Friday, November 17, 2017

The Strange and Tragic Tale of Samuel Allcorn

Yeah, it's that weird
Much of the digital ink of this blog is given over to specific historical sites, whether they be houses, schools, churches, mills or other types of buildings. Often, in connection with these structures, we may look at the families associated with them. If a specific person is the subject, he or she is usually an "important" person like a politician or a doctor or a major business owner. This story, however, is about none of those things. It's about a man who should have been a pretty average late-nineteenth century resident of Mill Creek Hundred. So average, in fact, that prior to seeing the first article about him, I didn't even know who he was. I'd mentioned his father once in an old post, but until recently I knew nothing about the strange and sad tale of Samuel Allcorn.

I guess the fact that Samuel Allcorn lived an unusual life should come as no surprise if one first looks at the life of his father, George P. Allcorn. George was born in Cecil County, Maryland in November 1799, but later moved to the Milltown area. He lived there and worked as a shoemaker for the rest of his long and very productive life. In 1823, the 23 year old Allcorn married 18 or 19 year old Elizabeth Montgomery (no, not the TV witch). Elizabeth was the daughter of William Montgomery, whose house still stands on the west side of Old Limestone Road. They then got to work. Over the next 25 years or so, the couple would have ten children, the last (or next to last) being Samuel, born in 1847.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Razing of the Jacob Derickson House

I have here a wonderfully quick follow-up to the Dericksons of Kiamensi post. In that post I came to the conclusion that the house owned by the Highway Department and shown in a 1941 photograph must have been the original Derickson house in this area. I also guessed by looking at it that it may very well have dated all the way back to Jacob Derickson in the 1820's. Finally, I estimated that the house had been torn down by the state in the early 1960's. Turns out I was right on almost every point.

Hours after I posted the story, newspaper-story-finder-extraordinaire Donna Peters sent me this article, taken from the March 15, 1958 edition of the Wilmington Morning News. It details the Highway Department's destruction of the building to allow for expansion of their Kiamensi Yard. The article confirms that this was, in fact, the Derickson's house. The writer claims that it had been standing for 150 years. If literally true, then it would predate Jacob Derickson's purchase of the property. My guess, however, is that "150 years" was an off-the-cuff estimate. If it were Jacob's, it would certainly be more than 100 years old by then, closer to 130. That's close enough for me. Below is the rest of the article, which also mentions the "old Pilling mansion", which is the Mansion House we know. It sits on the south side of Kiamensi Road, just east of Powell Ford Park. You can click on the article to see a larger version.


Monday, November 6, 2017

The Dericksons of Kiamensi

The Jacob Derickson House
Since I write this blog for fun and on my own time, I have great flexibility in choosing topics to research. Basically, I just write about whatever interests me at that given moment. Sometimes ideas come from me just poking around. The most satisfying situation, though, is when a seemingly simple question ends up taking me in directions I didn't expect and to answers I didn't know I'd be looking for. It's even better when, as in this case, the question comes from someone asking about their own ancestors.

The original query was simply from a woman looking for more information about her great-great grandfather Cornelius Derickson, and his son-in-law, her great grandfather Morris Highfield. I'd come across the Highfield family before but not, to my knowledge, Morris. I've definitely written about the Dericksons, but I was pretty sure Cornelius was not a part of their line. Certainly related, but I didn't know how. I did know, however, that on the old maps there was a C. Derickson whom I had neatly danced around in previous investigations into the Marshallton and Kiamensi area. It turns out that it was time to get to know the Dericksons of Kiamensi.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Upcoming Events -- September 2017

It's been a while since I've posted about any upcoming local events, but there are a few coming up in the next couple weeks that I thought were more than worth mentioning. Two of them are happening this Saturday (September 9), and one is scheduled for a week from Monday (September 18). I'm planning on attending a couple of them myself, but if you're looking for something to do they should all be quite interesting.

Working in reverse order, friend of the blog Ken Shelin informed us a few weeks back that a new historical marker will be unveiled on Monday, September 18 at 1 PM, at the site of the Oliver Evans/Fell Spice Mill on Faulkland Road. I know that this one has personal meaning for Ken, as some of his Woodward ancestors worked at the spice mill in the 1800's. This is a fascinating site that has been covered in various forms here several times, and it's certainly worthy of a marker. I thank Ken for the work he's done on getting the marker, and he notes that Senator Anthony Delcollo was instrumental in securing the funds for it. Thanks guys!

