Division Museums Closed; Special Programs Postponed

Logo for the Division of Historical and Cultural AffairsDOVER – In accordance with Delaware Gov. John Carney’s declaration of a State of Emergency, the five museums administered by the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs will be closed beginning on March 24, 2020 and their programs postponed until further notice. The State of Emergency was declared in order to safeguard public health and help control the spread of the coronavirus.

Following are links to information about the division’s five museums. Staff members will be available to answer questions via telephone during the State of Emergency.

Gov. Carney’s State of Emergency also applies to the Buena Vista conference center and other state-owned historical sites managed in partnership with community organizations.


Newly Published Book Explores Life and Legacy of Delaware Statesman John Dickinson

ST. JONES NECK, Del. – A new anthology of essays and lectures published by the Delaware Heritage Commission explores the life and career of John Dickinson, whose influential role as a colonial patriot and statesman of the early Republic earned him the nickname “Penman of the Revolution.”

“Delaware’s John Dickinson: The Constant Watchman of Liberty” commemorates 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, published in the winter of 1767-68. The 186-page, hardcover volume explores Dickinson’s legacy through the writings of noted Dickinson scholars and eminent Delawareans, including a preface by Gov. John Carney.

“John Dickinson, in many ways, was the architect of what we now call the ‘Delaware Way.’ He sought compromise, took nuanced political stances without regard to partisanship, and put his country over his political beliefs,” said Gov. Carney. “I want to thank The Friends of the John Dickinson Mansion, the Delaware Heritage Commission and my friend, John Sweeney, for putting together this book about one of the little known giants of American history.”

A black quill pen in an inkwell with the number 250 on its side“Believe it or not, Delawareans often ask me ‘Who was John Dickinson?’ Here was a Delawarean who fought slavery when people like Washington and Jefferson accepted it. Here was a man who demanded freedom of religion for all when other Founding Fathers were willing to impose their beliefs on others. Here was a man who led the fight to enshrine individual rights in the U.S. Constitution,” said the book’s editor, John Sweeney, a Dickinson scholar and former editor at the Wilmington News Journal. “And that’s only a small portion of what he did for us, for our freedom. Delawareans should not only know who he was, they should be proud of him and they should point to him as example of what a political leader should be.”

“Dickinson is simply the greatest political thinker and writer ever associated with our state. He was also an active participant in the great events of his era, which led to the founding of our nation,” said Battle Robinson, retired Family Court judge and past president of the Friends of the John Dickinson Mansion, who penned the book’s introduction. “In commissioning this book, the Friends of the Dickinson Mansion hope to make Dickinson and his many contributions better known and appreciated.”

The publication features contributions from former Delaware governors J. Caleb Boggs, Charles L. Terry Jr. and Russell W. Peterson; former Delaware Supreme Court justices Randy J. Holland, Richard S. Rodney and James M. Tunnell, Jr.; historians Jane E. Calvert, Milton E. Flower, John A. Munroe, J.H. Powell, Frederick B. Tolles and Edwin Wolf II; Harold L. Rubendall, former president of Dickinson College; and Gloria Henry and Vertie Lee of the John Dickinson Plantation.

“The title of a recent article about Dickinson by John Sweeney reads, ‘The Most Important Founding Father You’ve Never Heard Of.’ It’s sadly true that Delaware’s John Dickinson has gotten short shrift from most historians since his death in 1808,” said Dick Carter, chairman of the Delaware Heritage Commission. “Dickinson was indeed one of the central figures in the creation of the United States of America. I hope that this new book will begin the much-needed and long overdue process of giving this great Delaware statesman the attention his remarkable life so richly deserves. It has been a real honor to have been involved in its publication.”

The book was commissioned by the Friends of the John Dickinson Mansion, a nonprofit, charitable organization dedicated to the extension of knowledge about Dickinson and the preservation of his historic home, now a state museum. The book was produced as a joint effort of the Friends, the Delaware Department of State and the Delaware Heritage Commission.

“Delaware’s John Dickinson: The Constant Watchman of Liberty” is currently available for sale at the John Dickinson Plantation, the Delaware Public Archives and on the ShopDelaware website.


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


Debating Independence: Delaware’s John Dickinson Squares Off with Thomas Jefferson LIVE in Dover

ST. JONES NECK – Two towering statesmen of the American Revolution will meet head-to-head in Dover this weekend to debate the most important question in the history of the United States: Take up arms against Great Britain, or pursue a peaceable road to independence?

On Sunday, Nov. 19, The Old State House will host an engaging historical dramatic production, John Dickinson and Thomas Jefferson Debate Independence: “We have called by different names brethren of the same principle,” presented by the American Historical Theatre of Philadelphia.

The two American patriots will spar over their conflicting views on how to protect and strengthen the American colonies. The audience joins Delaware’s own John Dickinson (Doug Thomas) and Thomas Jefferson (Steve Edenbo) on the day that the Continental Congress voted on the question of American independence. Dickinson speaks for the moderates and argues that, although eventual independence is inevitable, the not-yet-united states are ready for neither war nor independence. Jefferson speaks for the radicals. He argues that the opportunity for independence might never come again if we miss our chance.

