Posted by: ccooper2014 | April 18, 2014

1909: A Revival of the Society

After several years of shrinking membership and low attendance at monthly meetings, late in 1909 the Society realized that it needed to do something to get back on track. Current members were encouraged to become more active and new members were sought out. Over 200 new members were nominated for membership, with 176 of them recruited by the Society’s new president, Ignatius Grubb. At this time, new members still had to be presented for membership at one meeting and approved at the next.

President Grubb’s accomplishment reflects not only his own commitment to the Society but also the lack of support he received from fellow members. He described the November meeting, with scant attendance, as “rather depressing if not disheartening.” After he was elected president, he reached out to other members for guidance and assistance, “but they vanished like the will-o’-the wisp with apparently absolute faith not only in my infallibility but also my inexhaustibility. Full discretion and a free hand, however, have this advantage—one is not hampered by the differing views, or handicapped by the obstructing plans of others. Therefore, I proceeded at once to set upon my own view and plan…” Grubb recruited his members through personal or telephone conversation with each one of them—a formidable task.

The Delaware Historical Society is still a membership organization, and the support and contributions of members are greatly appreciated. If would like to become a member, visit for information.

Ignatius C. Grubb

Ignatius C. Grubb


Posted by: ccooper2014 | April 16, 2014

1908: Henry C. Conrad, Citizen and Historian

Henry C. Conrad

Henry C. Conrad

Henry C. Conrad served as the Society’s president for only one year, 1908, in an era when presidents served for many years, but this provides an opportunity to remember a distinguished Delawarean and devoted historian.

A native of Bridesburg, Pennsylvania, Henry C. Conrad (1852-1930) moved to Wilmington as a child and spent the rest of his life in Delaware. He clearly loved his adopted state. In addition to his successful law practice, he had many interests and community involvements.

 Of primary interest to the Delaware Historical Society, of course, is his passion for history. He began publishing articles on a variety of topics in the early 1880s and continued until his death. Particular interests were religion and the legal profession. Conrad’s major work is his three volume History of the State of Delaware published in 1907.

 Conrad was also active in Wilmington politics, serving as postmaster, president of City Council, and president of the Board of Education. In the early 1880s he was part-owner and publisher of the Wilmington Morning News. In 1909, Conrad was appointed resident judge in Sussex County, requiring him to move to Georgetown and probably leading to his resignation as president of the Society.

Education for African Americans was another lifelong commitments for Henry C. Conrad. In 1876, at the young age of 24, he became actuary of the Delaware Association for the Moral Improvement and Education of the Colored People, which ran schools for African Americans. As actuary—a post he held for 17 years–Conrad handled most of the Association’s business affairs. This service led to one of his first publications, A Glimpse at the Colored Schools of Delaware (1883). In 1891, he was a founding trustee of Delaware State University.

Henry C. Conrad’s final service to history was serving as Delaware State Archivist from 1924 to 1930.

Posted by: ccooper2014 | April 14, 2014

1907: Celebrating the 300th Anniversary of Jamestown

In 1907, the nation celebrated the 300th anniversary of the English settlement at Jamestown with an international exposition held at Norfolk, Virginia. Unlike the more successful expositions in Chicago (1893), Buffalo (1901), and St. Louis (1904), the Jamestown Ter-Centinnial Exposition is not as well known.

Delaware had a building at Jamestown, and the Delaware Historical Society might have contributed an exhibition. Society minutes report the formation of a committee to plan an exhibit, but they do not record whether this actually happened. The minutes record a similar story for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893—in both cases, we would have appreciated more complete minutes. 

Delaware Day at the Jamestown exposition took place on October 9. Delaware Supreme Court justice James Pennewill gave the main address, which the Society published. The speech is short on history and long on generalities. Its tone is generally conservative, proclaiming the importance of religion, attachment to home, and respect for the law.

For the student of history, perhaps most interesting is his comment on the Civil War, reflecting the healing that had taken place since war’s end, as well as the nationwide observance of Decoration Day:

 “It seems almost incredible that less than fifty years ago this country was in the throes of civil war, in which large numbers of the best men of the North and South were madly swept away. But now, it is a custom throughout the land, and a most beautiful one it is, for men, women and children once a year, to visit the silent homes of the dead, and tenderly place upon the graves of the soldier sweet flowers indicative of their love and esteem. And it matters not whether those lying beneath wore the blue or the grey, for they were brave men all, citizens of a common country, who fought for what they believed to be right and true.”


