From 1776 to 1792, the executive leader of Delaware was known as the President and was elected by the State General Assembly. After the ratification of the United States Constitution, Delaware developed its own new constitution that called for the popular election of a governor.
JOHN McKINLY was born in Northern Ireland on February 24, 1721. When he was twenty-one years old, he moved to Wilmington, Delaware. Over the next several years he served in the New Castle County militia and was promoted to major during the French and Indian War. He entered politics 1757 when he became the sheriff of New Castle County, after which he was elected as the mayor of Wilmington. In 1771, McKinly was elected to the Assembly of the Lower Three Counties Upon Delaware, a precursor to the state assembly. After the first state Constitution was ratified in 1776, he became Speaker of the House in the Delaware General Assembly. Originally, Delaware did not have a governor and was instead run by a Council of Safety that included five men from each county.
In February 1777, the General Assembly decided that an executive was necessary and elected John McKinly to serve as the first president of Delaware (equivalent to the role of governor). He was a consensus candidate to please both the conservative and radical factions of the state’s independence movement. Due to disaffection over the Revolutionary War, he was not able to accomplish much of note during his term. In September 1777, he was captured by the British army and imprisoned on the HMS Solebay, which marks the end of his presidency. He refused to serve as a delegate to Congress after the war and instead founded the Delaware Medical Society. John McKinly died on August 31, 1796.