Martin Waltham Bates (1786-1869)

Martin W. Bates was born in Salisbury, Connecticut on February 24, 1786. Not of a family of means, he attended common schools there and in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. When his family could not afford to send him to college, he continued to educate himself. He taught school for some years, moving about in Maryland and then Delaware. He also studied medicine in Philadelphia before settling in Dover, Delaware, where he first pursued commerce unsuccessfully and then married into one of the most prestigious families in the area. He then studied law in the office of Thomas Clayton. He was admitted to the Dover bar and began a practice in the town in October 1822.

This calling suited him and he prospered very quickly. Bates was elected in 1826 to the state house as a Democrat. He was an unsuccessful candidate for Congress in the elections of 1832, 1834, and 1838. He later was a delegate to the state constitutional convention in 1852. He was selected to complete the United Senate term of Whig John Middleton Clayton who had died suddenly in November 1856. He served from January 1857 to March 1859. He was defeated in the following election by Willard Saulsbury and returned to private practice. Between 1838 and 1848 he served on the board of trustees of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania where his adopted son had attended. This adopted son replaced Bates on the board in 1848, serving as a Dickinson trustee until 1865.

Bates married Mary Hillyard of Dover and for a time the couple lived at "Woodburn," the Hillyard family house and, since 1966, the mansion of the governors of Delaware. The couple adopted the orphaned Daniel Elzey Moore in 1829 and raised him as their son. Mary Bates died in 1847 and while he suffered some disabilities later in his life - he always used crutches after a thigh fracture in 1857 and suffered later from cataracts - Bates continued his legal work. On January 1, 1869, Martin Waltham Bates died in Dover and was buried in the Old Presbyterian Cemetery in the town. He was eighty-two years old.

Author of Post: 
Dickinson College Archives
Date of Post: 
2005
College Relationship: 
Trustee - Years of Service: 
1838-1848