This Week in History: The Enduring Legacy of the Cadwalader Family


The City of Trenton is home to hundreds of historical people, places, and things that have shaped our community into what it is today. With each new generation comes new improvements and innovations to help forge an even brighter future for our next kin. The Cadwalader family is a distinguished lineage whose namesake is still well-recognized throughout our community today. From the patriarch of the Cadwalader family, Dr. Thomas Cadwalader, to his son Representative John Cadwalader and beyond, their impact on colonial Trenton and beyond is a history worth remembering.

Dr. Thomas Cadwalader was born in the region to a Philadelphia Quaker family in 1707. Cadwalader’s father, a Welshman, originally came to the United States on the same voyage as the esteemed William Penn. Following in his family’s footsteps, Thomas Cadwalader pursued medicine as a young man under the tutelage of his uncle, Dr. Evan Jones. Cadwalader ultimately pursued a medical education in London, where he honed his craft until his return to Philadelphia in 1731. In his medical practice, Cadwalader is best remembered as one of the pioneers of smallpox inoculation during the outbreak of the 1730s. In addition to his efforts throughout the smallpox epidemic, Cadwalader is recognized as a founding physician and trustee of Pennsylvania Hospital.

In addition to a thriving career in medicine, Thomas Cadwalader was heavily involved in politics. Thomas Cadwalader served as Trenton’s chief burgess in 1746. As a burgess, Cadwalader served in a capacity akin to how a mayor would function in the modern era. Over his political career, Cadwalader was perceived as a strong leader from a great family and utilized this prominence to continue his political aspirations. He eventually moved back to Philadelphia, where his influence and political prowess led him to be esteemed among figures like Benjamin Franklin. Cadwalader would serve on Pennsylvania’s Provincial Council from 1755 until the time of the American Revolution. Cadwalader was also heavily involved in supporting the arts and cultural affairs of the day. Unfortunately, Cadwalader passed away in 1779 and is now buried in Trenton at the Friends Burial Ground.

Thomas Cadwalader, 1770

John Cadwalader, the son of Dr. Thomas Cadwalader, was born in 1742 in Trenton, NJ. During his younger years, he was educated in Europe and got into the dry goods business upon their return to the States. John Cadwalader would marry Elizabeth Lloyd, daughter of Colonel Edward Lloyd. Colonel Lloyd would arrange the fateful meeting between John Cadwalader and George Washington, fundamentally transforming the trajectory of Cadwalader’s life. As Washington and Cadwalader continued to strengthen their relationship, Cadwalader began increasing his involvement with the military. Dubbed a “military genius” by Washington himself, Cadwalader was involved in several iconic moments of the American Revolution, including Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River, the Battle of Princeton, and more.

Cadwalader continued to work his way up the military ranks and was recommended to brigadier general in 1777 and later commander of cavalry in 1778. However, Cadwalader declined these promotions and returned to his family estate in Maryland. Even after serving in the military, Cadwalader maintained a strong relationship with Washington and advised on many of Washington’s military efforts. He spent the remainder of his career working in the realm of politics and served as a state legislator in Pennsylvania. He continued to live a service life until 1786, when Cadwalader would, unfortunately, pass away due to pneumonia. Nevertheless, his life profoundly impacted the formation of the United States and continued the proud legacy of the Cadwalader family.

Today, the Cadwalader family’s namesake is honored throughout Trenton. Perhaps the best-known spot to carry the family moniker is Cadwalader Park, the picturesque West Trenton park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. However, the Cadwalader name lives on here in the Capital City and in our history books, which continues to this family for their remarkable contributions to America’s earliest days.

John and Elizabeth Lloyd Cadwalader with daughter, Anne