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Banner above: Inset from the painting, Christiana River, 1802 by Bayard Berndt from the Delaware Historical Society Collection

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August 2017

Boy Scout Uniform, John S. Reese IVIn this important anniversary year of the United States’ entry into World War I (and in keeping with the theme of the previous two months), this month’s special object offers us a small glimpse into the lives of the folks on the front lines here at home.  This Boy Scout uniform jacket belonged to John S. Reese IV (1904-2002) of Wilmington, who was a Boy Scout from 1916 until 1921. The son of distinguished Dupont chemist, Charles Lee Reese, and Harriet Stedman Bent Reese, John lived on Brinckle Avenue in Wilmington and was a member of Troop 12, which was headquartered at Trinity Episcopal Church on North Adams Street. Most of the scouts in this troop, like John, attended the Wilmington Friends School at Fourth and West Streets.

During World War I, the Boy Scouts were mobilized to assist in a wide range of different home front activities, from planting and organizing Victory Gardens for food production, to organizing and taking part in raw material collection drives. They also pledged their assistance to the Red Cross, cooperated with the U.S. Navy to organize coastal patrols to watch for enemy ships, and helped to distribute government literature locally. Another important way in which the Boy Scouts helped at the local level was through fundraising for the war effort through the various Liberty Loan and War Saving Stamps programs. All in all, the organization contributed around $400 million dollars to the war effort.

This olive drab wool uniform jacket was specially made by Henderson and Company of Eleventh and Race Streets, Philadelphia. The inside pocket still contains the original sewn-on, hand-written label for order 30346 placed by John’s father, Charles.  The right sleeve sports six merit badges for First Aid, Craftsmanship, Physical Fitness, Public Health, Swimming, and Fire Safety. Most interesting of all, however, are the three medals above the left breast pocket, which really high-light how patriotic fervor and the perceived need for everyone to “do their bit” really ignited many aspects of life on the home front during the war.

The first medal is a four-tiered bronze United States Treasury War Service award presented to John in October 1917 which honors his service during the Liberty Loan campaign of that year. The center medal was presented on behalf of the National War Savings Committee for service in the War Savings Campaign for 1918. The last medal in the group is made from captured German cannon and is for patriotic service to the country on behalf of the Liberty Loan Campaign. In Wilmington, Old Town Hall was a central hub for war bond activities and these medals were presented to John for his work in soliciting financial pledges during various war bond drives.  In fact, John S. Reese IV distinguished himself by securing the highest dollar amount in pledges of any scout in Delaware.

Like his father before him, John S. Reese IV went on to a career in chemistry, earning his undergraduate degree from Princeton in 1927 and his PhD from Johns Hopkins in 1931. He returned to Wilmington in 1935 to begin work as a research chemist for DuPont and worked at the DuPont Experimental Station until he retired in 1960.  He is buried in Wilmington and Brandywine Cemetery.

 

 

 

July 2017

Our Object of the Month for July 2017 is the Society’s collection of World War I Military Service Records. The Delaware Historical Society is home to an outstanding collection of original documents with biographical information and details of military service rendered by Delawareans in the First World War, often with photographs of the soldiers themselves. The records were the result of efforts by the Wilmington Institute Free Library to gather information on Delawareans who served in the war. Submission of the records was entirely voluntary. These military records, which number in the thousands, are available for public review in the DHS research library. Our blog This Morning is History is also a convenient way to explore these WWI service records along with newspaper accounts of events of the war as they unfolded according to the Sunday Star.

Presented here as an example of the content and value of our WWI military record collection is a photograph and the military service record of Lieutenant Commander Theodore C. Hecker of Bellefonte, Delaware. Captain Hecker received a formal letter of gratitude from the Minister and Vice Admiral of the French Navy for the rescue of a French sailor who was adrift from a torpedoed patrol boat in the English Channel on the night of January 5, 1918. Captain Hecker commanded the “A.A. Raven”, a U.S. Army Cargo Transport vessel. At 10pm on March 14, 1918, the “Raven” was torpedoed by a German submarine. Captain Hecker went down with the ship and was found adrift and unconscious an hour later. He suffered a ruptured eardrum, cuts on his back and internal injuries.

The WWI military service collection indicates the following Delawareans died while in service of their country: Xavier Baltrush, Walter Paul Early,  Joseph Phillips, William Brennan, Thomas Davis, John Joseph Horty, Captain John Lee Fisher and Chandler Billingsley. Additional fatalities which have not as yet been discovered are likely present in the collection.

The service record, letter of commendation, and newspaper account for Chandler Billingsley who was killed and is buried in France and the newspaper account of Thomas J. Davis who was killed by a land mine in France are also presented here, following Captain Hecker’s records. Both Billingsley and Davis served in Delaware’s 59th Pioneer Infantry, Company D & Company I, respectively. Davis was survived by a wife and 6 week old son, who he had never seen. He was 23 years old. Billingsley was killed on a supply train on April 15, 1919, five months after Germany signed the Armistice of Compiegne, ending armed hostilities with the Allies.  He was 31 years old.

Service records for the above soldiers and many more have been scanned and posted on the Society’s blog This Morning is History at:  https://thismorningishistory.wordpress.com/category/world-war-i/

 

 


June 2017

The Victory Libery Loan Industrial Honor EmblemAs we look back at World War I, one hundred years after the events of the war, we have a chance to reexamine the role of the United States and Delaware in the war, both abroad and at home.  In 1919, the Grinnell Lithographic Company produced a flag, our object of the month for June, which the United States Treasury awarded to a Delaware corporation as an "Industrial Honor Emblem,” a symbol of the corporation's contribution to the Victory Liberty Loan.

The Victory Liberty Loan drive was the last in a series of five appeals for Americans to buy bonds to support the war effort.  In the spring of 1917, Americans began buying bonds as part of the First Liberty Loan drive, eventually raising $2 billion for the war. Because there was an unenthusiastic response to the First and Second Liberty Loan drives, the Treasury Department began a massive campaign to promote Liberty Bonds, enlisting celebrities, artists, actors, and committees of local volunteers to urge Americans to buy bonds.  By the time of the fifth Liberty Loan, otherwise known as the Victory Liberty Loan and issued in April 1919, a common slogan for the loan was "Finish the Job!.”

Like other domestic programs during the war, such as the development of Victory Gardens, Liberty Loan drives provided a substantial boost to resources needed for World War I.  In our upcoming World War I exhibit, set to open in the Fall of 2017, the Society hopes to highlight sacrifices made by all Delawareans during the war.

 

 

May 2017

Square piano no. 1 by Charles Trute (Wilmington, ca. 1803–1807), on display at the Read House & Gardens. Gift of Mrs. Ernest Hall (1969.011).

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.

Specialists in historical performance practice call pianos of this early period by their Italian name, “fortepiano,” but the Anglo-American term at the time was usually “piano-forte” or “piano-fort.” Either way, having the strings struck rather than plucked (as on the harpsichord) made it possible to play with a range of touches from soft (piano) to loud (forte). Square pianos were more compact and affordable than their wing-shaped cousins and became wildly popular in England after 1760. When Trute began making them in the late 1770s, still well under twenty years of age, he rode a rising tide of innovation and aesthetic standards.

Like their siblings, the Society’s two Trute pianos are veneered in mahogany with extensive inlay, which is particularly fine in the chevron-patterned banding that frames each side panel. The instrument at the Read House sits on a kind of aproned stand known as a “French frame,” popular in England (not France) from the late 1770s through the turn of the century. Besides the square tapered legs and brass bolt covers typical of that style and time, several of Trute’s French frames have scalloped front rails like the one seen here. The other DHS instrument, currently stored in Wilmington, has the fittings for such a stand but must have lost it along the way. Instead, it rests on a much heavier mahogany stand, ca. 1830s, with rope-turned legs and a pair of drawers.

