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Northwest Fork Hundred, Sussex County, Delaware

Early Settlements Assessment Roll Property Owners
Bridges Churches Schools
.. Bridgeville ..

The hundred of Northwest Fork is situated northwestern corner of Sussex County, originally a part of Maryland, and at that eluded all the territory west of the Northwest the Nanticoke River. This fork is now known Marshy Hope Creek, and upon running the dividing line between the States a small portion of the stream was thrown into Delaware. From this stream hundred takes the name, by which it has been known since 1682. It was the largest in the county before March 11, 1869, when the Legislature erected Seaford Hundred out of it by the following boundaries: "Beginning in the middle of the old State Road at Walker's mill-dam, and running thence Westwardly by the centre of said road between the old Frank Brown form and the farm of the late Daniel Cannon, over and by Cannon's Crossing, to its intersection with the road leading from Federalsburg to Bridgeville, and thence by the centre of said Federalsburg and Bridgeville road past Horsey's Cross-Roads to the eastern boundary of Maryland." This line makes the bounds of the hundred on the north by Kent County, on the east by Nanticoke Hundred, on the south by Seaford Hundred and on the west by the State of Maryland. It is about eight miles square and embraces about sixty-five square miles of territory.

The Nanticoke River and Marshy Hope Creek, and the ramifications of their branches, form the chief means of irrigation. They are so shallow, however, that they afford but comparatively little mill facilities. The soil is a stiff clay and sandy loam, and of a nature entirely different from its near neighbor, Nanticoke, and taken as a whole, is the largest and best body of farming land in the county. Large crops of wheat and corn are grown. Small fruits grow in abundance and large quantities are shipped to Northern markets. In the latter part of the last century large quantities of tobacco were grown and in the northern part sugar-cane was raised and sent north to sugar-mills. For over sixty years the cultivation of both of these products has ceased. Northwest Fork was formerly a large slave-holding hundred, as early as 1796, the assessment roll of that date showing two hundred and ninety-seven slaves, and twenty years later the number had increased to five hundred and ten. At the time of the emancipation amendment to the Constitution, there were very few slaves in the hundred, and they were mostly engaged in domestic occupations.

The Delaware Railroad, which reached Bridgeville in 1858, passes through the eastern end of the hundred. Its advent was the signal for renewed energy among the people, and the country has developed rapidly since that lime. Being without navigable streams, the farmers before that time had no convenient methods of shipping their products.

Early Settlements

The circumstances of the early settlement of this hundred are similar to Nanticoke, with the exception that the Penns exercised no control over it, nor did they make any grants of land therein. All the land patented down to 1776 was upon Maryland patents. The Nutters Layfields, Polks and Adamses made their first settlement in this State at this point, the Nutters coming here direct from England. Large numbers of settlers came in about 1776. When the line was settled.

John Nutter, the first of the family to take up land, received a warrant for the tract "Tausey Wandoke" June 2, 1682. This was the first land granted in the hundred and tradition says that the name comes from an Indian maiden, who was a daughter of a chief of the Nanticoke Indians. John Nutter evidently did not occupy the grant, for April 25, 1684, it was again granted to his son, Christopher Nutter, upon his application to Lord Baltimore and was surveyed to contain one hundred and thirty-one acres of land. Just how long it remained in the Nutter family is uncertain. In the re-survey made on the warrant of the proprietors, June 17, 1776, it is found to be the property of Daniel Polk and is described as being near the head of Clearbrook Branch. On this tract Daniel Polk built his mansion house, which is still standing, a large, two storied brick building, and now owned by John D. Dilworth. It came into the possession of William N. Polk, the father of Trustan Polk of Missouri, who was born here and afterward was Governor and United States Senator of his adopted state. John Layfield was the next of the old settlers of whom there is any record. He took up the tract "Salem" containing eight hundred acres of land, situated north of what is now known as Horsey's CrossRoads. For non-payment of quit-rent is re-surveyed and re-warranted to John Polk, august 1, 1752, with other tracts mentioned hereafter Layfield is a name not known now in the neighborhood

