1867: “A man of unwavering purity”

In 1867, the young Historical Society of Delaware lost one of its early members, Merrit Canby. At the Society meeting in March, Dr. Henry Askew offered the following:

“Merrit Canby was the son of William Canby and was born in the borough of Wilmington Delaware near the Brandywine on the 19th of November in the year 1787. His father William Canby was an active member of the Society of Friends and was remarkable for his extreme purity and extraordinary humanity.”

The Society minutes go on to discuss Merrit Canby’s career. He moved to Philadelphia in 1803 where he worked in the store of Moses Gillingham. He returned to Wilmington for a few years and worked in the mills of his uncle, Samuel Canby. In 1815 returned to Philadelphia and became business partners with Clement Biddle and Joseph Lea in the sugar refining business. He continued in this industry, making improvements to the sugar refining process. Canby retired in 1836 and moved back to Wilmington with his family. He was an early supporter of the Historical Society of Delaware.

Dr. Askew described Merrit Canby as “a man of unwavering purity, who took a lively and active interest in all that contributed to advance the prosperity of Wilmington or that increased the happiness of the people.” His resolution read, “Resolved, that whilst in the will of Divine Providence it has been right to removed from us our late friend and member merit Canby we mourn his loss and heartily acknowledge his faithful and zealous exertions on behalf of the interests of the Historical Society. Resolved, that we deeply sympathize with his family in their sad bereavement.”

Despite this loss, the Society would continue to grow in membership with the Canby family retaining an active role in its efforts.

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Brandywine flour mills by Bass Otis, 1840

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