Delaware Building at the Jamestown Tercentenary Exposition, 1907

Delaware Building at the Jamestown Tercentenary Exposition, 1907

Posted by: ccooper2014 | April 11, 2014

1906: The USS Delaware

In 1906, the US Navy announced that it was building the first of a new class of powerful dreadnought battleship. What would that new ship be called? The people of Delaware thought it should be named for the First State, and the Delaware Historical Society supported the effort to sell Congress and the Secretary of the Navy on the idea. At that time, Delaware was the only one of the original thirteen states, and one of only three states in the nation (Montana and Utah were the other two), not to have a US naval ship bearing its name (although there had been previous naval vessels bearing the state’s name). The time was right, and the cause was just. The Society passed a resolution of support invoking Delaware’s bravery in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and the Civil War, as well as Delawareans who had served in the U.S. cabinet, as reasons why the new ship should bear the state’s name.

 The campaign succeeded, and the USS Delaware was launched in 1909. She was the most powerful battleship in the world at the time of her construction. The ship visited Wilmington for a week in October of that year, an exciting time for the city. During that visit, the governor presented a silver tea service to the ship, which is now in the collection of the Delaware State Museums.

 Despite her size and power, the USS Delaware saw relatively little action during her career. In World War I, she sailed to England in November 1917 to support the English navy, but saw no action because England and Germany had abandoned direct engagement with each other. In peacetime, she participated in fleet maneuvers, training cruises, and good-will visits, always in the Atlantic Fleet. The USS Delaware was decommissioned in 1923 and broken up in 1924.

Presenting the Silver Service to the USS Delaware, 1909

Presenting the Silver Service to the USS Delaware, 1909

In the early 1900s, people in Delaware and throughout the nation were becoming concerned that historical records belonging to state governments were not being cared for. Delaware’s own government records suffered from neglect. According to Dr. Edgar Dawson of the University of Delaware,

 “There is probably no state in the Union where one would find less material for writing its history than in Delaware, and there is certainly no one of the original thirteen in which so few records have been made and so little care has been taken of those that have been made. …The principal blame…rests on the shoulders of those people in Delaware who know the conditions and recognize the value of historical material and yet take no steps to save it.” (Quoted in Roy H. Tryon, The Delaware State Archives at Eighty, 1905-1985 [brochure for Hall of Records exhibit, 1985-86])

Late in 1904, the Colonial Dames asked the Society to join the effort to save Delaware’s state records, which it did. A group of historical and patriotic organizations, including the Delaware Historical Society, drafted a bill to create a Division of Public Records to collect, catalog, and preserve public records, with an emphasis on records before 1800. The bill passed, and thus began the history of the Delaware Public Archives, which collects, preserves, and provides access to Delaware’s governmental records in its beautiful facility next to Legislative Hall in Dover.


Delaware Public Archives

Delaware Public Archives

Posted by: ccooper2014 | April 7, 2014

1904: Publishing Records of Welsh Tract Baptist Church

Welsh Tract Baptist Church

In 1904, the Society published the records of Welsh Tract Baptist Meeting in Newark, providing access to the history and vital records of one of Delaware’s oldest churches. Dating from 1701 to 1828, the records include church history, membership lists, vital records, membership issues, and church business.

In 1701, a group of Baptists seeking freedom of worship organized themselves as a church and emigrated from Pembroke and Caermarthen counties in South Wales to Pennsylvania, where all faiths were welcome, which was a rarity at the time. In 1703, William Penn gave them a grant of 30,000 acres, most of which is in Pencader Hundred, New Castle County, with the remainder in Cecil County, Maryland. Upon arriving in Delaware, they built a log church, which was replaced with the existing brick church in 1746. This was the first Primitive Baptist Church in the United States. This small group of Welsh people added another layer of ethnic and religious diversity to Delaware’s already varied population.

Services were in the Welsh language until about 1800, and the early records were also in Welsh. Several other churches were started from Welsh Tract, although all are now closed. By the early 1950s, Welsh Tract held only monthly services, and the church is no longer active. A friends group maintains the church and holds the records.