The Adamses were also settlers about this time, the first of whom Roger Adams, was granted a tract called "Backcloss," January 1, 1696. He and his son in 1740 also took up on Maryland warrants "Addition to Luckhorn" containing forty one acres; "Addition to Backcloss" containing seventy-seven acres; "Batchelor's Quarters," containing twenty-three acres, was warranted in 1731; Luckhorn, containing fifty acres in 1719; Clifton's Delight," containing twenty-nine acres in 1740, making a total of two hundred and seventy acres. On February 4, 1777, Roger Adams, the son, sold these tracts to Constantine Cannon. Roger Adams, the second took up another one hundred acres which was re-surveyed February 20, 1776, adjoining the above land and the land of Tilghman and John Brown and called Turkey Swamp, located near the head of Bridge Branch; also "the "Triangle" containing fifty acres "near the Great Swamp between William Harper's and Henry Campton's lands."

Adjoining this, on February 20, 1776, he also took up "Rogers Puzzle." This tract began at a corner from Curtis Otwell's land, and starting between Adams' fence and the road that leads to Marshy Hope Bridge Nutter Adams, a son of the elder Roger, took a tract called "Bright's," in 1776. The Adamses also took up other large tracts adjoining these lands, among which was a tract, granted February 18, 1824, called "Calf Pasture," described as being on the east side of a branch of the Northwest Fork of the Nanticoke. On December 10, 1740, Richard Adams received a grant for one hundred acres, called "Adams' Delight," and adjoining this tract Joshua Morgan received a warrant on July 1, 1723, for "Hogs' Quarter," which was re-warranted to William Adams December 12, 1753. The lands are all situated in the northwest corner, and are now owned by J. T. Noble, Roger Adams, M. L. Blanchard, Henry A. Blanchard, Joseph Davin, Marim Davis, Frank Davis, George Spence and Francis Spence, W. Adams and Charles M. Adams.

"Woodgate's Fortune," a tract of land situated on the main road that leads from Bridge Branch to Clear Brook Branch, and adjoining a tract called "Batchelor's Ramble," was granted March 18, 1710, to Francis Woodgate for three hundred and thirty-three acres. This land is located a short distance below Bridgeville, and a part of it is now called "Freeland,'' and is in the possession of Mrs. M. C. Jacobs. Mrs. M. C. Jacobs, well known in the lower part of the State as a successful woman in agriculture, or more properly horticulture, and also as a frequent contributor to publications devoted to those industries, has exhibited in her career what pluck and industry may accomplish, even when the most unfavorable conditions interpose. What may be difficult for a man to accomplish is simply almost impossible for a woman, and her achievement should therefore be awarded a larger meed of praise. Mrs. Jacobs was the daughter of John Goslin and Hester Cannon, his wife, and was born in 1828 at Cannon's Ferry, amid the sands and pines of Lower Sussex. That is about the time and place of Patty Cannon's remarkable deeds and death, which caused excite-ment to run high through the whole southern half of the Peninsula. During her early childhood she walked six miles a day for the privilege of attending one of the commonest of common schools, but when twelve years of age her father purchased a large farm four miles west of Bridgeville, where school and church privileges were a little better, though still very far from what they should be. In 1843 she went one term to a good grammar school at Georgetown. She was married at the age of eighteen to Alanson Dickerson, who resided near where is now the village of Ellendale. At twenty-three she was left a widow with two small children, the eldest of whom is now the wife of F. H. Dyer, of Detroit, Mich., and the second, Willard S. Dickerson. Three years after she became a widow our subject married Nathaniel R. Jacobs, who lived near Bridgeville.

