Jacob Broom

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Jacob Broom




Jacob Broom

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                                                                       Jacob Broom Memorial Cover,  1978


Scene at the Signing of the Constitution by Howard Chandler Christy. For this painting, Christy consulted earlier paintings, sketches and written descriptions to determine each signer’s appearance. Likenesses or descriptions of two signers, including Broom, could not be found, so their images were left obscure. Click for larger view & legend.

Photos of Hagley House, built by Jacob Broom. Photos courtesy of Hagley Museum & Library, Wilmington, DE. These photos date to approximately 1885, 90 years after Jacob built the house. It was sold to the DuPont family in the beginning of the 1800's.


Jacob Broom, born October 17, 1752 in Wilmington, Delaware, was the son of James Broom, a blacksmith turned prosperous farmer, and Esther Willis, a Quaker. After receiving his primary education at Wilmington's Old Academy, he became in turn a farmer, surveyor, and finally, a prosperous local businessman. Even as a young man Broom attracted considerable attention in Wilmington's thriving business community, a prominence that propelled him into a political career. He held a variety of local offices, including borough assessor, president of the city's "street regulators;" a group responsible for the care of the street, water, and sewage systems, and justice of the peace for New Castle County. He became assistant burgess (vice-mayor) of Wilmington in 1776 at the age of only 24, winning re-election to this post six times over the next few decades. He also served as chief burgess of the city four times. He never lost an election.

 In 1773 he married Rachel Pierce, and together they raised eight children.

Although the strong pacifist influence of his Quaker friends and relatives kept him from fighting in the Revolution, Broom was nevertheless a Patriot who contributed to the cause of independence. For example, he put his abilities as a surveyor at the disposal of the Continental Army, preparing detailed maps of the region for General Washington shortly before the battle of Brandywine. Broom's political horizons expanded after the Revolution when his community sent him as their representative to the state legislature (1784-86 and 1788), which in turn chose him to represent the state at the Annapolis Convention. Like many other delegates, Broom was unable to attend the sessions of the short meeting, but he likely sympathized with the convention's call for political reforms.



Despite his lack of involvement in national politics prior to the Constitutional Convention, Broom was a dedicated supporter of strong central government. When George Washington visited Wilmington in 1783, Broom urged him to "contribute your advice and influence to promote that harmony and union of our infant governments which are so essential to the permanent establishment of our freedom, happiness and prosperity."

Broom carried these opinions with him to Philadelphia, where he consistently voted for measures that would assure a powerful government responsive to the needs of the states. He favored a nine-year term for members of the Senate, where the states would be equally represented. He wanted the state legislatures to pay their representatives in Congress, which, in turn, would have the power to veto state laws. He also sought to vest state legislatures with the power to select presidential electors, and he wanted the President to hold office for life. Broom faithfully attended the sessions of the Convention in Philadelphia and spoke out several times on issues that he considered crucial, but he left most of the speechmaking to more influential and experienced delegates. Georgia delegate William Pierce described him as "a plain good Man, with some abilities, but nothing to render him conspicuous, silent in public, but chearful and conversible in private."


After the convention, Broom returned to Wilmington, where in 1795 he erected a home near the Brandywine River on the outskirts of the city. Broom's primary interest remained in local government. In addition to continuing his service in Wilmington's government, he became the city's first postmaster (1790-92).

For many years, he chaired the board of directors of Wilmington's Delaware Bank. He also operated a cotton mill, as well as a machine shop that produced and repaired mill machinery. He was involved, too, in an unsuccessful scheme to mine bog iron ore. A further interest was internal improvements: toll roads, canals, and bridges. A letter to his son James in 1794 touches upon a number of these pursuits.

Broom also found time for philanthropic and religious activities. His long-standing affiliation with the Old Academy led him to become involved in its reorganization into the College of Wilmington, and to serve on the college's first Board of Trustees. Broom was also deeply involved in his community's religious affairs as a lay leader of the Old Swedes Church.

He died at the age of 58 in 1810 while in Philadelphia on business and was buried there at Christ Church Burial Ground. His grandson and namesake--and my gggrandfather-- Jacob Broom Lyon, was just three years old at the time.

Sources: "Life & Character of Jacob Broom" by Rev. William W. Campbell, Historical Society of Delaware, Wilmington, 1909; "Soldier-Statesmen of the Constitution" by Robert K. Wright, Jr. and Morris J. MacGregor, Jr., Center of Military History,  United States Army,  Washington, D.C., 1987 & McCullough Family notes.



Last update: 27-sep-2003