1868: Early Collecting at the Historical Society of Delaware

Early collecting at the Delaware Historical Society was wide and varied. While the Society looked to obtain items related to the recent history of the Civil War in Delaware, they were also interested in their early days as a Swedish settlement, as a British colony, and even older items that could be attributed to Native Americans.

One of these very early items was accessioned in 1868. The minute book states that, “Dr. William Cummins, then presented to the Society two Indian axes found upon his farm (New Granada) situated in Appoquinimink Hundred about 3 ½ miles above Smyrna. A vote of thanks was tendered to Dr. Cummins for his gift.”

In 2014, it is extremely rare for the Society to collect objects such as these axes. Most items that are donated to us were created in the late 19th and 20th centuries. This is due in part to the rarity of these older objects but also because it is very difficult to verify their authenticity. Our knowledge of this object comes from the information the donor has provided. A more in-depth, scientific study would be necessary to extract more information. Nevertheless, examining the Society’s early collecting is fascinating and reveals what material culture was most highly valued in the late 1860s.

1868--Indian axe
One of the stone axes donated by Dr. Cummins in 1868. 

2 thoughts on “1868: Early Collecting at the Historical Society of Delaware

  1. The axe, while of Native American origin, is of a style that predates (ca. 2,000-4,000 years old) the population Europeans encountered and identified as the Lenape. It can be difficult to attribute such ancient artifacts to groups encountered 500 years ago, as populations moved and migrated throughout time. It well may have belonged to populations or cultures ancestral to the Lenape, but it is not possible, with much certainty, to attribute the artifact to the historic population, unless it came from a Lenape museum.

  2. Thank you for your comment, John. Yes, we would love to have more information about this item. However, early accession records are scant compared to our records today. It remains a very interesting piece in our collection.

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