Category Archives: Delaware history

Old Forge A.M.E. Church and Camp

This article appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of the Laurel Historical Society’s newsletter.

Old Forge A. M. E. Church was located beside James’ Branch a short distance s. w. of the old Broad Creek Bridge. Near this point, a forge, a saw-mill and a grist-mill were erected in the late 1700’s. The forge was the first to be abandoned, the saw-mill was closed about 1880 and the grist-mill was closed some time later.

On Sept. 16, 1848, James Horsey donated a half-acre church site to a group of free Africans headed by Samson Mathews. Old Forge Church was built and a graveyard was laid out. An active camp-meeting was conducted each year in the woods beside the church. The church was closed about 1909 and the land reverted to Wm. De Shields who had purchased the Horsey farm. There were no tombstones in the graveyard and there is nothing to mark the old site.

– Frank R. Zebley, The Churches of Delaware, 1947

It is unclear when, exactly, Frank R. Zebley wrote the above entry in his wonderful book, since he spent years researching, visiting, and photo- graphing hundreds of Delaware churches before its publication, but some of his photos of Laurel-area churches date to the mid-1930s, a mere twenty years after the annual camp meeting at Old Forge was said to be one of the most popular black camp meetings on the entire peninsula. It seems unthinkable that all visible evidence of a church, campground, and cemetery—the center of a community for countless people over several generations—could vanish so quickly, and that so little of its history would be remembered.

Yet even today, with easy access to newspapers and other records via searchable online databases, we have only been able to learn a little more of that history. Most of the story of Old Forge A.M.E. remains unknown.

It begins, as Zebley stated, in 1848. For the sum of ten dollars (the site wasn’t truly donated), James and Bridget Horsey sold one-half acre of land to trustees “Samson Matthews, Isaac Rodney, Isaac Morris, George Polk, William Sipple, John Saunders, Peter Truitt and Robert Sipple free Africans” under the condition that they would build “a house or place of worship for the use of the African people. . .”

The rectangular lot was described as beginning at “a post on east side of a road leading from Polk Mills (originally) down the western side of said Mill Branch out into the state road leading from Georgetown to Salisbury Maryland and intersecting said road near Broad Creek Bridge so called and then running from said post along or nearly along the East side of said road. . .” Like the church, these roads no longer exist, and the entire site is shrouded in forest.

Little is known of most of the trustees. There were two “free colored” men named Samson Matthews living in Sussex County at the time. John Saunders was involved in the Union Temperance Benevolent Society. The most prominent trustee, by far, seems to be William Sipple, a successful Laurel blacksmith and landowner who provided land to Mt. Pisgah A.M.E., served as a trustee of the local African-American school, and is even believed to have been involved in the Underground Railroad.

Although it is assumed that the new church was named Old Forge A.M.E. upon its construction, the name does not appear on the deed. Evidently the church began holding annual camp meetings in 1855, but we only know this because the camp celebrated its 60th anniversary in 1915; the known records are silent about both church and camp meeting during the early decades. Hopefully, more information will be discovered.

As if to make up for years of inattention, somebody began submitting brief notes about the camp to the newspapers in the early 20th century. On July 23, 1902, Wilmington’s Every Evening reported that Old Forge camp meeting was in progress and drawing a large attendance. The same article implies that some of the attendees were robbing nearby watermelon fields under the cover of darkness, while farmers guarded their fields with shotguns. Three weeks later, on August 15, Every Evening reported that Old Forge was still drawing a crowd from Laurel. That’s some camp meeting!

Alleged watermelon heists paled in comparison to the news that came from the camp two years later. After a violent brawl erupted in or near the campground, during which knives, blackjacks, razors, and pistols were brandished if not actually used, participant Lee Ackwood—a rough character who makes several appearances in Maryland and Delaware newspapers for various crimes—returned to the camp later that evening and shot John White, a popular and respected black merchant, badly injuring him. Both the Morning News and the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that a posse searched for Ackwood on the night of the crime, but the latter clarified that the posse consisted of black men: “…if caught he will be lynched by his own race, as White was extremely popular, and his friends are determined to wreak vengeance upon his assailant.” The shooter was arrested and jailed the next morning.

