Video explores Black life in Delaware 1790–1840

(DOVER, Del. — April 29, 2021) — On April 26, 2021, the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs released “A Mere Mock Freedom: Free and Enslaved Black Life in Delaware 1790–1840,” a video presentation by Miles Stanley, a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Stanley’s research experience focuses on the history of slavery in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States during the Early Republic (circa 1780–1830). Go to the following link to watch the video on the division’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OvpjoyAYfps&ab_channel=DelawareHistory

Screenshot of a historical photo of Delaware
Screenshot from “A Mere Mock Freedom: Free and Enslaved Black Life in Delaware 1790–1840”

“A Mere Mock Freedom” explores anti-slavery activity in Delaware in the late-18th century and the subsequent passage of repressive legislation targeting free Blacks in the 19th century. The presentation takes its name from the writings of U.S. Sen. Thomas Clayton of Delaware (1777–1854) who noted, “Under the wretched and mongrel system of laws which have been enacted in regard to them [free Blacks], they enjoy but a mongrel liberty, a mere mock freedom.”

Due in large part to the passage of laws that criminalized the sale of enslaved Blacks into, and out of, the state in the 1780s and 1790s, the free Black population in Delaware grew nearly four-fold between 1790 and 1840. White pro-slavery Delawareans reacted to this population growth with the passage of legislation that sought to strictly limit the rights of the growing number of free Blacks. These reactionary laws pushed free Blacks to the fringes of society in Delaware, making them targets for kidnapping gangs and other forms of violence.

Screenshot from the Colored American, April 8, 1837
Screenshot from “A Mere Mock Freedom: Free and Enslaved Black Life in Delaware 1790–1840”

The division has been conducting research for many years on the lived experience of Black Delawareans throughout the state’s history. A portion of this research led to the recent archaeological discoveries of an African American burial ground at the John Dickinson Plantation south of Dover and the identification of the remains of the earliest known enslaved people in the state which were found at the Avery’s Rest site outside Rehoboth Beach.

In response to the renewed calls for racial justice that surged across the nation beginning in May 2020, the division issued a statement on race and equity that identified actions that the agency would be taking to practice inclusive history and to tell the stories of all the state’s diverse people. After reading “The Travail of Delaware Slave Families in the Early Republic” by Gary Nash and Miles Stanley, division Director Tim Slavin asked Stanley to create a video presentation on his research.

Commenting on the genesis of “A Mere Mock Freedom,” Stanley noted, “I was fortunate enough to meet the executive director of the Delaware Historical Society, David Young, while I was living in Wilmington and he had worked with one of my mentors, Gary Nash. It really is a small world, I suppose. After I was accepted for the Ph.D., David put me in touch with the HCA [Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs]. They had just started their work on [the African American burial ground at] the John Dickinson Plantation and they needed input on the lived experiences of free and enslaved Blacks during this period. That just so happened to be a big part of my project. After a few meetings … I was asked to produce a recorded presentation that examined a topic related to my research.”

“I hope that we continue to share and discuss these crucial aspects of America’s history,” Stanley added.

Originally from San Diego, Calif., Miles Stanley is a doctoral candidate in history from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He is a historian of slavery in the Mid-Atlantic with a particular focus on free and enslaved Black life in Delaware during the Early Republic period. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a master’s degree from the University of Edinburgh, both in history. In order to get a feel for the history that he was studying, Stanley lived in the Quaker Hill neighborhood of Wilmington, Del. from 2018 to 2019. He and his wife Eva have made their home in Edinburgh since 2020.

Photo of Miles Stanley
Miles Stanley

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. 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. Primary funding for division programs and services is provided by annual appropriations from the Delaware General Assembly and grants from the National Park Service, Department of the Interior, a federal agency. However, the contents and opinions expressed in the division’s programs and services do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Department of the Interior.

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Contact:
Jim Yurasek
Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs
Phone: 302-739-7787
E-mail: Jim.Yurasek@delaware.gov
Web: http://history.delaware.gov


Burial Ground Identified At John Dickinson Plantation

(DOVER, Del. — March 23, 2021) — Archaeological research has led to the identification of a burial ground at the John Dickinson Plantation in Dover, Delaware. The burial ground was found during archaeological fieldwork on March 9, 2021 and likely holds the enslaved individuals and other African Americans who lived, worked, and died on land owned by the Dickinson family. “We remain committed to telling inclusive history. This includes restoring dignity to those who have been forgotten. This important discovery presents a powerful moment for every Delawarean,” says Delaware Secretary of State Jeff Bullock.

For two years the Department of State, Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs has undertaken archaeological investigations on the 450 acres of state property. The work has focused on identifying the burial ground for enslaved individuals that is referenced in primary source documents. “This is sacred ground for Delaware, and we will continue to treat it with the honor and respect it deserves. Our path forward is to protect the site, engage with the community about how to proceed, and continue to learn more through research and dialogue,” says Tim Slavin, Director of the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs.

