Category Archives: Delaware

Jarrett Willey, Innholder at Broad Creek

In March of 1737, a man named Jarrett Willey petitioned the Somerset County Court for permission to keep “an Ordinary or house of Entertainment at his house at broad Creek in Somerset County for the Use and Conveniency of the Inhabitants Travellers and Strangers. . .”  The Court granted his request, under the condition that he would pay a yearly fee of fifty shillings, and keep an orderly establishment. Tippling, gaming, and “disorders or other Irregularities” were not to be tolerated.  Local planters Robert Givans and Allen Gray provided security; they would be fined if Willey failed to follow the rules.

Technically, an ordinary was a tavern or restaurant, but in this part of the colonies, the term was also used to refer to inns. In this case, the Court record specifically calls Willey an “Inholder” — that is, an innholder or innkeeper. His ordinary would have been one of the most important places at Broad Creek at the time; a place for travelers to stay overnight, and for locals to gather.

Willey’s name appears on the Somerset County tax lists for 1737-1740, but the spelling is inconsistent. For example, in 1740, it was Jerad Willy. Also in 1740, he petitioned the Court again; this record is nearly identical to the one from 1737, with Jonathan Shockley and Paris Chipman providing security.

The exact location of Willey’s establishment is unclear, but it seems to have been located at or near the community known as Broad Creek Bridge, near today’s Sandy Fork. In 1741, some of the residents of the easternmost reaches of Broad Creek petitioned for the creation of a new road leading from “Jarrad Wiley on broad Creek” into Wimbesocom Neck, a distance of several miles. This road may have been the basis of parts of today’s Route 24.

Willey makes another appearance, this time in the land records, in 1742. His first name is spelled Garrett. A triangular 50-acre tract was surveyed for him and described as being in the fork of two roads leading from Broad Creek Bridge to the Wicomico River and Wicomico forest, respectively. This certainly sounds like a good location for an ordinary, but it’s not clear how Willey used his new tract of land, which was patented to him in 1746.

The handful of references to Jarrett Willey, innholder at Broad Creek, offer us a better understanding of the early Broad Creek Bridge community, which we still know so little about.

– Chris Slavens

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Delaware history, Laurel, Maryland history, Sussex County

Journal of the Rev. John Milton Purner, January – May 1860

Some time ago I came across this video about the history and restoration of Bethesda Methodist Episcopal Church, located on Wootten Road between Laurel and Gumboro, and was intrigued by the reference to the journal of a minister who preached there. Bethesda is special to me for a number of reasons: It is the closest church to my home, though it has never been open during my lifetime; as kids, my brother and I often rode our bikes to the church and poked around in the cemetery and fellowship hall; and later this year, I’ll be getting married in the church.

Hoping to learn more about Bethesda and its congregation, I searched and found that the journal in question is that of Rev. John M. Purner, and that it is in the possession of Barratt’s Chapel & Museum of Methodism in Frederica. I was delighted to learn that the museum has transcribed copies of the journal for sale for a mere $5, and stopped by during regular hours yesterday afternoon.

The journal was transcribed and edited by Barbara Duffin and Philip Lawton for The Commission on Archives and History of the Peninsula-Delaware Conference of the United Methodist Church in 2004, and opens with a two-page biography of Purner. Born in Cecil County in 1833, he was assigned to the Laurel circuit in 1859 as a Junior Preacher, and subsequently served several circuits on the peninsula before suffering a tragically early death in 1867. His journal covers the period between January and May of 1860, and consists of short, fragmented, poorly spelled entries, mostly covering the churches he preached at, his text, and the local families who welcomed him into their homes for meals and lodging. Without a home of his own, he stayed with a different family every single night.