On the inside, Trute consistently used the English single action, a mechanism synonymous with London’s early square pianos. The concept is rudimentary but effective. As in modern pianos, each key acts as a long lever, extending far beyond the ivoried end visible to the player. When the front end is depressed, a metal rod affixed halfway down the back end rises upward to thrust a hammer toward the strings. At the same time, the far back tip of the key lever pushes up on small dowel to lift the damper, allowing the strings to vibrate freely until the note is released. Like modern pianos, Trute’s has a foot pedal to lift all of the dampers at once. It also has something called a “buff stop,” operated by a hand lever inside the case, which inserts thin strips of leather between the hammers and strings to create a muted, harp-like timbre. By the 1780s, English makers were moving toward a more complex action that was heavier to the touch but allowed for a more consistent tone and faster repetition of notes. Trute, so far as we know, stuck with the single until his death in 1807.

What compelled Trute to leave London for Jamaica, Philadelphia, and then Wilmington remains a mystery, but his perambulations around the British Atlantic help to frame our understanding of his pianos. Back in the West End of London, his workshops at 26 Wardour Street and 7 Broad Street (both in the vicinity of Golden Square and Carnaby Market, Soho) put him at a vibrant crossroads of craftsmen and well-heeled patrons. Within the confines of those narrow streets, he was crowded in amongst a plethora of piano-makers and cabinet-makers, including some of the leading names of the time. It was no great wonder that English pianos of the 1780s closely resembled each other both in casework and in technical developments. When Trute left in 1790, his offerings became suspended in time. The instrument George Read paid off in 1816 was probably high-styled and well-executed but, ultimately, a little out of date. Still, the fact that his cases remained unchanged in design or quality is telling. Square piano manufacture in Soho was often a cottage industry. Frederick Beck, just a few doors down on Broad Street, regularly outsourced his casework to neighboring cabinetmakers and the components of his actions to semi-skilled artisans. But Trute seemed to carry on regardless of his surroundings, which suggests that he had always done the bulk of the work himself. When he died in 1807, the inventory of his estate listed a quantity of mahogany and satinwood veneer found among the various tools of his trade.

Anglican parish records tie Trute to Jamaica from 1790 through 1793, but if he was selling pianos there, they either failed to survive or have yet to be discovered. It would have been an excellent proposition, though. Kingston’s sugar-wealthy elite far surpassed their counterparts in the thirteen colonies and rivaled London’s merchant class. That said, Jamaica also held some unpleasant surprises. Few who immigrated there from England or America could endure the climate for more than a few years before moving on. And as James Juhan, another instrument-maker circulating around the Atlantic, found in nearby Saint-Domingue, what was uncomfortable for people was equally bad for pianos. High humidity caused the wood to swell and wrought havoc on the actions and the tuning alike. And apart from the climate, Jamaica was subject to the plague of Yellow Fever that raged from the Caribbean to Philadelphia in the early 1790s. It was also sensitive to Saint-Domingue’s massive slave revolts during those years, which dealt the French their first blows in the Haitian Revolution. Kingston, where the ratio of whites to slaves was even lower than in the French colony, was on high alert.

Whatever the factors, Trute and his family sailed for Philadelphia in July of 1793 and apparently weathered the worst of the fever there. By January of 1794, he and a kinsman named Trute Wiedberg (who remains an enigma) were advertising pianos and harpsichords from their shop at 25 Filbert Street, between Ninth and Tenth Streets. They purchased land in Brandywine Hundred six months later, east of Philadelphia Pike near what is now Harvey Road. In 1798, the pair acquired the nearby Swan Inn along with a license to operate it, and the establishment became a favorite dining place along the road from Wilmington to Philadelphia. When Wiedberg died in 1803, Trute apparently dropped his name from future pianos, reverting to the Latin “Carolus Trute,” which he had used in London. That Trute and Weidberg sustained themselves as innkeepers in addition to piano-making is not necessarily a sign that the piano business was patently unprofitable in northern Delaware. Especially in America, craftsmen of all trades often invested in land once they could afford it. Owning property, whether farming or operating a tavern, was a more a stable livelihood and one that could be maintained later into life. George Read’s debt aside, Trute died with ample cash on hand, leaving the inn to his wife and daughter and his pianos to posterity.

 


April 2017

Portable medicine chest owned by Dr. Henry Latimer, ca. 1805As we bid farewell to flu season and wait for the spring allergies to kick in, this month’s featured object offers a glimpse at what the doctor might have brought to a patient’s bedside at the dawn of the nineteenth century. This portable medicine chest, circa 1805, belonged to Delaware physician and surgeon, Dr. Henry Latimer (1752-1819). Its mahogany panels close with hook and eye clasps and a small brass tab that kept the case and its contents secure in transit, but held the panels open for easy access to medicines and supplies while the doctor treated patients. At a mere 10 ½ x 9 ¼ inches, the chest is deceptively small. The interior compartments hold a wide variety of glass medicine bottles, spatulas, brass weights, powders, and blending equipment that would likely have supplied Dr. Latimer through a large number of house calls.  

Dr. Henry Latimer (1752-1819), photo of a charcoal sketch by St. Memin_n.d.The son of an Irish immigrant who eventually presided over the Delaware Convention that ratified the U.S. Constitution, Henry Latimer went on to become a prominent physician and statesman in his own right.  Educated in Philadelphia and Edinburgh, he opened a medical practice in Wilmington before serving as a surgeon during the Revolutionary War.  Latimer was assigned to the Flying Hospital Unit with his friend Dr. James Tilton, another well-known Delaware physician whose career led him into politics.  After the war, Latimer returned to his practice and served in the Delaware General Assembly and the U.S. House of Representatives before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1795, taking the seat of George Read.

For more information on early medicine in Delaware and to view fascinating objects like this one, be sure to visit the medical history exhibit guest-curated by the Delaware Academy of Medicine and the Medical Society of Delaware on the second floor of the Delaware History Museum, on
display through October, 2017.

 

 


March 2017

Confederate Flag presented to the city of Wilmington in 1862 by Samuel Francis duPontThis month’s special feature takes us back to the early days of the Civil War and spot-lights a captured Confederate flag presented to the city of Wilmington in 1862 by Union Flag Officer, Samuel Francis Du Pont (1803-1865).  Du Pont had first enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1815 and had already had a successful naval career when he returned to active duty at the outbreak of the Civil War. He was appointed Commander of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron in 1861, and his web of operations to strangle Confederate trade and troop movements along the coast from Virginia to Florida resulted in the capture of this flag.

The flag was taken by Lieutenant Edward Conroy, commanding officer of the U.S. Bark Restless, on February 14, 1862, when his forces captured and destroyed four Confederate supply ships in Bull’s Bay, South Carolina. The flag likely came from the largest of these ships, the schooner Theodore Stoney. Conroy then sent the flag to Commander Enoch G. Parrott of the U.S.S. Augusta with the request that it be forwarded to Flag Officer Du Pont with his compliments, which Parrott duly did.

Flag Officer Du Pont then decided to present this flag to his home city of Wilmington.  On March 6, 1862, it was sent to Wilmington Mayor, Vincent Gilpin, along with the following letter:

Sir: I have retained in my possession until an opportunity offered of forwarding it, the American flag first hoisted on Fort Beauregard after its capture on 7th November, 1861. I send it with a rebel flag, likewise captured in South Carolina by one of the vessels of my fleet under Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Conroy.  Will you do me the favor to present them in my name to the loyal city of Wilmington?  They are emblems of a war forced upon us by the most wicked conspiracy that a forbearing nation has ever had to contend with, the pretensions and crimes of which Wilmington has denounced from the beginning.

