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This Month in Delaware History

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Old Swedes’ Church. Etching by Benjamin Ferris, c. 1860. DHS Print Collection Box 9, #5

On May 28th, 1698, the cornerstone of what is said to be the oldest church building in the United States still used for worship as originally built, was set in place. Old Swedes’ Church was built at the burial grounds of the former Fort Christina, which anchored the colony of New Sweden in 1638. The church and graveyard, which is reported to be the final resting place of over 15,000 souls, is located at 7th and Church Streets along the Christina River in Wilmington, Delaware. Lutheran Church services held in the Swedish language were given at Old Swedes’ from its foundation well into the 18th Century. Later, Old Swedes’ joined the Episcopal Church and  the name “Old Swedes’” merged with “Holy Trinity”.  Philadelphia’s Old Swedes’ /Gloria Dei Church was founded roughly 30 miles away and built within a few years of Wilmington’s Old Swedes’.

Tours of this venerable church,  its graveyard and the adjacent Hendrickson House are given by volunteers of the Old Swedes Foundation. For information visit  http://www.oldswedes.org/

 


Object of the Month

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Square piano no. 1 by Charles Trute (Wilmington, ca. 1803–1807), on display at the Read House & Gardens. Gift of Mrs. Ernest Hall (1961.011).

George Read II, it seems, was always stylish and never solvent. Sometime between 1803 and 1806, he outfitted his commodious new house in New Castle with a square piano by Charles Trute, an English émigré living north of Wilmington. Read paid for periodic tunings and hired music masters to teach his daughter Kitty to play, but he let years elapse between payments for the piano itself, handing over the last of them to Trute’s widow in 1816—on court order. But here the trail goes cold. When the surviving Read children sold off their father’s effects in 1836 to offset his posthumous debts, the instrument appears already to have been gone from the house.

If we can surmise anything from the Trute piano that now stands in its place, the original Read instrument must have been a handsome one. Only about thirteen of his pianos are known to survive, two of which the Delaware Historical Society managed to acquire in the 1950s and 1960s. Winterthur has a third and Vassar College a fourth, joined in spirit by another instrument lost decades ago to a fire at the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan. With rare exception, Trute’s pianos are of remarkably similar, if not identical, design. It followed him from London to Jamaica to Philadelphia in the 1790s, and ultimately to rural Delaware. If the ghosts of George and Kitty still linger around the old house, the current piano must make them feel at home. Read more.

 

 

 
 

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The Delaware Historical Society is the statewide, non-profit organization that explores, preserves, shares, and promotes Delaware history, heritage, and culture to strengthen our community.