Delaware, "A Small Wonder"
Photos and article by Ren�e S. Gordon
earth never agreed better to frame a place for man's habitation�
Captain John Smith
The state of Delaware is a mere 96-miles long,
36-miles wide at its widest point, is comprised of only three
counties. While Delaware's colonial history largely follows the
trajectory of the other 12 colonies it has stories that are stunningly
unique and the footprints of these tales can be traced from Claymont
to Fenwick Island We are going to begin our exploration of the state's
singular sites in southern Delaware's Sussex County. Sussex the
largest and most rural of the three manages to be jam-packed with
history, mystery, slaves, knaves, treasure, 24-miles of sandy
shoreline, 47 bays, 10 beaches and all manner of leisure options.
|Captain John Smith Monument at Phillips
Landing -Photo credit Delaware CVB
Captain John Smith left Jamestown
with 14 men in a 28-ft. shallop on June 2, 1608. A week later he reached the
�Kuskarawack� or Nanticoke River in Delaware and made contact with the
Nanticoke Indians. Congress designated the nation's first water trail, the
3,000-mile Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, in 2006.
The Captain John Smith Monument at Phillips Landing near Laurel commemorates
the journey. The location remains much as it was when Smith encountered the
Nanticoke and walking trails take you deeper into the primeval experience.
The trail also offers boating, geocaching and scheduled cultural activities.
De Vries Monument noting first settlement -
Photo credit Delaware CVB
The Dutch founded Zwaanendael,
�Valley of the Swans,� the earliest settlement in the colony in 1631.
Twenty-eight men were sent to establish a whaling station and trading post
at the site of the current city of Lewes. A dispute with the natives led to
the later discovery of the bones of all 28 residents and their livestock
scattered in the fields.
Seven years later the Swedes began a settlement
known as Fort Christiana, in modern Wilmington. This was Delaware's
first permanent settlement and the first permanent Swedish settlement
in the country. They enslaved the native population, though few
remained, and in 1639 they brought the first black slave, Anthony,
into the colony.
William Penn named Sussex County after the county
of his birth. Land granted to Penn in 1681 by King Charles II included
land that the Calvert family of Maryland believed had been granted to
them by Charles I. Penn controlled the Province of Pennsylvania and
the Lower Counties on the Delaware. The conflict was settled in 1750
when a British court declared that the Penn's land ended 15-miles
south of Philadelphia. In 1763 Charles Mason, astronomer, and Jeremiah
Dixon, surveyor, began the work of scientifically defining the
boundary. Led for 233-miles by Native American guides they completed
the survey and established the boundary for all time on October 9,
1767. It was not until June 15, 1776 that Delaware became a separate
colony. On July 2, 1776 the Delaware representative cast the vote that
made the colonies' Declaration of Independence unanimous. The state's
nickname, �the first state,� is derived from the fact that it was the
first state to ratify the Constitution on December 7, 1787. It was, in
fact, the only state for five days because PA, the second state, did
not sign until December 12 th.
|The Mason Dixon stone
The southern terminus of the only
North-South section of the Mason-Dixon Line is located in Delmar. This crown
stone was placed there in 1768 and is now in an enclosure along with three
additional stone markers. The limestone markers were brought from England
and were 3-5-ft. tall and averaged 450-lbs. The surveyors placed markers one
mile apart with a �P� on the north face and an �M� on the south. At 5-mile
intervals the stones bore the coat of arms of the Penn and Calvert families.
The stones were brought from England bearing the coat of arms of the Penn
and Calvert families. By one account 81 original markers remain in Delaware.
