Part of the American History and Genealogy Project

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Town of Lewes, Lewis & Rehoboth Hundred, Sussex County, Delaware

This ancient town is located on an elevated tract of land on Lewes Creek1, overlooking the mouth of Delaware Bay, and about one mile from it. Cape Henlopen is a little more than that distance from the lower end of the town, extending into the Atlantic Ocean as a sandy waste. Above it, and northeast from Lewes Creek, are the marsh commons, forming a small peninsula. West from the creek, which was a fine, deep stream two centuries ago, is a belt of well-drained, fertile lands, whose advantages for settlement were recognized by the first voyagers on the Delaware. With the Indians this was also favorite ground, and there have been unmistakable evidences that an aboriginal village was located on the site of Lewes. East from the railway station a burial-place was discovered, while the road was being cut through the small hill in that locality, and many skeletons were exhumed. These indicated that a people of large size and wonderful power had once lived here, and bad passed away in a period so remote that not even a traditionary account of them has been preserved.

The occupancy of this section by the whites dates from 1622. In that year some Dutch traders came and carried on a good business with the neighboring tribes of Indians. In 1631 De Vries settled thirty persons on the creek, which he called the "Hoorn Kill,"2 after his native place in Holland, and for their protection built a small fort or house, surrounded by a palisade of logs, which stood on the bank of the creek, which was at that time a deep and rapidly-flowing stream, and the marshes were covered with fine forests, in which game was abundantly found. Through some offense the settlers incurred the hostility of the Indians, who wreaked summary vengeance on them by killing the entire colony and destroying every vestige of the improvements they had made. When De Vries next visited this locality, in 1638, not "a trace of the fort could be found." The next settlement was founded in 1638 by the Swedes and Finns under Peter Minuett, who landed at the high ridge of land on the then lower part of Lewes Creek,3 which, from its attractive appearance, he called Paradise Point. It is believed that a few settlers of that nationality here permanently located, at that time, and were soon after joined by Dutch traders, who again commenced bartering with the Indians of this region. Through their influence the Horekill section was purchased of the Indians by the West India Company in 1658. Two years later the English laid claim to the country, basing their demand on its discovery by Hudson, in 1609. To better maintain its claims, the West India Company erected a fort at Paradise Point (now the lower fort of Pilot Town), but in 1664 this fort and the contiguous country was yielded to the English, who kept up the trading post. There were only a few houses and small farms, but the place was deemed of sufficient importance to keep a "customs man" residing there. In 1678 this country again fell into the hands of the Dutch, who now established a court at Lewes. The English recaptured the place in 1674, and continued the courts trading post and customs man. Six years later the Horekill country was divided, what is now Sussex County being called Deale. In 1682 the Duke of York deeded to William Penn all the Delaware country south to Cape Henlopen, when the present names of the county and town were adopted or confirmed by Penn's official sanction.4

The first deed for land in the lower part of the State was for a tract at Lewes, and was granted July 2, 1672, by Governor Francis Lovelace to Hermanus Frederick Wiltbank for "all that piece of land at the Horekill, signed and called Lewes in Delaware Bay. Bounded on the south side with a marked Pine and the land of William Classon, on the N. W. to ye lands of the heirs of Jean Jardyne, a Frenchman, containing in breadth 114 rods (each rod being eleven English feet), stretching N. E. and S. W. into the woods to ye hindermost Kill, which piece of land is called ye 'West India fort.'" Wiltbank assigned this land to Norton Claypool and from that family it passed to Samuel Rowland November 12, 1703.

After William Penn had obtained title to the Delaware country, a new interest in its settlement was awakened and there seems to have been an especial purpose to make Lewes a merchant port.

The court was instructed to grant titles to lots upon certain conditions, the fulfillment of which implied the building of a house of stated dimensions thereon; on failing to pay, a fine was imposed of five pounds and the forfeiture of the lot. On this basis lots were granted at the November, 1682, term of court to Cornelius Pluckhoy, who already owned a house; to John Kiphaven, also the owner of a house, to William Durvall, who lived at Lewes at that time, to William Carter, adjoining the land of Nathaniel Walker; to William Trotter, next to Carter's; to John Hill, "the lot on the southwest of the blind man's house,'' to John Bellamy, a "lot adjoining the old brick yard," to John Beverly, "the lot on which he is building a vessel on," to Hermanus Wiltbank, the lot adjoining his farm; to Henry Jones, adjoining Wiltbank; to Robert Williams, the one next to Henry Jones; and to Edward Warner, for three hundred acres of land "near by the town."