I have the honor to be, sir, with great respect, your most obedient servant,

S.F. Du Pont, Flag Officer

 

This flag, measuring 96 inches long x 54 inches wide, is hand-stitched from wool with a canvas hoist and seven white cotton stars. Its historic importance and significance is also reinforced by several blocks of old hand-written ink text on the canvas hoist: "Rebel Flag / Captured in South Carolina / by the fleet under command / of Com. S.F. Du Pont U.S.N. / 1862" and "Presented to the City / March 6, 1862." There is also hand-written text on the flag itself: "City Wilmington" and "Wilmington Del." This flag later entered the Delaware Historical Society’s collections, where it is currently preserved.

 

 


February 2017

Our February Object of the Month is a framed, oil on canvas painting entitled “Janet’s Garden”, painted circa 2000 by Delaware Artist Edward L. Loper, Sr. It measures  27 ¼ inches high by 33 ¼ inches wide. The scene is of a garden kept by the artist’s wife Janet at their home on Wilson Road in northern Delaware. We see a lush green landscape with a brick path and statue visible in the foreground. A fence and white-painted building are visible in the left background. Also displayed here is a palette used by Loper. It measures 10 ¾ inches high by 15 ¾ inches wide. Loper personally gifted the palette to the Delaware Historical Society. An extensive manuscript collection documenting Loper’s life and career are housed for public access in the DHS Research Library. A number of paintings are also in the DHS Museum Collection.

Edward L. Loper Sr. (April 7, 1916 – October 11, 2011) was an African American artist and teacher. He was born to a poor family on the east side of Wilmington, Delaware in a racially mixed section known as Frogtown. He attended Howard High School where he was an All-State football and basketball player. During the Great Depression, Loper started working in Delaware for the Works Progress Administration (WPA), rendering drawings of decorative art for the Index of American Design, a large archive of folk art images based in Washington, DC. The job required him to illustrate images of objects such as toys and furniture. He credited the job with giving him his start as an artist. Loper began studying Howard Pyle's work at the Wilmington Public Library. He also began taking the train to the Philadelphia Museum of Art on weekends to study the techniques of the great masters. He taught himself how to paint, slowly developing his own style and technique.

In 1937, Loper became the first African American to have a painting accepted by what is now the Delaware Art Museum. His painting After a Shower, a depiction of Wilmington on a stormy night, won honorable mention at a 1938 exhibition at the Delaware Art Museum (then known a the Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts). The painting was later purchased by the Society for its permanent collection. In the 1940s, Loper painted mostly landscapes and cityscapes of his neighborhood in Wilmington. In the 1950s, having studied Pablo Picasso, Loper began experimenting with vibrant colors and shapes. The result was the creation of Loper’s most distinctive style; a prism-like effect, as if seeing through shards of glass. In 1963, Loper was invited to attend classes at the Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania, established by Albert C. Barnes in 1922 and home to one of the world's largest private art collections and one of the premier collections of French Impressionism and proto-Cubism in the country, if not the world.  Paul Cézanne’s The Boy in the Red Vest had a profound effect on Loper’s use and juxtaposition of color. His brushwork became dramatically structured, colorful and refracted from this time on.

 

 


January 2017

Our object of the month for January, 2017 is a journal recorded by Edward Bringhurst Jr., part of the Webb Family Papers at the Delaware Historical Society.  The bulk of the papers document the experiences of Richard Henry Webb, who fought for the Fourth Regiment Delaware Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War and died at Cold Harbor on June 2, 1864.

Webb was buried on the battlefield, and his brother-in-law, Edward Bringhurst Jr., traveled south after the war to recover his body and bring it back to Wilmington for burial.  In May of 1865, a year after R.H. Webb died, Bringhurst recorded this experience in a small, leather bound journal, pictured above.

In fascinating detail, Bringhurst described what it was like to travel through Virginia, only a month after the Confederacy surrendered.  On a trip from Baltimore to Old Point Comfort (Fort Munroe), aboard the Steamer Louisiana, Bringhurst couldn’t get “a stateroom owing to the number of ladies aboard, to whom the preference was given in securing rooms.”  Later he heard of “someone having their pocket picked of $1.50 in cash and $8000 in government vouchers” and “found a spare spot on the floor in the upper saloon and spreading newspapers on the floor using shawl and overcoat for pillows passed a fair night.”

Bringhurst also noticed the destruction of war.  At Portsmouth Navy Yard he saw the “wrecks of vessels burned” and the “captured ironclads Albemarle and Atlanta.”  Later he saw the site of the “ruins of Hampton…occupied by negro shanties built against the ruins of the old houses so as to use the chimneys that survived the conflagration.”

All the while, Bringhurst had one major concern – bringing the body of R.H. Webb back to Wilmington.  At Richmond he spoke to a doctor that offered to furnish a coffin, recover the remains, and bring them to a shipping company, in return for $100.  Later he made arrangements with an undertaker to take an ambulance to the burial site near Bethesda Church, but ultimately he was repelled by heavy rains that washed away a bridge. It appears that Bringhurst had to return to Wilmington before he could recover the body himself; a note home in the collection says that he was “unsuccessful.” Elsewhere in the Webb Family Papers, in a note sent from Fort Munroe to Webb’s father, we finally learn that Webb’s body was recovered and sent back to Wilmington.  He was interred in Brandywine Cemetery.

The Webb Family papers are a great resource for any researcher interested in firsthand accounts of soldiers and civilians during the Civil War.  In addition to Edward Bringhurst’s journal, the collection has many letters from R.H. Webb to his family members describing everyday life in the army.  If you visit the Delaware History Museum, you can also view objects on display related to R. H. Webb.          

 

 


December 2016

Skaters at Brecks Mill_John J Alexander Sleigh ride scene_John Moll Country Christmas Gathering_Frank Schoonover Old Swedes Church_Bayard T. Berndt


Americans send more than two billion holiday cards every year with familiar images and traditional greetings. Many of us dutifully sign, stamp, and mail them in an effort to check one more thing off an endless holiday checklist without looking twice at the artwork on the front.  After a while, the standard depictions of snowmen, candy canes, religious themes, and a jolly old elf begin to run together in a sea of mass-produced holiday cheer. This month’s featured objects represent a fresher approach to this tradition. The Delaware Historical Society’s collection of ephemera includes a fascinating assortment of holiday cards designed by Delaware artists for personal use. Some include renderings of well-known local landmarks, like Bayard T. Berndt’s portrayal of a snow-covered Old Swedes Church in Wilmington or Joseph J. Alexander’s watercolor of ice skaters at Breck’s Mill on the Brandywine River. Others showcase the artist’s own interpretation of holiday scenes. John Moll, who studied painting in the style of Howard Pyle and likely received instruction from his contemporary, Frank Schoonover, created a bold, brightly colored version of a classic sleigh ride scene to send to friends and family.

The collection also includes four offerings from Schoonover himself, like the pen and ink drawing of a holiday gathering outside a church that graced his personal cards for Christmas 1952. On the back of the card, Schoonover writes to the recipient that the drawing is “about the way that country folk gather to sing and wish the pastor and his wife well on Christmas Day.” He goes on to say that he envisions the scene taking place around 1870.

Unlike the boxed greeting cards that flood the market today, the cards produced by these artists were never intended to make money.  They were shared with friends and family and occasionally with local organizations who then used the images on their own cards. Since they were not meant for public consumption, they give us a personal, unguarded glimpse of Delaware artists interpreting the season on their own terms and in their own ways, leaving us with a fascinating and festive reminder that the First State’s artistic heritage is alive and well.
 