After offering the question to the audience for its vote, Dickinson and Jefferson open the scope of the discussion, telling the stories of what happened in their lives after the fateful vote on the 2nd of July, 1776. They then invite the audience to ask questions about any topics or events from their respective lives.

The program will begin at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 19, at The Old State House, 25 The Green, Dover. A reception with refreshments will be held from 3-4 p.m. This event is free and open to the public; due to space restrictions reservations are recommended, please call 302-739-3277.

This special production is offered as part of a season-long celebration of John Dickinson, “Penman of the Revolution,” and the 250th anniversary of the publication of his most famous writings: “Letters From a Famer in Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies.”

To commemorate the “Letters” and the role John Dickinson played in setting the stage for the American Revolution, the Delaware Department of State has launched a new website, de.gov/johndickinson, and a slate of special programming to take place over the coming months.

The website hosts biographical information about Dickinson and context framing the “Letters” in their historical moment. Assembled in cooperation with the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, the site will serve as a hub for activities to celebrate the anniversary.

The site’s calendar of events lists programming taking place now through February in cooperation with the University of Delaware, the Delaware Public Archives, the Friends of the John Dickinson Mansion and others.

Events at the John Dickinson Plantation will explore how life was lived on a large farm in 18th-century Delaware, including a presentation on the history of the African American inhabitants of the plantation, both free and enslaved, and Dickinson’s complicated relationship with the institution of slavery.

The season of programming will conclude in February with a traditional wreath-laying at Dickinson’s gravesite at the Friends Meetinghouse in Wilmington, sponsored by the Quaker Hill Historic Preservation Foundation.


New Web Portal, Special Programming Commemorate 250th Anniversary of John Dickinson’s Revolutionary “Letters”

ST. JONES NECK – In the autumn of 1767, the American Colonies were reeling from a fresh round of taxation without representation handed down by Parliament in London. With their pleas for fair treatment and equal standing ignored by the Crown, the leading men of the fledgling colonial opposition began to turn their thoughts to more direct acts of resistance.

But before the Boston Tea Party, before the First Continental Congress, and well before July 4, 1776, the Colonies needed a message to bring them together – a clear text that would lay out their common cause and draw them even closer in unity.

Through the winter of 1768, that unifying message took shape in a series of 12 modest letters published in colonial newspapers and signed simply “A Farmer.” The man behind the pseudonym would earn the title of “Penman of the Revolution,” a well-educated lawyer with Quaker beliefs raised on a quiet plantation in Kent County, Delaware: John Dickinson.

Dickinson and his “Letters from a Famer in Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies” (referring to Delaware’s status as a jurisdiction of Pennsylvania at the time) became a sensation across the Colonies and abroad in Britain and France for their simple, eloquent summary of the rights held by the American colonists and the many ways they had been infringed.

To commemorate the 250th anniversary of the publication of the “Letters” and the role John Dickinson played in setting the stage for the American Revolution, the Delaware Department of State has launched a new website, de.gov/johndickinson, and a slate of special programming to take place over the coming months.

“Dickinson and his contributions to the Revolution are truly monumental, and Delawareans can take a great deal of pride in knowing that this man who called our state home was such a key figure in our country’s history,” said Secretary of State Jeff Bullock. “I hope that the resources we’ve assembled and the plans we have in store for the next few months create an opportunity for all of us to explore that history, make a connection with it, and allow it to enrich our understanding.”

The website hosts biographical information about Dickinson and context framing the “Letters” in their historical moment. Assembled in cooperation with the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, the site will serve as a hub for activities to celebrate the anniversary.

The online calendar of events lists programming taking place now through February in cooperation with the University of Delaware, the Delaware Public Archives, the Friends of the John Dickinson Mansion and others.

Programs on the schedule include a dramatic production of “The Great Debate: Thomas Jefferson and John Dickinson” about the political and philosophical differences of the two statesmen. Presented by the American Historical Theater company of Philadelphia, the production will be at the Old State House in Dover on Sunday, Nov. 19.

Also on the schedule is a presentation from retired Delaware Supreme Court justice and eminent historian Randy J. Holland on the writings of Dickinson and their significance. Governor John Carney is also slated to participate in a February panel discussion about the legacy of the “Letters” and their impact on American politics through the present.

“Dickinson is a fascinating figure, and no less influential in the creation of our republic than any of his fellow Founding Fathers,” said Gloria Henry, supervisor of the John Dickinson Plantation museum and historic site outside Dover. “Our goal is to bring his story to life and show that the words he penned 250 years ago are still full of meaning today.”

Events at the John Dickinson Plantation will explore how life was lived on a large farm in 18th-century Delaware, including a presentation on the history of the African American inhabitants of the plantation, both free and enslaved, and Dickinson’s complicated relationship with the institution of slavery.

The season of programming will conclude in February with a traditional wreath-laying at Dickinson’s gravesite at the Friends Meetinghouse in Wilmington, sponsored by the Quaker Hill Historic Preservation Foundation.