While I won't be able to make it to the marker unveiling that day, there are two events this Saturday that I do plan on attending. The Friends of Brandywine Springs will be conducting their September archaeological dig at the park, from 9 AM to about 3 PM. FOBS has been digging at the park (once a month from the spring to the fall, weather permitting) for about 25 years now, and has made many fascinating discoveries. The current dig site is the former location of a ride whose existence was only recently rediscovered -- the Razzle Dazzle. It was a spinning, circular ride that was only briefly at the park, and whose presence was only noted when Ray Harrington and Tommy Gears resurrected the Lost Motion Pictures of Brandywine Springs. Several footings from the ride have been found already and FOBS hopes to uncover more. If you're interested, the group meets in the parking lot of Brandywine Springs park at 9 AM, then proceeds down to the dig site. I hope to stop by after lunch.

The Razzle Dazzle at Brandywine Springs Amusement Park

In the morning, I'll be in Hockessin for another historical event, this one hosted by the Hockessin Historical Society at the Tweed's Tavern and Museum, off of Valley Road near Lantana Square. Beginning at 10 AM, Walt Chiquoine will give a presentation on the Nichols House and the British occupation of the area around September 9, 1777 -- 240 years to the day after the events. This is roughly the same story outlined in the recent blog posts about the Nichols House. If you liked the story, here's a chance to check out the live show! The event is open to the public, but seating is limited. After the presentation, the Tweed's Museum will be open to the public from 11 AM to 1 PM. If you want more information, here's a story in the Hockessin Community News about Walt, his discoveries, and Saturday's events. I'm very much looking forward to this one. And if by chance you can't make it Saturday but still want to attend the talk, Walt will be giving his full presentation at the Brandywine Battlefield Park on Sunday, September 10, at 2 PM. I've seen this presentation myself, and it's truly fascinating. Hope to see you out there!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Finding the Nichols House, Part II -- Where were the British and how did they go?

This is Part II of Finding the Nichols House, my short-version presentation of Walt Chiquoine's research into the subject. His original works can be accessed and downloaded via this link. You must create an account on the site, but it's very easy. As I said in Part I, do yourself a favor and read his work directly. Walt tells the story much clearer and in far greater detail than I do here.


The Andre Map
In Part I of Finding the Nichols House, we traced the British Army's movements from their landing at the Head of Elk, across Pencader Hundred, and through a two-pronged approach into Mill Creek Hundred. Friend-of-the-Blog Walt Chiquoine has spent years, and thousands of hours of research, meticulously piecing together the details of the British Army's movements through MCH on September 8-10, 1777. It was always known that they came through, and that they camped here the night of the 8th before moving on to the Battle of Brandywine three days later. There are some primary sources that give tantalizing clues as to exactly where the troops settled down for the night, but enough uncertainty remained that no one was sure just where anyone was. The key to it all, as Walt soon discovered, lay in nailing down the exact location of British General Sir William Howe's headquarters for the night -- the Nichols House.

Through his research, Walt found several letters and diaries written by eyewitnesses to the events of that week. But since none were authored by natives of the area, no one wrote anything obvious and helpful like, "We were camped on the Dixon farm." Instead, the most indispensable guide was a map, drawn by an aide to Gen. Howe, Major John Andre (technically, he was a captain in 1777). If the name sounds familiar, this is the same Major Andre who would later be hung by the Americans for his part in Benedict Arnold's plot. The hand-drawn map shows "The Position of the Army at New Garden the 8th Sept 1777", and depicts the position of various encampments and headquarters along a road. Aside from unit and commander names, there are no other keys to aid in placing the map in the real world. Plus, being hand-drawn by a foreigner to these parts, it's about as geographically inaccurate as you'd expect.

But it does clearly show (Howe's) Head Quarters, which on other maps and in various correspondence is referred to as the Nichols House. So if the Nichols House could be decisively located, the rest of the map would fall into place. And surprisingly, at least in recent memory (and anywhere in print), this had never been done. In the end, all it took was some patient research by Walt and his vast knowledge of land holdings in the area in the 1770's. As he discovered, there was only one adult male Nichols in MCH at the time -- Daniel Nichols.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Finding the Nichols House, Part I: The British are Coming!

Long-time readers of this blog should be familiar with the name Walt Chiquoine. He has written several guest posts here, and for many years has been the go-to guy for decoding old land records, especially those from the Colonial Era. He has amassed enough data to map out the ownership of almost all of Mill Creek Hundred at the time of the Revolutionary War. While this may sound like an arbitrary (and possibly pointless) thing to do, there was, most certainly, a method to his madness.