 


November 2016
 

Campaign Flag_Henry Clay  for President_Theodore Frelinghuysen for Vice President_1844

With the 2016 election in high gear, it seems like a great time to share one of our own outstanding pieces of Delaware political memorabilia.  This item, an 1844 campaign flag made from printed and stenciled cotton, promoted the Whig Party ticket of  Henry Clay for President and Theodore Frelinghuysen for Vice President (they lost to Democrat, James K. Polk), and also that of Thomas Stockton, successful Whig candidate for Governor of Delaware, and John Wallace Houston, successful Delaware Whig candidate for Congress. The addition of these last two names onto what is essentially a presidential campaign flag is why this type of flag is often called a coattail flag.

The election of 1844 was a close race that turned upon the issue of territorial expansion (often referred to as “Manifest Destiny”). James K. Polk and the Democrats whole-heartedly supported aggressive expansionist policies, which included the annexation of Texas and control of the Oregon Territory, while Clay and the Whigs opposed them, in part because they feared it would raise the already highly-contentious issue of the extension of slavery into the new territories. Although Clay won Delaware, it was ultimately this opposition to expansion that would cost him the election.

The coattail candidates on this flag fared much better.  Thomas Stockton (1781-1846) of New Castle, a veteran of the War of 1812, had served as New Castle County Register in Chancery from 1832 until 1835. In 1844, he defeated Democrat William Tharp to become the thirty-third Governor of Delaware. Stockton took office on January 21, 1845 and served until his death in office on March 2, 1846. John Wallace Houston (1814-1896) of Concord and Georgetown had served as Secretary of State for Delaware from 1841 until 1844, when he defeated Democrat George Riddle to become U.S Representative for Delaware. Houston was later appointed Associate Judge for the Delaware Supreme Court from 1855-1893 and was also a member of the Peace Conference of 1861, which was an unsuccessful attempt to diffuse the impending Civil War. This special item was gifted to the Society in 2014 by Robin and Julie Powell.

 


October 2016

New Gotham Big League magnetic baseball game_1956New Gotham Big League magnetic baseball game_1956 The year is 1956. The President is Dwight D. Eisenhower.  Japan joins the United Nations. The Flag of the United States Army is formally dedicated.  A crisis in the Middle East erupts over the Suez Canal. Nikita Khrushchev makes his infamous remark “We Will Bury You” at a reception of the Polish embassy in Moscow.  Fidel Castro and Che Guevara leave Mexico bound for Cuba. Elvis Presley hits the U.S. music charts for the first time with Heartbreak Hotel. Marylyn Monroe and playwright Arthur Miller are married. Heavyweight boxing champ Rocky Marciano retires undefeated. Floyd Patterson wins the vacant World Heavyweight crown. The snooze alarm clock is invented by General Electric. The hard disk drive is invented by IBM. Video tape is first demonstrated in Chicago by the company Ampex. Cecille B DeMille’s epic biblical film “The Ten Commandments” is released in the U.S. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” is also in movie theaters. The Summer Olympics take place in Melbourne, Australia. And in Major League Baseball, Mickey Mantle and pitcher Dan Larsen lead the New York Yankees to a World Series victory. Larsen throws the only ‘perfect game’ in World Series history against Jackie Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodgers. It was Robinson’s last season. Against this backdrop our featured Object of the Month was produced and sold. Shown here is a New Gotham Big League magnetic baseball game from 1956 with its original cardboard box. The box contains a colorful printed sheet steel baseball field and stadium with eight (one missing) unpainted player figures and a ball. The figures have tabs on the bottom to fit them into corresponding holes on the game board. The bat is mounted on a spring at the lower left corner. On the box appears "Manufactured by / Gotham Pressed Steel Corporation / New York, N.Y. / Made in the United States of America."
Measurements:  H-4.5 W-19.5 L-19.5 inches

 

 


September 2016

Shelton Electric Vibrator, ca. 1917As we are always being told, your health is your wealth, and this month’s special object, a circa 1917 Shelton Electric Vibrator, shows us that the search for better health has been a long-running one. As electricity in homes became more widely available during the early twentieth century, inventors kept pace with a wide array of new devices that utilized it. The Shelton Electric Vibrator was the brainchild of William Gentry Shelton (1873-1933), the son of Theodore and Jane (Gentry) Shelton of St. Louis, Missouri. He started in his father’s hat business but soon turned his hand to inventing various household electrical devices and starting his own successful business, the Shelton Electric Company, which had its factory in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The earliest patent for the Shelton Electric Vibrator was filed in 1906 and the company offered several models in a number of different price ranges. The device plugged into a wall socket and consisted of a hand-held housing to which a number of different attachment heads could be affixed. An accompanying booklet even offered suggestions on how best to use the device and its attachments to treat a wide variety of listed ailments. The objective was to allow individuals to utilize massage therapy in a home setting.

According to the information/instruction booklet that survives with this item, the manufacturers claimed that the Shelton Electric Vibrator could cure everything from a sore throat to rheumatism, impotence, and various nervous conditions.  The company even proudly proclaimed that “used regularly and conscientiously the Shelton Vibrator will promote such a wholesome, sparkling degree of vigor that life will present a new aspect to the man or woman who has moped along in a semi-invalid condition for a long period.” This item was gifted to the Society in 1965 by Mr. Henry R. Horsey.

 

 


August 2016

Framed advertising thermometer for the Lewes Trust Company, 2010.020

 

Our Object of the Month  is from one of Delaware’s iconic beach towns, Lewes, Delaware in 1950. Pictured here is a framed advertising thermometer for the Lewes Trust Company. The mercury thermometer is set under glass in the right side of a rectangular brass frame and is surrounded by a color scene of two hunting dogs in a marshland setting. There is a panel of text underneath the image: " Lewes Trust Company / Member F.D.I.C. / Phones 4411 & 2261 / Lewes Delaware." On the reverse of the frame is a small calendar with tear-off leaves for 1950 that starts at July. This brass and glass item measures W-4.125 x L-5.125 x D-0.25 inches.

 

 


July 2016

Gentleman’s ring, carved from bone and inlaid with 24 red and blue stars and the script initials “GWA,” belonged to Captain George W. Ahl (1834-1914).In a month when we celebrate our nation’s birth and have stars and stripes in our eyes, July’s collection highlight is appropriately red, white, and blue. This gentleman’s ring, carved from bone and inlaid with 24 red and blue stars and the script initials “GWA,” belonged to Captain George W. Ahl (1834-1914), the second in command, assistant adjutant, and inspecting officer at Fort Delaware during the Civil War. The ring was carved by Colonel O.M. Butler of the First Louisiana Cavalry as a token of appreciation for favors extended towards him by Ahl while a prisoner of war at Fort Delaware.

Ahl arrived in Delaware with the first large wave of POWs during the second year of the war and was said to be excessively strict with his prisoners. However, while the desolate conditions and harsh treatment faced by enlisted men in Civil War prisons are well-documented, the prison experience for officers at Fort Delaware was somewhat different.  High-ranking Confederate officers were housed in former laundress quarters and open-bay barrack rooms inside the fort.  They were often afforded paroles of the island, access to more food, and allowed more freedoms than the outside prison population. An unspoken “gentlemen’s agreement” typically existed between officers on both sides, and it was not uncommon for adjutants and guards to extend favors to their imprisoned counterparts (often in the form of extra privileges or supplies). While we do not know the exact nature of the favors that Ahl offered to Col. Butler, they must have been frequent or significant enough to warrant this ring, with its detailed carving and color inlay. The Delaware Historical Society’s object collection includes other gifts that Ahl received from Confederate prisoners of war, including a hand-carved knife and fork set, also made from bone.