The entry for Sunday, January 22, 1860, is typical:

St. Thomas, preach Eph. 3 ch 18 – 19 v  plenty of words but no liberty ~  small congregation ~ burbing [?] Ish 40 ch 8 v ~ midling time large congration   supper at Sister Danson ~ with Mr. Rusell the Bible Agent go Concord hear Chaplin tex “The Son of man goeth” very good sermon take sacrated good time, it had been 18 months since I had taken it before. return home with Sister Danson Mr. Rusel stay all Night

Purner preached at many local churches, including Jones, Bethesda, Hepburn (now King’s), St. Thomas, Old Zion (colored), and Sailor’s Bethel.

Several familiar names from the Bethesda neighborhood appear. For example, he spent the nights of January 29th and 30th with Hezekiah Matthews, then spent the following day with Matthews “wrighting out a sermon for Conf” (Conference).

Reading between the lines, one wonders at the amount of attention Purner seems to have received from young women, and how it might have affected him, a young man in his late twenties. Consider the entry from January 18th:

Leave for Br E. Hitches take dinner Miss Collins their visiting spend it after noon in righting ~ spend in eving ‘th the girles vey plesently ~ a day of dark temptation from the Devil.. Spend the even studing Watson~

A number of other entries mention visits from single women, often in groups of two or three — or more, as was the case on February 14th:

Studing Watson ~&c interrupted with visiters Miss E. Cannon, Miss E. Gordy Miss Mary Mathews, Mar Cannon Magge Collens, Kati Collens poor chance to study without a home ~ go to class good tim Reeceve a letter from Sister Marria heare of Rebecca illness ~~ all Night at Cap Lewes the girlle stay all Night to dark to go home.

Though Purner’s brief notes probably contain little of interest to those who aren’t familiar with the churches he preached at or the families he stayed with, they nonetheless offer a rare glimpse into the daily life of a young Methodist circuit rider in the Laurel area and the people who inhabited that life. The fact that he was only here for about a year, and died only seven years later at age 34, makes his journal all the more precious.

– Chris Slavens

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Delaware, Delaware history, Laurel, Sussex County

Historic Movie Theaters of Delaware

Grab some popcorn, silence your cell phone, and enjoy the show.

In Historic Movie Theaters of Delaware, published by the History Press, film buff and writer Michael J. Nazarewycz invites readers to take a deep dive into the history of 150 movie theaters in the First State, from the Middletown Opera House—where attendees enjoyed viewing still photographs projected via Sciopticon in the early 1870s—to the multiplex cinemas of today. This is a cleverly cinema-themed book, with punny section titles including Opening Credits, Closing Credits, Fade In, Fade Out, and Moving Pictures, all referring to the life and times of various theaters. Rather than trace the history of individual theaters from beginning to end, Nazarewycz tackles the statewide scene in chronological order, one era at a time. Thus we learn in “Take” or chapter four that T. J. Waller built the first Waller Theatre in Laurel in 1913, but its disastrous burning in 1940 and subsequent replacement are mentioned three chapters later. The Waller (or New Waller) closed permanently after its ceiling collapsed in 1967.

Of the 150 theaters covered, only 22 are open today, a mere “14 of which are full-time movie theaters,” making Historic Movie Theaters of Delaware a valuable and important history of a vanishing part of Delaware’s past.

The Laurel Historical Society welcomes Michael J. Nazarewycz to St. Philip’s Episcopal Church on Saturday, March 16th, for a film-themed dinner, presentation, and book signing.

– Chris Slavens

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Delaware, Delaware history, Events, Laurel, Laurel Historical Society, Sussex County

Residents of Lowe’s Crossroads, 1899

From the second volume of the Biographical and Genealogical History of the State of Delaware, published in 1899:

LOWE’S CROSS ROADS, a village whose population is 200 or more, is situated in the midst of a level and partly wooded country, whose dark, loamy soil is productive of corn, vegetables and fruits. The place is about 14 miles from Georgetown, and is in the northern part of Gumboro hundred. Churches and schools are convenient.

