Joseph Reed (jurist): Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Joseph Reed

In office
1 December 1778 – 15 November 1781
Preceded by George Bryan
Succeeded by William Moore

In office
1778 – ?

Born August 27, 1741
Trenton, New Jersey
Died March 5, 1785 (aged 43)
Spouse(s) Esther de Berdt
Profession statesman, lawyer, military aide

Joseph Reed (August 27, 1741 – March 5, 1785) was a Pennsylvania lawyer, military aide, and statesman of the Revolutionary Era. He served as a delegate to the Continental Congress and while in Congress signed the Articles of Confederation. He served as President of Pennsylvania's Supreme Executive Council, a position analogous to the modern office of Governor.


Early life

Reed was born in Trenton, New Jersey, the son of Andrew Reed, a shopkeeper and merchant, and Theodosia Bowes. His brother, Bowes Reed (1740–1794), would serve as a colonel in the Revolutionary War and as Secretary of State of New Jersey. The family moved to Philadelphia shortly after his birth. The early education of Joseph was of particular importance to his father, who enrolled the boy at Philadelphia Academy, later to be known as the University of Pennsylvania. He received his bachelor's degree from Princeton University and soon after began his professional education under Richard Stockton. In the summer of 1763 he sailed for England, where for two years he continued his studies in law at Middle Temple in London. During the course of his studies, he became romantically attached to Esther de Berdt, the daughter of the Agent for the Province of Massachusetts Bay, Dennis de Berdt. De Berdt, though very fond of Joseph, initially refused his consent for Esther to marry, knowing of Reed's intention to return to Philadelphia. Reed returned to the Colonies with only a tenuous engagement to Esther, with the understanding that he would soon return to settle permanently in Great Britain. After the death of his father, Reed finally returned to London, to find that Esther's father had died during his crossing. They married in May 1770 at Saint Luke's Church in London. Finding the de Berdt family in financial difficulties, Reed remained in London long enough to help in settling Mr. de Berdt's affairs. Esther and Joseph sailed for America in October of that year, along with the widowed Mrs. de Berdt.[1]

Political career

At the beginning of the Revolutionary War, Reed had a successful Philadelphia law practice, which he resigned at the request of George Washington in order to serve the General in the capacity of secretary and aide-de-camp. In 1775, Reed held the rank of Colonel. Colonel Joseph Reed served as aide to General and Commander in Chief Washington, who had given birth to the Navy with the commissioning of first the ship "Hannah" on September 2, 1775, and then the commissioning of six other cruisers (Hannah, Franklin, Hancock, Harrison, Washington, Lee, Lynch, Warren) that were very important in Washington's "siege" strategy encirclement of the British in Boston.

On October 20, 1775, Reed wrote a famous letter (see it at to Colonel Glover of the "Marblehead Men" Regiment of seamen in the Continental Army setting the design of the First Navy Flag, the Evergreen Tree of Liberty flag. Colonel Glover was the owner of the Hannah (named for his wife) and was the action officer along with Stephen Moylan for commissioning the other first Navy ships, (Franklin, Hancock, Harrison, Lee, Lynch, Warren, and Washington) often called the "Washington Cruisers". Reed wrote: "What do you think of a Flag with a white Ground, a tree in the middle, the motto (Appeal to Heaven.)" That Liberty Tree flag became the "true tree" first Navy flag, not the "fake snake" flag of a snake on its belly crawling over the Sons of Liberty red and white stripes flag.

In 1776, Reed served as Adjutant-General of the American army. In 1777, Reed was offered the positions of Brigadier General and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania—both of which he declined. In December 1776 Geo. Washington anxious to know the location of General Charles Lee's forces opened a letter from the latter to Reed which indicated they were both questioning Washington's abilities. This was extremely disconcerting to Washington as Reed was one of his most trusted officers. He continued to serve in the army without pay until the close of the war, however with possibly less than 3 years in the Continental Army, Reed is not listed as a Propositi of the Society of the Cincinnati as of late a.d. 2007. Though he took part in many military engagements in the northern and eastern sections of the war, he was never wounded. He was elected to Congress in 1778, while also serving Pennsylvania as President (Governor). When offered a bribe of £10,000 sterling, and the most valuable office in the colonies to promote the cause of colonial reconciliation with the British crown, Reed's reply was, "I am not worth purchasing; but, such as I am, the King of Great Britain is not rich enough to do it."

Reed's loyalty is contrasted to the treason of Benedict Arnold. Reed was credited with being the first to detect the treason of Benedict Arnold. As a delegate to the Continental Congress, Reed tried Arnold for malpractices of his military duties while in command at Philadelphia, though the trial was strongly opposed by other members of Congress.

In 1778, Reed was one of the five delegates from Pennsylvania to sign the Articles of Confederation. On 1 December 1778, he was elected President of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, a position analogous to the modern office of Governor. Reed received sixty one of the sixty three votes cast and took office immediately. George Bryan, Acting President since the death of Thomas Wharton on 23 May, received only one vote for President but was re-elected to the Vice-Presidency in similarly one-sided voting. Reed was reelected to the Presidency twice—on 11 November 1779 and 14 November 1780—each time defeating William Moore, the second time by a vote of fifty-nine to one. Reed's third and final term came to a close 15 November 1781, when he was succeeded by William Moore.

Reed's antipathy to Pennsylvania's Loyalist residents has been well attested by historic sources. While in Congress, he advocated seizure of Loyalist properties and trying those aligned with Great Britain for treason. Reed and his family themselves lived in a confiscated Loyalist home. Congress as a whole had a much more tolerant outlook regarding Loyalist citizens. While President of Pennsylvania he oversaw numerous trials of suspected Loyalists.

Note that Reed's term as President of Pennsylvania (Governor) December 1, 1778 to November 15, 1781 corresponds to the time where America's fortunes during the War went from near desolation at Valley Forge in December 1777 to May 1778, to victory at Yorktown on October 19, 1781. As former Aide to General Washington in Cambridge, such positive reversal of fortune was not coincidence. Working with James Madison in the Continental Congress, a bill was passed that allowed General Anthony Wayne to gather the resources in Pennsylvania that were necessary for his army to march to Yorktown to help seal the fate of the defeat of the British Army under Cornwallis. Washington showed leadership, friendship, and humility by directing the British to surrender to his second in command, Benjamin Lincoln, who had been poorly treated by the British when he had to surrender to Clinton in Charleston. As was proper military protocol, Cornwallis sent out his second in command, General Charles O'Hara, not for the 'sore loser' excuses most historians repeat.


he died because he was such a legend


  • W. B. Reed, The Life and Correspondence of Joseph Reed, (two volumes, Philadelphia, 1847)
  • George Bancroft, Joseph Reed, An Historical Essay (New York, 1867), in which Reed is presented in an unfavorable light.[1]
Political offices
Preceded by
Thomas Wharton Jr.
Member, Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, representing the County of Philadelphia
24 November 1778—16 October 1781
Succeeded by
John Bayard
Preceded by
George Bryan
President of Pennsylvania
1 December 1778—15 November 1781
Succeeded by
William Moore
Military offices
Preceded by
Horatio Gates
Adjutant Generals of the U. S. Army
June 5, 1776-January 22, 1777
Succeeded by
Arthur St. Clair (acting)

External links


  1. ^ William B. Reed, (grandson) Life and Correspondence of Joseph Reed (1847; Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, pp. 26-43)


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address