George W. Ahl was best known for forming the First Delaware Heavy Artillery Company, which was mostly comprised of former Confederate soldiers who had been taken prisoner and then sworn an oath of allegiance to the Union. Prisoners who refused to take the oath referred to these soldiers as “galvanized Yankees,” who switched sides to save themselves from the horrors of prison life. This company was organized at Fort Delaware on July 27, 1863 and assigned to garrison and guard duty at Fort Delaware during its entire period of service. There is no evidence that Colonel Butler was among the members of this unit.

 

 


June 2016

Bell & Howell Camera

With summer just around the corner, it’s time to start getting out the video cameras and gearing up to make some of those really bad home movies that your family is sure to treasure forever…In keeping with this joyful summertime spirit, this month we offer a glimpse into how it used to be done with this circa 1928 Bell & Howell 16 mm Filmo Model 75 home movie camera. Originally designed by the Bell & Howell Company of Chicago, the Filmo series of movie making equipment started in 1923 with the Filmo Model 70, the first-ever 16 mm camera with a spring-driven motor. The line was produced right up until the 1970s, and Bell & Howell Filmo equipment was generally well renowned for its high build quality, ease of use, and dependability.

The Filmo Model 75 first came out in 1928 and was marketed as “a beautiful, watch-thin movie camera” that slipped easily into a pocket and weighed only three pounds.  The ornately decorated case was offered in three finishes: walnut brown, ebony black, and silver birch, like the one shown here. The cameras also came with protective plush-lined leather carrying cases. The Filmo Model 75 also used more modern, non-flammable, cellulose acetate-based 16 mm safety film, so it was popular with amateur film makers.

An opening/closing switch on one side of the body allowed for the insertion of the film and an attached key on the opposite side wound the motor.  Then it was a simple matter of looking through the viewfinder and pressing the film release button to record your memories for posterity! “With the new Filmo 75 the veriest novice can make home movies of theater brilliance, depth, and beauty on the first try,” claimed one ad.  A fully wound camera could shoot for about 40 seconds before needing to be rewound. The Model 75 was produced between 1928 and 1933 and this one belonged to Park W. Huntington of North Harrison Street in Wilmington.

 

 


May 2016

National Progressive Party banner. Gift of John Munroe, 2004. Dimensions: 15” wide x 22” long

Delaware has recently seen a whirlwind of presidential campaigners seeking your vote. Bernie Sanders shared his thoughts at Wilmington’s Riverfront on Saturday, April 23; Hillary Clinton took the stage at Wilmington’s World Café Live on Monday, April 25; and Donald Trump took the stump in Harrington, Delaware on Friday, April 22.

Today, we welcome you to the 1912 Presidential election; an election with uncanny similarities to the current race to the White House. Our object of the month is a printed cotton campaign banner one would have seen while strolling through Wilmington, Georgetown, or Dover, Delaware in the late summer of 1912. Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt and Hiram Johnson were asking for your vote for Roosevelt’s newly created “Bull Moose” Party. The banner has machine-stitched edges, brown printed text and images of Teddy Roosevelt on the left, a central bull moose and Hiram Johnson to the right. The “Bull Moose Party” was the colorful nickname of Roosevelt’s “National Progressive Party” which had formed in protest of the Republican National Convention in June, 1912.

Objects from our shared history teach us a great many things, in this case that a two party system is not an immutable law of an election year. The election of 1912 is uniquely appropriate to ponder in light of the current Presidential election process in the United States.  The 1912 contest was a four way struggle between a Democrat (Woodrow Wilson), a Progressive and the subject of our Object of the Month (Teddy Roosevelt), a conservative Republican (William Taft),  and a Socialist (Eugene Debs). Until very recently, the same scenario existed in the 2016 primaries with Hillary Clinton as Democrat, Donald Trump as Progressive, Ted Cruz as conservative Republican and Bernie Sanders, Socialist. Roosevelt had been a Republican but launched his own party, the Progressive “Bull Moose” party because he failed to be the nominee at the Republican National Convention in the summer of 1912. Donald Trump may have caused a similar stir at the Republican National Convention this summer, had Ted Cruz not suspended his campaign after the Indiana Primary. Even criticisms launched by the candidates in 1912 concerning the motives and qualities of their opponents were surprisingly similar to what they are today.

Who won the 1912 election? Woodrow Wilson, despite the lack of a bull moose in his marketing platform.

 

 


April 2016

Left to right: Alice Drew scrapbook: front, Alice Drew newspaper photo, ca. 1924; Alice and classmates, 1922 dance card, ca. 1924; Athlete booklet, Wilmington High School, 1923; 2nd row, left to right: scrapbook parties and dances page, ca. 1924;  scrapbook classmates page.As the weather warms and Spring fever takes hold, many high school and college students turn their attention to proms, Spring formals, and other special occasions. Dances, parties, pep rallies, and sporting events have long been the center of the student social scene, as evidenced by this month’s collection highlight—a scrapbook that captures the high school experience of a young woman in the 1920s.

This scrapbook, measuring 8”x 9.5”, was compiled by Mrs. Stanley L. Brown (formerly Alice Drew) of  443 Geddes Street while she was a student at Wilmington High School from 1920-1924. Featuring delicate, hand-colored motifs, its fragile pages are filled with newspaper clippings, photographs, programs, dance cards, notes, and other memorabilia that paint a vivid picture of Miss Drew’s extracurricular activities, interests, and lively social life.

News clippings related to the Wilmington High School Glee Club, a variety of performance programs, and a membership card for the Aircastle Players (the school’s drama club) indicate Miss Drew’s intense interest in music and theatre. She also made a point to save tickets and school sports schedules, complete with the handwritten scores for each game. The many items saved from 1923 tell us that her extracurricular schedule was particularly heavy during her junior year—this section of the scrapbook details her involvement in the student council, the Friendship Club, and her term as Vice-President of the ΣΘΚ sorority. Latter portions of the book reflect Miss Drew’s excitement about her final year of high school and her transition toward adulthood. A program for commencement exercises and a list of graduation gifts mingle with invitations to dances at the University of Delaware and the engagement announcements of various friends.

Some of the most interesting features of the scrapbook are the dozens of dance cards from club and fraternity dances, proms, and other formal events that Miss Drew collected during high school, college, and the early years of her marriage to Dr. Stanley L. Brown. Most still contain tiny pencils hanging from colorful cords that she used to note her partners for the various dances of the evening. Clearly a stickler for details, she even went so far as to record the name of her escort for each event and a description of her outfit! Her senior prom dance card indicates that she “went with Bill Wickes and wore my white georgette trimmed in cream lace.”

The contents of a scrapbook are the building blocks of a uniquely personal story, and this one certainly tells us a great deal about Alice Drew and high school life in Wilmington during the 1920s…but its true power is that, nearly a century later, we can still open the book and see parts of our own stories mirrored in its pages. To view this scrapbook and many others in our collection, please visit the Delaware Historical Society Research Library.

Image: Left to right: Alice Drew scrapbook: front, Alice Drew newspaper photo, ca. 1924; Alice and classmates, 1922 dance card, ca. 1924; Athlete booklet, Wilmington High School, 1923; 2nd row, left to right: scrapbook parties and dances page, ca. 1924;  scrapbook classmates page.

