1864: “Rescuing from oblivion our early history”

Throughout 2014, the Delaware Historical Society will celebrate its 150th anniversary! As part of our sesquicentennial efforts, we bring you a new blog series, 150 Years in 150 Days. We’ll share stories about the people, places, events, and objects that make our state and our organization unique.

Today we begin in 1864, the year the Delaware Historical Society was founded. Delaware was the last state on the eastern seaboard to create a state historical organization. Part of the reason behind this was the state’s rural society; it did not have a large urban center comparable to Boston, Philadelphia, or Baltimore. In 1860, Wilmington’s population was only 20,000 residents.

Earlier attempts at establishing a state historical organization went unrealized. On February 1, 1828, an item appeared in the Delaware Patriot and American Watchman stating that, “It has been suggested to us by a high minded friend that such a society ought to be founded in this State for the purposed of rescuing from oblivion our early history.” The events of the Civil War may have been the biggest and latest push to organize a state historical society.

The first meetings of the Historical Society of Delaware were held at the Wilmington Institute, the city’s most influential institution of the time. Early sought-after collections included copies of original documents related to New Sweden as well as papers of Delaware Revolutionary soldiers.

Willard Hall served as the first president. Other prominent members included the Rev. Leighton Coleman, the Rev. Charles Breck, Dr. Lewis P. Bush, and W.S. Hilles. On October 26, 1864, the Historical Society of Delaware was incorporated by the state.

Historical Society of Delaware headquarters, 1878-1916
Historical Society of Delaware headquarters, 1878-1916

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