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.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Green Bank Park

In the most recent post about the Capital Trail Garage, I wrote of the thrill of learning about a site or topic of which I had been previously unaware. I now present another entry in that category, located in the same corner of southeastern Mill Creek Hundred. The subject is Green Bank Park, but not the one you know, located on the former site of the county workhouse. This Green Bank Park predated even the workhouse by nearly twenty years, and appears to have operated for about two decades. Full credit for bringing this lost site to my attention goes to the wonderful Red Clay Valley History Talk Series Facebook page.

When I first saw the Facebook post featuring the park, I initially had doubts as to whether it really was what it appeared to be. My own first entryway into local history was the nearby Brandywine Springs Park more than 15 years ago. In all that time I can't recall ever hearing about a 19th Century Green Bank Park, or any other Victorian Era excursion park in the area. But sure enough, after a little research I found that it really did exist and was an early competitor to Brandywine Springs. The ending date for Green Bank is still not clear, but it seems obvious that it was a victim of the Springs' success in the early years of the new century.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Capital Trail Garage

Robert E. McFarlin's Capital Trail Garage
Just a quick post here to share a couple of fantastic pictures that were recently shared with me. In general, there are two types of stories that I research. Most are ones I'm at least somewhat aware of ahead of time, like a house or a person, which I then research to find out more about. The second, and more rare, type are subjects that I didn't even know existed before they came to my attention. These can be really fun. The Capital Trail Garage is definitely in this second category.

Through the course of that past few centuries, there have undoubtedly been many small, family-run businesses that have come and gone in Mill Creek Hundred. The majority (especially those that didn't last very long) have probably passed irretrievably into history. Once in awhile though, one gets resurrected from obscurity. And even cooler for me personally, this one was located only about a quarter mile from where I grew up.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Camp Mattahoon

I'm proud to present another wonderful Guest Post from Dave Olsen, who's becoming quite the expert on the Mill Creek region north of Milltown. Although admittedly I was originally hesitant to cover topics too far into the 20th Century with this blog, I now realize that there are plenty of fascinating such stories. Dave's post here on Camp Mattahoon is a perfect example. I thank Dave for his great work, and feel free to add any of your own memories of the camp. I know there are still people out there who experienced it firsthand.


--Researched and Written by Dave Olsen
Tucked in along the side of Mill Creek, slightly north of Milltown proper off of Limestone Road are the remains of what was the 170 acre camp ground owned and operated by what we now know as The Boys and Girls Club of Delaware.  The county oasis and get-away was named Camp Mattahoon, supposedly after the Indian Chief from whom, it is said, the early settlers bought land which is now part of Wilmington.  For over 40 years beginning in 1930, the camp provided the opportunity for hundreds of boys to escape the confines of city and as former Director Alfred Kamm mentioned in his 1946 annual report,  “When it comes to fun, health building, self-development, learning of skills, knowledge and habits, there is nothing better than camping for a boy.  More good guidance in behavior and attitudes can be offered a boy in two weeks of camping under proper leadership, than in practically a whole club season.”

While a good part of the Mill Creek Hundred remained true to its agricultural and farming roots in addition to various mill related industries, by the early 1800’s populations were expanding, especially in urban centers like Wilmington. In 1837, railroads connected Wilmington with the larger cities of Baltimore and Philadelphia. Cotton, woolen mills, iron-casting, shipbuilding and numerous other industries were prevalent in Wilmington. For a one hundred year period, from 1830 until 1930, railcar manufacturing, shipbuilding, carriage manufacturing, and leather working (tanneries) were the four largest industries in Wilmington.  Communities of workers living in close proximity to their place of employment were growing up around these factories.  The manufacturing and industrial expansion during this period was also reflected in the population growth. There was an almost fifty percent (49.32%) population increase each decade from 1860 to 1900.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The White Clay Creek Supply Company and the Roseville Electric Plant

The early 20th Century was a time of great changes in rural and suburban infrastructure. The rise of the automobile necessitated improvements to roads and bridges. Those same automobiles, along with the earlier introduction of electric trolley lines, helped birth the existence of suburbs. Basic utilities like running water, sewers, telephone, and electricity that had been present in cities for a while were now working their way out to the burgeoning suburbs and beyond. Eventually they would reach even the old farmhouses that had done without such luxuries for generations.

There are undoubtedly stories to be told on all these topics (the Artesian Water Company, for example, was founded by a MCH family), but right now we will focus on electricity. More specifically, on a forgotten, early power provider, the White Clay Creek Supply Company (WCCSC), and one particular installation of theirs. If you don't remember writing any checks to them, it's understandable -- I'm pretty confident in saying that WCCSC was gone long before you were around. It wasn't in operation for very long, but it's a neat insight into the early days of suburban utilities. It was also the final heir to an old mill seat.