 

 


March 2016

This small sewing box, about 8 ½ inches long by 6 ½ inches wide and nearly 3 inches deep, is much more than a utilitarian object, for it represents a way of remembering and connecting with our early history. In the large central compartment is a handwritten label with this legend:

John Sharpless, of Ratherton in the county of Palatine in Chester in England, came to America in the same ship with William Penn, in 1682, and landed at Upland, a Swedish settlement on the western shore of the Delaware, since called Chester.  He settled near that place with his family and from him have descended the families of that name in Chester and Delaware counties in Pennsylvania and in other parts of the United States.  The wood of which this box is made is part of a chest he brought with him from England.

It is believed that Benjamin Ferris (1780-1867), a Sharpless descendant and Delaware’s first historian, made the box around 1850. However, we do not know who owned the box over the years. Nineteenth-century women spent many hours sewing and doing needlework, so we can imagine the box’s owners working on their own projects, treasuring the box and thinking of the generations of women who came before them. 

At some point, the box came into the possession of Alice P. Smyth, also a Sharpless descendant, and she donated it to the Delaware Historical Society in 1959. Miss Smyth was an early supporter of Women’s College at the University of Delaware.  Smyth Hall, a dormitory, is named for her.

 

 

February  2016

Painting dimensions: H-26 inches W-40inches D-2.25 inches, created circa 1880. Gift of Clarence M. Dillon to the SocietyOur collection highlight for February is a framed, oil on canvas painting entitled “Race To The Fire”. The scene contains two horse-drawn steam fire engines racing through a street to a fire. The engine in the foreground is drawn by a pair of black horses and has an African-American driver and two other firemen on the back. The engine in the mid-ground is drawn by a pair of white horses and has two firemen on board. An African-American male runs alongside the engine in the foreground while a second firefighter runs alongside the other engine on the opposite side of the street. A woman and small boy stand in a doorway in the background at the right side. Bisecting the engines and runners is a white poodle which dashes down the middle of the street in front of the horses. The identity of the artist is not certain but it could be John H. Morgan, who worked as a painter at the Pusey & Jones shipyard in 1881-1882.


Painting dimensions: H-26 inches W-40inches D-2.25 inches, created circa 1880.
Gift of Clarence M. Dillon to the Society

 

 

 


January 2016

The holiday season is all about exuberant, colorful decorating, so we offer this large and wonderfully fanciful needlework created in 1876 by Sarah E. Anthony of Smyrna, Delaware for display at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.  The Centennial Exposition, which ran from May 10 – November 10, 1876, was the first official World’s Fair held in the U.S. and celebrated the 100th Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  The exhibition’s main purpose was to showcase the best and brightest in science, technology, and industry, but it also featured a women’s pavilion that offered ladies their own venue in which to showcase their talents and compete for prizes. This needlework made its first appearance there as part of the exhibits.

Measuring 48 ½ inches high by 38 ¾ inches wide, this piece is definitely the largest needlework item in our collection and a real visual feast that perfectly captures both the international flavor and Colonial Revival spirit of the exhibition.  It features wool and silk embroidery on velvet and the composition is divided into two parts. The upper portion contains a large central image of a ship at sea with a banner heading, “Welcome to our shores all nations,”  flanked by the flags of Brazil and Italy (the main exhibition sponsors) and  crossed flags representing the four corners of the globe: Africa, America, Europe, and Asia.

The lower portion, too, is delightfully replete with an eccentric variety of symbols that really cover all the necessary nationalistic and patriotic bases. The most prominent feature, the large central square and compass motif,  is filled with various national flowers, most notably the English rose, Irish shamrock, Scottish thistle, and American ivy.  The square and compass surround a small portrait of George Washington with his legendary last words, “Tis Well,” and a blue violet (supposedly his favorite flower) that has fallen from its stem to mournfully symbolize his death. This central vignette is surrounded by a variety of other religious and patriotic images, along with symbols representing other prominent sponsor nations. Fortunately for us, we know exactly what Mrs. Anthony was thinking when she created this piece because her explanation is carefully enshrined in a printed silk plaque that accompanies the piece.

This giant needlework was one of approximately 31,000 exhibits, but it was one of only 12,000 that won any kind of award.  It’s easy to see why Mrs. Anthony’s labor of love impressed the judges, winning it a medal for Originality in Design and also a diploma for Excellence in Workmanship.

 

 

December  2015

Remember the joy of opening a new board game during the holidays? Today, board games are popular gifts for the young and young at heart, but the concept of these games is not a new one. In fact, many versions of the board game date back to ancient civilizations, including the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, and Aztecs. The Delaware Historical Society’s object collection features seven board games spanning more than 200 years, the oldest of which is called “The Game of the Goose” from about 1790. The “board” for this dice game is actually a large square of white handkerchief linen printed in red, complete with instructions in the center! The “New Game of the American Revolution” from 1844 and the World War II era “Tactics” were both inspired by major historical events and focused on the player’s ability to create winning battle strategies. Both games include the more familiar boards and game pieces, showing the evolution of board games over time.

When customized local and regional Monopoly boards were all the rage in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Newark, Delaware jumped on the bandwagon with a 1987 special edition of “Newarkopoly,” also featured in our collection. While it contains all of the usual game paraphernalia, plus Newark-specific squares including the Deer Park Tavern and other town landmarks, its significance lies in Delaware’s connection to the development of Monopoly long before the game as we know it was patented.

Although Charles B. Darrow of Philadelphia created Monopoly in the 1930s, an earlier version of the game originated around 1904 when Elizabeth Magie took out a patent for the “Landlord’s Game.” Based on the single-tax theories of economist Henry George, it was intended to demonstrate the evils of monopolies, corruption, and land-grabbing among the wealthy. Handmade versions of Magie’s game were distributed to the residents of the single-tax community of Arden, Delaware to play with their families. “Landlords” became very popular and it wasn’t long before the people of Arden began creating and playing their own modified versions, some painted on oilcloth, and others on homemade boards that became the precursor to the game we all know and love today.

The next time you pass “Go” and collect $200.00, think of Arden--you’ll have a whole new perspective on Delaware’s connection to a famous board game!  For more information on these and other Delaware-specific games in the collection, search our online object catalog click here.

"Game of the Goose," ca. 1790. DHS Collection   

  

"The New Game of the American Revolution," ca. 1844.  Gift of Miss Frederica H. Trapnell.  DHS Collection.

 

"Tactics-Game of World Strategy," ca. 1940.  Gift of Dr. & Mrs. William H. Duncan.  DHS Collection.

 

"Newarkopoly, ca. 1987.  DHS Purchase. DHS Collection.

Click on each image to see
a larger view and
game description

 

 


November  2015

CIW245 View of Walnut Street from Front Street looking northwest, includes Second Baptist Church, Customs House, ca. 1860.  Delaware Historical Society Photograph Collection. Dimensions: W-8 H-10 inches. Gift of Wm. W. Pusey.

CIW245 View of Walnut Street from Front Street looking northwest,
includes Second Baptist Church, Customs House, ca. 1860.
Delaware Historical Society Photograph Collection.
Dimensions: W-8 H-10 inches. Gift of Wm. W. Pusey.

 

 

Please click on the images
(left and above)
to see details

Many of the items in the Delaware Historical Society’s collections come to us with fascinating stories that automatically bring them to life. Others arrive with limited information and require us to dig a little deeper to uncover their secrets. Still others come with no information at all, and we must rely on our powers of observation to fill in the blanks. Sometimes these are the items that tell us the most without a single word.

A case in point is this month’s object, a photo of Wilmington taken around 1860. Here, we see a view of Walnut Street from Front Street looking northwest, which includes the Second Baptist Church and the Customs House in the distance.  At first glance, the view may seem less than thrilling. Further examination, however, yields all sorts of tiny details that reveal a slice of life in Wilmington shortly before the Civil War.