In 1683, John Brown, a ship-builder, petitioned the court "for a lot at Lewes on which he might build a sloop or shallop as the one he now occupies is not fit." The same year William Beverly was sued by Hermanus Wiltbank, "for neglect of his work in building the vessel." The records of this year show that tobacco was largely raised and used in payment of nearly everything purchased.

In the next few years following, many titles for lots in Lewes were granted by the Court, and there was considerable accession to the population. Among these new citizens were some who established small industries in the mechanic trades. In 1685, Arthur Starr petitioned for two lots on which to erect his tan-yard, the Court having previously refused to grant him an acre near Block House Pond. Transfers of property are recorded as early as 1692, when Captain Thomas Pemberton, as attorney, conveyed to Peter Davis, a lot of land and a brick house. March 4, 1695, Robert Cade, conveyed two lots on Second Street, and those running back to Pagan Creek to John Paynter, and on the same day a like number of lots, in the same locality, to Richard Paynter. On the 1st of June, 1696, Peter Lewis conveyed to Jacob Kollock a lot on Second Street, on which was a brick house, which had previously been owned by William Carter, bricklayer. June 6, 1699, William Dyre, conveyed to Thomas Fenwick ninety-six acres of land, fronting on Lewes Creek and sixty feet back of the same for a street, adjoining the uppermost part of Lewes.

Among the important transfers after 1700, were in 1704, Samuel Preston to William Shankland a tract of land called "St. Martins," four hundred acres on Pagan Creek. Through this land was afterwards located the well-known ''Shankland's Lane." In 1707, Thomas England bought a house and lot on Front Street, which was located between the properties of Richard Williams and Cornelius Wiltbank. The same year Walton Huling, bought a house on Second Street, which adjoined the land of Jonathan Bailey. The latter also owned land on Paradise Point, which remained in his family many years. One of his daughters married Jacob Art, a pilot, who was one of a number in that vocation who settled there and from which circumstance that part of Lewes, became known as "Pilot Town." On this tract of land is the oldest burial-ground in this part of the State, being already spoken of in 1687, as the "Ancient" ground. This street for many years, was the favorite home of pilots and in 1816, lots were owned on it by William Art, Charles M. Cullen, Jacob Conwell, George Hickman, David Johnson, John Maull, William Russell and Thomas Rowland. In order that the growth of Lewes might be still more rapidly advanced, the court made that matter a subject for consideration June 25, 1689, as follows:

"The Court, considering what few inhabitants there is in the town of Lewes and being willing to encourage people to live in the said Town and to seat and improve the back part of the said Town, are willing to grant larger lots than hath been usually granted, and for that the clearing the part of the said Town will be convenient and beneficial to bring a road to the front of the said Town, they do order that whosoever shall take up any back lots shall not suffer any tree or trees to grow thereon to the height of Twenty feet, and whosoever plants any fruit trees or other trees thereon shall not plant them nearer than forty feet asunder, and keep their lots continually clear of brush or other wood and also to keep the street afore their lots clear of all brush, and all the trees in the streets to be grubed up, the said back Lots te be four acre lots, with a square of four acres, in the middle of the town, for publick use or uses that the Court shall think fitting; the pond on the back side of Arthur Starrs to be drained and remain for common to come down the valley, the where the Ship is building into the river of Lewes, and that he that builds and clears first shall have the first Lots next to the town."

Some improvements were now made in that part of the town, but an obstacle to its general settlement was found in the small marsh near Second Street, accordingly on the 6th of March, 1694, the court granted;

"Liberty for a Ditch to bee Cutt through the most convenient Place in the Town of Lewes into the Creek for the conveniency of Drayning of tbe Savanah on ye back part next the second street lotts, and order that ye vacant ground that lies between the lott of Nehemiah ffleld and the four acre lott of Captain Pemberton, adjoining Richard Holloway, to be reserved for a Market-place; and the vacant piece of Land next adjoining on the southwest side of John Miers, his lott to ye Block House Pond and the Block House field, and that to bee used as a common burying-ground."
 

The vague manner in which some of the decrees of the court were formulated, especially as they applied to streets and public places, led to controversies at an early period in the history of Lewes, and which were brought to the attention of the court, September 5, 1694, when it was decreed that;

"Whereas There hath been some differences and Disputes about Bounds of the Town of Lewis. It is ordered by the Court to prevent farther such like. That ye should, and the Surveyor, with suitable assistance. Doe forthwith Run out ye side line that Runs along by ye Land of Abraham and Isaac Wiltbank, and ye land of John Williams also ye other side line that runs along by ye land of William Dyre."