One of the most architecturally and historically
intriguing structures in the state predates both the county and the
establishment of the boundaries of Delaware. Old Christ Church dates
from 1771 and the land on which it stands was an Indian reservation
The church has been preserved as it was and it is a
gem. The 40-ft. X 60-ft. building is heart of pine with an oak
foundation and 10 windows. The interior barrel-vaulted ceiling is
magnificent as are the hanging pulpit and 45 box pews complete with
many original butterfly hinges and rosehead nails. The balcony was
built for visitors and parishioners who could not afford pew rental
This is still an active church and it may be rented
for weddings. Special services are held here and each first Sunday
from May to October. Old Christ Church is listed on the National
Register of Historic Places (NRHP).
|Nanticoke Indian Museum
Approximately 550 Nanticoke Indians
reside in Delaware and they preserve and present their history in the only
Native American museum in the state, The Nanticoke Indian Museum. The
Nanticoke,� the people of the tidewater,� greeted Smith in 1608 and shortly
thereafter established trade with him. The tribe initially lived in wigwams
but learned to build longhouses from the Iroquois. The museum interprets
their culture and lifestyle through dioramas, artifacts, and handcrafts.
Highlights of the museum are a collection of Skookum dolls, an original R.C.
Gorman sculpture and a sacred thunderbird created from 85,000 beads.
The annual Nanticoke Powwow is held annually the
first weekend after Labor Day and attracts between 30-40,000 visitors.
Georgetown, Delaware was created specifically to
serve as the Sussex County Seat in 1791 when it was removed from
Lewes. James Pettyjohn's field was deemed a more central location than
the coastal city and land was purchased on which to build a
courthouse. Excess land was sold in lots to help defray the cost. The
city was named Georgetown and the town was built around its central
circle, recognized as the geographic center of the county.
|The Old Courthouse
The Old Courthouse was erected on
Circle with the exact dimensions of the previous one in Lewes in 1791-92.
The restored 2-story frame building with cypress shingles is outfitted as it
would have been when court was in session. On the exterior there is an 8-ft.
concrete whipping post used into the 20 th -century. Interior displays
include a facsimile cat-o-nine-tails used for whippings, photographs and two
verdict poles. Justice was a public event and the verdict pole points were
white on one side and red on the other. The crowd outside would learn the
verdict based on the color of the points displayed in the window. You will
be glad to know that women were not whipped after 1849 and during the period
they were whipped another woman imposed the penalty. The Old Courthouse was
moved from the Circle in 1836 and a new one was built in its place by 1839.
Both courthouses are on the NRHP. www.georgetowncoc.com
Georgetown's Federal and Greek Revival-style Brick
Hotel was constructed on the Circle in 1836. It functioned as the
courthouse until the new one was completed. In 2008 the hotel was
renovated and now offers fine dining and 14 rooms for overnight
Southern Delaware has more than its share of
history but it also has other unique options. Dagsboro was founded in
1747 as Blackfoot Town in the state of Maryland. It was renamed in
honor of colonial war hero General John Dagsworthy and became part of
Delaware as a result of the redrawn boundary. This charming town has
much to offer but visitors should definitely take in a movie in the
historic Clayton Theater. It opened in 1948 and retains its original
projectors. It is the state's sole first-run, single screen, theater.
|Fresh produce a local Farmers Market
Photo credit Southern Delaware Tourism
Tour-ism officially launched �Local on the Menu� in Millsboro on April 17
th. The culinary initiative guidelines make it mandatory for the included
venues to purchase from a minimum of one local farm and at least four dishes
must include local products. Two of the restaurants I personally tested had
creative menus and something extra in the way of history and ambiance.
Luca Ristorante & Enoteca of Millsboro is an
authentic Italian restaurant and wine bar using only the freshest
ingredients. It is situated inside a former bank and you can reserve
the bank vault as a private dining space.
Dogfish Head Brewpub in Rehoboth serves delicious
dishes as well as handcrafted beers that are not available anywhere
else on earth. They also serve �ancient ales,� brewed from recipes
resulting from archeological digs. Mayan and Egyptian cultures are
represented as well as a saki from 7,000 B.C. They have been featured
on the Discovery Channel.
The earliest European settlement in what is now
Delaware was established as a whaling station and from that time on
the events and cultures of Delaware have been shaped by its geography.