Look through the windows in the building on the right side of the photo, and suddenly a plain brick house shows signs of life. We can see the fireplace through one set of windows and the faint outline of a person seated, perhaps at a desk or table, in the other. Outside, broken pavement runs through the center of the photo. Signs of a street in disrepair? Look closer and note the pipes—a more likely scenario is that the city was repairing or upgrading the water pipes on the street, since Wilmington boasted a public water system as early as 1827. The mix of frame houses and multistory brick buildings are further indicators of progress and modernization. In fact, the first “skyscraper” in Wilmington was erected at Second and Walnut Streets in the 1840s and stood a whopping four stories tall!

The group of gentlemen gathered on the steps of the second building from the left—which is, coincidentally, four stories tall—offer up yet another mystery and several plausible theories. Perhaps they were businessmen, or city workers inspecting the aforementioned water pipes. Maybe they were simply Walnut Street residents stopping to chat…the possibilities are endless.  The fact that so many details hinting at daily life in Wilmington are captured in a seemingly pedestrian photograph is a testament to the relative sophistication of photography in the 1860s, proving that a picture can truly be worth a thousand words.

Want to uncover more stories? Be sure to search the Delaware Historical Society Photograph Collection for an excellent selection of rare and early images of Wilmington.

 
 


October 2015

Baseball glove, 1935 Baseball glove
Our highlighted collection piece for October is a brown leather baseball glove from approximately 1935. It is made of genuine cowhide and contains a black grosgrain silk maker label which reads “Hutch/Cincinnati O/ Made in the USA as well as an interior stamp which reads “It’s Hutch Built”. It was given to the Society by Arthur E. Brandau and was owned and used by Earl Brandau. The glove measures W- 11 x L 9.5 x D 1.75

 

 


September 2015

In Convention, at New-Castle, for the Delaware State… (Wilmington: James Adams, 1776)

Although September is honored as the month in which the U.S. Constitutional Convention completed its work, it’s also the anniversary of Delaware’s first state constitution.  Delaware’s constitutional convention met from August 27 to September 21, 1776, and drafted the first state constitution in the United States that was written by a body elected for that purpose.  The Delaware Historical Society is fortunate to hold an original printed copy of the document.  Our copy belonged to Slator Clay (1754-1821), who served as the very first clerk of the Council (the upper house of the General Assembly) in 1776 and 1777 before turning to other pursuits.

How did Delaware achieve this distinction?  In May 1776, the Continental Congress asked the states to renounce England as the source of governmental authority and create new governments.  On June 15, the Delaware Assembly severed all ties with the crown, which is the origin of the holiday known as Separation Day.  Shortly after Congress declared independence from England in early July, the Delaware Assembly, with Caesar Rodney as speaker, ordered that a constitutional convention meet in August.

Ten elected delegates from each county met in New Castle to draft Delaware’s frame of government.  The constitution they created begins with a Declaration of Rights that includes many elements found in the national Bill of Rights.  The government set up by this constitution had a strong legislature and a weak executive, reflecting the temper of the times.  The General Assembly had a House of Assembly and a Council, replacing the former one-house legislature.  The state’s chief executive, called the president, was elected by the legislature and had no veto power.   Any decisions he made had to be approved by the four-man Privy Council, also elected by the legislature.   The new government did not abolish slavery, but it did forbid both the domestic and international slave trade.

How well did this government work in real life?  Not very well—Delaware’s next constitutional convention met in the early 1790s and created a new frame of government.

In Convention, at New-Castle, for the Delaware State… (Wilmington: James Adams, 1776)
In Convention, at New-Castle, for the Delaware State…
(Wilmington: James Adams, 1776)

_______________________

To see full transcribed texts of the Declaration of Rights
and the Delaware Constitution of 1776, visit:

http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/bill_of_rightss4.html

and

http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/de02.asp

_______________________

 


August 2015

At a time when solo flight and the race to cross the Atlantic had captured the nation’s imagination, it seemed wildly unlikely for a 25 year-old woman from Omaha with no flight experience, no financial backing, and no airplane to become the first female solo flier in Delaware.  Yet, on February 16, 1928, Myrtle Brown did exactly that, making her own indelible mark on our state’s rich aviation history.

Brown had originally moved from Omaha to study music in New York City, where she lived with her sister and famous brother-in-law, Giuseppe Bellanca, of Bellanca Aircraft fame. Each day, she listened to Bellanca’s tales of pilots attempting increasingly daring flights, staying aloft for greater and greater distances in hopes of being the first aviator to cross the Atlantic. These stories unleashed a sense of possibility for female fliers that captured Brown’s imagination. She begged her brother-in-law for a ride in one of his planes, and after a flight over Long Island in Bellanca’s prized Columbia, Myrtle Brown quit her music studies to become an aviatrix.

When Bellanca entered into a partnership with the du Ponts and moved his family and aircraft operations to Wilmington in 1927, Brown relocated with them. Here, in hopes of becoming the first the first aviator to fly nonstop to Rome, she took lessons and earned her pilot’s wings. Despite the prevailing attitude that female pilots were novelties, unable to withstand the physical stress of flying—and the fact that she had yet to find a backer for the trip to Rome—Myrtle Brown made her first flight over Delaware in February of 1928, becoming the first female solo flier in Delaware history.

For the next two years, Brown continued to make solo flights over Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. She experienced a close call on March 15, 1930, when the fuel line in her plane broke and she crash landed in a spinach field. The farmer, more concerned with his spinach than the aviatrix, insisted that she owed $100.00 for damages to his crop…and held her plane for ransom until she paid! Although she never crossed the Atlantic, Myrtle Brown earned her commercial pilot’s license in May 1930, making regular flights from Delaware at a time when there were only twenty female transport fliers in the entire country.

Several photos of Myrtle Brown and other Delaware aviators are available in the Sanborn Collection of Prints From Nitrate Negatives, ca. 1920-1945.

Delaware Aviatrix Lands Plane on Farmer’s Prize Spinach Patch, Evening Journal, March 15, 1930; Myrtle Brown, with plane, ca. February 15, 1929, Sanborn Collection, 83.13.1600

Delaware Aviatrix Lands Plane on
Farmer’s Prize Spinach Patch,
Evening Journal, March 15, 1930

Myrtle Brown, with plane, ca. February 15, 1929,
Sanborn Collection, 83.13.1600

 

 

Myrtle Brown, one of the first Delaware women to fly solo, New Castle, ca. February 15, 1929. Sanborn Collection, 83.13.1598

Myrtle Brown, one of the first Delaware women to fly solo,
New Castle, ca. February 15, 1929.
Sanborn Collection, 83.13.1598

 

 

 

July  2015

Original cardboard Dolle’s salt water taffy box with colorful pictures of bathers. C. 1925.  DHS Collection Dimensions:  H-2.25 W-4.5 L-9.25 inches.  Gift of Jennie L. Sorbello, originally from the home of John J. Kowalski of Wilmington, DE.Famous for saltwater taffy and other delectables, Dolle’s Candy Store is as iconic a landmark as you’ll find in Delaware’s summer playland, Rehoboth Beach.  Dolle’s first arrived on the Rehoboth boardwalk in 1927 when Rudolph Dolle and his Greek friend and former employee, Thomas Pachides, joined forces.  Pachides had worked at an earlier candy store run by Dolle in Ocean City, Maryland.  He later ran ice cream and candy shops in Wildwood, New Jersey and Salisbury, Maryland  before settling his family in Rehoboth in 1926 where he and Dolle re-established their friendship.  The two ran Dolle’s together for over 30 years. Occasionally, Dolle’s expanded its ideal location at the foot of Rehoboth Avenue to include a lunchroom, a bowling alley, and even an amusement park. In 1960, Pachides took over sole ownership. He ran Dolle’s until his death in 1985 at the age of 93.