The irregularity in the streets and public grounds was also the subject of much complaint, and, in 1704, a re-survey of the lots and streets was ordered, according to the plan when the town was laid out, and which plan had not been preserved. But such a survey was not made until nearly twenty years later when the court was again petitioned by the principal citizens to fix the corners of the streets so that the matter might be set at rest. The court answered this request by directing that Robert Shankland, in connection with other commissioners, namely. Rev. William Beckett, Archibald Smith, Simon Kollock, John Jacobs, Edward Dawes, Richard Herman and John Rhoades, should make a re-survey upon such information as they could obtain from old citizens and contemporary records.

A preliminary survey was made in August, 1722, concerning which Shankland made this memoranda

"of several Bounds and Stations or places of Beginning of some of the streets of Lewistown that were yet known by some of the Ancient A Principle men of Lewistown (to wit): Mr. Jacob Kollock, Sr, Mr. Philip Russell, Mr. John Mien and Capt. Jonathan Bailey (that is), that ye old Brick chimney of Jacob Kollock's House set on the northwest side of the street, and that the ahead or corner of the House of Joseph Royal that did belong unto William Orr was set on the southeast comer of ye Market St.; also that Mr. Russells old house was set on the southwest comer of the Back Street at the comer of Mulberry Street at ye comer, those are all Boundaries of the Town that were showde me by the Persons above mentioned at my first surveying of the Town as witness my hand this __ day of August, 1722.
"Robert Shankland"

The report of the survey of Shankland was made to the court May 4, 1728, and throws some light upon the early history of Lewes.

He stated "the town was originally called Deale, in the county of Deale, on the southwest side of Lewes Creek, for many years called Hore Kill Creek."

"That the land of the town was first taken up or claimed by Dysert Peters, and adjoined the lands of Koophaven or Dyre5 and those of Hermanus Wiltbank, with the creek and the pond on the other sides, &c, &c."

The commissioners located the corners of the streets and decided that the original purpose was to have four principal streets, to be known by the names of Front, Market, Ship-carpenter and Mulberry, and as many cross-streets, which were to be numerically designated. All the streets were to be kept sixty feet wide.

With the exception of an occasional decree from the court, relating to minor affairs, there were no especial orders in regard to Lewes until 1794, when the Legislature passed an act again ordering the streets to be surveyed and imposing a penalty for appropriating or obstructing them.

Like all ancient towns, Lewes had its market, and regulations were frequently made for it. A clerk was statedly appointed after 1700, but seventy years later all acts pertaining to it were repealed. The market was kept in the rear of the small brick jail which was used by Sussex County until 1792, when the county-seat was removed to Georgetown. This building, as an enlarged store-house, is still standing, but the county courthouse, built about 1730, which stood in the cemetery of St. Peter's Church, was taken down in 1838.

At the foot of the market-place a bridge was authorized to be erected by an act of the Legislature, November 6, 1773, which named John Rodney, Henry Fisher and Henry Neil as commissioners. They were "to build and erect a bridge and causeway over the creek at Lewistown, formerly called the Hore Kill, to begin at or near the place where the Fort in the said town stood, and thence in a strait direction to the point of fast land on the cape side of the creek nearly opposite the house now in the occupation of William Arnold; and also to erect all necessary abutments, wings, banks and other works for the use of the bridge."

Subscriptions to an amount not exceeding one thousand pounds were authorized, and those subscribing a certain amount were to be exempt from paying toll. Under the direction of the commissioners, Peter White, a carpenter, built the bridge at a cost of fifty-seven pounds fourteen shillings and nine pence, completing it August 12, 1775.

This bridge was improved under the provision of a supplementary act, passed January 29, 1791, and was fully completed soon after. In 1794 David Hall and Caleb Rodney were named as commissioners in place of John Rodney and Henry Fisher. After 1818 it passed under the control of the town authorities.

