Category Archives: Maps

There Ain’t No Such Place as West Fenwick: Rewriting the Geography of Sussex County

In 2007, I worked for a company which dealt with many new homeowners in the ritzy Bayside community, located just east of Williamsville, Delaware. Though their zip code was that of neighboring Selbyville, our work orders and bills said their location address was in Williamsville, while their billing address was in Selbyville. This was factually correct, as well as practical; secretaries used the location addresses to schedule jobs in a particular neighborhood. Frequently this resulted in a new client—perhaps a wealthy retiree from D.C. or New York, or an out-of-state resident who wanted a second (or third, or fourth…) home near the beach—politely mentioning that we’d gotten their address wrong. “This says Williamsville. Shouldn’t it be Selbyville?” At this point, a brief geography and history lesson was offered. “No, technically this community is considered Williamsville. After its post office was closed, the mail started going through Selbyville. So your zip code is 19975—Selbyville—but you’ve just bought a house in Williamsville.”

Typically, the client reacted to this revelation with confusion or disbelief. Sometimes they scribbled out Williamsville on their bill anyway.

The situation became even more confusing when an assisted living facility was built directly across the road, and misleadingly named “Brandywine Living at Fenwick Island.” This occurred during a period of time when many hundreds of new homes were being built along Route 54 between Williamsville and Fenwick Island. (As of 2019, this building boom continues, and shows no signs of slowing anytime soon.) The Williamsville-Selbyville debate began to look insignificant compared to a much more flagrant geographical error: The neighborhood was marketed to would-be homebuyers as Fenwick Island, even though Fenwick’s boundary was miles away. This became a source of great amusement to my coworkers and I, as it was not unusual for us to meet new clients who truly didn’t know where they lived.

The local business community, desiring to be associated with the beach, created the fictitious location of “West Fenwick,” erasing references to not only Williamsville—which was somewhat understandable, since it was a bit of a stretch to apply that name to the area east of Route 20—but also nearby Bayville, which I found to be rather puzzling, since that name already had a waterfront, beachy connotation. It survives in names like Bayville Shores and the Bayville Package Store, but it seems doubtful that any local resident under the age of 70 would say that they live in Bayville, particularly if they moved there in the last 10-15 years.

Meanwhile, the company I worked for stopped using the name Williamsville in location addresses. It stuck around on many of the older accounts, but new ones used Selbyville. I suspect that today, many of the current residents of the community in question have never heard the name Williamsville.

This shift in local place-names—due partly to ignorance and partly to clever commercial rebranding—is only one example of the rapid and ongoing rewriting of Sussex County’s geography, and to an extent, its history.

Another example is found a few miles north, where, several years ago, a developer bought up hundreds of acres of farmland in the eastern reaches of the Frankford zip code and began building a gigantic community named Millville-by-the-Sea. At the time, my coworkers and I thought it was hilarious. It wasn’t in Millville, nor was it by the sea! However, it seems that the developer had the last laugh; within a few years, the boundaries of Millville were officially expanded to include the new Frankford development, though its location relative to the distant sea appears to be unchanged.

Just a couple of miles away, there is a new subdivision called “The Woodlands at Bethany.” Not only is the development in Frankford instead of Bethany, but in an ironic twist which was surely unintentional, the developer cleared most of the woodlands there before building.

The Frankford zip code was already bizarrely large considering the small size of the town in which the post office is located, encompassing communities like Omar (formerly Baltimore), part of Clarksville (formerly Blackwater), Roxana (formerly Centerville, presumably because it is in the center of Baltimore Hundred), Bayard, and Miller’s Neck. To the west, Frankford stretches far across 113 and through the swamp into what is rightly known as Gumboro. Speaking of which. . .

In 2009, I rented a home in Gumboro. This is probably one of the most poorly understood place-names in Sussex County, used for both Gumboro Hundred and the unincorporated community (practically, but not officially, a town with its own churches, stores, and fire department) at its heart. A nearby branch of the Pocomoke River has been known as Gum Branch since at least the 1750s, and is probably the source of the name. Most of the folks in Gumboro have Millsboro mailing addresses, but unlike the come-heres in the beachy resort communities of eastern Sussex, they’re not confused about where they live. They know they live in Gumboro, and they say so with pride. My house on King’s Crossing Road was located closer to Lowe’s Crossroads (another former post office site) than to the old town of Gumborough, but well within the boundaries of Gumboro Hundred. When my electric bill came, it said Millsboro. Today, when I click on the location on Google Maps, it says Frankford.

Who knows?