Two children were the offspring of this union, Gertrude, now the wife of W. C. Rust, and Miss Lily R. Jacobs. After seventeen years of happy married life Mrs. Jacobs was again a widow. Her husband having been a remarkably kind-hearted man, had indorsed considerable property for friends, and after his death it was discovered that he was almost insolvent, and his properly was sold for the benefit of his creditors, with the exception of one-third of the lands reserved for the widow, who also, under the then laws of the State, was allowed provisions to the value of thirty dollars. Mrs. Jacobs went heavily into debt, and at the administrators' sale bought back a fraction of what had formerly been hers, and was then, according to equity, if not to law. She now began to show that ability for which she has since been famous. In ten years, single-handed and working against odds, she not only paid off all indebtedness, but improved fields, fences and out-buildings, made and furnished anew a pretty cottage out of the old farm house, and gave good support to her children, and an education to the younger ones. She became a successful peach grower, was the first shipper of dressed poultry to the city market, and owned the first and finest herd of Alderneys in the neighborhood. She sold more grain to the acre and to the number of hands hired than did her neighbors; grew in her garden thirteen varieties of strawberries, (long before they were considered a marketable crop in this region), and raised ten varieties of grapes, for table use only. Nor was this all, for with an eye to the beautiful, costly roses and rare flowers were made to grace that house of simplicity, which was albeit one of hospitality. In 1881, at the age of fifty-three, she married Hon. T. K. Jacobs, of Lima, Ohio, but he died after they had been joined but four years, and she then returned to her old home where she lives now at the age of sixty, still industrious, still extending hospitality, still dispensing charity. Her farm has upon it some of the finest blooded stock and poultry to be found in this region, and her gardening is unsurpassed. Her only companion is her young daughter. Both contribute to the press, especially upon those topics with which their lives have made them particularly familiar. They are known, not only as industrious practical agriculturalists, but as well read, well informed people, both poets of no mean degree, and generally respected alike for their works and character. What a woman can do in this life of toil, and against many obstacles has certainly few better illustrations, than in the achievements of Mrs. Jacobs.

Doublin was granted to John Rider in 1720, and originally contained five hundred and forty-three acres. The name of Rider was afterwards corrupted to Prider, and in 1776, this land was resurveyed to James Prider.

Daniel Polk, a son of Robert Polk, had resurveyed to him seven hundred and fifty acres of land he had come into possession of from time to time, and eight hundred and ninety-four acres of vacant land. This embraced "Tausey Wandoke," already mentioned; "Polk's Out-Lot" granted May 10, 1743, to Robert Polk for one hundred and eighteen acres; "Double Purchase" granted October 16, 1750, to Robert Polk for three hundred and thirty-four acres; "Good Will," granted January 11, 1727, to William Smith for one hundred acres; "Polk's Fancy," granted March 24, 1747 to Robert Polk for one hundred and twenty-one acres; "Ross's Hazzard," granted October 21, 1730, to James Ross for fifty acres; "Banchalas Chances," granted to John Higgins, October 28, 1823, for one hundred acres ; and "Neglect," granted to Robert Polk, October 10, 1752, for one hundred and sixty-two and three-quarter acres. This entire tract was named "Polk's Regulation" and is described as commencing near the Clear Brook Branch on the path that leads from Daniel to William Polk's house, and extending to a point on the south side of Bridge Branch and to Curtis Brown's tract, "Brown's Regulation," also near Isaac Williams land. Daniel Polk also had surveyed to him, June 17, 1776, a tract called "Daniel's Regulation" near the head of Muddy Branch. John Polk had a tract called "Doublin Advantage" surveyed to him December 20, 1741, and containing one hundred and eighty-four acres. On August 1, 1752, he had warrants granted him for "John's Venture," two hundred acres; "Polk's Chance," fifty acres; "Salem," eight hundred acres; and four hundred acres of vacant land. This land is described as situated on the east side of the Northwest Fork of the Nanticoke, and adjoining Robert Polk's land, and extending across the hundred from the Nanticoke to the Maryland line. Robert and John Polk were brothers. The Polks that settled in this locality and in Maryland are the original ancestors of that family in America. They are now scattered all over the United States; President James K. Polk being a descendant of this family.