The John Dickinson Plantation is the boyhood home of John Dickinson, a Founding Father of the United States, a framer and signer of the U.S. Constitution. Dickinson wrote eloquently about freedom and liberty while at the same time holding other human beings in bondage.

At the John Dickinson Plantation, a state museum operated by the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, the goal is to educate the public about the past utilizing the historic, cultural, and natural resources associated with the site.

The Division will continue to undertake additional research to learn more about this burial ground and those interred here and to engage with descendent communities in making important decisions regarding the expansion of the interpretive footprint of this land.

There is no access to this location.

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. The division’s diverse array of services includes operation of five 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. Primary funding for division programs and services is provided by annual appropriations from the Delaware General Assembly and grants from the National Park Service, Department of the Interior, a federal agency. However, the contents and opinions expressed in the division’s programs and services do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Department of the Interior.

For additional information please contact:

Gloria Henry, Site Manager, John Dickinson Plantation, Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs
302-739-3277 and gloria.henry@delaware.gov

Tim Slavin, Director, Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs
302-736-7418 and timothy.slavin@delaware.gov

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Video Explores Four Enslaved People and An Abolitionist

(DOVER, Del. — Dec. 7, 2020) — In celebration of Delaware Day, the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs has released “Delaware Day 2020 — Expanding the Delaware Story,” a five-part video that explores the experiences of four enslaved individuals and an abolitionist who lived during Delaware’s colonial and early-statehood time periods. Access to the video is free and open to the public on the division’s webpage at the following address: https://history.delaware.gov/delaware-day-2020.
 

Photo of LaDayjiah Gilbert
LaDayjiah Gilbert narrating the video that describes how her ancestor, James Summers, freed his own children from slavery in 1797. Members of the Summers extended family have lived continuously in Kent County, Del. since at least the 18th century.

Produced by the division in collaboration with the Government Information Center, the video features community members and employees from the division telling the real-life stories of Delawareans whose lives are invaluable in understanding the state’s complex history. The five segments of the video were originally published in serialization with a new segment appearing daily on the division’s website between Dec. 2 and 6, 2020. During that time period, the videos garnered more than 2,400 views resulting in over 680 engagements across the division’s social media channels.
 

Photo of the 1797 manumission document in which James Summers freed his own children from slavery.
Photo of the 1797 manumission document in which James Summers freed his own children from slavery. Courtesy of Delaware Public Archives.

 

Delaware Day honors the anniversary of Delaware becoming the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution on Dec. 7, 1787. Traditionally, the day’s activities focused on the five Delaware signers of the Constitution — Richard Bassett, Gunning Bedford Jr., Jacob Broom, John Dickinson and George Read. As members of the remarkable group of men who founded the United States, their lives and accomplishments have been celebrated and well documented in the historical record.

In 2020, however, the division sought to expand the Delaware Day narrative by spotlighting the lives of five other people who contributed to Delaware’s early history and whose stories also deserve to be told and preserved — Dinah, James Summers, Bishop Richard Allen, Warner Mifflin and an unnamed Black male who was one of the first people of African origin to live in Delaware.

 

In creating “Delaware Day 2020 — Expanding the Delaware Story” division Director Tim Slavin noted that “we are striving to practice inclusive history and will not shrink from, or ignore the pain of, our shared heritage. We are committed to both preserving and interpreting Delaware’s difficult history.”

Following is information on each of the individuals portrayed in “Delaware Day 2020 — Expanding the Delaware Story:

 
Dinah
Dinah was a skilled spinner who was enslaved for over 26 years. She was held in bondage primarily by different men of the Dickinson family. Freed alongside her children in John Dickinson’s 1786 manumission document, Dinah eventually married Peter Patten, a free Black tenant of John Dickinson. The latest record of Dinah dates to 1810.
 

Photo of Sharon Trotman of Dover, Del. narrating Dinah’s story.
Sharon Trotman of Dover, Del. narrating Dinah’s story.

James Summers
James Summers was born a free Black man in the later part of the 18th century. He married an enslaved woman, meaning his children were enslaved at birth. By 1797, he had worked out an arrangement with the family that held his children in bondage and was able to sign the manumission document setting them free in the Recorder of Deeds office in the State House (now Old State House) in Dover, Delaware.

Bishop Richard Allen
Richard Allen was born enslaved on Feb. 14, 1760. As a young child, he and his family were sold to Stokely Sturgis of Dover, Delaware. Sturgis permitted Allen to attend religious meetings and, later, to purchase his own freedom. Allen joined the Methodist Church and preached in Delaware and adjoining states. He was a founder and first bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church which was established in Philadelphia in 1816. Allen died on March 26, 1831.