I live in neither Gumboro nor Millsboro nor Frankford today, but even though my Laurel mailing address on Laurel Road in the Laurel School District seems consistent enough, all of the older neighbors know we live at Whaley’s Crossroads. Previous generations got their mail through the post offices at Bull’s Mills or Lowe’s Crossroads, depending on the time period. Even earlier, the closest dot on the map was Terrapin Hill. Much, much earlier, the colonial settlers called the neighborhood Wimbesocom Neck—a name which was completely forgotten until recently. Once I asked a fellow in his 90s, who had grown up about a mile down the road, whether he would have said that he lived in Laurel back then. He shook his head adamantly: “I didn’t live in Laurel. That’s not Laurel. I lived at Trap Pond.”

Place-names in western Sussex evolve and change naturally, almost on their own, over decades or centuries, but names in eastern Sussex seem to be rewritten overnight, oftentimes by a developer who wants to link yet another inland community to the beach to bump up the price of tiny lots awaiting cookie-cutter homes and cookie-cutter homeowners of the Salt Life variety. Nowhere is this more evident than in the territory north of Indian River and east of Route 113. Lewes, for example, once a small yet important town just inland of Cape Henlopen and the Delaware Bay, has devoured nearby communities like Pilottown, Quakertown, Nassau, Belltown, Marshtown, and—bizarrely, since it’s not even close—the whole of Angola Neck, once home to its own post office. The name Angola doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, thanks to the presence of a number of older developments which were named before it became fashionable to name every new development after the beach or bay, and every new street after a seagull, but even so the local businesses cause confusion at times by claiming to be located in Lewes. Which they are. . . sort of. . . but not really.

By the way, there’s a newish community in Angola called “Bayfront at Rehoboth.” Its mailing address is Lewes.

If Angola Neck’s takeover by Lewes seems odd, the zip codes of the next two necks heading southwestward are nothing less than absurd. The first, a tiny neck accessible only from Route 24, is shared by Millsboro and distant Harbeson. How Harbeson, a small village surrounding the intersection of Routes 9 and 5, managed to claim this territory is a mystery. The second neck is Long Neck; its thousands of homes have Millsboro mailing addresses. Generally, however, its thousands of residents know they live in Long Neck and call it as such. Sometimes confusion arises when a chain of businesses has locations in both Millsboro proper and Long Neck; officially, both are in Millsboro. If any coastal community deserves to be the recipient of a new zip code, it’s Long Neck.

As if the sprawling Millsboro zip code hadn’t already devoured enough communities, it claims Oak Orchard, too. This area was once derogatively known as Down Sockum, supposedly because many of the residents were Sockums, with mixed Indian ancestry. The name has connections to the historical Nanticoke Indians at Broad Creek and Puckamee in western Sussex and western Wicomico, respectively. Though the Sockum surname is no longer found in Indian River Hundred, many of the members of the modern Nanticoke Indian Association have Sockum ancestors in their family trees.

Times change, and names change, sometimes with good reason, sometimes not. Perhaps in a not-so-distant future, long-established local place-names will be forgotten or butchered beyond recognition in our collective mad dash from agricultural community to oceanfront resort. The hundreds have already been forgotten by practically everyone except surveyors and historians. Perhaps Sussex County—a name with roots in England—will be renamed Schell County, its county seat Georgetown-by-the-Sea, each of its public roads officially renamed after various waterfowl. Surely Angola won’t survive, with its assumed connection to Africa and the slave trade. (Why, just a week or two ago, the Cape Gazette quoted an activist who pointed to the name Plantation Road as evidence of an alleged race problem in Lewes!) Selbyville might be swallowed whole by West Fenwick, while other Route 113 communities like Frankford and Dagsboro could be rebranded West Ocean View. Never mind that they don’t offer a view of the ocean; neither does Ocean View.

An alternative strategy would be to simply keep all of the existing place-names in Sussex, but tack on the word beach; i.e., Millsboro Beach, Milton Beach, Seaford Beach, Laurel Beach, etc. Current beach towns could get an extra beach, just to drive the point home: Rehoboth Beach Beach, Bethany Beach Beach, and so on. Each municipality will probably adopt “Life’s a Beach!” as its official motto.

Future generations, accustomed to such names, may find them to be perfectly logical. But I’d like to imagine that someone in lower Delaware’s bustling coastal metropolis, equipped with a knowledge of history and a taste for authentic local culture, will look back at the maps of the 19th and 20th centuries, and savor the quaint, exotic, archaic names we’re so hastily discarding.

– Chris Slavens

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The Plantation at Whaley’s Crossroads, 1743-1792

Having lived at Whaley’s Crossroads for most of my life, I’ve always been interested in the history of the land that I call home. Who lived here in the past? Who was the first? If there were old, forgotten houses, where were they? Were today’s fields yesterday’s woods, and vice versa? What routes did the early roads follow? What did the land look like during the colonial era?

