This Month in Delaware…

Early Delaware silversmith Bancroft Woodcock was born in Wilmington on July 18, 1732, the fifth and youngest child of Robert and Rachel (Bancroft) Woodcock, who had come to Wilmington from Ireland in 1726. His father and three older brothers were engaged in the shipbuilding business but Bancroft chose instead to learn the trade of gold and silversmith. He set up shop in Wilmington “near the upper Market House” in 1754 and ran a prosperous business until 1794, when he moved to Wells Valley, Pennsylvania. Although it is not known where he learned his craft, Woodcock may have trained in Philadelphia because his work exhibits the high quality and exceptional craftsmanship of the best Philadelphia silver of the time. There is even a coffeepot by him in the collections of the Diplomatic Reception Rooms at the U.S. State Department. Bancroft Woodcock also served as master to Wilmington silversmiths Thomas Byrnes (with whom he was in partnership from 1790-93), William Poole, and Richard Humphreys. He married Ruth Andrews in 1759 and also trained their son Isaac as a silversmith.

In addition to being a skilled silversmith, Woodcock was also something of a celebrated local character who was renowned for his physical vigor and talents as an ice skater. In her Reminiscences of Wilmington (1851), Elizabeth Montgomery described him as “a remarkably plain, stiff-looking Friend, reminding one of bones and sinew yet famous for his agility. In skating, he excelled the youths of his day; no one could equal him. […] He was celebrated for his exercises and often displayed his skill and graceful movements on the Delaware, opposite Philadelphia. He was also famous for walking. He lived to a very old age, and was so thin that old people used to say he would evaporate.” Woodcock did indeed live to an old age, dying on May 8, 1817. He was buried on the property of his farm in Wells Valley.


Woodcock silver bowl
Silver waste bowl circa 1787 by Bancroft Woodcock. This item is part of a tea set that was given to Sarah Sandwith Drinker (1761-1807) of Philadelphia on the occasion of her marriage to Jacob Downing. (DHS collection, gift of the Honorable Edwin D. Steel, Jr.)

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