Penn gained possession of the territory at the end of the 17 th
-century to ensure that his holdings would have access to the sea and
Sussex County, more than any other, developed based on its variety of
waterways. The county, one of the largest east of the Mississippi
River, is a total of 1,195-sq. miles of which 20% is water with 47
bays and 24-miles of sandy beaches.
Of Southern Delaware's ten beaches arguably the
most famous is Rehoboth. The area was founded by Wilmington Methodists
as a camp meeting site in 1837 and named after a well in Genesis
26:22. They purchased 400-acres and raised funds by selling tracts of
-For another article about Rehoboth click
Modern Rehoboth is filled with trendy eateries,
unique shopping venues and a host of sites and attractions. These
factors and its location make it an ideal city from which to tour
other nearby areas. Dart First State Transit Bus links the resort
areas and the shopping outlets from Memorial Day through
mid-September. The Jolly Trolley of Rehoboth operates between Rehoboth
and Dewey Beach with stops along the way making a car unnecessary. The
trolley is also available for private charters. Fees and schedules are
The historic Bellmoor Hotel provides outstanding
accommodations for the casual traveler, the intrepid tourist or those
seeking the perfect romantic getaway. The Bellmoor manages to provide
all the amenities of a luxury hotel with the ambiance of a B&B. The
offerings include two pools, suites with fireplaces and whirlpools,
fitness facility, hot tub and day spa with more than 30 services,
complimentary parking and wireless and full buffet breakfast. The
Bellmoor is listed as one of the Select Registry Distinguished Inns of
Indian River Life-Saving Station was built in 1876
and mandated to assist floundering ships and reduce the loss of life.
The station, the only one in the state in its original location, is
outfitted to reflect the period. Tours begin in the center with an
orientation film and continue in the colorful pumpkin and cranberry
Victorian station itself. It should be noted that this is a working
history museum that presents a full schedule of activities including
squid dissections. Interior cellphone tours start in the Mess Room
where the table was always set as a symbol of welcome. Other areas are
the Boat Room, complete with the station's surfboat and rescue
equipment, Keeper's Office, Keeper's Room and Bunk Room.
Less than 50-years after Captain Smith sailed on
the Nanticoke River pirates emerged as a serious problem. They loved
the region because they could use the inlets, bays and islands as
places to rest, recuperate and divide their plunder. For the next
century pirates and privateers would raid towns and ships laden with
colonial goods. The �rock stars� of piracy, Blackbird and Captains
Kidd and Avery, are known to have been in the area. King James I
issued the first colonial laws against piracy in 1687. In 1788 James
McAlpine was the last person to be convicted of piracy in the state.
Because of this history Southern Delaware is a destination for
treasure hunters who are seeking the booty that was left behind.
Fenwick Island, nestled in the southeast corner of
the state, was named for Virginia's Thomas Fenwick who purchased the
property in 1686. The salt industry operated there between 1775-1825
and it became a religious oriented summer camp shortly thereafter.
Artifacts from the Heneritta Marie at the
The Discover Sea Shipwreck
Museum, on Fenwick Island, is jewel and it is not to be missed. The museum
recovers, preserves and displays articles that interpret regional maritime
history. This private collection of artifacts includes 10,000 items of which
10% are on display. The tour begins with the story of the 1622 sinking of
the Nuestra Se�ora de Atocha. It was a treasure ship that was part of the
Spanish fleet taking North American treasure to Spain. The astonishing cargo
included 24-tons of silver, 125 gold bars, indigo, tobacco, copper,
armaments and jewelry. There were only 5 survivors, of the 265-man crew, 2
of which were slaves. The search for this ship lasted 16-years before it was
located in 1985 and the $1.8-billion treasure was recovered.
|Mayan sculpture at the Shipwreck Museum
Between 1641 and 1865 there were
more than 3,000 shipwrecks from Lewes, Delaware to Cape Charles, VA and the
tour continues with artifacts from some of these wrecks and others as well
as interactive displays and areas that interpret the work involved in marine
archeology. Gallery highlights include artifacts from the slave ship
Henrietta Marie, the Titanic, emerald encased ballast, Mayan gold sculptures
and a magnificent 22-kt, 10.5-ft, gold wedding chain. The chain was to be
given to the Queen of Spain for use as a �loaner� to Spanish brides. Gold
was often crafted into jewelry because the Spanish government did not tax
jewelry. Admission is free.