Among the citizens of the town and its vicinity are the following:

Mrs. Sarah W. Brittingham

Wm. A. Cannon

Lemerson Collins

Mrs. Nancy S. Collins

Mrs. Mary Downs

Stephen H. Downs

Philip E. English

Peter B. Gordy

W. T. Gray

Chas. S. Gumby

George H. Harrison

N. Washington Jones

Benj. S. King

C. E. King

George E. King

Lorenzo King

John S. Lecates

Minos B. Lingo

Stansbury C. Matthews

Levin H. Moore

Amelia G. Parsons

Elijah C. Short

Elijah W. Short

James N. Short

Willard Stephens

Wm. B. Truitt

John S. Baker

Gibson Boyce

James B. Brown

Joseph M. Cannon

Elijah W. Collins

Jacob P. Collins

Ora J. Collins

Elijah R. Downs

James F. Downs

Jesse T. Downs

Joseph M. Downs

P. O. Downs

Stephen H. Downs

Thomas H. Downs

Wm. Easham

James M. Foskey

Aaron I. Gordy

Benton H. Gordy

Frank W. Gordy

John H. Gordy

John L. Gordy

Peter B. Gordy

Levi J. Gray

Wm. T. Gray

Stephen P. Gumby

Lemuel Hadden

Elijah Hudson

George F. Hudson

Benjamin M. Jones

Elijah W. Jones

George W. Jones

Isaac S. Jones

Jacob S. Jones

Joseph B. Jones

Matthew R. King

Wm. C. King

John S. Lecates

Joseph H. Lecates

Wm. Lecates

Minos B. Lingo

James H. Littleton

Henry C. Matthews

Stansbury Matthews

Elijah J. Mitchell

Ebenezer H. Parsons

James S. Parsons

Matthias Pennell

Edward C. Pusey

George W. Pusey

William S. Pusey

John Savage

Elijah C. Short

James N. Short

Edward Spicer

Reuben Stephens

Willard Stephens

Burton P. Truitt

Cornelius W. West

John H. West

John T. West

Joseph P. West

Rufus W. West

William J. West

William H. Wooten

Note: The list of names is printed in paragraph form in the book; I’ve presented them this way for the sake of convenience. There are a few duplicates. Although I’m not certain how much territory this section covers, names like William J. West, John S. Lecates, Henry C. Matthews, and Benton H. Gordy indicate that the area around Whaley’s Crossroads and Terrapin Hill is included.

– Chris Slavens

1 Comment

Filed under Delaware, Delaware history, Sussex County

Biography of Governor Nathaniel Mitchell

The following biography of Governor Nathaniel Mitchell, possibly the most important individual in the history of Laurel, was published in the Biographical and Genealogical History of the State of Delaware in 1899. Recently I acquired a copy of this rare two-volume set, sometimes called Runk’s History of Delaware (after the publisher, J. M. Runk & Co.), and will be sharing a few excerpts on this blog.

Governor Nathaniel Mitchell

Nathaniel Mitchell, one of the early governors of Delaware, was an ardent patriot and distinguished soldier and officer of the Revolution. He was born in 1753, at, or near, what is now Laurel, in Sussex county, Delaware, son of James and Margaret (Dagworthy) Mitchell, and nephew of Gen. John Dagworthy, of Delaware. Little is known of his early life or opportunities for securing an education. He was commissioned adjutant in Col. John Dagworthy’s Delaware battalion of militia in 1775; captain in Col. Samuel Patterson’s Delaware battalion of the “Flying Camp,” from June to December, 1776; captain in Col. William Grayson’s Additional Continental regiment, January 20, 1777; major in the same regiment from December 23, 1777, when he was transferred to Col. Nathaniel Gist’s Additional Continental regiment, April 22, 1779. He was brigade major and inspector to Gen. Peter Muhlenberg, 1779-81. Retired from service January 1, 1781, prisoner of war 1781, and paroled.

Major Mitchell was a delegate from Delaware to the Continental Congress in 1786-88, and governor of the State from 1805 to 1807. (See sketch of the governors). He was a delegate to the general meeting of the Society of the Cincinnati at Philadelphia in May, 1787. He died at Laurel, Delaware, February 21, 1814, and was buried in the cemetery of the old Broad Creek Episcopal Church, near that town. Major Mitchell left descendants, but little is known of them or of his wife.