Walt's not a native of the area, but after moving here in the 1980's he heard the stories of the British Army's movements in the region in 1777, leading up to the Battle of Brandywine. Eventually, a seemingly simple question got stuck in his head -- I wonder if the British marched near my house? From this one question has sprung years of research and so many hours down at the State Archives that I'm surprised they never gave him a parking spot. Or his own key. Or at least special bathroom privileges. Point is, he's put a lot of work into this. And over time, "this" has turned into several separate but related projects.

Much research was done into firsthand accounts of the British Army's movements during that time. From trying to understand this data came the project of mapping out the ownership of MCH during the 1770's. Finally, and tying everything down and putting it into place, was the finding of the often-mentioned but never located Daniel Nichols House, Gen. Howe's headquarters for two days while the army camped in MCH. Now, after years of work, I'm thrilled to say that Walt has released his work for public consideration.

Monday, July 31, 2017

A Shooting in 19th Century Christiana Hundred

I'm thrilled and proud to present another fantastic guest post, this time from a first-time contributor, Don Prather. Don is a Delaware native (and current Arizonan) and a descendant of the Woodward family (among many others). He presents here a fascinating story that I personally was unfamiliar with prior to reading this well-researched and written article. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did, and many thanks to Don for this wonderful contribution.


Introduction

One thing I’ve learned from my ancestry research over the years is the fact that most of those who have come before me have lived lives as ordinary as mine. Over the centuries and through the generations, their lives were filled with many of the same joys and pains experienced by people living today. Given the chance to describe the important events in their own lives, our ancestors would likely highlight the same sorts of events as we would: finding true love, the birth of a child, the loss of a family member, an increase (or loss) of property, a close friendship. These are things that, for the individual, are extraordinary within the context of their own life but in a broader sense are an ordinary part of the human condition.

Still, finding a new and undiscovered detail about the life of an ancestor or someone who lived long ago in the community, no matter how “ordinary” that detail may be in the larger scheme of things, gives the ardent researcher a real sense of satisfaction. Once in a great while, I come across something in my research that is completely unexpected and makes me say, “Wow! That’s surprising”.  It could be a fact from a vital document, a news article, a property record, or a picture of person or location from a different angle that helps me understand the time or place more deeply and richly than before.

Recently, I was paging through old newspaper articles researching my Woodward ancestors and I stumbled across a story that caught my attention in this way. The story involves Aaron Klair Woodward, a son (one of a long list of sons and daughters) of Joseph Woodward and Mary Klair, both of Delaware.  Aaron, who was the brother of my third great-grandmother Hannah Woodward Armstrong, lived his entire life in rural New Castle County from his birth in 1836 until his passing in 1904, most of it in Christiana Hundred. The event in question occurred in October, 1874 and surely had a profound impact on Aaron and his family’s life, the lives of six young men from Wilmington, and especially the family of one William Lukens, a teenage boy whose family lived in Wilmington. At the time of the incident, Aaron Woodward and his wife, Mary Ann Woodward, nee Stidham (daughter of Gilpin Stidham) were parents of an eight year old boy and a fourteen week old baby boy. Their family lived on a farm of about 100 acres a few miles outside the city boundary along today’s Faulkland Road. As a result of this tragic event, a young man barely 18 years of age would lose his life and an ordinary farmer with a young family would somehow find himself on trial, fighting for his own life.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Thomas Little House and the Old Hollingsworth Plantation

There are, thankfully, a number of historic homes still in use in and around Hockessin. Few of them, however, touch as many of the major area families as one that's celebrating its bicentennial this year -- the Thomas Little House. And luckily for us -- partially due to my research, but in large part due to an older work -- the history of the house and of the property it anchored can be related in detail, dating back to the earliest days of English habitation in the Hockessin Valley.

Located on the northeast corner of Old Wilmington Road and Meeting House Road (across from the Hockessin Friends Meeting), the Thomas Little House sits in a beautiful, shaded, quiet part of Hockessin, far enough removed from the hustle and bustle of nearby Lancaster Pike. The gorgeous four-bay, partially stuccoed field stone house sits facing south, but for most of its history the property it commanded was to the northeast, up along the Old Public Road. And that tract can be easily traced back to its original warrant from William Penn's daughter almost three centuries ago.