Among those who now run portions of the Polk lands are H. P. Cannon, Dr. Dodd, Benton Jacobs, Benjamin S. Melson, Joshua Brown's heirs, J. F. Campbell's heirs, _____ Friedel, Phillip Cannon, Layton and Brother, William Gray, W. J. Ridgaway, George V. Massey, John D. Burton, the heirs of Dr. Joseph R. Sadler, O. Hill, J. B. N. Layton and Wm. E. Corbin.

James Ross, who received the warrant for "Ross's Hazzard" of "Polk's Regulation," was the first of that family in this part of Delaware. William Ross, his brother, on March 24, 1730, was granted a warrant for "Ross's Fancy," which was located between Iron Mine and Muddy Branches. James Ross, in 1743, was granted a warrant for two hundred acres called "Ross's Venture," which is described as being at the mouth of the first arm that makes out of Bridge Branch. This James Ross was the ancestor of Governor William Ross, of Delaware. These lands are held in part by Edward Wright, M. A. G. Coates and D. S. Myre. The Layton family came from Virginia about 1730, and settled mainly two miles north from Bridgeville, and about a mile west of the headwaters of Nanticoke port. The original tract is now owned by S. J. Raughley. Robert, Thomas and Lowder Layton who settled in this neighborhood were brothers.

Lowder Layton and Tabitha his wife, lived in the vicinity of Brigdeville where their son Lowder was born August 21, 1770. He married Sarah Sipple, and lived in Northwest Fork Hundred, during early man-hood and later at Milford where he died in 1849. He retained part of the homestead which passed to his children. James Layton was granted a warrant of resurvey July 5, 1776, of a tract of fifty acres called "Young Man's Venture," originally patented by Maryland, November 26, 1751, to his father. When resurveyed it contained forty-eight acres, to which was added two hundred and thirty-six acres of vacant land, and the whole renamed "Layton's Jost Division." It was adjoining "Turkey Point," "Merritts Discovery," Rogers Adams' surveys of "Pozzell," and "Triangle," and "Saffords Venture:" Robert Layton had a warrant of resurvey granted on "Layton's Partnership" in 1776, and Thomas Layton, "Neighbors Agreement" in 1777. Robert Layton also purchased of David Williams, February 24, 1776, a tract called "Young's Addition," originally granted to Nathan Young, September 29, 1756, for seventy-five acres. It is located on Bridge Branch, about one-half mile above the Bridge. Among those who now own parts of the Layton lands are W. J. Coates, M. A. G. Coates, G. Bissell and G. Trout.

The Richards family took up a number of early grants, the most important of which is that of "Poplar Levil" surveyed to John Richards on the 15th of April 1760, for nine hundred and sixty acres of land. The patent recites that it began "near an old school-house on the road from John to James Richards." James Richards had resurveyed to him in the western part of the hundred, one hundred and tea acres called "First Purchase." It was adjoining lands granted to Isaac Brown and Clement Polk, situated on the east side of land that had been previously granted him. This was also adjoining "John's Venture." The land is now (1888) owned by J. T. Noble. Henry Richards had resurveyed "Bachelor's Ramble" containing one hundred and sixty-five acres, February 20, 1776, adjoining lands granted to John Richards and Nutter Adams. This is the same land that is now owned by William A. Corbin, Amos K. Corbin and J. T. Noble. Other owners of the Richards' tracts are J. K. Wright, ex-speaker of the State Senate C. F. Rust and Dr. Hugh Martin. In the extreme northwest of the hundred a tract was surveyed to Henry Fisher, March 8, 1776, called "Timothy's Venture." It had been originally surveyed to James Johnson in 1757 who died intestate. It is now located on the road from Marshy Hope Bridge to Hunting Creek, Md., and part of it is now owned by J. R. Whaley.