The camp continued to have a tainted reputation; the ten-day meeting in 1909 was said to be the first without shootings or fights. It seems that the church was closed at about this time—probably due, in part, to the condition of the aging structure—for in 1910 the annual camp meeting was continued by Mt. Pisgah A.M.E. Church. In 1914, the Morning News contradicted the various reports of violent incidents, stating that the camp had “always been free from shooting scrapes.” The 60th annual camp meeting, in 1915, was described as one of the most successful in the camp’s history—yet it also seems to have marked the end of the camp’s history. Old Forge is conspicuously absent from state newspapers after 1915. The seemingly abrupt demise of the camp corresponds with a peninsula-wide crackdown on black camp meetings due to a perception that they frequently turned disorderly or violent. Prejudice was certainly a factor, but, surprisingly, some black ministers were in agreement, citing alcohol use, gambling, and arrests at so-called “bush meetings.”

Whether the camp was affected by new legal restrictions or it simply couldn’t survive without an active church at the site, its closing marked the end of an era in the community. With its lost cemetery and incomplete history, the wooded site of Old Forge A.M.E. Church in today’s state-owned James Branch Nature Preserve continues to be one of the most intriguing locations in Laurel.

– Chris Slavens

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Broad Creek Bridge and the Old Forge

This article appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of the Laurel Historical Society’s newsletter.

One of the lesser-known chapters in the history of the Laurel area concerns a vanished community which was located in the wooded area south of Sandy Fork and the American Legion home, commonly called Old Forge. The mysterious site was an important one in the 18th and 19th centuries, featuring a bridge over Broad Creek for travelers using the original stage road. The Pomeroy & Beers Atlas of 1868 depicts a sawmill, gristmill, store, and several houses clustered around the bridge. There was also an A.M.E. church on the south side of the creek at that time, but it does not appear on the map. In the early years of the 20th century, “Old Forge Camp” was described as the largest “colored” campmeeting in Sussex County. Today, the forge, mills, houses, church, campground, bridge, and even the road are long gone.

Old Forge has received little attention from historians, probably because the name doesn’t appear in early records. Local journalist Orlando V. Wootten wrote two fascinating articles about Old Forge for the Daily Times and The Archeolog in 1968 and 1975, respectively, based on his own visits to the site as well as information from Carmel Moore. Both were accompanied by striking photos of abandoned millstones and other features. The second article was reprinted in The History of Nineteenth Century Laurel in 1983. Wootten lamented the absence of “documentary evidence or primary sources of historical information on Old Forge,” despite the fact that Scharf’s History of Delaware mentioned that the forge and mills had been built “many years before” 1807, when they were owned by Josiah Polk.

But the reason for Old Forge’s apparent absence from early records is simple: The community wasn’t called Old Forge back then. It was called Broad Creek Bridge.

Possibly the earliest references to Broad Creek Bridge were made in 1723, when the area was part of Nanticoke Hundred in Somerset County, Maryland:

“Thomas Gordan appointed Overseer of the roads in Nanticoak hundred from Broad Creek bridge to the Cows bridge at the head of the Indian river…”

“Henry Friggs appointed Overseer of the roads in the afsd hundred from Broad Creek to Gravelly Branch…”

A similar reference appears the following year:

“Ordered that James Bowcher be overseer of the road from Broad Creek bridge halfe way to the Cow bridge it being the halfe of Wm. Burtons Limmitts from the Cow Bridge…”

Friggs is probably the same man called Henry Freaks in 1711, who was awarded 3,000 pounds of tobacco in damages due to the creation of the Nanticoke reservation known as Broad Creek Town. James Bouger was another early landowner.

The bridge was also used as a landmark in surveys of nearby tracts of land. In 1726, “Cypress Swamp” was surveyed for Robert Givans, and described as beginning at a red oak on the northeast side of the creek, “about a mile & halfe above ye Bridge…” Three years later, the first bounder of “Givans Lot” was a cypress tree a mere two poles (approximately 33 feet) below the bridge. Another survey for Givans mentions a cart road leading eastward from the bridge to a swamp; this road might have been the basis of part of today’s Route 24. Givans owned several hundred acres of land around Broad Creek Bridge, as well as lands along Deep Creek to the north.

