Joseph Reed, an American patriot, born in Trenton, N. J., Aug. 27, 1741, died in Philadelphia, March 5, 1785. He graduated at the college of New Jersey in 1757. In 1763 he went to England, where he studied law until the troubles produced by the stamp act began, when he returned to Trenton, entered upon the practice of his profession, and in 1767 was appointed deputy secretary of New Jersey. Revisiting England in 1770, he married a daughter of Mr. Dennis De Berdt, agent for the province of Massachusetts Bay, and on his return settled at Philadelphia, took an active part on the side of independence in the political struggles of the time, and through his English connections opened a lengthened correspondence on the subject with Lord Dartmouth, secretary for the colonies. In 1774 he was appointed a member of the committee of correspondence, and in January, 1775, president of the first provincial convention held in Pennsylvania; and he was a delegate to the continental congress which met in May. On the formation of the army he was appointed aide-de-camp and secretary to Gen. Washington. In 1776 he was made adjutant general, and by his local knowledge contributed to the successes at Trenton and Princeton. In 1777 he was appointed chief justice of Pennsylvania, and named by congress a brigadier general; but he declined both offices, and continued to serve in the army as a volunteer, without rank or pay.
He was present at most of the engagements in the northern and eastern portions of the Union. In 1778 he was elected to congress, and signed the articles of confederation. About this time he was approached by one of three British commissioners, Gov. Johnstone, with an offer of £10,000 and the most valuable office in America, if he would exert himself to promote a reconciliation between Great Britain and the colonies. His answer was: "I am not worth purchasing; but, such as I am, the king of Great Britain is not rich enough to buy me." He was president of the supreme executive council of Pennsylvania in 1778-'81, and was efficient in suppressing an armed insurrection that occurred in Philadelphia, and a revolt of the Pennsylvania line. He aided in founding the university of Pennsylvania. His "Life and Correspondence" was published by his grandson W. B. Reed (2d ed., Philadelphia, 1847); and his grandson Henry Reed wrote his life in Sparks's "American Biography" (2d series, vol. viii., 1848).