The Delaware Historical Society has recently partnered with WGBH Boston, Historypin, and dozens of other historical institutions to uncover the stories of the abolitionist movement across America. We’re very excited about this project as it allows us to share unique items from our collections and tell stories about prominent Delaware abolitionists like Thomas Garrett, Samuel Burris, and John Hunn.
The project works like this: Institutions and individuals with historical records related to abolitionism can upload images, audio, and video to a map hosted by the folks at Historypin. Then, each item gets geo-tagged or “pinned” to a place on the map. Finally, a short description or story is added to each item, and…Voilà! A map of the United States is populated with all kinds of images that tell the diverse stories of the many people involved in the abolitionist movement of the 19th century.
As you look at the map, you’ll find that Delaware played a unique role in the abolitionist movement. The state was itself split between the more industrial New Castle County, and Kent and Sussex County which were largely agricultural and depended more on slave labor. Thus, the abolitionist movement in Delaware was concentrated in New Castle County. Delaware Quakers had been involved in the fight against slavery since the 18th century. By the 1820s however, the movement expanded to include non-Quakers.
But the story isn’t necessarily as simple as north vs. south. New Castle County prosecuted freedom seekers and those who helped them. In fact, in 1848, abolitionists Thomas Garrett and John Hunn stood trial at the New Castle Courthouse for helping the Hawkins family of Maryland move through Delaware on their journey to freedom. And although lower Delaware was not a hotbed of abolitionism, it doesn’t mean that it’s left out of the story. In the 1840s, abolitionist Samuel Burris was jailed in Dover for fourteen months for helping a freedom seeker. Burris, a free man, was convicted and sentenced to be auctioned as a slave. He narrowly avoided this fate when his fellow abolitionists devised a plan…you’ll have to check out the map for the whole story!
We hope you’ll take the time to explore the story of the abolitionist movement in Delaware and across the country through this amazing interactive map. And don’t forget, you can find all this information and more on our online catalog, Ask Caesar!