The fully restored 1938 Lightship Overfalls
(LV118), one of only 17 left of the 179 originally made, has been
moored in the Lewes Canal since 1973. Early documents indicate that
there were lightships in Egypt 2000 years ago. Then, as later, they
had a light on top and were anchored offshore as beacons for passing
ships. Visitors can tour the entire vessel. Particularly interesting
are the captain and crew's cabins and the pilothouse.
Slavery entered Delaware with the first permanent
European settlement in the 1630s and in 1700 the initial
discriminatory law, setting up a separate court for the trial of
Negroes, was enacted.
Sixty years later a law was passed that permitted
owners to free the enslaved and in 1767 the state's first documented
slavery debates began with the anti-slavery contingent largely in Kent
County. Rural Sussex County was against a ban. In 1776 the importation
of slaves into Delaware was banned and in 1789 slave ships were no
longer allowed to use Delaware ports. After the American Revolution it
became illegal to sell Delaware slaves to the West Indies, Georgia or
the Carolinas, amended to include Maryland and Virginia, and in 1797
freedom was instantly given to any slave sold out of the state. By the
onset of the Civil War Delaware had proportionately more freedmen than
any other state with the state's greatest number of slaves, 1,350, in
Delaware did not secede and Lincoln offered to
emancipate all of the state's slaves and compensate owners $500 per
person. His efforts failed and it was not until the passage of the
13th Amendment in Dec. of 1865 that the slaves were freed. Slavery was
not abolished by the state until the early 20th -century.
The Governor Ross Mansion & Plantation is a 20-acre
complex that preserves the 1859 brick Italianate Villa-style mansion
and farm dependencies including an ash house and the sole log slave
quarters in the state. The slave quarters were relocated and restored
to its original specifications, 24' X 16'. Mansion tours feature
original, ornate, plaster ceilings and medallions and a staircase and
99% original woodwork.
Gov. William Ross was a staunch confederate
sympathizer and he was forced to flee to England to escape
prosecution. The site presents scheduled activities and programs and
is open for scheduled visitation. 302-628-9500.
|A Black river pilot at the Seaford Museum
The Seaford Museum, located
inside a former post office, is one of the best small town museums in the
country. Area history is explored through interactive stations, dioramas,
artifacts, memorabilia and informational text. The galleries are
chronological and begin with a facsimile of John Smith's original map and
continue through its cultural and business history. Of special note are the
displays devoted to Seaford's time as DuPont's nylon capitol, the chicken
industry and the diorama recounting the history of the black river pilots.
Midway through the museum Patty Cannon rocks on the
front porch of her cabin surrounded by plaques that recount her story
and the belief that she is the earliest documented female serial
killer in the country. Patty's cabin straddled the Maryland/Delaware
border and due to lack of coordination between law enforcement
agencies she would commit crimes in one state and retreat to the
Patty and her gang ran a reverse Underground
Railroad. They kidnapped and sold free blacks if the price was right,
if not, she robbed and killed them. She did not confine her crimes to
African Americans, she would rob and kill anyone for profit. In May of
1829 she was tried and sentenced to hang the next day. She committed
suicide that night. In a macabre twist, her skull wound up in the
Dover City Library.
A great way to end this trip is with a peaceful
ride across the Nanticoke on the Woodland Ferry. The ferry, one of the
oldest operating ferries in the country, dates from the 1740s and was
once run by Patty Cannon's family and the view is much as it would
have been in the 18 th -century.
It is hard to believe that all of Southern
Delaware's small wonders are very affordable. You'll find so much to
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