A noteworthy reference appears in 1736, when Paris Chipman petitioned for permission to clear a new road, at his own expense, between Broad Creek Bridge and Chipman’s mill dam. Evidently Chipman had built a sawmill downstream of a wading place where the old road crossed a branch, causing the wading place to become impassable. It is likely that this record describes the creation of Chipman’s Pond, and that the new pond flooded the old road and wading place.

Another interesting reference appears in 1747, when Presbyterian minister Rev. Charles Tenant mentioned Broad Creek Bridge in a list of places for “public service and preaching…” This is significant, because the early religious history of Broad Creek is a bit mysterious. In the 1880s, Scharf’s contributor Rev. Benjamin Douglass suggested that Christ Church, built in 1771, replaced an earlier structure, vaguely citing local tradition.

 

 

Sandy Fork and vicinity, c. 1723-1868. Composite map of early roads, plus structures known to have existed in 1868, hint at what the Broad Creek Bridge community may have looked like during its early years. Today’s Routes 13 and 24 included for context.

Additionally, it is known that a Presbyterian church was built along the same branch sometime prior to the Revolution, during which it was burned. Tenant’s mention of Broad Creek Bridge is also significant because he seems to be using the name to refer to the community located around the bridge, as opposed to earlier records which seem to use the name to refer to the literal bridge. However, although his list specifically mentions meeting houses at other locations, it does not actually say that there was one at Broad Creek Bridge. The history of the Broad Creek Presbyterians between the 1740s and 1780s deserves further research.

The 1750s saw several surveys for Joseph Marshall which mention Broad Creek Bridge, roads, and other features. Perhaps the most important is a 1755 resurvey of a tract including land formerly owned by Robert Givans, and excluding land which had been “taken away by water.” The new 114-acre tract was called Saw Mill Lot. Although the document does not say whether there was already a sawmill there, the reference to encroaching water suggests that the creek had already been dammed to create a mill pond. This could have occurred as early as the late 1720s or early 1730s, under Robert Givans. In any case, it is clear that Saw Mill Lot surrounded the section of Broad Creek which would later be known as Old Forge Pond.

In 1770, the Maryland legislature authorized the purchase of “a Lott of Ground at or near Broad Creek Bridge in [Stepney] Parish and Erecting and Building thereon a Chapel of Ease to the said Parish,” resulting in the construction of Broad Creek Chapel between 1771 and 1772. Tradition holds that the iron nails, hinges, etc., used in the structure were produced at the nearby forge. It’s not clear why the site at Chipman’s Pond, about a mile north of Broad Creek Bridge, was chosen, but the decision seems to support the theory that the name Broad Creek Bridge was used to refer to the entire community at that time.

By 1807, as mentioned previously, Josiah Polk owned the forge, gristmill, and sawmill at the site. When he died—probably in the late 1830s—ownership passed to his brother, John, although the old forge was abandoned. The mills were called the Polk Mills during this period, even after they were sold to the Chipman family. They were operated during most of the 19th century, changing hands several times.

Both the mills and the bridge were mentioned in 1848, when James Horsey donated a half-acre parcel on the south side of the creek to a group of free blacks led by Samson Matthews. The church they founded would be known as Old Forge A.M.E., though the name does not appear in the deed. The congregation hosted an annual campmeeting beginning in 1855. The church was closed in 1909, but sister church Mt. Pisgah continued to hold campmeetings for several years. In The Churches of Delaware, published in 1947, Zebley stated that nothing survived to mark the site. The history of this church and campmeeting will be explored in greater detail in a future article.

The community at Broad Creek Bridge can be considered a direct ancestor of the town of Laurel, and it is to be hoped that we will be able to learn more about its story, from its mysterious beginnings in the colonial era until its seemingly rapid abandonment in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Specifics about the Old Forge, in particular, are elusive. The search continues.

Notes:
1. The Archaeological Society of Delaware provides PDF copies of The Archeolog at delawarearchaeology.org.
2. Colonial court and land records are held by the Maryland State Archives; searchable at msa.maryland.gov and plats.net, respectively.
3. Tract maps created by John Lyon and Mike Hitch identified original landowners around Broad Creek Bridge.

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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

 

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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