Site of Purported African-American Cemetery Discovered

DOVER – Archaeologists working at a property near Frankford, Sussex County, have discovered the site of a cemetery known to the local community to contain the remains of African Americans who lived in the area.

Under the observation of an archaeologist from the Delaware State Historic Preservation Office, archaeologists employed by a private landowner delineated 11 graves at the site, known as the Orr Property or Hall Plantation.

A headstone was also found at the site bearing the name C.S. Hall and the lines “Co. K, 32nd U.S.C.T.” (an abbreviation for U.S. Colored Troops, the designation for units comprised of African American soldiers during the Civil War.)

The headstone has not been correlated to a specific grave, and no further information is yet known about the identities of the burials at the site. The presence of the remains of enslaved persons has not yet been confirmed through archaeology or review of the historical record.

“This cemetery is a significant discovery for the community and for all Delawareans who value and appreciate our state’s rich history,” said Tim Slavin, director of the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, which oversees the State Historic Preservation Office. “As work continues at the site, we hope to learn more about those who are interred there, so that they may be properly memorialized and their personal stories retold.”

The State Historic Preservation Office will offer guidance, advice and supervision as the landowner continues archaeological work at the site. Though the site is located on private property, the state will take an active role in ensuring that the ongoing archaeological investigation is thorough, professional and carried out in an ethical and responsible manner.

The landowner was an active participant in the gathering of local information about the site, and has indicated that the cemetery will be preserved. The state will work closely with the landowner to determine a plan for preservation.

“I would also like to thank the neighbors nearby for their role in calling attention to the presence of a cemetery here,” Slavin said. “Their recollections and local knowledge about the site and its location were key to discovering these burials. They spoke up, and thanks to them we can add a new page to Delaware history.”


State Historic Preservation Office Employee, African American History Expert Makes National Trust 40-Under-40 List

DOVER, Del. – Carlton Hall, a cultural preservation specialist and historian with the Delaware State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), earned a place on the inaugural “40 Under 40” list recently unveiled by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Hall was honored for his research and presentations about Delaware listings in the Green Book, a segregation-era travel guide for African Americans created by Victor Green and published annually from 1936 through 1966. The Green Book listed hotels, restaurants, service stations, night clubs, barber shops and other establishments across the country where African Americans would be safely welcomed during the days of Jim Crow.

“This honor means a great deal to me as a practitioner in my field, and I’m privileged to represent our state as the only individual from Delaware on the list,” Hall said. “I’ve learned and continue to learn from an outstanding group of professionals in the SHPO office, and to benefit from their decades of experience in the field of historic preservation.”

Hall is a native of New Castle, a graduate of William Penn High School and now lives in Bear with his wife and three children. He earned a master’s degree in historic preservation from Delaware State University in 2013 and began his tenure at SHPO in 2015.

“We couldn’t be prouder of Carlton and the recognition he has received,” said Tim Slavin, state historic preservation officer and director of the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs. “Carlton has a long career ahead of him, and we know he will continue to distinguish himself as he works to preserve our state’s history for future generations.”

“40 Under 40: People Saving Places” is a new initiative of the non-profit National Trust for Historic Preservation, honoring individuals under the age of 40 across the United States who are working to support the mission of historic preservation through fields such as architecture, community activism and business. View the full list of honorees here.

 

The Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs is an agency of the state of Delaware. The division enhances Delaware’s quality of life by preserving the state’s unique historical heritage, fostering community stability and economic vitality and providing educational programs and assistance to the general public on Delaware history and heritage. The division’s diverse array of services includes operation of five museums which are accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, administration of the State Historic Preservation Office, conservation of the state’s archaeological and historic-objects collections, operation of a conference center and management of historic properties across the state.


Celebration of John Dickinson’s Revolutionary “Letters” Continues with Programs in Dover and Wilmington

ST. JONES NECK – The celebration of the life and works of Delaware statesman and “Penman of the Revolution” John Dickinson continues into the New Year with programs slated to explore his legacy and honor his contributions to the history of the state and the nation.

The offerings will close out a season of programming to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the publication of Dickinson’s “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies,” the first widely-read treatise laying out the American cause for unity in resistance to British colonial oppression. More information about Dickinson’s “Letters,” his life and times, and scheduled programs can be found at de.gov/johndickinson, presented by the Delaware Department of State.

Upcoming programs include a presentation on African-American history at the John Dickinson Plantation, a panel discussion with Gov. John Carney, and a wreath-laying at Dickinson’s final resting place in Wilmington.

WHAT: Stories of African-American History From St. Jones Neck
Learn about the history of the African American inhabitants of the John Dickinson Plantation in Kent County and Dickinson’s complicated relationship with the institution of slavery. Participants will read copies of 18th century documents to investigate the lives of the free and enslaved people who lived on the Plantation.
WHEN: 10-11:30 a.m. Saturday, January 13
WHERE: John Dickinson Plantation, 340 Kitts Hummock Road, Dover

WHAT: Panel Discussion Featuring Gov. John Carney
Gov. Carney will participate in a panel discussion with two eminent Delaware historians: retired state Supreme Court Justice Randy Holland and former News Journal editorial page editor John Sweeney, author of a forthcoming book on Dickinson’s “Letters.” The discussion and audience Q&A will focus on Dickinson’s legacy and how it relates to Delaware politics and government today.
WHEN: 11 a.m.-noon Saturday, February 10
WHERE: Delaware Public Archives, 121 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Dover

WHAT: John Dickinson Wreath Laying Ceremony
A reading of a eulogy and a wreath laying ceremony on the grave of John Dickinson. Refreshments available following the ceremony. The event is sponsored by the Quaker Hill Historic Preservation Foundation and the Friends of the John Dickinson Mansion.
WHEN: 10 a.m.-noon Saturday, February 17
WHERE: Wilmington Friends Meeting House, 401 N West St., Wilmington


Archaeological Discovery Writes New Chapter in Delaware’s Early Colonial History

REHOBOTH – An archaeological study years in the making has revealed a wealth of new information about some of Delaware’s earliest colonial settlers and shed new light on what life would have been like in the region three centuries ago.

