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Dr. William Wroten

Delmarva Heritage Series

* Delmarvan Once Disputed Gen. Washington's Rank

Salisbury Times - June 29, 1962

This past winter the story of the rather heated disagreement between George Washington and John Dagworthy in the 1750's was brought to my attention. It is such an amusing story of two men who gave many years of lifetime to public service and the welfare of the American people that it is being called now to your attention.


Little is known about the birth of John Dagworthy, other than that he was born in New Jersey, and there was mention of him in the New Jersey archives of the 1730's and 1740's. Although he became a citizen of Delaware and one of the leaders in the development of southern Delaware, his chief claim to fame probably was his service in the military forces. Actually he saw service in three colonial wars, including the American Revolutionary War.

In King George's War (War of Austrian Succession in European history) with France in the 1740's, Dagworthy was commissioned a captain in the New Jersey regiment. During the campaign against the French in Canada he was in command of a force of English and Colonial troops. After this war, Dagworthy went to Great Britain to receive a royal commission as captain.

IN THE EARLY 1750's, just before the "official" outbreak of the French and Indian War, Captain Dagworthy was in command of two companies of rangers and other militiamen, which had been created for the western frontier of Maryland.

In a way Dagworthy's commission at that time came from Gov. Sharpe of Maryland, and thus it was a "colonial" commission and not one from the royal British army. It was during this period of service that the long and bitter dispute between George Washington and Dagworhty began. The question arose as to which of these two gentlemen outranked the other, and thus had command of the units on the frontier.

Dr. George W. Marshall, before the historical Society of Delaware in 1895, presented a paper, "Memoir of Brigadier-General John Dagworthy of the Revolutionary War," in which much time and space was devoted to attempts to answer the question. Naturally there have been supporters for both Washington and Dagworthy.

The question of military rand and command has cropped up many times in military annals. Sometimes the personal battle has been bitter; other times on officer, for the good of the cause, has stepped aside to let the other officer command. But it was the former case with Washington and Dagworthy. Gov. Dinwiddlie of Virginia had commissioned Washington, a colonel in the Virginia militia; therefore he should have outranked Dagworthy's captaincy. But Captain Dagworthy also held a royal commission which he believed placed him above the authority of a "Colonial" colonel, such as George Washington.

ACCORDING TO Sparks, in his Life of Washington, whenever Col. Washington was with his troops at Fort Cumberland, Maryland, Captain Dagworthy paid no attention to his orders. This then would keep the garrison in "perpetual feuds and insubordination." The situation was explained to Gov. Dinwiddlie, who intimated to Washington that Dagworthy was at fault and might be arrested according to military law.

The supporters of Washington have considered all of this foolish, for they claim that Dagworthy did not have more than 30 men under his command and therefore had no reason to believe he outranked Washington. But the supporters of Dagworthy claim that he had many more men under his command than 30.

This dispute must have been very important to the two men, for Washington made a winter journey to Boston for a personal appeal to General Shirley of the British Army. In March of 1756 the matter was finally settled when orders were issued that Dagworthy was ranked as a provincial captain, thus Washington outranked him.

THERE IS STILL much confusion about the entire situation and the events that followed. For in 1756 Dagworthy was given greater military responsibility and an increase in command. Gov. Sharpe had Ft. Frederick erected as protection to the settlers, and by the end of the summer a garrison of 300 under the command of Lt. Col. Dagworthy were at the fort.

McSherry, a Maryland historian claims that before long the Maryland forces under Dagworthy equaled 500 men. In 1758 Dagworthy and his troops joined the campaign against the French at Ft. Duquesne (present day Pittsburgh). Lt. Col. Dagworthy was present at the surrender of Ft. Duquesne, and was the first to bring the good news to the citizens of Baltimore.

Dr. Marshall, in his article on Dagworthy, stated: "The capture of this fortress filled the colonies with joy. Gov. Sharpe proclaimed a day for public thanksgiving and praise; and the Assembly, to testify their gratitude to the brave men who had served for their state, appropriated 1500 pounds to be distributed as a gratuity among them: to Lt. Col. Dagworthy, 30 pounds; to each captain, 16 pounds; to each lt. 12 pounds; to each ensign, 9 pounds; and the remainder to be expended in the purchase of clothing and suitable necessaries, to be divided among the privates.

And, later, as a further testimonial to Dagworthy for his services, the Assembly of Maryland gave him patents for a large tract of land in what was then Worcester County, Maryland, lying at the head of Pepper's Creek, which later by the surveys of the boundary-line between Maryland and Delaware in 1767, was found to be in Delaware.

ALTHOUGH THE land was sound to be within the boundaries of Delaware, Dagworthy did not suffer a loss. In 1774, all of these tracts were resurveyed under the authority of the Penn family.

"Dagworthy's Conquest" was very extensive, containing altogether a little over 20,000 acres. Besides his position as one of the large4st landowners in Delaware, Dagworthy served for several years as a justice for Sussex County, at which time he played a major role in helping to determine the boundaries of the local hundreds.

During the Revolutionary War, Dagworthy once again came to the service of his native land. In helping to keep a watchful eye on the Tories in Sussex County, he was a member of the Committee of Safety.

Council minutes for 1778 refer to him as Brigadier Dagworthy. Orders were issued to Gen. Dagworthy to take immediate action to disarm "all the disaffected inhabitants of said County of Sussex." A few months before this some ammunition belonging to Maryland arrived in the Indian River area and were placed under the charge of Dagworthy, who sent it across the peninsula to Chestertown. In 1777, Thomas McKean, a member of the Continental Congress from Delaware, wrote, "We made a promotion the Militia by making Dagworthy a brigadier."

GEN. DAGWORTHY was a man of considerable wealth, and like most wealthy colonials of the southern colonies, counted his assets in land, slaves, and livestock. Dr. Marshall wrote: "... surrounded by his family and a retinue of slaves he dispensed a liberal hospitality to his many friends and admirers. He was honored and respected as a bold patriot and earnest, honest citizen, solicitous for the best interest of his State and the community in which he lived, and where he largely developed the varied industries of the county.

From the location of his burial place under the chancel of Prince George's Chapel, which he enlarged, it is believed that he enjoyed the love, confidence, and respect of the then leading denomination which he fostered, encouraged, and helped to maintain by liberal contributions during his eventful life.

Here then, in an obscure corner of the southern border of Sussex County, lie buried the bones of a hero of three wars, a patriot, an honest, industrious citizen, whose memory is unhonored and unsung. However, today he has been honored by having both the hundred and the town of Dagsboro named for him.


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