The use of the bridge over Lewes Creek has given the inhabitants of the town direct access to the Beach Marsh, which belongs to them as a common, and from which and the Great March they have derived benefit ever since the settlement of the place. One of the first recorded acts in regard to the former was after the accession of William Penn:

"Upon the petition of Edmond Warner the Court grant unto him the land of the cape commonly called Cape Inlopen, lying on the north east side of the creek commonly called the Hore Kill, to make a coney Warren on, and Liberty to build a House and seat a Warriner upon the said land upon condition that the Timber and feed of the said Land and marshes thereunto belonging be and forever hereafter Lye in common for the use of the Inhabitants of the town of Lewes and County of Sussex; as also free Liberty for any or all the Inhabitants of the said county to fish, get and take off their oyster and cockle shells and gather plums, cranberries and huckleberrys on the said land as they shall see fitt, always provided that no person what so ever shall not hunt or Kill any Rabbits or Hares on the said land with-out the leave or consent of him the said Edward Warner his Executor, Administrator or Assigns, At a Court held at Lewes for the County of Sussex and by the King's Authority and by Commissions from William Penn, proprietary and Governor of Pennsylvania and territory therein-to belonging the 9th, 10th and 11th day of the 11th month, 1682. Justices present, William Dorvall, Luke Watson, John Roads, Edward Southern, Robert Hart and John Kiphaven."

The phraseology of the foregoing decree gives the county of Sussex equal claim to the marsh with Lewes and it has in a measure served as a common for the people outside of the town. By acts of the Legislature, it was placed in charge of trustees, and later the Court of Quarter Sessions of the county was authorized to appoint trustees to care for the commons. Since 1871 the control has been vested in the commissioners of the town of Lewes, and through their sanction a number of improvements have been made and buildings erected on leased lots. A highway to the beach has also been constructed and wharves built into the bay, whereby it has been made possible to establish a considerable shipping business, since the creek has failed to afford the means of navigation.

One of the first recorded references to the Great Marsh is found in a suit at court, September, 1687, in which;

"Jonathan Bailey was summoned to appear before the Grand Jury, for about since the beginning of the year 1986 contemning and despising the neighbors fence, not only the King's Highway to the own use which said highway hath been Made, Worne and accustomed for many years, neither had the neighbors any other roads or highway to ye Commons, commonly called Marshes, either to fetch hay, look after their cattle or other orations, but also to the only known Ancient place of a burying ground for the town of Lewis, &c." "He also had placed the frame of a wind-mill thereon and also hath not only confidently and impudently denyed and Refused thy neighbors the use of ye said ground to bury their dead, forbidding them or any of them to come upon the said ground."

A true bill was found against Bailey, and on trial it was found that he had infringed upon the rights of the public. The highway to the marshes was restored, and one acre of the "Ancient" burying-place was ordered to be kept for the public. The latter is now known as the Rowland burial-ground, at the lower end of Pilot Town.

Forty years later the right to the use of this common was confirmed to the people of Lewes, by the proprietaries, as follows:

"Whereas a certain tract or quantity of Marsh, lying on the side of Delaware Bay, between the Broad Creek and the Canary Islands Pagan Creek, in the County of Sussex, hath been for several years past by some expectation given by our late father to the inhabitants of the Town of Lewes deemed and taken to belong to the said town as a common, or pasture for the said inhabitants. But no regular Surrey been formerly made on the same, yet by our permission at the request of Simon Kolloch, Jacob Kolloch and Rives Holt, three of the principal inhabitants of the town of Lewes aforesaid, the said marsh hath been lately surveyed and circumscribed, as appears by a draught thereof, now exhibited, and thereupon the said Simon Kolloch, Jacob Kolloch and Rives Holt, on behalf of themselves and the other inhabitants of the said town request that we would be pleased to grant our Warrant in order that the survey made on the said marsh may be duly returned and established. There are, therefore, to authorize and require thee to accept and receive the Survey of the said marsh and make return there-of unto our Secretaries office in order for confirmation to the said Simon Kolloch, Jacob Kolloch and Rives Holt in trust and for use in behalf of the inhabitants of the town of Lewes aforesaid and their Successors to be holden of us our heirs and Successors, under the yearly quit-rent of one penny sterling, for every acre thereof, to be duly paid by the said inhabitants for and towards the support of a school, to be kept within the said town. Given under my hand and the lesser seal at Philadelphia this 23 day of June, Anno Domine 1736, to Benjamin Eastburn, Surveyor General. "Tho. Penn."