The discovery of numerous artifacts as well as 11 well-preserved burial sites dating to the late 1600s fills in gaps in Delaware’s early history, telling the story of the colonists’ physical health, diet, family life, and how they made their living. Three of the burials, one a young child, were determined to be of African descent, constituting the earliest known discovery of remains of enslaved people in Delaware.

In cooperation with Delaware’s historical community, the state will now collaborate on a major research project to attempt to identify each of the individuals buried at the site. Future plans will be developed to exhibit the findings, possibly to include facial reconstructions based on the skeletal remains.

“Delaware’s history is rich, fascinating and deeply personal to many of us who call this state home,” said Secretary of State Jeff Bullock. “Discoveries like this help us add new sharpness to our picture of the past, and I’m deeply grateful to the passionate community of historians, scientists and archeologists who have helped bring these new revelations to light.”

The site of the discoveries is Avery’s Rest, a 17th century plantation located in what is now West Rehoboth. The original owner was John Avery, who once served as a judge in nearby Lewes in the period just after the colony transitioned from Dutch to English rule.

“This is a story of the life and death of some of the earliest Europeans and Africans to occupy what is now the state of Delaware,” said Daniel Griffith of the Archeological Society of Delaware. “Their interactions with neighbors, colonial governments and global connections with Europe, Africa, and the British colonies, is revealed to us through archaeology and archival research. The story is even more significant as its telling would not have been possible without the volunteer efforts of many members of the Archaeological Society of Delaware.”

Designated a historically significant site in the 1970s, Avery’s Rest was slated for development in 2005, which spurred the first round of excavations and surveys at the property by the Archeological Society of Delaware in collaboration with the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs. Over the next few years, archeologists continued to work the site and branch out into neighboring parcels, uncovering artifacts and evidence of structures from the original plantation.

The first burials were discovered in 2012. This triggered a legal process under the state’s Unmarked Human Remains Act, which identified three known descendants of John Avery.

With their consent, the state engaged Dr. Douglas Owsley of the Smithsonian Institution for his expertise in the field of physical anthropology and his well-known work with early colonial settlements at Jamestown, Va. and St. Mary’s City, Md. The remains were excavated and transferred to the Smithsonian for advanced DNA testing under Dr. Owsley’s supervision.

“Avery’s Rest provides a rare opportunity to learn about life in the 17th century, not only through the study of buried objects and structures, but also through analyses of well-preserved human skeletal remains,” said Dr. Owsley, who leads the Division of Physical Anthropology at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. “The bone and burial evidence provides an intriguing, personal look into the life stories of men, women and children on the Delaware frontier, and adds to a growing body of biological data on the varied experiences of colonist and enslaved populations in the Chesapeake region.”

Bone and DNA analysis confirmed that three of the burials were people of African descent and eight were of European descent. Coupled with research from the historical record, Dr. Owsley further determined that the European burials may be the extended family of John Avery and his wife Sarah, including their daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren. However, genetic markers alone are not sufficient to determine the exact identities of the remains.

“This archeological discovery is truly exciting, and reminds us that the ancestors will always make themselves known to us if we listen. The stories of their sacrifices in life and remembrances in death are truly ‘written in bone’ for us to interpret, understand and honor,” said Dr. Angela Winand, head of the Mitchell Center for African American Heritage and Diversity Programs at the Delaware Historical Society. “Long ago, these individuals formed a community at Avery’s Rest upon which our present and our future as a culturally diverse state rests. I look forward to learning more about this discovery from our partners at ASD and the Smithsonian, and sharing these stories with all of Delaware’s citizens, through the work of the Mitchell Center.”

The remains will stay in the custody of the Smithsonian, where they will assist ongoing work to trace the genetic and anthropological history of the early colonial settlers of the Chesapeake region. Delaware law strictly forbids the public display of human remains.

In Delaware, the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs will continue to work with the Delaware Historical Society, the Archeological Society of Delaware and others to craft a plan to exhibit the Avery’s Rest findings for the public.

Avery’s Rest – key dates

• 1976 – Site identified by Delaware state archeologists
• 1978 – Site listed in the National Register of Historic Places
• 2005 – Proposed development plan in the area raises concerns from the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs
• 2006 – The state obtains landowner permission to survey the site
• 2006-08 – The Archaeological Society of Delaware, with assistance from the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, carries out surveys and excavations of the part of the site to be affected by the development
• 2009 – The Archaeological Society of Delaware continues its investigation on adjacent properties
• 2010 – An exhibit on findings is presented at the Rehoboth Historical Society
• 2010-12 – The Archaeological Society of Delaware continues its investigation on adjacent properties
• Sept. 2012 – First burials identified
• Nov. 2012 – In accordance with Delaware law, the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs publishes a notice of the discovery seeking next-of-kin; three descendants of John Avery come forward
• 2013 – Next-of-kin and property owner consent to excavation and analysis of burials; Archaeological Society of Delaware continues investigation and identifies a total of 11 burials
• Sept. 2014 – Memorandum of Agreement signed by Historical and Cultural Affairs, Smithsonian, Archaeological Society of Delaware, and next-of-kin for Smithsonian excavation of the burials, with Historical and Cultural Affairs oversight; remains are transferred to the Smithsonian.
• March 2017 – Smithsonian confirms the age, gender, and ethnicity of the burials
• Aug. 2017 – Final report completed by the Smithsonian