It’s June—a good time for a wedding story. It involves Caesar A. Rodney (1772-1824, nephew of Caesar Rodney), his father Thomas Rodney (1744-1811), and Susan Hunn (1777-1839). It’s a story that is preserved in the manuscript collections of the Delaware Historical Society.
On February 21, 1793, young Caesar, then living in Philadelphia, wrote to his father in Dover to ask his approval for his engagement to Susan Hunn (1777-1839). She was the daughter of Thomas Rodney’s friend John Hunn. Caesar says that he and Susan have been acquainted for a number of years and know each other well. He wrote poems to her during their courtship, some of which are in the Delaware Historical Society’s collections. Aged 21, Caesar has just been admitted to the bar and is beginning his adult life. Like so many other young men contemplating marriage, he says that they plan to wait to get married until he has enough money to support her “in that happy line of life, in which she has been so genteely brought up.” The letter’s tone is respectful, but Caesar seems to have no doubt that his father’s consent will be given without hesitation. As he says, “her Parents have very kindly given us their full approbation, & I have no doubt but that you will add yours, which is still wanting to make her happiness, as well as my own complete.”
Well, Thomas Rodney’s approval didn’t come immediately. Caesar was still waiting for an answer a month later. But Thomas Rodney did give his consent, and the couple married. The only information we have is that they were married in 1793—we don’t know the exact date. But the year alone is enough to tell us that they didn’t wait until their “years and circumstances permit.” So much for waiting until they could afford to get married!
But that’s not the end of the story. A letter that Thomas Rodney wrote to Susan’s father in February 1799 gives the back story of this marriage. Rodney admits that he had serious objections when John Hunn first informed him that Caesar and Susan planned to marry. He was concerned about Susan’s health, which seemed weak. Her father’s reassurances that she really was strong, despite some periods of sickness, allayed Rodney’s concerns somewhat, but not completely. Nevertheless, Rodney gave his approval for the marriage because he didn’t want to control his son’s choice of a wife.
Thomas Rodney wanted Caesar to marry a woman who would be able to bear children and keep the Rodney family going—and he had his doubts about Susan Hunn. Caesar was his only son, his only hope for keeping his surname alive. Now, in 1799, Thomas Rodney acknowledges that he was wrong—Susan Hunn Rodney has borne four children so far. “I felt a strong desire that Caesar Should git a wife that would give him a Chance of Reviving the family. These Objections have been Totally removed & my desires forwarded in the most auspicious Manner.” He also recognizes that Susan is a lovely person and a good wife for his son. Rodney admits that his reservations have affected his relationship with Susan–while she has always been respectful and friendly, he has sensed that she has been distant towards him. Thomas Rodney now has absolutely no reservations about the marriage. What he doesn’t quite say, but seems to imply, is that he hopes that he and Susan will have a warmer relationship in the future. That’s a lot for a man to admit, especially an eighteenth-century man. He could express these thoughts and feelings in a letter to a Susan’s father—a man of his own generation. We can only wonder if Thomas ever said anything to Susan. Or maybe one day she said to her husband something like “I notice that your father seems to be nicer to me these days. I wonder why…”
But Thomas Rodney couldn’t get away from his desire that Caesar and Susan have a large family. “And one of my most auspicious wishes towards them is That they may have Twice as many more for if any thing can increase my affection towards them It will be the Increase of the number of their Children.” As it turned out, Thomas Rodney’s wishes were more than fulfilled—Susan had a total of 15 children, probably reflecting the lack of birth control in that era rather than a desire to please her father-in-law.
Did Caesar and Susan live happily ever after? Caesar had a distinguished career as a lawyer, politician, and public servant, serving as U.S. attorney general from 1807 to 1811 among other posts. But his life was not a long one–Caesar A. Rodney died in 1824 at the age of 52. Although the oldest of the children were adults, Susan was left with a house full of children to raise on her own. Susan Hunn Rodney lived fifteen years longer, dying in 1839 at the age of 62.