James Sykes, Governor

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James Sykes

Birthdate: (61)
Death: 1822 (60)
Immediate Family:

Son of James Sykes, Esq. and Agnes Sykes
Husband of Elizabeth Sykes
Father of Anna Matilda Sykes
Half brother of Mary Withered

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Immediate Family

About James Sykes, Governor


James Sykes (March 27, 1761 – October 18, 1822) was an American physician and politician from Dover, in Kent County, Delaware. He was a member of the Federalist Party, who served in the Delaware General Assembly and as Governor of Delaware.

Early life and family

James Sykes was born near Dover, Delaware, the son of James and Agnes Sykes. His father was a member of the Delaware General Assembly and a delegate to the Continental Congress. James, Jr. studied medicine under Dr. Joshua Clayton and first practiced in Cambridge, Maryland. While there he married Elizabeth Goldsborough, daughter of Judge Robert Goldsborough. After four years they returned to Dover living on The Green. They had three children; James, Anna Matilda, and William, and were members of Christ Episcopal Church. Their house is now an office building.

Professional and political career

In 1791 the Delaware General Assembly appointed Sykes to help manage a lottery to raise one thousand pounds to defray expenses incurred in constructing a new state house. After serving as clerk for the State House in 1796, he was elected to the State Senate in 1793. He served one term for the 1794, 1795, and 1796 sessions. Returning a year later, he served six more terms from the 1798 session through the 1812 session. He was Speaker in 1801, and then in every session from 1804 through 1812.

On February 20, 1801, Governor Richard Bassett resigned following his appointment as U.S. Circuit Court Judge by U.S. President John Adams. As the Speaker of the State Senate, Sykes was next in line of succession and took office as Governor. He chose not to run for election in his right, and returned to the State Senate on January 19, 1802.

In the meantime, Sykes had become one of the state's most renowned surgeons. From his office at 45 The Green in Dover, he specialized in treating gallstones and yellow fever. In 1814 he moved his practice to New York City for six years, but then returned to the Dover practice with his son, James. In 1822 he became President of the Delaware Medical Society.

Death and legacy

Sykes died at Dover and is buried there in the Christ Episcopal Church Cemetery. His son, James, was a physician in Dover.


Elections were held the first Tuesday of October and members of the General Assembly took office the first Tuesday of January. State Senators had a three year term. The Governor takes office the third Tuesday of January and had a three year term. However, Sykes served as State President only filling the vacancy caused by the resignation of Richard Bassett.


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James Sykes, Governor's Timeline

March 27, 1761
Age 60