 
Warner Mifflin
Warner Mifflin was a giant of an 18th century Quaker abolitionist. He petitioned legislatures. He wrote to congressmen, governors and presidents. His personal beliefs about the ills of slavery led him on a crusade from North Carolina to New England to end the practice. He believed it was a blight on America and that the nation would pay for the sin of slavery if it was not abolished.

 

Burial #9, Unnamed Black Male, Avery’s Rest
In 2014, archaeologists working at the Avery’s Rest site west of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware excavated 11 human burials. Scientific and DNA analysis determined that three of the individuals were of African origin. Historical context suggests these were Black people enslaved by John Avery. One burial, dated between 1674 and 1714, was that of an unnamed Black male who, at death, was between the ages of 32 and 42. The division is committed to restoring the dignity of these individuals and their rightful place in the history of Delaware.

 
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. 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. Primary funding for division programs and services is provided by annual appropriations from the Delaware General Assembly and grants from the National Park Service, Department of the Interior, a federal agency. However, the contents and opinions expressed in the division’s programs and services do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Department of the Interior.
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Contact:
Jim Yurasek
Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs
Phone: 302-739-7787
E-mail: Jim.Yurasek@delaware.gov
Web: http://history.delaware.gov
 


“Delaware Day 2020 — Expanding the Delaware Story”

-Videos explore the lives of four enslaved individuals and an abolitionist-

(DOVER, Del. — Dec. 2, 2020) — The stories of Delawareans who were enslaved, and of those who helped break the bonds of slavery, will be explored in “Delaware Day 2020 — Expanding the Delaware Story,” a series of five videos that will be released beginning on Dec. 2, 2020 on the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs’ webpage at the following address: https://history.delaware.gov/delaware-day-2020.

Screen shot from the “Expanding the Delaware Story” video about Bishop Richard Allen.
Screen shot from the “Expanding the Delaware Story” video about Bishop Richard Allen.

Produced by the division in collaboration with the Government Information Center, the short videos, of varying length, feature community members and employees from the division telling the stories of individuals whose lives are invaluable in understanding Delaware’s complex history.

Each new video in the series will be posted daily at 3 p.m. beginning on Dec. 2 and ending on Dec. 6, 2020. In celebration of Delaware Day, a compendium containing all five videos will be posted at 3 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. Access to the videos is free and open to the public.

Delaware Day honors the anniversary of Delaware becoming the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution on Dec. 7, 1787. Traditionally, the day’s activities have focused on the five Delaware signers of the Constitution — Richard Bassett, Gunning Bedford Jr., Jacob Broom, John Dickinson and George Read. As members of the remarkable group of men who founded the United States, their lives and accomplishments have been celebrated and well documented in the historical record.

In 2020, however, the division seeks to expand the Delaware Day narrative by spotlighting the lives of five other people who contributed to Delaware’s colonial and early statehood history and whose stories also deserve to be told and preserved — Dinah, James Summers, Bishop Richard Allen, Warner Mifflin and an unnamed Black male who was one of the first people of African origin to live in Delaware.

In creating these videos, division Director Tim Slavin noted that “we are striving to practice inclusive history and will not shrink from, or ignore the pain of, our shared heritage. We are committed to both preserving and interpreting Delaware’s difficult history.”

Following is information on each of the individuals portrayed in the videos.

Dinah
Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020 at 3 p.m.
Dinah was a skilled spinner who was enslaved for over 26 years. She was held in bondage primarily by different men of the Dickinson family. Freed alongside her children in John Dickinson’s 1786 manumission document, Dinah eventually married Peter Patten, a free Black tenant of John Dickinson. The latest record of Dinah dates to 1810.

James Summers
Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020 at 3 p.m.
James Summers was born a free Black man in the later part of the 18th century. He married an enslaved woman, meaning his children were enslaved at birth. By 1797, he had worked out an arrangement with the family that held his children in bondage and was able to sign the manumission document setting them free in the Recorder of Deeds office in the State House (now Old State House) in Dover, Delaware.

Bishop Richard Allen
Friday, Dec. 4, 2020 at 3 p.m.
Richard Allen was born enslaved on Feb. 14, 1760. When he was eight years old, he and his family were sold to Stokely Sturgis of Dover, Delaware. Sturgis permitted Allen to attend religious meetings and, later, to purchase his own freedom. Allen joined the Methodist Church and preached in Delaware and adjoining states. He was a founder and first bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church which was established in Philadelphia in 1816. Allen died on March 26, 1831.