Peter Rust, the pioneer of the Rust family in this section, was granted on the 18th of March, 1776, a resurvey, for a tract called "Hard Fortune," containing one hundred and forty-eight acres. It was originally called "Luck by Chance" and was war ranted April 1, 1757, to George Smith. It is located on the road from Northwest Fork Bridge to the Chapel in Md. James Fassett on a warrant of re-survey dated March 12, 1776, took up two hundred and fifty acres of land on the Marshy Hope Creek adjoining "Hog Quarter."

The following persons were on the Assessment Roll of North West Fork Hundred for the year 1786. North West Fork, at that time, embraced Seaford Hundred.

Persons in Northwest Fork Hundred in 1816 who had over two hundred acres of land assessed to them.

Bridges

The bridge crossing the stream in Bridgeville, from which the town and branch takes its name, is one of the oldest in the county. The earliest mention of the bridge is found in an old record of 1730, but there is reason to believe that it was there as early as 1700, for in 1730 it was referred to as "ye old bridge over the branch and near John Natter's place.'' The stream at that time was probably much wider than at present. The first bridge remained until 1802, when, on account of its unsafe condition, the Legislature passed an act authorizing a new bridge to be built. A few years ago the present structure was erected. The Marshy Hope Bridge is also one of the original bridges in the hundred. It was built at an early period by the authorities of Maryland. On June 14, 1793, the General Assembly of Delaware passed an act "for supporting in good repair the bridge over the northwest fork of the Nanticoke River, commonly called the Marshy Hope Bridge." Under this act the old bridge was torn down and a new one erected. In 1887 the Levy Court of Sussex County ordered this bridge to be repaired. From this bridge Marshy Hope village, now Adamsville, took its name.

Churches

Trinity M. E. Church. Unlike its northern neighbor, Mispillion, Northwest Fork had no churches outside of Bridgeville, before 1843, the piously inclined portion of the community being compelled to drive either to Bridgeville, St. Johnstown, or to the eastern shore Maryland churches. In 1843 Trinity Church was erected on a lot located on the road running from Horsey's Cross Roads to Marshy Hope Bridge, at the point where the road from Bridgeville intersects. The first structure was twenty-five by forty feet and built of frame. In 1885 it was destroyed by fire, and the present neat and attractive building on the same site was erected. It is thirty by forty-five feet, one story high and faces the road. The church has been supplied with ministers mainly from the Bridgeville circuit down to 1883, when it was placed on the Greenwood circuit. The board of trustees are: I. K. Wright, Samuel H. Melson, Samuel W. Kinder, Lewis Kinder, C. P. Swain, Benjamin S. Melson and J. T. Noble.

Schools

Before the passage of the public free school law of the State, there were two schools maintained by subscription in this hundred. One of these, located one-half mile north of Bridge Branch, was the first in Western Sussex, having been in operation as early as 1765. In a deed of that date it is mentioned as one of the out bounds of a tract of land. This building was of stone, and stood as late as 1800. The oldest inhabitants say that it stood on the same site where District No. 72 School-house now stands. The other school was located in what is District 73.

In both of the old schools the education was limited, and when the ''simple rule of three" was reached, the scholar generally knew as much as the master. The schools were open three months in the year.

School-House
In 1867 the school-house of district ninety-one was erected in the town at a cost of one thousand dollars. This continued in use until 1887, when the present building was erected. It is a graded school with two teachers.

The commissioners in 1829 divided the hundred into four districts, numbering 72, 73, 74 and 75, and in 1830 and 1831, school buildings were erected in Districts 74 and 75, respectively. Since that time school Districts 73½, 97, 90, 139 and 143 have been erected out of the four original districts. All these schools are open ten months in the year.

Assessment Roll 1786 | Bridgeville | Property Owners 1816 | Sussex County

Source: History of Delaware, 1609-1888, Volume I, by J. Thomas Scharf, L. J. Richards & Company, Philadelphia, 1888.

 
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