1876: The Society Marks the Nation’s 100th Birthday

In this the centennial year of the United States, patriotic feelings were running high throughout the entire country and Delaware was no exception.  To mark the occasion, the Society formed a special committee, which was to “take such measures as shall seem proper in their judgment to bring to the notice of the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia such matters and memorials of the state of Delaware as they may deem proper.”

The Society itself celebrated the occasion with a special donation to its collections in honor of the Centennial: a Colichemarde sword that originally belonged to Captain William Robeson (1743-1815), a shopkeeper from Newport, Delaware, and a captain in Colonel Thomas Duff’s Whig Battalion of the New Castle County Militia during the American Revolution. This sword, the first to enter the Society’s collections, has a silver hilt made by Delaware silversmith John Stow and is engraved on one side with “Liberty & Property” and on the other with “WR Sep. 1 1775.” The sword was presented at the Society meeting of February 10, 1876 as a gift from Dr. Allan Thomson, whose wife Jane was the daughter of Captain Robeson.  This item is currently on display in our “Distinctively Delaware” exhibit.

Robeson sword guard
Sword that belonged to Captain William Robeson, circa 1775

Such an object would certainly not have been out of place among the Colonial era historical exhibits at the Centennial Exposition, but unfortunately the sword never actually made it to Philadelphia. Delaware did have a presence at the Exposition however with an exhibit of “specimens of minerals, woods, and other natural products” that the Society deemed “very creditable.” After the Exposition ended, the meeting minutes speak of trying to acquire these items for the Society’s collection. Although this does not seem to have come to pass, the Society did take steps to mark this important national birthday celebration for posterity with the preparation of a paper describing Delaware’s participation in the event.


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