Miers, charted Delaware Bay, cast doubt over the reliability of the ensuing dialogue. The fallibility of the article is further enhanced by the claim Samuel Rowland Fisher did not approve of selling slaves and resigned as executor of Daniel Dingee’s estate. In February 1786, Fisher presented the estate’s accounts to the Orphans’ Court of Sussex, Delaware. Notably, many of Dingee’s creditors agreed to accept fifty percent of his book debts.

The newspaper article draws upon user-submitted content held by the Museum and the authors’ interpretation of Daniel Dingee’s lived experienced. [2] One would expect a cultural institution, supposedly a place of learning and truth, would verify the accuracy of the facts before publishing a poorly written and factually incorrect article. Despite the many misrepresentations in the article, two claims made by the authors are deserving of further research. Firstly, Daniel Dingee aided a British soldier’s escape to New York and secondly, whether a connection between Dingee, Aaron Burr and Benedict Arnold be established through the vessel the Charming Nancy.

The authors write, Daniel Dingee was elected to the upper house of the Delaware General Assembly in 1776.  “When the next election came around in 1777, Dingee abruptly decided to retire after being asked to sign an oath of loyalty to the Continental Congress.” 

There is no evidence to support the claim Dingee retired abruptly. His seat became vacant on the first day of October 1777 by rotation therefore, because Dingee was not an elected representative in 1777, he could not refuse to sign an oath of loyalty. [3] The Legislative Council consisted of nine persons, three persons from each county, popularly elected every third year by the freeholders of the county.  Except at this embryonic stage of government, “two of the first persons chosen from each county were chosen for shorter terms to establish the cycle.  As a result, there was to be one term expiring each year in each county.” [4] There is every reason to believe Dingee, the last on the list of representatives elected for Sussex county, “John Wiltbank, 542 votes; William Polk, 541 votes and Daniel Dingee, 541 votes” was chosen for one term. [5]

Daniel Dingee took the oath in 1776. When the Legislative Council met on Tuesday 29 October 1776, “all the members took and subscribed the oath and declaration prescribed by the Constitution or system of government formed by the late convention” for the state of Delaware.  The signatures of the members taking the oath and declaration of faith are recorded in a “Book of Qualifications”:

I [A.B.] will bear true allegiance to the Delaware State, submit to its Constitution and Laws, and do no act, wittingly, whereby the freedom thereof may be prejudiced.

I [A.B.] do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ his only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one Good, blessed for evermore; and I do acknowledge the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine Inspiration.

Geo. Read, Speaker; Nich’s. Vandyke, R’d. Cantwell, Thos. Collins, James Sykes, Richard Bassett, John Wiltbank, Wm. Polk, Dan. Dingee.” [6]

The authors account of events surrounding allegations Dingee sold livestock to the British does not make sense and lacks context. “Dingee was ordered to report to them immediately, but he did not, citing his wife was sick and that there were American prisoners aboard the ships who needed food”. [7] In a revolutionary society, an astute man would not admit to supplying the British with provisions under the guise of feeding American prisoners. Were Dingee to adopt that tactic, he left himself, and family vulnerable to repercussions from disaffected patriots. Appearing in the House, Wednesday 15 January 1777, and informed of Jacob Bennett’s allegation, Dingee chose not to continue in office while under suspicion. [8]

For reasons unknown, Bennett repudiated his original allegation on Friday 17 January 1777. Along with John Trip, Griffith Minshall Jun., John Marshall, and Joseph Poole, (Levi Porter out of the state) all testified “Mr Dingee was not one of the persons aforesaid nor had been on board the said ship of war during the time they were prisoners to their knowledge or belief.” [9]

The claim Daniel Dingee was a “confirmed loyalist” does not consider the diversity of cultures and socio-political viewpoints he experienced during his maritime career as well as his Quaker upbringing and commercial relationships among the Quaker community. Most residents of Sussex county were conservative in outlook before the revolution however, after the revolution they were more conservative. Wilson argues this had more to do with the “nature of the gentry much of which had supported the revolution and once their rivals were exiled, they were able to revert to the political beliefs they had always been comfortable with.” [10]

The Court of Sussex county was lenient with some of those who voiced their political opinions as the case of Joseph Cord demonstrates. Indicted in December 1775 for saying he would “give the last drop of blood” for the King’s army and for damning “Committees and Congress”, Cord was later pardoned and the grand jury indicted the Whigs for “pelting him with snowballs and beating a drum”. [11]

Interestingly, other Sussex county residents listed as Friends of the British and as creditors of Dingee’s estate, are William Hazard, John Parker, Dr James Rench, Levi Oliver (possibly blacksmith to whom Daniel Dingee guardian of John Craig indentured) and Joseph Oliver. [13]

However, establishing a connection between Dingee, Aaron Burr and Benedict Arnold through the vessel the Charming Nancy is tenuous given the number of vessels with the same name.

© This paper is a work in progress and forms part of a series of papers identifying kinship relationships among the early families of Sussex county.  This research should not be accepted as conclusive, there may be mistakes in the transcription of records or my hypothesis may prove to be false.  If you wish to include any of the material contained in, or derived from this paper, place quotation marks around the extracted portion and credit it as follows: “Sarah Baird, “Daniel Dingee the fiction, of factual representation”, March 2021”.”

[1] Asbury Park Press, Thursday 19 March 2020.

[2] Much has been written about Joshua Fisher’s Chart of Delaware Bay.  Published in ten editions and issues between 1756 and 1800, Fisher’s chart remained significant until the United States Coast Survey published their comprehensive chart in 1846.  Interestingly, Wroth credited Joshua Fisher as an author.  Josa. Fisher and Lawrence C. Wroth, Joshua Fisher’s “Chart of Delaware Bay and River”, The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 74, No. 1 (Jan., 1950), 92.

[3] Papers of the Historical Society of Delaware VI. Minutes of the Council of the Delaware State, from 1776 to 1792, The Historical Society of Delaware, Wilmington 1887, 193.

[4] http://self.gutenberg.org/articles/Delaware_Constitution_of_1776.

[5] Papers of the Historical Society of Delaware VI, 1.

[6] Papers of the Historical Society of Delaware VI, 10.

[7] Asbury Park Press, Thursday 19 March 2020.

[8] Susan Abadessa, “Some Observations on the Loyalist Experience: 1770-1780.” The Courier 13.2 (1976): 3-18 : Papers Delaware VI, 41.

[9] Papers of the Historical Society of Delaware VI, 41.

[10] Timothy James Wilson, “Old Offenders”: Loyalists in the lower Delmarva Peninsula, 1775- 1800, Phd Thesis, Dept History, University of Toronto, 293-294. An example of this is the long running feud between John Clowes and Boaz Manlove.

[11] Harold B Hancock, Loyalists of Delaware, Boston, Gregg Press, 1972, 27. Joseph Cord was married to Daniel’s cousin, Jane Miers.

[12] University of Michigan, William L. Clements Library, Sir Henry Clinton Papers, Volume 136, item 33.

[13] FHL Catalog Case files, Dickerson, Sarah – Dodd, John E., RG4545.009, roll 68, 1680-1925 Film # 104348248.

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