|Friday we decided to drive to Dover, Delaware for what would be our thirty-seventh state and sixteenth state capitol. From where we were camping we were a short, twenty minute drive and $3 toll to the state of Delaware. As we crossed the Delaware River we were greeted by more bulk oil storage tanks, refineries, power plants, oil tankers chugging down the river, and, when looking back to the Jersey side, the Salem nuclear power plant.
We drove down Delaware 9, a supposedly scenic road which was not entirely impressive, until we were thwarted by road construction and rerouted onto the DuPont Highway the rest of the way into Dover. The DuPont family arrived from France and settled on the banks of the Brandywine River in 1802, using the river’s power to produce high-quality gunpowder. The company, of course, has continued to grow and was responsible for the creation of Nylon, Teflon, and Mylar. The DuPont family history is captured in the area known as the Brandywine Valley, where museums have preserved the gunpowder mills, houses and gardens used throughout the years by this family. When the state would not pay for a highway to connect its northern and southern sections, the DuPont family provided the funds for what is now called the DuPont Highway.
We found Dover to be very cute, compact, and full of finely constructed brick buildings which provided a nice, cohesive feel to the entire downtown area. Hoping to take a tour of their capitol building, we were disappointed to find out that no tours are provided (our first state capitol without a tour!). Instead, we were able to take a tour of the small, historic district which helped us to learn a bit about the history of this little state. Delaware is known as “The First State” because they were the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution on December 7, 1787. The ratification took place at a tavern called The Golden Fleece which is on Dover’s Public Square, now called The Green.
Now in addition to being the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution, Dover counts as another one of its “firsts” the first person to be murdered via postal mail. A young woman in Dover had married and moved with her husband to California in 1889. After they moved to California her husband started to drink, gamble and chase other women. No longer happy in her marriage, this young woman moved with her child back to Dover, but did not divorce her husband since that was not acceptable in that day and age. Over time she began receiving anonymous letters suggesting that she should divorce her husband. She ignored the letters and continued on with her life. One day a box arrived in the mail with a note from someone she did not know, but presumed that she must have met while in California. It was a box of chocolates. The woman ate the chocolates and shared them with her family as well. Two days later, she and her sister, both of whom had eaten the most chocolates, were dead.
The doctor determined that the box of chocolates had been poisoned. An investigation ensued and the box of poisoned chocolates was traced to a woman in California who had been in love with the Dover woman’s husband. The woman from California was tried and convicted in a much publicized trial, later dying in prison of a “brain that had gone soft with melancholy” or so they say. As our tour guide said, the moral of the story is to always know who your box of chocolates is from.
We also learned about a famous Delawarean, Caesar Rodney and his famous ride (not as celebrated as Paul Revere’s but just as important to those who live in Delaware). Mr. Rodney was one of the three delegates who were sent by Delaware to Philly to approve the Declaration of Independence. Unfortunately, Mr. Rodney was delayed in arriving in Philly and was not present when the Delaware delegation cast its vote. The two Delaware delegates that were present for the vote split their votes causing the state to be in a deadlock over the most important document. Hearing of the conflict and knowing that this very important vote must be unanimous, Mr. Rodney rode the 80 miles from his farm in Kent County to Philly as quickly as he could in a driving thunderstorm, arriving muddied and bedraggled. His arrival convinced George Read, who had voted against the Declaration, to change his vote and he, Caesar Rodney and Thomas McKean all signed the Declaration of Independence for Delaware.
Delaware had one additional opportunity to make history during the process to ratify the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote. The approval by Delaware in 1919 would have made it a binding amendment to the Constitution. But, unfortunately, and despite even an attempted kidnapping by a woman’s suffrage group of one of the legislators who was against the amendment, the Delaware legislature voted against the 19th amendment, ultimately not approving it until 1923. The state that was given the distinction of being the final one to achieve the ¾ approval necessary to make the 19th amendment a law fell to Tennessee. And even the Tennessee legislature vote on this amendment was close, passing by only one vote which was cast by Henry Burn, who was originally going to vote against it until his mother told him he should “be a good boy” when casting his vote. Proving, once again, that you should always listen to your mother!
After our short city tour, we hurried across the way to the Delaware State Legislature building so that we could at least take a walk through it. Security was tight despite that fact that it was fairly deserted inside (we had walked right into the Connecticut and Oregon capitol buildings, but in Delaware we had to go through a metal detector and show our driver’s license). The building is a small, brick structure with 18th century styled interiors that was constructed in 1932. Prior to its construction the legislature had met in the Old State House, which has been preserved as a museum on the east side of The Green. The Legislature Building has your typical House and Senate chambers decorated with paintings depicting historical Delaware scenes such as the landing of the first Swedes, the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge (Delaware’s only engagement in the Revolutionary War), Barratt’s Chapel (the chapel where Methodism was founded – another Delaware “first”), and Caesar Rodney’s ride to Philly. The House of Representatives has 41 members who are elected every two years and the Senate has 21 members who are elected every four years. The General Assembly meets every year from January through June, meeting each week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The Governor is a woman and the state’s first woman governor as well.
Other interesting facts about Delaware include: It is the second smallest state behind Rhode Island at 1,982 square miles. Current population is approximately 843,000. Other state nicknames are “The Diamond State” given by Thomas Jefferson who described Delaware as being like a diamond because it had great worth even though it was small and “Blue Hen State” given to Delaware after the fighting Blue Hen Cocks that were carried with the Delaware Revolutionary War Soldiers for entertainment.
Delaware was named by a Dutchman named Samuel Argall in 1610, who, during a storm, was blown off course and sailed into a strange bay which he named for his governor, Lord De La Warr. The Swedes were the first to create a permanent settlement in Delaware in 1638, ruling over the area until forced out by the Dutch in 1655. In 1681, King Charles II granted the Province of Pennsylvania to William Penn. Penn’s agents reported that the new province would be landlocked if the colonies on either side of the Delaware River and Bay were hostile. As a result, the Duke of York granted the land that was Delaware to William Penn. Delaware remained a part of Pennsylvania until the Declaration of Independence was signed at which time it declared itself free from British rule and established its own state government separate from Pennsylvania.
We concluded our tour of the second smallest state in the Union with a drive to Newark to see the University of Delaware (go fighting blue hens!!!) which, despite the constant teasing that we give to our friend Chip about this being his alma mater, was actually really nice, and then through the DuPont neighborhood of Brandywine Valley which was very beautiful, finally exiting the state into Pennsylvania.