With the help of early maps, land records, wills and other genealogical records, and software, I’ve been able to answer some of these questions, but there is much that remains unknown. The Pomeroy & Beers Atlas of 1868, which features local roads, waterways, houses and their owners’ names, and other structures, is incredibly useful — but 1868 isn’t all that early when one considers that there was English settlement activity in the neighborhood in the early 1700s. My goal is to use the atlas as a starting point and work backwards towards the original Maryland surveys, and connect as many dots as possible in this mostly forgotten period of 150+ years.

For this article, I’ve used Plat Plotter, Inkscape, and Google imagery to create a series of maps to demonstrate how I visualize overlapping surveys  and resurveys from the same neighborhood. In theory — my theory, at least — the overlapping area(s) between different early surveys of the same tract of land can be viewed as a Venn Diagram, of sorts. The unchanging core of a plantation over the course of decades probably includes the site of the primary dwelling house and/or the most desirable land. As successive owners buy and sell parcels of surrounding land, they create new property lines which can be compared to the older property lines, and — again, in theory — we should be able to make some educated guesses about where the core of a plantation may have been during a particular period.

All of this sounds very confusing, even to me as I’m writing about it. This is better shown than described.

Let’s start with a plat of the tract Friendship, surveyed for John N. Saunders in 1760:

This is a resurvey which begins with the original, diamond-shaped 50-acre tract (D), takes away several acres which are part of an overlapping “elder survey” (C), and adds vacant land (B), resulting in a new tract. The rest of the certificate (not shown) explains that the original tract had been surveyed for James Bowger in 1743, and was named Bowger’s Choyce (or Choice), but “the Afsd. Bowger had omitted paying Caution for the Land” and the original certificate became “null & void.” James Bowger or Bouger remains a somewhat mysterious figure in the early history of the neighborhood; he appears on the tax list for 1723, and, interestingly enough, the 1760 survey of Friendship refers to Bowger’s Mill, which was probably located at Terrapin Pond. He also received a patent for a 55-acre tract called John’s Folly in 1720.

A word of explanation is in order before we look at the next image, which shows the approximate location of Bowger’s Choyce. Although I’ll be presenting the next few maps in chronological order, I had to locate and plot each of them in reverse chronological order. Their locations are based on the boundaries of other parcels of land. To the north, a large tract sold in 1811 bordered land owned by Jonathan Betts, and it just so happened that two pieces of land, which Betts purchased from Thomas Paramore in 1791 and 1792, fit the neighboring tract like a glove. The boundaries of these two parcels, which we’ll look at in a bit, begin with the original bounder of both Friendship and Bowger’s Choyce, and although slight errors in the surveys make it impossible to pinpoint its exact location, we can get very, very close.

Here is the approximate location of Bowger’s Choyce, mostly in the area between Route 24, Whaleys Road, and Samuel Hill Road:

Bowger’s Choyce, 1743

The boundaries begin at the southernmost point, which, in 1743, was a marked red oak sapling. As I said, there’s a margin of error here, and the tree is long gone, so we can’t be sure of the exact spot, but it’s close.

Apparently, Bowger’s Choyce overlapped with another tract — “C” from the plat of 1760 — which I’ve yet to identify. The next image is based on a crude tracing of the plat, since I don’t have any other information about the mystery tract’s boundaries.

“C”

Though “C” was called an elder survey in 1760, it’s unclear whether it predates the survey of Bowger’s Choyce in 1743. It certainly predates the resurvey of Friendship in 1760.

Beginning at the same red oak at the southernmost point of Bowger’s Choyce, it’s fairly easy to plot the boundaries of Friendship:

Friendship, 1760

A small section of the tract extends beyond the map. The shape of Friendship doesn’t match the modern landscape in an overtly recognizable way, but there are boundary markers that seem to align with modern features (i.e., roads and tree lines), and may have been used in drawing later property lines.

Friendship was resurveyed yet again in 1776, resulting in a much larger tract called Delay. I don’t have the boundaries of Delay to plot it, although it appears on the incredibly detailed and useful maps created by Mike Hitch and the late John Lyon. However, additional records allow us to piece together the history of Friendship/Delay over the next few decades. Worcester County land record indices indicate that Matthew Parramore purchased a piece of land from John N. Saunders in the late 1760s; though the deed itself isn’t available online and I haven’t sought it out, it seems clear that this purchase included Friendship. Matthew Parramore willed the resurveyed version of Friendship to his son, Ezekiel, who, in turn, conveyed it to Thomas Parremore in 1791. (Note that the name Paramore was spelled differently in various records at that time.) Almost immediately, Thomas sold a 100-acre parcel of the land to Jonathan Betts, Sr., in 1791.

Here is the approximate location of that parcel:

Parremore to Betts, 1791

Notice how a couple of the boundary lines on the northeast side align with modern tree lines. The point near the middle of the tract, at what is almost a right angle, was described as the northwest corner of Parremore’s plantation in 1791, and the line extending to the east and into the woods followed a fence at that time. But just a year later, he sold an additional parcel to Betts, shown below:

Parremore to Betts, 1792

The 1791 and 1792 surveys don’t fit together perfectly, so I’ve erred on the side of matching the 1792 parcel to the tree line along its northeastern corner, which seems to match it perfectly. Its westernmost boundary is questionable, however, and actually overlaps the 1791 parcel somewhat. Both parcels begin at the red oak used as the first bounder of Bowger’s Choyce in 1743 and Friendship in 1760.

I haven’t quite pieced together the history of the land after Betts acquired it in the 1790s; I suspect it passed to Hezekiah Matthews at some point, because I know his son, Henry Clay Matthews, owned it at the time of his death in 1917. Since then, the old plantation has been divided into increasingly smaller parcels owned by a number of landowners including members of the Mitchell, Whaley, Morris, and Slavens families, among others.

The Pomeroy & Beers Atlas offers a glimpse of the neighborhood in 1868 —

Beers Atlas of 1868 + modern imagery

— but it still doesn’t tell us much about the way things were 100+ years earlier. To get a better idea, I’ve stacked the images we’ve already looked at. Where the changing property lines overlap, they reveal what may have been the core of the plantation owned by Jonathan Betts, and the Parremores before him, and John Saunders before them, and — possibly — James Bowger before him, although it’s not clear whether Bowger actually did anything with his land between 1743 and 1760.

The yellowest area  is our “hot spot” (for lack of a better term), not only because it is included in both the 1743 and 1760 surveys, but also because it isn’t included in the first parcel that Thomas Parremore sold in 1791. It seems unlikely to me that he would have sold the most important part of his plantation first. The deeds aren’t helpful, since both vaguely mention housing, fencing, and orchards, which was pretty standard for the deeds of the time, and part of the price of the 1791 parcel is illegible.

So I’ve created two images, the first, showing what I consider to be the primary hot spot; the second, showing adjoining land that may have also been considered part of the core of the plantation between 1743 and 1791, yet, for some reason, was sold a year earlier than the land to the east.

Probable hot spot, 1792

 

Probable hot spot prior to 1791

It’s only my opinion, but I’d like to suggest that the area within the solid yellow lines may have included the earliest and/or primary dwelling house, outbuildings, gardens, and orchards, while the area within the dotted yellow lines may have included early features of less importance; perhaps the earliest fields. I would also suggest that the land outside the yellow lines may have included wooded land and later fields, as the owners expanded and improved their holdings, all while buying and selling surrounding parcels.

The location of H. Matthews’ house on the Beers Atlas seems to support this theory, allowing for minor errors in both the atlas and the surveys layered underneath:

So we have the earliest known house site depicted in 1868, located on the part of Bowger’s Choyce (1743) that was included in resurveys of Friendship (1760 and 1776) and sold in two transactions in 1791 and 1792. This probably isn’t a coincidence.

The overlapping tracts/parcels might also explain why an earlier version of Samuel Hill Road looks like it leads directly to the H. Matthews house before heading east towards Lowe’s Crossroads and Millsboro. It’s possible that this section of the road was built specifically to connect Bowger’s Choyce and Bowger’s Mill, to the south, during the period between 1743 and 1760, if not earlier.

Further research might tell us more about the neighborhood, not only as it appeared in the 1790s, when the vacant land was disappearing and the land records are a bit easier to decipher, but perhaps even as it appeared in the 1740s, when only a handful of settlers were establishing plantations in this part of Wimbesocom Neck. We still know little of this early period.

– Chris Slavens

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Map of Vinson’s Pond, 1792

Yesterday I gave a presentation about the early history of the Trap Pond neighborhood at the Baldcypress Nature Center in Trap Pond State Park, covering some of the interesting people and places in the area between the early 1700s and 1840, when the mills there were named the Trap Mills. My presentation included an incomplete map of the area as it may have looked between 1772 and 1792 — during the days of Newbold Vinson’s plantation on the west side of the pond — featuring waterways, roads, mills, and a few houses. See below; the text should be clear when viewed at full size, or when printed on a sheet of paper.

It’s difficult to make a map like this, because the earliest map to depict many of these details is the Pomeroy & Beers Atlas of 1868, and land records and plats don’t always mention or depict nearby roads and other features. I’ve had to make educated guesses about the roads, in particular, and in some cases, those guesses might not be correct. Many of today’s roads are based on 18th-century roads, with minor changes made here and there, but in some cases, roads that we use today were created surprisingly late. For example, since the mills at the north end of Trap Pond probably date back to the 1770s, and the mills at Pepper Pond date back to at least 1760, it would seem reasonable to assume that the section of Trap Pond Road which connects these two early landmarks was built around the same time. Yet it wasn’t. The legislation authorizing the creation of this road wasn’t passed until 1867. Previously, the Goose Nest Lane was the main road leading to and from the Trap Mills, at least on that side of the pond.

Another missing road that throws people off when they look at the map is Route 24, or at least the section between Little Hill Road and Samuel Hill Road, running right through Whaley’s Crossroads. This section wasn’t built until the 20th century. Previously, the main road veered southeast with today’s Little Hill Road. From Terrapin Hill, one could continue southeast towards Little Hill, or follow an early, curvier version of Whaleys Road towards the Line Meeting House.

One of the earliest roads seems to be Wootten Road, and it doesn’t seem to have changed much. When the tract Forest Chance was surveyed in 1730, its first bounder, a poplar tree near the southern end of Trap Pond, in today’s terms, was said to stand near the road from Matthew Hosea’s to Indian River. Hosea lived near Trussum Pond. The route that this road followed from Terrapin Hill to Indian River is less clear; it’s possible that it followed the southern side of Saunders Branch towards Lowe’s Crossroads, but it’s also possible that it veered north, roughly following Whaleys Road to Samuel Hill Road, then followed one of several routes to the northeast. I’ve allowed for this possibility on my map, not only because it seems logical, but because the land along this route was settled fairly early, and I think there could have been a dwelling house near this section of Samuel Hill Road as early as the 1760s, if not earlier.

Looking at many of the other roads in the area, it’s entirely possible that they date back to the 18th century, since they seem to connect mills that existed at that time. However, I’m less certain about those I’ve omitted from the map, at least for now. I hope to continue to add details, especially houses.

– Chris Slavens

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A Work in Progress

About a year and a half ago I became interested in an unusual local burial custom mentioned in a handful of books: The construction of a wooden, shingled roof over a grave. The roofs were already old and in poor condition when they were first photographed in the 1930s, and today, none are known to have survived. Since then, I’ve spent countless hours looking for roofed graves in Sussex, Wicomico, and Worcester Counties — in records and in the field — and although I’ve yet to find a surviving roof, I’ve been rewarded with additional photos and information about the peculiar structures.

Initially I planned to summarize my research in a paper and submit it to an academic journal, but recently I decided to convert the work in progress into a short book, instead. This approach has allowed me to write with a bit more style, and include opinions and hunches which wouldn’t belong in a research paper. I plan to complete The Roofed Graves of Delmarva in the next couple of months, and self-publish a run of about one hundred copies.

The following illustration is a rough draft of a map showing the locations of six cemeteries known to have featured roofed graves. The book will also feature more detailed maps of each site.

– Chris Slavens

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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

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A Brief History of Broad Creek Town

This article was first published in the Laurel Historical Society‘s newsletter.

The Nanticoke Indians who moved to Broad Creek in or around 1705 were, in many ways, a defeated people. In the nearly one hundred years since their ancestors had welcomed Captain John Smith’s barge with a barrage of arrows, their numbers, power, and wealth had diminished due to a series of wars and treaties. Even their reservation at the junction of the Nanticoke River and Chicacoan Creek was threatened by aggressive, trespassing English newcomers. This story would require many pages to tell. For the sake of brevity, suffice it to say that they were desperate and discouraged—but perhaps hopeful that they would be able to preserve their culture in their new home, farther inland with only a handful of English neighbors.

The refugees settled near a site known as the Wading Place, which was one of the easier points at which to cross Broad Creek. It is possible that there was already a village or camp there, although the records seem to imply that the location was a new one for the tribe.  Whether there was an existing Nanticoke settlement at the site or not, the land on both sides of the creek had been granted to Englishmen in the 1680s. The Nanticokes might not have been aware of this—or they might not have cared. Evidently the English did care, and told the Nanticokes that they might have to relocate yet again, for in October of 1711, the Maryland legislature was informed that “the Nanticoke Indians are much dissatisfied they may not be permitted to continue at Broad Creek where they are set down…” Perhaps indicating that the dwindling tribe was still a force to be reckoned with, the provincial government decided it would be unwise to evict them, and instead empowered commissioners to purchase and reserve three thousand acres on Broad Creek for their use.

In a matter of weeks, surveyor William Whittington, Jr., laid out two tracts, one on each side of the creek. The northern tract consisted of the entire 2,500-acre tract known as Greenland, originally granted to William Green. The southern tract consisted of 500 acres on the east side of Little Creek, and included 133 acres of a tract known as Batchelor’s Delight, originally surveyed for Col. William Stevens, but subsequently transferred to James Wythe and Marmaduke Master.

A jury of twelve local freeholders determined that Greenland was worth 50,000 pounds of tobacco; the portion of Batchelor’s Delight, 2,666 pounds of tobacco; and the remainder of the southern tract, 7,334 pounds of tobacco. Additionally, they awarded Henry Freaks 3,000 pounds of tobacco “for his Damages in building Clearing and fencing on the said Land…” and William Denton, Jr., 500 pounds of tobacco “for his damages for work and repareing to build and setle on the Land…”

Note: The exact location of each tract, particularly that of the northern tract, is not entirely clear. The placement of the northern tract on the map below is largely based on shaky assertions about its western boundary made in deeds dated 1816. Personally, I am bothered by the fact that records from 1711 state that the southwestern bounder of the northern tract was on the east side of a small creek which does not seem to appear on modern maps or satellite imagery. I am also bothered by the fact that, according to this placement, the eastern boundary of the northern tract follows today’s Route 13, rather than the much older Alternate 13. It is possible that the entire northern tract should be shifted to the west or to the east. However, its approximate location is known, and the placement of the southern tract is much more precise, although I’ve deliberately matched its western boundary with today’s Little Creek, rather than its slightly different location three centuries ago.

Since the English had a habit of unimaginatively (and often misleadingly) naming any band of Indians after the waterway on which they lived, the Nanticokes on Broad Creek became known as the Broad Creek Indians, and their settlement was called Broad Creek Town. If they gave it a name of their own, it was never recorded.

The approximate boundaries of Broad Creek Town based on the original 1711 surveys.

Little is known of Broad Creek Town, other than its location. Was there a central village, or were the residents spread out? Did they live in traditional wigwams, or European-style cabins? We can’t be sure, but the best guess is probably “all of the above.” The historian J. Thomas Scharf later reported that they “cultivated the land to some extent” and built a “harbor.” Additionally, they probably interacted with the residents of Askecksy, a nearby Indian River Indian reservation established at about the same time.

A little more is known of the leadership of the Broad Creek Indians, but not much. The records of the time mention a number of Nanticoke leaders—notably Panquash, whose leadership stretched from the 1690s into the 1740s—but rarely specify whether they were from Chicacoan or Broad Creek. One such leader was Rassekettham, who accompanied Panquash and Tom Coursey in 1713 to inform the English that the tribe no longer recognized its former emperor, Asquash, who had moved to Pennsylvania. They also inquired as to whether the English had conspired with Asquash to kill Panquash and Rassekettham, and were assured that they had not and would not. Though Rassekettham was not explicitly identified as a Broad Creek Indian, the tributary known as Rossakatum Creek or Rossakatum Branch is assumed to have been named after him. It is likely that he was the chief of the Broad Creek band in 1713.

Another probable leader was King Toby, who, with fellow Broad Creek Indians Lolloway and Whist, traveled to the county court held at Dividing Creek in 1725 to complain that some of the Caldwells had mistreated them in some way. Lolloway might have been the same Indian named Lolloway who had been assaulted so badly in Somerset Parish the previous year that he nearly died. Other incidents reported in and around the various Indian reservations indicate that tensions continued to escalate during this time.

In the spring of 1742, the Nanticokes, Choptanks, Indian River Indians, Pocomokes, and some visiting Shawnees met in Wimbesoccom Neck to discuss a plot to massacre the local settlers and reclaim the Eastern Shore, supposedly with the help of the Iroquois Confederacy and the French. The tale of “the plot in the swamp” has been told elsewhere, but a few details are worth noting. Wimbesoccom Neck consisted of the land east of Wimbesoccom Creek (today’s Gray’s Branch) and north of the main branch of Broad Creek, which flows through today’s Trap Pond. The neck stretched into the outskirts of what would later be called Gumborough Hundred, and was probably heavily wooded and sparsely settled—an ideal location for a secret powwow. Interestingly, some of the Broad Creek Indians spoke of a “logged house” stocked with weapons, located a few miles into the swamp. Their leaders at this time were known as Simon Alsechqueck and Captain John.

But the plot was discovered and foiled, and numerous Indians arrested, and the tribal leaders were forced to sign an extremely restrictive treaty. Henceforth, the Nanticokes could no longer elect an emperor, and every member of the tribe was forbidden to own a gun without obtaining a license from the governor. It was the last straw. Just two years later, Simon Alsechqueck requested and received permission for the tribe to migrate north and live among the Iroquois, and by the 1750s, Broad Creek Town was said to be deserted.

In 1768, the provincial government authorized commissioners to sell what had become known as the Indian Lands, and according to later deeds, Joseph Forman purchased 518 acres at the western end of the northern tract, and John Mitchell purchased 2,236 acres. Barkley Townsend acquired part of the southern tract prior to 1776. Following Mitchell’s death in 1787, his portion was sold to a number of buyers including George Mitchell, George Corbin, and John Creighton. Decades later, Forman’s heirs divided his parcel into two lots and sold one to Dr. James Derickson, and the other to Benjamin Fooks and Kendall M. Lewis.

Today, the town of Laurel occupies much of the site of Broad Creek Town, and continues to grow, making archaeological investigation difficult. Even so, the stone artifacts that frequently turn up in nearby fields, and local names like Rossakatum and Sockum, survive to remind us of the first people to call Broad Creek home.

– Chris Slavens

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Filed under Delaware, Delaware history, Laurel, Laurel Historical Society, Maps, Maryland, Maryland history, Nanticoke Indians, Sussex County

Finding Quaacoson Ridge in Northeastern Wicomico

Recently I’ve mentioned a tract named Quaacoson (or Quaacosan) Ridge in a couple of articles, one about roofed graves, and one about local quiacason house sites. This particular tract consisted of 39 acres, and was surveyed for Isaac Mitchell on May 20, 1758, and patented to him on the same day. Previously he had acquired the 170-acre tract Hogg Yard, and would later acquire a 100-acre tract named Beach Ridge; all three were located in Worcester County.

The tract was described as follows:

…all that Tract or parcell of land called Quaacoson Ridge scituate lying & being in Worcester County back in the Forrest bounded as follows Beginning at a marked scaley barkt white oak standing near the south end of a ridge known by the name of Quaacoson Ridge & a few miles back in the woods from Pocomake River on the West side thereof thence running South twenty poles thence West sixty six poles thence North thirty poles thence East fifty six poles thence North East forty poles thence East one hundred poles thence South thirty eight poles thence with a right line to the first bounder containing & now laid out for thirty nine acres of land more or less to be holden of the Manor of Worcester

Quaacoson Ridge, 1758

This admittedly vague description tells us a couple of important things:

  1. The tract was named after a geographical feature known as Quaacoson Ridge, and its first bounder stood near the southern end of the ridge.
  2. The tract and the ridge are located a few miles west of the Pocomoke River, placing them in today’s Wicomico County. Hogg Yard and Beach Ridge are located in the same neighborhood. (Of course, initially I couldn’t ignore out the possibility that they were located north of the Transpeninsular Line, in today’s Sussex County, Delaware, but that turned out not to be the case.)

A casual reading of other surveys associated with Isaac Mitchell, and then other families in the general neighborhood, including Wests and Whaleys, told me that the site is located in northeastern Wicomico County, relatively close to the state line. But there are quite a few points of high elevation in this area, and however well the name Quaacoson Ridge might have been known at one time, it doesn’t seem to have made it onto any maps.

Fortunately, a great deal of land in the neighborhood was patented to James Whaley in February 1850, and Quaacoson Ridge (the tract) turns up in these records. Even more fortunately, one tract in particular — West Level, which included land formerly surveyed for Henry Spears in 1770 — bordered the state line, making it relatively easy to place it and the adjoining tracts, including Quaacoson Ridge, on a modern map.

West Level, patented to James Whaley in 1850, incorporated elder tracts Spears Venture, Addition to Spears Venture, and portions of Quaacoson Ridge and Beach Ridge.

West Level, patented to James Whaley in 1850, incorporated elder tracts Spears Venture, Addition to Spears Venture, and portions of Quaacoson Ridge and Beach Ridge.

The following map was created with Plat Plotter, a free, fun, and very useful app that anyone can use to plot property boundaries. This is by no means exact, but it’s accurate enough for our purposes, i.e., locating the ridge for which the tract was named.

Approximate location of West Level and Quaacoson Ridge, plotted with Plat Plotter.

Approximate location of West Level and Quaacoson Ridge, plotted with Plat Plotter.

It would seem that the white oak which served as the first bounder of the tract stood on the northeast side of the waterway known as the South Fork Green Run (a curious name; South Fork of Green Run might be more accurate), but considering the likely margin of error, it’s not especially important which side of the branch the tree stood on. It’s obvious that it stood quite close to it, probably at the water’s edge. Although this point might not seem to be at the south end of a ridge, it does lie to the southwest of an area of slightly higher elevation, which would have been much more significant during the 1750s, when the land would have been much swampier. This feature, encompassing the intersection of Tingle Road and New Hope Road, is the most obvious candidate for the ridge due to its proximity and the fact that the tract includes a significant portion of it. Let’s call this feature Candidate A.

Candidate A. U.S. Geological Survey, 1992.

Candidate A. U.S. Geological Survey, 1992.

However, we must consider the possibility that the ridge is actually located a bit further away. After all, “near” is a very subjective term, and “near” in the context of a swampy forest in the 1750s might allow for a greater distance between the tree and the south end of the ridge than a modern researcher might assume. As it happens, the first bounder is, indeed, “near” — roughly 2,500 feet from — the south end of a much more prominent geographical feature which certainly seems very ridge-like. If this feature, which we’ll call Candidate B, was known as Quaacoson Ridge in the 1750s, one can see how a surveyor, lacking other landmarks, might reasonably have described the first bounder as lying near it (though why a tract would have been named after a ridge it didn’t actually touch is a mystery to me). One problem with this possibility is that other tracts associated with the feature in question, such as West’s Luck (which overlaps it), make no mention of Quaacoson Ridge. But they don’t mention any other ridge, either. Since West’s Luck bordered the state line and was surveyed in 1817, the surveyor might have felt that there was no reason to mention any other landmarks. Older tracts might include helpful references; further research is needed.

Candidate B, spanning the state line. U.S. Geological Survey, 1992.

Candidate B, spanning the state line. U.S. Geological Survey, 1992.

Wherever Quaacoson Ridge was, it’s clear that the name survived in some form into the early 20th century. When the new 14th election district was erected out of the 4th election district in 1906, its boundaries were described as follows:

Commencing at the Delaware and Maryland line at a point on the county road leading from Bethel Church to Whitesville, Delaware, about two hundred yars west of the residence where Enoch Truitt now resides; by and with the centre of said county road to interesect county road leading from Cobb’s Hill to James H. West road at or near Quackinson School House; by and with the centre of said road to intersect the county road known as the Radcliff Farlow road; by and with the center of said county road to old Burnt Mill known also as New Mill…

“Quackinson” is almost certainly a corruption of Quaacoson; Quackinson isn’t a local surname, and I can’t think of any other reason for such a name to appear in the neighborhood in question. The location of this school is a bit unclear. Two nearby schools appear on the 1877 Lake, Griffing, and Stephenson Atlas, unhelpfully labeled School No. 1 and School No. 2, but neither is especially close to the possible Quaacoson Ridge sites, and it’s unclear which, if either, was called Quackinson. A similar name, Quackison, appears in land records pertaining to Benton H. Whaley, dated 1899; a plat of lands known as Whaley’s Quarter depicts a road from Quackison to Pittsville intersecting with a road from Quackison to Cobb’s Hill.

The Quaacoson Ridge neighborhood, 1877,

The Quaacoson Ridge neighborhood, 1877.

Identifying Quaacoson Ridge would be a valuable contribution to local historical knowledge for several reasons:

  1. Place-names and specific sites associated with the local Indian tribes are relatively rare. Aside from a handful of settlements (mostly reservations) mentioned in late 17th to mid-18th-century sources, we don’t know of all that many specific places that were important to them.
  2. We know even less about Indian activities in this particular neighborhood, or in the neighborhood of the Pocomoke Swamp in general.
  3. Like us, Indians used relatively permanent routes to travel from one place to another. Locating such sites can help us to identify the routes used to get to them. Was there a path leading to Quaacoson Ridge? Could it be the basis of a modern road? Or — perhaps more likely — was the ridge reached by water?
  4. Determining the approximate location of Quaacoson Ridge contributes to our understanding of local Indian mortuary customs (or at least it raises more questions for us to attempt to answer). The site is far from any known Indian settlement, in one of the last neighborhoods to be developed by Europeans. Why? Did the local tribes always build quiacason houses on the outskirts of their societies, unlike others who are known to have built them in or near their villages? Or did the choice of location reflect a desire to conceal quiacason houses from the colonists, who had been known to damage or rob them on more than one occasion?
  5. The location of the ridge could also shed light on the origins of the local roofed grave custom. If Candidate B is Quaacoson Ridge, then it’s very likely that the ancestors or close relatives of John C. West (1814 – 1858), who was buried under a roofed grave near Trap Pond, lived on a ridge associated with Indian mortuary houses. That wouldn’t prove anything, but it would be very interesting. Even if Candidate A is the correct feature, it’s still close enough to the Bethel Church cemetery, as well as some of the oldest local West lands, to be related to the roofed grave custom.

– Chris Slavens

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Filed under Delmarva Geography, Maps, Maryland, Maryland history, Wicomico County, Worcester County