Warner Mifflin
Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020 at 3 p.m.
Warner Mifflin was a giant of an 18th century Quaker abolitionist. He petitioned legislatures. He wrote to congressmen, governors and presidents. His personal beliefs about the ills of slavery led him on a crusade from North Carolina to New England to end the practice. He believed it was a blight on America and that the nation would pay for the sin of slavery if it was not abolished.

Burial #9, Unnamed Black Male, Avery’s Rest
Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020 at 3 p.m.
In 2014, archaeologists working at the Avery’s Rest site west of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware excavated 11 human burials. Scientific and DNA analysis determined that three of the individuals were of African origin. Historical context suggests these were Black people enslaved by John Avery. One burial, dated between 1674 and 1714, was that of an unnamed Black male who, at death, was between the ages of 32 and 42. The division is committed to restoring the dignity of these individuals and their rightful place in the history of Delaware.

 

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. 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. Primary funding for division programs and services is provided by annual appropriations from the Delaware General Assembly and grants from the National Park Service, Department of the Interior, a federal agency. However, the contents and opinions expressed in the division’s programs and services do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Department of the Interior.

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Contact:
Jim Yurasek
Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs
Phone: 302-739-7787
E-mail: Jim.Yurasek@delaware.gov
Web: http://history.delaware.gov


Video Explores Genetic Background of Eight White and Three Black People Who Lived in 1600s Delaware

(DOVER, Del. — Sept. 28, 2020) — On Sept. 28, 2020, the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs released “Results of the Avery’s Rest Bioarchaeological Investigations,” a video presentation by Raquel Fleskes, a doctoral candidate in biological anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. Fleskes is lead author of the research paper “Ancient DNA and bioarchaeological perspectives on European and African diversity and relationships on the colonial Delaware frontier” which was published in the October 2019 edition of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. Go to the following link to watch the video.

Screenshot from Raquel Fleskes’ presentation “Results of the Avery’s Rest Bioarchaeological Investigations”
Screenshot from Raquel Fleskes’ presentation “Results of the Avery’s Rest Bioarchaeological Investigations”

The Avery’s Rest archaeological site is located near the shore of Rehoboth Bay in Sussex County, Del. Beginning in 2006, the site was investigated by a team led by Dan Griffith of the Archaeological Society of Delaware in collaboration with the division. Archival research revealed that the first documented occupation of the site was by John and Sarah Avery and their children in A.D. 1674.

Photo of archaeologists and volunteers working at the Avery’s Rest site.
Archaeologists and volunteers working at the Avery’s Rest archaeological site.

Photo of scissors recovered from the Avery’s Rest archaeological site.
Scissors recovered from the Avery’s Rest archaeological site.

In 2012, evidence of human burials at the site led to the discovery of 11 well-preserved sets of human remains which were later determined to have been interred between the late 1600s and early 1700s. Under the provisions of the State’s Unmarked Human Remains Law, three known descendants of John Avery were identified. With their consent, the State engaged Dr. Douglas Owsley of the Smithsonian Institution to conduct osteological and mitochondrial DNA analyses of the remains.

Subsequently, Owsley asked Fleskes to conduct DNA sequencing on samples from each of the 11 sets of remains. Fleskes conducted the sequencing at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville’s Molecular Anthropology Laboratories under the supervision of Dr. Graciela Cabana. The results of both the osteological and DNA research revealed that eight of the individuals were of European descent while three were of African descent — the earliest known discovery of remains of enslaved people in Delaware.

DNA sequencing further suggested a number of intriguing insights, most notably that several of the European‐descended individuals were maternally related while the individuals of African descent, genetically linked to present‐day western, central and eastern regions of Africa, were not.

Committed to learning as much as it can about the lives of the people who lived at Avery’s Rest and sharing that knowledge with the community, the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs contracted with Richard Grubb and Associates to conduct further historical research as well as commissioning Fleskes’ video presentation.

In her introduction to the video, Fleskes noted that the goal of the Avery’s Rest research was to illuminate the ancestry and relationships of early settlers living on the Delaware frontier in the 17th century. This research is important in understanding the early colonial history of European and African persons in Delaware.

A native of Gaithersburg, Md., Raquel Fleskes holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of Maryland and will complete her doctoral studies in biological anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania in 2021. Her research explores how DNA can be used to understand human migration and settlement patterns through time. She is particularly interested in population movements during the historic period (1500s–1800s), and how genetics can be used in tandem with historical and cultural information to create a more nuanced perspective of the past.

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. 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. Primary funding for division programs and services is provided by annual appropriations from the Delaware General Assembly and grants from the National Park Service, Department of the Interior, a federal agency. However, the contents and opinions expressed in the division’s programs and services do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Department of the Interior.
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Contact:
Jim Yurasek
Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs
Phone: 302-739-7787
E-mail: Jim.Yurasek@delaware.gov
Web: http://history.delaware.gov