Posted by: kn19808 | April 4, 2014

1903 : Staying Put at First Presbyterian Church

First Presbyterian Church

First Presbyterian Church

In 1903 the 25 year lease was due to expire for the First Presbyterian Church, the current site of the Historical Society of Delaware. The First Presbyterian Church was founded in 1737 and was located at the southeast corner of 10th and Market Streets.  The original lease contained a provision for an extension of ten years. It was decided at the April 20th meeting that:

“Resolved. That the Historical Society of Delaware does hereby ask and request the First Presbyterian congregation of the borough of Wilmington to sign and execute a new lease to the old church building now occupied by the said Historical Society for a period of ten years from March 25, 1903, in accordance to the terms of the lease made January 29, 1878.”

The terms of the lease were accepted after “a number of interviews and considerable correspondence.” The new lease was finally made and executed on May 20, 1903. The new 10 year lease required a yearly monthly rent of $150, payable in two semi-annual payments of $75 beginning on September 25, 1903.

Posted by: kn19808 | April 2, 2014

1902 : Paper Presentations by Chief Justice Lore

In 1902 the Historical Society of Delaware President Chief Justice Lore wore many hats. He served in the courts, presided over the Historical Society of Delaware, and he also presented several research papers. His paper presentations were always well researched, well attended, and noted as worthy of publication.

In January 1902, with approximately 40 people present, Chief Justice Lore reflected on the life and character of the late Chief Justice Edward Woodward Gilpin (1803-1876). He was an attorney general in Kent County and served as chief justice of Delaware from 1857 to 1876. The paper titled “The Life and Character of Edward W. Gilpin” was submitted to the committee on publication and was subsequently published by the Society.

Honorable George P. Fisher

Honorable George P. Fisher

At the following meeting in February 1902, Chief Justice Lore presented yet another paper on the Honorable George P. Fisher (1817-1899), a native of Milford, Delaware. Fisher held several positions including attorney general of Delaware, served in the State House of Representatives, and he was an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia. From 1870 to 1875 he was United States district attorney for the District of Columbia.  Chief Justice Lore’s research on Fisher was also recommended for publication.

As a result of both paper presentations given by Chief Justice Lore the Librarian raised a motion to procure portraits of Edward W. Gilpin and George P. Fisher.

The committee to mark the site of John M. Clayton’s birthplace, chaired by Bishop Coleman, reported a “handsome bronze plate” had been placed on the home on June 17, 1901 in Dagsboro.

Birthplace of John M. Clayton

Birthplace of John M. Clayton

The Society felt it was necessary to commemorate the home of the Delawarean and his many accomplishments. John M. Clayton (1796-1856), a native of Sussex County, graduated from Yale and became a lawyer. He established his practice in Dover, and became one of the state’s leading lawyers. He began political life as a Federalist, later becoming a Whig and finally a Republican. Clayton was elected to the United States Senate in 1828 and again in 1834, but resigned in 1836 to become chief justice of Delaware. After two and half years, he gave up his judicial post and devoted himself to farming at Buena Vista, just outside New Castle. In 1845, Clayton returned to the United States Senate but resigned to become President Zachary Taylor’s secretary of state.

John M. Clayton

John M. Clayton

The commemorative bronze plate read:

“This tablet is placed by the Historical Society of Delaware to mark the site of the house in which John Middleton Clayton was born July 24, 1796. Died at Dover 1856. Member of the General Assembly, of the convention to revise the Constitution of Delaware, Chief Justice of Delaware, United State Senator and Secretary of State under President Tyler. Orator, jurist, statesman, diplomatist, patriot.”

Posted by: kn19808 | March 28, 2014

1900 : The Society Moves into the 20th Century

As the Historical Society of Delaware journeyed into the 20th century they kept close tabs on meeting attendance and memberships. Though their meetings were sparse during 1900, the Society witnessed continued participation by members in the community. The Society had expanded memberships several years earlier by allowing women to join as associate members. By 1900 membership had steadily risen; in fact, active society memberships had increased by nearly 60% over the past ten years. Consider the following table:

1900 Graph

In 1900 the meetings were well attended. At the November 19th meeting 20 active members were in attendance plus additional 20 invited guests. The crowd of approximately gathered to hear the Honorable Robert E. Pattison, former Governor of Pennsylvania, give an address on Richard Bassett, one of the governors of the state of Delaware.

Membership growth in 1900 also shows increased interest in the Historical Society of Delaware. In January 1900 the society had 3 life members, 165 contributing members, and 26 associate members. By December 31, 1900 the society had grown to 191 members in total.

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