John McKinly was the only Delaware Governor to be born on foreign soil. He was born in Northern Ireland on February 24, 1721. The names of his parents are unknown.
McKinly first came to Delaware in 1742 when he was 21, arriving in Wilmington. Within five years he established himself by becoming a lieutenant in a New Castle County militia unit. During the French and Indian War he served as a Major in the Upper New Castle County Militia. In 1757, he became Sheriff of the county and later serving as the County Road Commissioner. He served multiple times as the Mayor of Wilmington and was also known to have had some medical training.
In 1771 McKinly was elected to the "Assembly of the Lower Three Counties upon the Delaware" which met in New Castle and he served in that body until Delaware's first constitution of 1776 established a legislature. As the Revolutionary War approached, he became a member of Delaware's Committee of Correspondence, the Committee for Instructions to Delaware's Continental Congress Delegates and in 1775 he became President of the Council of Safety. In September of 1775 he was named Brigadier General of the three battalions of the New Castle County Militia.
McKinly was elected to the 1st Delaware General Assembly in October of 1776 and became the 1st Speaker of the House. In the following February a motion was made to elect a President (Governor) and John McKinly received 19 of the 23 votes. During that time the Governor was elected by the Legislature.
McKinly did his best to grapple with state problems but due to the war and other overwhelming events he was unable to effect any real progress. The British, landing near the Bohemia River in Maryland marched into Wilmington and into Governor McKinly's house and rousted him while he was still sleeping. McKinly was taken as a prisoner and placed aboard the British Warship "Roebuck" in the Delaware River. He was later transferred to the "Solebay" where he made many pleas to Generals Washington and Howe without any success. To make matters worse he also was replaced as the Governor on September 22, 1777 by "Thomas McKean" while still a prisoner of the British.
Finally, McKinly was paroled to Wilmington in August, 1778. After the war, McKinly was chosen a delegate to the US Congress but he refused to serve. He did not suffer professionally, however, from his imprisonment for he resumed his practice and had a great deal to do with the founding of the Delaware Medical Society in 1789. Also, he became a trustee of the Newark Academy and was prominent in Wilmington affairs thereafter.
During his brief term as Governor Dover became the Capital of the State on May 12, 1777. McKinly married the former Jane Richardson in 1761. Together they made their home on the northwest corner of 3rd and French Streets (no longer standing) and did not have any children. John McKinly died on August 31, 1796 at his home. He was 75 years old. He was interred in the 1st Presbyterian Church yard in Wilmington and in 1922 his body was reinterred in the Wilmington and Brandywine Cemetery. His wife Jane died on July 18, 1805 and was interred with her parents in the Friends burial plot in New Castle. No known portrait of John McKinly is in existence.
Email any questions or comments to: