Tag Archives: Eastern Shore

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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Matthew Hosea: An Early Settler Near Trap Pond

This week I’ve been looking at an interesting early settler in the Trap Pond area named Matthew Hosea (pronounced Hozey). I don’t know when he came here or where he came from, but he received a patent for a 100-acre tract named New Dublin in 1716, and was a head of household in 1723, according to the earliest tax list. That’s very early for the neighborhood in question.

Hosea probably lived closer to Trussum Pond and James Branch than to Trap Pond. His “neck of the woods” was called both Hosea’s Neck and the Great Neck, and as early as 1730, surveyors noted a path leading from Matthew Hosea’s to Indian River. I suspect this path crossed either Trap Pond or Raccoon Pond, and parts of it probably survive today. In 1734, a 50-acre tract named Snow Hill (not to be confused with other tracts named Snow Hill) was patented to Hosea; its first bounder was “a Marked White oake standing one the north side of a branch of Broad Creek called the bald Syprus Branch a Littell Distance from the side Of the sd branch and a bout two hundred pole [1,100 yards] above wheere Matthew Hosey Now Lives in a Neck called the Great Neck…”

Hosea’s descendants held onto his land for a long time, possibly even into the 20th century, and a local schoolhouse was labeled Hosey School on maps as recently as 1945.

It would be irresponsible to try to guess what kind of man Hosea was. Why did he settle in what was then an untamed wilderness, far from neighbors and even churches? Was he a sort of free spirit who craved independence in isolation? Or was he a sterner sort of fellow who simply settled where he could afford to?

We can only be sure of one thing: He had to work very, very hard just to survive, build a farm, and provide for his family, out here on the outskirts of civilization.

– Chris Slavens

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Sambo, Paris, and Ceasor: Cord Hazzard’s Negro Boys

A few days ago I was reading the will of Cord Hazzard, made in 1766, in the hopes of learning more about a piece of land he sold to John Regua in 1754, and noticed that he had given his son, David, “…one negro boy named Sambo and one negro boy named Paris and one negro boy named Ceasor…”  Slaves, in other words.

I’ve been looking at a number of records pertaining to free blacks lately, and have always been interested in connecting free blacks to slave ancestors, so I did a few quick searches to see if I could learn any more about Sambo, Paris, and Ceasor. Surprisingly, potential matches for all three appear in census records from 1800 through 1830.

First, a bit of background information. Cord Hazzard was one of several men with that name; I can think of four off the top of my head. The unusual name was most likely inspired by a member of the local Cord family. He is most likely the same Cord Hazzard who had a 100-acre tract named Flat Land surveyed for him in 1727. Though located in Somerset County, Maryland, at the time, a reference to a path from Cedar Neck points to today’s Baltimore Hundred in Sussex, perhaps near Ocean View. It seems the peninsular boundary dispute didn’t faze Cord, for he also acquired lands on the north side of Indian River, then controlled by Pennsylvania. Other members of the Hazzard family owned a great deal of land in what is now eastern Sussex.

Will of Cord Hazzard, 1766

Although I don’t know exactly where Cord was living when he made his will, it mentions Swan Creek Branch and Long Neck, both in Indian River Hundred. The probate date is January 11, 1771, meaning Cord died in late 1770 or early 1771.

When David Hazzard made his will in 1790, he mentioned sons Cord, David, James, and John, but not Sambo, Paris, or Ceasor. It’s possible that they were simply considered part of his estate, and divided among the sons, or it’s possible that they were no longer in the elder David’s possession at the time. Strictly speaking — and without digging through manumission records and the like at the Delaware Public Archives — their fate is unknown.

But speculatively speaking, which is more fun, a handful of 19th-century census records suggest that they might have been freed and might have kept/taken the Hazzard surname.

In 1800, there was a free colored head of household in Broadkiln Hundred named Parris Hazzard, and a free colored head of household in Mispillion Hundred named Caesar Hazzard.

Interestingly, there is also an 1810 record for a man named Paris Coard who was living in Broadkiln Hundred. There is no reason to assume that Paris Hazzard changed his surname to Coard, and this might be a coincidence, but it’s worth noting. It’s also worth noting that there were Mispillion heads of household listed as “Ceasar F. N.” and “Sambo F. N.” (free Negro) in 1810, but these are probably not our guys. Sambo is probably the man named Sambo Bounds in the 1820 census. There were also a number of other free black men named Caesar and Sambo living in Kent and Sussex Counties during the early 19th century.

In 1820, Casar Hazzard was a head of household in Murderkill Hundred, aged 45 or older, with a son aged 14-25, and a wife. That son might be the Ceesar Hazzard who appears in Cedar Creek Hundred in 1830, aged 36-54. The Casar Hazzard living in Murderkill Hundred in 1820 was born before 1776, so it’s possible that he was the Ceasor mentioned in Cord’s will in 1766. If there’s any truth to this scenario, then he was probably born in the 1750s and probably died in the 1820s at, say, age 60-75, leaving behind at least one adult son. His migration from Indian River Hundred to Kent County over the course of several decades is consistent with the trends of the time (for example, some members of the mulatto Rigware/Ridgeway family followed a similar path to the Cheswold area).

In 1830, Sambo Hazzard was a head of household in Indian River Hundred, aged 55-99. The only other member of the household was a female who was 100 or older. This gives Sambo a birthdate range of 1731 – 1775, while the woman (if the record is correct) was born before 1731. Personally, I think it’s likely that this is the same Sambo mentioned in Cord’s will, because the name, age, and location are all consistent. All that’s missing is evidence for his manumission. Sambo was probably born in the 1750s or early 1760s, and probably died before 1840 in his seventies or eighties. Where was he prior to 1830? Perhaps he was still a slave, or perhaps he was free, yet living in another man’s household.

A genealogist could offer any number of objections to this scenario. For example, freed slaves didn’t necessarily go by their former masters’ surnames, though many did. Even so, it’s a matter of fact that Cord Hazzard left slave boys named Sambo, Paris, and Ceasor to his son, and it’s a matter of fact that there were free black men named Parris Hazzard, Caesar Hazzard, and Sambo Hazzard living in the right part of Delaware just a few decades later. Whether these facts are connected in the way I’ve suggested is a matter for further research, discussion, and contemplation.

– Chris Slavens

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The Roofed Graves of Delmarva

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

In the 1930s – 1940s, several sources reported the presence of old, roof-like, wooden grave covers or shelters in cemeteries in lower Sussex, notably at Bethel M.E. Church on the east side of Gumboro, the John C. West family cemetery near Raccoon Pond, and King’s M.E. Church near Trussum Pond. Their age, origins, and purpose were a matter of speculation. Additional sources published in the 1960s – 1970s indicate that the shelters were also used across the state line in eastern Wicomico County.

However, the mysterious shingled structures were documented only sparingly, and never seriously investigated. None are known to have survived to the present, making a handful of 20th-century sources and photographs the only evidence that such a custom ever existed.

Although the earliest known description is found in Delaware: A Guide to the First State (1938), compiled by members of the Federal Writers Project, Frank R. Zebley’s The Churches of Delaware (1947) is more helpful in that he mentions three specific sites, as well as two specific graves, those of John C. West (1814-1858) and his first wife, Mahala B. Truitt (1822-1852). Zebley also photographed some of the structures. Other sources include Graveyards and Gravestones of Wicomico by John E. Jacob, Jr. (1971) and Folklore of Sussex County, Delaware by Dorothy Pepper (1976). Usually called “roofed-over graves” or “A-frames,” the structures featured cypress or cedar shingles and gabled ends. Most were in poor condition even in the 1930s.

At this time, there are five known sites in Sussex County:

  1. Bethel Methodist Episcopal Church in Gumboro.
  2. King’s Methodist Episcopal Church near Laurel.
  3. The John C. West family cemetery on Wootten Road, near Raccoon Pond.
  4. The Daisey family cemetery on Wilgus Cemetery Road, between Roxana and Bayard.
  5. A cemetery associated with the Timmons family near Lowe’s Crossroads.

Jacob did not specify any sites in eastern Wicomico, but they were most likely located in the area between Pittsville and the state line. No sites are known to have been reported in Worcester County.

The grave of Elijah Daisey (1888-1891) near Bayard, Delaware, photographed in 1947. Courtesy of Joan Howard.

The grave of Elijah Daisey (1888-1891) near Bayard, Delaware, photographed in 1947. Courtesy of Joan Howard.

The available evidence suggests that the custom dates back to the 1840s, but it is unclear whether it developed locally, or was inspired by similar traditions in the South. Stone, peaked grave shelters known as combs are found throughout the Upland South, and have been dated to the 1810s, while shelters made of metal roofing have been erected even in the 21st century. (Dr. Richard C. Finch’s extensive studies of comb graves can be found at graterutabaga.com). All of the styles of shelters seem to be intended to protect graves, whether from animals, weather, or both. Different materials might simply reflect what was available; though stone slabs were rare and expensive on the peninsula during the early 19th century, durable cypress shingles were readily available, especially in the neighborhood of the Pocomoke Swamp. Cypress slabs were also used as grave markers, some of which still survive.

Locally, the custom’s association with John C. West and his family might prove to be important. Some of his descendants are buried at the King’s Church site, while some of his relatives and ancestors lived in eastern Wicomico County, relatively close to the Bethel Church site (but closer to Line Church, where, disappointingly, no roofed graves were ever reported). Interestingly—perhaps importantly, perhaps coincidentally—there is an area of high elevation in this neighborhood which was known as Quaacosan Ridge as early as 1758. Native American quacason houses were crib-like wooden structures which protected human corpses while the flesh decayed, after which the bones were removed. Although there is no obvious link between quacason houses and roofed graves, it is certainly fascinating to consider that the early English settlers encountered Native American “cemeteries” featuring above-ground wooden structures all over the peninsula, and used them as landmarks for decades.

Although the origins and purpose of the roofed graves of Delmarva are still unclear, it might be possible for us to learn more. They disappeared between the 1940s and 1970s; surely there are living locals who remember them. I am especially interested in learning about any additional sites, specific graves, or photographs, and hope to publish a much more detailed article about this mysterious custom in the future.

– Chris Slavens

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Book Review: ‘Delaware Beer: The Story of Brewing in the First State’

In 2014, local author and journalist Tony Russo explored the history of brewing on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in Eastern Shore Beer: The Heady History of Chesapeake Brewing. Now he’s back with what is not so much a sequel as a companion volume, Delaware Beer: The Story of Brewing in the First State, published by the History Press.

Outsiders might expect such a book to be all about Dogfish Head, the state’s largest and best-known brewery and the thirteenth largest craft brewery in the nation. But Delaware Beer is, instead, the story of brewing in Delaware, and Dogfish Head is only one (important!) part of that story.

Russo covers the colonial era in a few pages, briefly summarizing the activities of the Dutch and the Swedes along the Delaware River, and referring interested readers to the more in-depth Delaware Brewing by John Medkeff, Jr. Readers might chuckle over the written request of Johan Classon Risingh, governor of New Sweden, for a wife who could make malt and brew ale, in addition to keeping up with other chores. The first chapter covers the 19th and early 20th centuries as well, when there was far more homebrewing and cidermaking going on than commercial brewing, although Delaware’s very own Diamond State Brewery, located in Wilmington, had its roots in the Nebeker brewery founded in 1859, and produced beer of one kind or another (including so-called “near beer” during the Prohibition era) until it closed in 1955.Delaware Beer by Tony Russo

Delaware Beer – at least the part of the story that most readers are probably most interested in – begins in earnest with the founding of Dogfish Head and Stewart’s Brewing Company in 1995. Russo credits their founders, Sam Calagione and Al Stewart, respectively, with setting “the standard for the way beer would be done in Delaware right from the start.” By focusing on quality rather than quantity, and growing sustainably, both survived the craft beer bust of the late 90’s. In addition to crafting innovative beers, Calagione crafted legislation that chipped away at the remnants of Prohibition, and arguably paved the way for the numerous breweries that have sprung up during the last two decades, not only in Delaware, but throughout the nation.

Following a rather extensive examination of Dogfish Head and Stewart’s, focusing particularly on their roles as pioneers in Delaware craft brewing, Russo takes readers on a tour of the breweries currently operating throughout the state, most of which opened during the last decade. Iron Hill, Fordham and Dominion, Blue Earl, 16 Mile, 3rd Wave, Mispillion and others – all have unique stories, as well as unique strategies for succeeding in an increasingly crowded market. However, these stories are presented as parts of a greater story; the individual breweries are not so much separate subjects as they are characters interacting in a plot that continues to unfold.

Delaware Beer is an entertaining, informative read for craft beer fans, but it’s also an important chronicle of an emerging industry. It offers a rare look into the inner workings of numerous competitors (which, admirably, seem to regard themselves more as independent partners) as they evolve from shaky start-ups into stable, young companies. Whatever the future may hold for craft beer – whether the boom gives way to another bust, or the existing breweries continue to prosper – Tony Russo has performed a vital, valuable task in documenting the local movement’s early years.

– Chris Slavens

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Using Maryland’s Plats.net to research colonial Sussex

A couple of weeks ago a fellow from the lower Eastern Shore contacted me and casually mentioned that I live in what was once Old Somerset before William Penn stole it, and went on to call the Pennsylvania founder a “thieving bastard.” He was alluding to the ancient boundary dispute which resulted in the running of the Transpeninsular Line and the Mason-Dixon Line, giving a substantial portion of Maryland’s Eastern Shore to Pennsylvania — wrongly, in the opinion of some. I tend to share this opinion.

The fact that western and lower Sussex County, Delaware, used to be part of Somerset or Worcester County, Maryland, depending on the time period, is a source of confusion for many researchers, particularly those who are searching for the locations of early settlements. But it doesn’t have to be. In fact, Maryland land records are arguably easier to access than those of Delaware.

Plats.net, hosted by the State of Maryland, is an incredibly useful resource for anyone researching the early history of, say, Seaford, Laurel, Gumboro, Selbyville, etc. You can find a Beginners Guide here, which covers the basics, but I’ve learned a couple of tricks to get the most out of the site.

Typically, after selecting a county (either Somerset or Worcester for the Broad Creek area, for example) I do an Advanced Search and enter part of a name — of an individual or a tract of land — in the Description box, then change the the sort order from the default setting, Date Descending, to Date Ascending, so that the oldest records will be listed first. There’s a reason I enter part of a name rather than the entire name. Spellings of even simple names vary — i.e., Stephens vs. Stevens — so it can be helpful to search for the part of the name that is most likely to be spelled consistently. For example, “dolb” rather than Dolby or Dolbee will yield results for both. Or “collin” will pull up records for Collins as well as Collings, an early spelling of the name. Sometimes the old spellings are nearly unrecognizable; for example, Brazier rather than Brasure — yet a search for “bra” would cover both.

Tract names are also subject to spelling variations, i.e., Forrest vs. Forest, Hogg vs. Hog, Lott vs. Lot, etc. Sometimes you have to be creative.

Once you’ve pulled up a particular record, there is usually no need to struggle to read the entire text. All have the same basic format. You can usually skip down to the description of the tract, which will read, “Beginning at a markd white oke on ye south side of Broad Creek…” or something similar. Typically, the only place-names to appear in the descriptions are those of waterways — and more often than not, the names of smaller waterways are obsolete and don’t appear on any map — but sometimes specific neighbors, roads, and even towns will be referenced. There will also be a diagram of the tract, but — frustratingly — this will almost never include any landmarks other than the trees used as markers.

50-acre tract "Priveledge" surveyed for George "Tomson" in 1743, probably in today's Gumboro

50-acre tract “Priveledge” surveyed for George “Tomson” in 1743, probably in today’s Gumboro

Despite the vague descriptions, these records can be used to determine which neighborhood a particular plantation was located in. Later records, even Delaware deeds, might refer to the tract by name and provide more details. For example, a large tract along Broad Creek, patented to Joseph Collins in 1762 and named Collins Industry, was referred to in dozens of deeds in the following decades as the tract was gradually divided into many smaller parcels.

I’ve identified a couple of the old creek names in the Broad Creek area, like Wimbesoccom Creek (today’s Gray’s Branch), and only recently decided that the frequently referenced Bald Cypress Branch probably ran through Trussum Pond rather than Trap Pond (neither of which was known as such during the colonial era). This is a sort of ongoing back-burner project.

– Chris Slavens

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