Many interesting reminiscences of the life and character of this ardent patriot have been preserved, but after such a long lapse of time have almost been lost sight of. In a fragmentary copy of “The Constitutionalist, or the Defender of the People’s Rights,” published September 19, 1804, is found a long tribute to his memory, by “An Old Officer,” from which much that is interesting is gleaned. This writer says that he was not one of those modern patriots, noisy and boisterous after danger has passed, who sheltered themselves in hiding places and courted the clemency of their foes; nor was he one of your wild enthusiasts who thought that the Americans knew nothing about freedom, and that it was a notion imported into the country by foreigners. No; he was one of those men who fought and suffered for his country; who was a true friend in its most perilous moments; who believed that his countrymen knew what liberty was, when they wasted their fortunes and shed their blood to procure it.

This same writer relates some events in his career as an officer in the army, which shows the material of which he was made. In 1776, when about twenty years of age, he forsook his family and the improvement which he was making, to fly to his country’s standard to aid in defending the right. He first joined the “Flying Camp” and the regiment was stationed at Amboy and remained till the time for which the men enlisted had expired. During this period frequent skirmishes between our troops and the British and Hessians took place. On one of these occasions Captain Mitchell particularly distinguished himself. A body of the enemy was sent over to attack our outposts. Captain Mitchell happily discovered the enemy approaching. He rallied his company, and although he had a smaller number of men, he succeeded in capturing nearly the entire detachment of British and Hessians.

When the force composing the “Flying Camp” was discharged Captain Mitchell was commissioned captain of a company in the regiment directed to be raised by Congress, and to be commanded by Colonel Grayson, of Virginia. A warm friendship existed between him and the Virginia colonel. Captain Mitchell addressed himself to the work of recruiting the company he was to command, and so great was his zeal and activity that his quota of men was secured long before the regiment could be formed. In 1777 they were marched to Philadelphia, where they remained till they were inoculated for the small pox. Upon the recovery of the men they proceeded to camp, and, Grayson’s regiment not having joined the army, they were attached to the Delaware troops. As soon as his own regiment arrived, Captain Mitchell was united to it, and his company fought gallantly at the battle of Brandywine. He was frequently seen encouraging his men, and bravely exposing himself, among the foremost, to the fire of the enemy. He greatly endeared himself to his men by his anxiety to secure and remove the wounded.

Not long after this affair Captain Mitchell was prostrated by a dangerous illness, supposed to be camp fever, which reduced him to great extremity, and from which he recovered slowly, owing to the hardships and privations of camp life. He was in this condition when the battle of Germantown took place, and was therefore unable to take part in that engagement.

Captain Mitchell shared the horrors of the rigorous winter at Valley Forge when the American army lay there, watching the British in Philadelphia. During that terrible season, Captain Mitchell was entrusted with highly important duties. He was placed at the head of a company in General Scott’s brigade, with orders to guard a dangerous outpost, and was constantly exposed to great danger, as the commanding general depended on him for information relating to any movement on the part of the enemy, so that the camp might not be surprised. He was also frequently called on to make sudden and dangerous incursions into the country to surprise or watch foraging detachments of the British, which made his duties at all times full of peril.

At the battle of Monmouth, he was in the advanced guard under the command of General Lee, who attacked the rear of the British army in their retreat across New Jersey. Upon this occasion, Colonel Grayson commanding the brigade, the command of the regiment was given to Captain Mitchell. It was exposed to the hottest fire of the enemy, and by a desperate resistance against a heavy column of their army, afforded time for the American troops to form, which were advancing hastily under an impression that the enemy was retreating. The regiment sustained a heavy loss in this engagement, but it nobly maintained the reputation of the American arms.