Nowadays, Dolle’s still enjoys headliner status along the boardwalk in Rehoboth, which, incidentally, was named one of the Ten Best Boardwalks in the United States by Coastal Living Magazine.

The Delaware Historical Society has an outstanding collection of rare color postcards and black and white photographs of Rehoboth Beach. Stop in sometime to see these snapshots of bygone eras, which can be made into prints for your summer getaways and homes.

Above: Original cardboard Dolle’s salt water taffy box with colorful pictures of bathers. C. 1925.  DHS Collection Dimensions:  H-2.25 W-4.5 L-9.25 inches. Gift of Jennie L. Sorbello, originally from the home of John J. Kowalski of Wilmington, DE.

 

 


June  2015

Reverse painting on glass, ca. 1801, unknown artist.This month, we feature a tale of international intrigue, shameless profiteering, and Chinese knock-offs – with a Delaware twist.  This reverse painting on glass portrait of George Washington, painted circa 1801 by an unknown Chinese artist and originally acquired by Wilmington sea captain and later Philadelphia merchant, James Hemphill (1774-1833), was one of many unauthorized, Chinese-made copies of the much-more-famous 1796 “Athenaeum” portrait of Washington by his most famous portraitist, Gilbert Stuart.  

The huge popularity of Stuart’s Washington portraits and an almost total lack of copyright laws relating to artwork meant that it was open season for counterfeiters; a fact not lost on Stuart himself since he made his purchasers sign agreements that they would not have the portraits copied. This did not stop them however, and cheap, made-in-China copies of Stuart’s Washington portraits became something of a cottage industry.  One of the most famous cases involved a Philadelphia sea captain named John E. Swords (1765-1810), who purchased a Washington portrait from Stuart in 1801 and then took it with him on one of his trading voyages to Canton with the express purpose of getting 100 Chinese copies made to sell for profit in America. Swords then offered his knock-offs for sale in Philadelphia until Stuart took him to court and succeeded in getting an injunction to stop him. Nothing, however, could be done about the portraits that had already been sold and, given the Hemphill family’s Philadelphia shipping connections, this portrait may well have been one of them. This painting descended in the Hemphill family until it was donated to the Society by Mr. & Mrs. Joseph O. Bradford.

 

 


May 2015

Delaware: A Guide to the First State (New York: Viking Press, 1938)Delaware: A Guide to the First State (New York: Viking Press, 1938)

This month we feature a classic Delaware book published nearly eighty years ago that is still well worth reading.  Delaware: A Guide to the First State is part of the American Guide Series, written by the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration, a federal New Deal agency. 

In the 1930s Delaware’s population was much smaller than it is now and Wilmington was the only place with more than 5,000 people.  It was also the only place with a truly diverse population of Delaware natives both white and African American, people from other states in the US, and people from a variety of foreign countries.  Elsewhere in the state, most residents—black and white alike--were native Delawareans from families that had been in the state for generations if not centuries.

The best part of the book is the series of tours through the state, stopping at every town, village, and hamlet.  We see the progression of places as towns that were important when waterways were the dominant form of transportation were displaced by other towns that developed when the railroad came through, and changing once again with the coming of the automobile and paved roads.  Agricultural areas have similarly risen and fallen as crops and farming methods have changed. Throughout are descriptions of historic houses and buildings, some of which are now gone, some of which still survive.  There are also evocations of people, events, and the leisurely pace of life in downstate Delaware.  Yes, some of the information and attitudes are dated, but the book captures Delaware on the eve of the rapid changes that have come since the end of World War II.

The book was written by a group of authors employed by the Works Progress Administration.  They did extensive research, much of it preserved in the Jeannette Eckman Papers at the Delaware Historical Society. 

Thanks to a recent reprint by the Delaware Heritage Commission, the book is readily available.  To purchase a copy, visit http://heritage.delaware.gov/order_form.shtml.

 


April 2015

During the 1870s and 1880s, competitive walking was one of the most popular sports in America and most major towns and cities hosted their own events.  Wilmington was no exception. A silver medal awarded to Wilmingtonian, Charles Theodore Russell Bates (1871-1895), in 1889 for a “1 Mile Walk” event at the Warren Athletic Club is a wonderful relic of America’s forgotten pedestrian past. Charles, the son of George Handy and Elizabeth Ballister Russell Bates, was a star student, Harvard graduate, and keen athlete.  Of the many sports and activities he participated in, it seems that competitive walking was one of his favorites because he won a number of medals for it, which are now part of our collection.  By the turn of the century, interest in pedestrianism as a sport began to wane as it was overtaken by cycling and other sports.


 

 

Silver medal awarded to Charles Theodore Russell Bates in 1889 for "1 Mile Walk"
 


March 2015

Equal Suffrage Association of Wilmington Banner, 1915
Gitf of Emalea Pusey Warner and Mary R. deVou in memory of Martha S. Cranston.

In  honor of Women's History Month, we feature a banner that was carried by members of the Wilmington Equal Suffrage Association when they participated in a suffrage parade in Philadelphia on May 1, 1915.  The women started their march at their headquarters at 305 Delaware Avenue and then travelled down Market Street to the Fourth Street wharf, where they took the boat to Philadelphia to take part in the parade where this banner made its first appearance.

The banner was presented to the Society on November 17, 1943, by Emalea Pusey Warner and Mary R. deVou during a special ceremony to honor Martha S. Cranston, a founder and president of the Delaware Woman's Suffrage Society from 1895-1914 at Old Town Hall.  Emalea Pusey Warner (1853-1948) was a leader in the the women's suffrage movement in Delaware and acquired the banner from the organization after it was retired when women were finally given the right to vote in 1920.

The banner is made of fabrikoid, a faux leather material introduced by DuPont in 1908.

 

Equal Suffrage Association of Wilmington Banner, 1915
 


February 2015

Silver set presented to Thomas GarrettOn January 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation formally took effect and changed the course of American history for the nation’s African Americans. Originally proposed by Lincoln as a measure to dent the Confederate war effort, the Proclamation initially only applied to slaves in the ten rebellious southern states, but its overall effect became much wider-reaching as it made freeing slaves an official part of the Union agenda. Although only the first step on a very long road, it would pave the way for the 13th Amendment, adopted on December 6, 1865, which officially abolished slavery in the United States.

As a border state, Delaware’s slaves would not officially be freed until the passage of the 13th Amendment, but many African American Delawareans still considered the Emancipation Proclamation an important turning point and something worth celebrating. Only a year after officially gaining their freedom, many of Delaware’s African Americans fully recognized the importance of Lincoln’s historic decree, and the local community in Wilmington took the opportunity to celebrate it with a special gift to Thomas Garrett (1789-1871), one of Delaware’s most prominent abolitionists.

At a celebration held in Wilmington at Ezion Methodist Episcopal Church on the third anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the local African American community presented Garrett with a silver tea set as a token of their appreciation of his efforts on their behalf. The engraving on the tray reads: "To Thomas Garrett through evil report and good report, the faithful friend and wise councilor, the fearless champion and generous benefactor of the wronged and the oppressed. From the colored people of Wilmington, January 1866." The set descended in the Garrett family before coming to the Delaware Historical Society as a gift from the estate of Lucille Stirn Garrett (1900-1982), wife of Thomas Garrett (1877-1944), a great, great grandson of the abolitionist. With its history and pedigree, this set is one of the Society’s true treasures!


Please visit again next month as another item is added from the
Delaware Historical Society's vast collection.

 

 

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