Philemon Dickinson - Commander of New Jersey's Revolutionary Militia

Philemon Dickinson - Commander of New Jersey's Revolutionary Militia

I have discussed the important role that John Dickinson played in the American Founding on several occasions.

Unfortunately, like so many others, I have overlooked the importance of his younger brother, Philemon Dickinson.

This gets rectified today, as Philemon was the most successful Militia General in Revolutionary New Jersey. 

Philemon Dickinson

By the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, Philemon Dickinson was a successful New Jersey lawyer.

Though not as crafty with a pen as his older brother, John, Philemon became a dedicated Patriot early in affairs.

Appointed as a Colonel in the New Jersey Militia as a response to the Battle of Lexington and Concord, Dickinson had ascended to Major General within a year and a half.

By early 1777 he was in command of all the troops from his State.

Conway Duel

During the war, several men vocally opposed the leadership of General George Washington.

These criticisms, which became known as the Conway Cabal, were an embarrassment for both the Continental Army and Continental Congress.

Thomas Conway, the Cabal’s namesake, was shot by John Cadwalader for his part in the events.

Philemon Dickinson, Cadwalader’s cousin, acted as his second in the duel. This means he was present for the exchange and helped make sure there was no funny business by either party.

Continental Congress

After serving New Jersey for the entire war, Dickinson spent two years in the Continental Congress.

However, he went as a Representative for the State of Delaware!

As an owner of large swaths of land in both States he could be selected by either as a Delegate, which was not an uncommon occurrence.

When his term in Congress was complete, Philemon returned to New Jersey and was elected to the State Assembly.


Dickinson was Vice-President of New Jersey’s State Senate for two years.

When US Senator William Paterson was elected as Governor of New Jersey, someone was needed to replace him in the Capitol.

Philemon Dickinson was chosen to replace him, spending five years as a Senator during the Washington Administration before retiring to his farm and private law practice.

Want to read about more Founders from New Jersey?

Great! Check out these articles:

John Hart - Cave Dweller

Elias Boudinot Signs the Preliminary Articles of Peace

Aaron Kitchell Swings New Jersey

Dickinson does not have a full biography of his own, but he is mentioned in discussions of the Conway Duel.

‘Cabal’ is a fantastic book by Mark Edward Lender (who I was lucky enough to meet and chat with this summer), and it looks at the whole scenario from beginning to duel.

Pick up a copy through the Amazon affiliate link below (you’ll support this site, but don’t worry, Amazon pays me while your price stays the same).

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