At the end of the New Jersey campaign, the Virginia troops, to which Captain Mitchell belonged, were ordered to the southward. In the winter of 1779-80 he was appointed brigade major and inspector under General Muhlenberg; and in the succeeding summer he was stationed at Fredericksburg for the purpose of promoting and superintending the recruiting service. Having raised and organized a regiment at Chesterfield Court House, he received from Congress the commission of major. It was about this time that General Lee invaded Virginia, committing great depredations throughout the country. Major Mitchell was ordered to join General Muhlenberg, and received the appointment of adjutant general. General Muhlenberg marched into Suffolk, and during the campaign was employed in watching and repelling the incursions of the British from Norfolk. The country was greatly benefited by this service, though it afforded no occasion to the troops to distinguish themselves.

When Arnold invaded Virginia in 1781, wasting everything with fire and sword, Major Mitchell was appointed to the command of the advance guard, which opposed the advance of the British army. This handful of men frequently engaged with the enemy, and nearly one half was killed or wounded. He succeeded however, in cutting off several marauding parties, making a number of prisoners.

An anecdote of Major Mitchell ought not to be forgotten. Early one morning, being at the head of a scouting party, the principal object of which was to gain intelligence, he came up to the farm house of a poor widow, whose husband had lately fallen in battle, and found her bathed in tears, with several small children crying about her. He inquired into the cause of her distress, generously offering any relief in his power. She told him a party of British had just left her home, and had plundered her of everything necessary for the subsistence of her family, leaving her no food for her children, and she knew not how to prevent them from starving. “Be of good cheer,” replied the Major, “and I will try and make the plunderers restore to you their booty.” He instantly pursued, and fortunately soon came up with the party, consisting of about twenty men, who being encumbered with the pillage of several houses were able to move but slowly. He fell too suddenly upon them to allow any escape; and they were marched back to the widow’s with their stolen goods. The poor woman was desired to name the property that belonged to her, which was immediately restored; and for any article missing the plunderers were compelled to pay the full value. The major left the house with the prisoners, loaded with the blessings of the widow.

When the British had returned from Petersburg, he was ordered to throw a bridge of boats over the Appomattox, to remove and secure a quantity of flour, which was in danger of falling into the enemy’s hands. A party of militia was stationed to over the operation. The duty committed to the major was of the most laborious nature. From the small force allowed for its accomplishment, the service required incessant attention, and no diligence was spared to perform it. In the night, however, between the 10th and 11th of May, 1781, the militia having neglected to guard their posts, the British were enabled to surprise the major and his party, and captured him together with Major Mure and six other officers, who remained prisoners until the treaty of peace was signed.

Major Mitchell ever enjoyed the reputation of an active, brave and enterprising officer. He was always among the foremost upon dangerous occasions, and his operations were conducted with equal address and courage. He was a strict disciplinarian, but while he was exact in requiring attention to duty on the part of his men he was careful to supply their wants, and to protect them from every species of outrage and injustice. His conduct always manifested his warm attachment to the independence of his country. And before the unfortunate event which threw him into the power of the enemy, and for which he was not answerable, no exertion was omitted which could promote the Revolutionary cause. If other men were in higher stations and enabled to render more conspicuous services than Major Mitchell, it cannot be said that they were more zealous and faithful in the discharge of their duties.

In reviewing the military history of this brave and efficient officer, it may be mentioned as a singular historical fact that not far from the spot where he was captured by the British in the month of May, 1781, eighty-four years afterwards all that section of country bordering on the Appomattox, was the theatre of tremendous military operations, which culminated in the surrender of the Confederate army under General Lee to General Grant, and the greatest civil war of modern times was brought to a close.

Some time after the close of the Revolution Major Nathaniel Mitchell was married, but it is greatly regretted that the maiden name of his wife has not been preserved, nor is it known how many children, if any, they had. About this time he was appointed prothonotary of Sussex county, Delaware, and entered upon his duties with the same alacrity which marked his military career. His office soon became remarkable for the orderly arrangement of court records, his diligent attention to public business and the prompt execution of all his duties.

