This Month in Delaware…

William Poole spoons
Set of six teaspoons engraved with “SR,” circa 1785, by William Poole (DHS collection, Bequest of Gertrude Draper)

Prominent Wilmingtonian and local business and civic leader William Poole was born in Wilmington on August 4, 1764, the only son of William and Elizabeth (Shipley, Canby) Poole. He was related to several well-known early Delaware families and went on to become a pillar of the local community himself, serving as Assistant Burgess from 1794-96, and also in 1802 & 1804, in addition to holding various offices in the Levy Court. He was also a founding member of the Library Company of Wilmington (1789), first President of the Bank of Wilmington (1810), and member of the General Assembly for New Castle County (1822). He was also a very active and committed early abolitionist and, in 1785, signed a petition to the General Assembly for the relief of slaves. He married Sarah Sharpless on May 5, 1791 and they had a large family of ten children. When he died on May 25, 1829, William Poole was remembered as “a very useful citizen, a benevolent man, and a highly esteemed member of the Society of Friends.”

William Poole’s later achievements tend to overshadow his earlier (and less well-known) career choice: that of silversmith. He was apprenticed to prominent local silversmith Bancroft Woodcock in about 1778, so he got a good start, but only practiced the craft from about 1785 until 1789, when he abandoned it for the more lucrative flour milling business in which he became very successful. Subsequently, silver items by him are quite rare. Rare enough, in fact, that we currently only have one set of six teaspoons by him in our collection. These delicate spoons date to circa 1785 and have the typical fashionable features of spoons from the late eighteenth century, chiefly the slightly turned back handle with a slight mid-rib on the back, and bird and olive branch design on the back of the bowl.


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