When Major Mitchell was named as a candidate for governor of Delaware, the people generally recognized his fitness for the position, and his nomination was well received. The country was sparsely settled at that time and politics did not enter into contests for office then as sharply as they do now. He encountered some opposition, of course, but was triumphantly elected and entered upon the duties of his office in January, 1805. His administration was quiet, but marked with the same diligence, method, and care which characterized him while performing the humbler duties of prothonotary; and he retired from its cares with the consciousness of having performed his duty to the best of his ability and leaving behind a clean record.

The private life of Governor Mitchell, as we learn from contemporary writers, was unexceptionable and exemplary. He had the easy gentlemanly manners of an old time officer who had mixed much with the world. His hand was always stretched out to every honest man, without regard to dress or appearance. The integrity of his character was unblemished, and calumny never ventured to attack it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Delaware history, Laurel, Sussex County

The Beers Atlas and Aerial Imagery

The Pomeroy & Beers Atlas of 1868 is a valuable resource for Delaware researchers, featuring the locations of most houses and their owners’ names, in addition to other important structures like churches, schools, and stores. I’ve often compared the atlas to early topographic maps and aerial photography while researching a particular individual or property, glancing from one to another, but with the help of fairly simple software, images from different sources can be layered and merged, creating a sort of hybrid map.

In the following examples, I’ve overlaid a portion of the Beers Atlas (specifically, a portion of the map of Broad Creek Hundred) over early aerial imagery. In each case, there is a significant gap between the year the map was produced and the year the aerial photograph was taken, but the resulting images are striking nonetheless.

The image above depicts the neighborhood between Lowe’s Crossroads and Little Hill. The photograph is from 1954. Points of interest include the absence of King’s Crossing Road in 1868, and the presence of a road connecting what is now Lowe’s Crossing Road and Carey’s Camp Road. That road still survives as a private dirt lane. “Mrs. N. Timmons” is assumed to be Nancy Timmons, who was—according to census records—100 years old in 1870, but only 60 years old in 1850.

The image above depicts the neighborhood once known as Terrapin Hill, or, more recently, Whaley’s Crossroads. The photograph was taken in 1937. Perhaps the most striking difference is the absence of today’s Route 24 in 1868. Even in 1937, the road was fairly new. Persons of interest include Henry Pepper, Elijah Hudson, William J. West, and Henry Clay Matthews. Henry is probably the southernmost “H. Matthews,” living on the north side of today’s Samuel Hill Road, near the center of the image.

I plan to create more hybrid images of neighborhoods in this part of Sussex County, such as the Old Forge community located east of Laurel, Trap Pond (which will be tricky, since it’s in both Little Creek Hundred and Broad Creek Hundred, and therefore appears at the edge of two maps), Cypress Swamp, and parts of Gumboro.

– Chris Slavens

2 Comments

Filed under Delaware, Delaware history, Delmarva Geography, Maps, Sussex County

Delaware Thanksgiving Proclamation, 1893

Because of the growing tendency to regard the day set apart for prayer and thanksgiving, as a day for indulgence in riotous living and worldly sports, contrary to the spirit in which the custom originated, many good people are beginning to consider the propriety of its discontinuance unless its observance should come to be characterized, as in times gone by, with the sentiment of true devotion. Every day should be a day in which praise and thanksgiving should ascend from every human heart to God, the author and giver of all good. But in accordance with the proclamation of the President of the United States,

I, Robert J. Reynolds, Governor of the State of Delaware, do hereby set apart THURSDAY, NOVEMBER THIRTIETH, INSTANT, as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God for his many good and perfect gifts bestowed upon us during the past year; and do most earnestly recommend that, on that day, the people of this State lay aside all secular occupations, and in such manner as their consciences may dictate, offer to God their reverent thanksgiving for all his mercies and pray for a continuance of Divine favor.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the great seal of the State to be hereunto affixed, at Dover, this seventh day of November, in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and ninety-three, and of the independence of the United States the one hundred and eighteenth.

Robert J. Reynolds

 

Governor Robert J. Reynolds

Leave a comment

Filed under Delaware, Delaware history