Lewes was incorporated by an act of the Assembly, passed February 2, 1818, and Samuel Paynter, James F. Baylis, Benjamin Prettyman, David Hazard and Peter F. Wright were named as commissioners to survey the bounds, streets and lanes of the town and to have a map of the same made. An election was ordered to be held in June each year, when five persons were to be chosen, to be known as the "Trustees of the Town of Lewes," who were vested with the powers usual in such cases, and were authorized to arrange with the commissioners of Lewes Bridge to obtain and control the same. For many years the government of the town under this act was merely nominal, and more comprehensive powers were needed in order to satisfy the demands occasioned by the increase of population. Accordingly, a new act was passed March 2, 1871, which was amended March 31, 1873, and at a later period, whereby the scope of the authorities was enlarged and new bounds established, as follows:

"Commencing at the mouth of Canary creek, thence up Canary creek and Lentner's Branch to the road leading from Paynter's mill to Shepherd P. Houston's; thence around said road to the road leading from Lewes to Rehoboth; thence down said road to Wolfe's lane; thence down said lane to Edward Burton's turn; thence down to Gills Neck road to the road leading to Restore B. Lamb's farm, including said roads; thence in a northeasterly course, parallel with South street, to low water mark on the Delaware Bay shore; thence is a northwesterly direction along said bay shore to a place northeast of the mouth of Canary creek; thence in a northwesterly direction across the beach to the mouth of the said Canary creek and the place of beginning."

The government of the town under the amended acts is vested in a board of twelve citizens, chosen and designated as a body politic and corporate in law, they and their successors to be known as the "Commissioners of Lewes.'' One of this number is annually chosen as president of the commissioners, and is vested with the powers of a justice of the peace and the duties of an alderman; and the board was endowed with ample powers for the good of the town, including authority over Great and Beach Marshes, with power over the adjacent public lands, and to assume the same jurisdiction over the cape-lands as was exercised by the trustees under the act of 1814, and those of later periods. The income arising from these lands was ordered to be paid into the treasury of the town of Lewes instead of the county of Sussex, as under the old acts. The election of all kinds of officers was also authorized by the new charter, the exercise of which provisions has greatly benefited the town.

It appears from the assessment-roll of 1873 that there were then living within the bounds of Lewes three hundred and thirty-nine white, and fifty-four colored persons, liable to taxation, and the amounts carried into the treasury by all sources aggregated $1034.56. The expenditures the corresponding period were $126.70, in excess of the receipts. In 1886 there were five hundred white and one hundred colored taxables, and the amounts expended in carrying on the affairs of the town were $1768.04.

In December, 1887, the Principal Officers of the town of Lewes were:

Edward Duffle, President
Henry C. Maul, Secretary
Charles H. Maul, Treasurer
Commissioners
Robert Wiltbank, W. P. Nicholas, William Scott,
Joseph Truxton, Charles M. Marshall, William Virden,
Jacob Prettyman, G. W. Joseph, Edward D. Kitchen, T. C. Maul

The growth and improvement of Lewes have not been eventful. In 1721 it was reported as "a large and handsome town on the banks of the Delaware." Five years later there were fifty-eight families at this place, and fifteen at Quakertown. In 1807 the place had about eighty buildings, and that number was not much increased until after the civil war. Twelve years after that event, in which period the railroad was built, one hundred and fifty new houses had been added, and the population was estimated at eighteen hundred. In 1887 there were within the corporate limits about two thousand souls, five churches, a fine union school, a hotel, and about thirty places of business, including a telegraph office established in 1852.

Nearly all the buildings at Lewes are of wood, the walls being covered with shingles, which give greater protection against the driving and severe storms that sometimes prevail here, than when they are weather boarded in the usual way. A number of land marks in these old houses, of the last century, notably the homes of the Rodneys, remain and give evidence of the comfort they must have afforded their inmates when much of this country was still in a primeval condition. Others have been replaced by mansions of modem architecture, but only one is of stone. This is the house of Frank Burton, built in 1880, out of granite belgian- blocks recovered from a wreck near the Breakwater.

The improvements on Delaware Bay have been closely associated with the industrial history of Lewes. It is a matter of tradition that the British Government built a good light-house on Cape Henlopen, as early as 1725. The stone used in its construction were carried up Lewes Creek, whose course, at that time, was much farther to the eastward, and the walls were seven feet in thickness. The tower was octagonal in shape, and being built on level ground was raised seven stories high. A dwelling for the keeper and other buildings were attached. In the course of years the shifting sands completely covered the latter, and formed a high mound on a spot which had originally been flat. Jacob Hargis is remembered as one of the early keepers. During the Revolutionary War the inside, or the wood-work of this light-house, was burned by the British. For the benefit of this light-house, two hundred acres of land, on the cape, were ordered to be surveyed, November 27, 1763, by John Penn, and in the same month, commissioners were appointed by the provisional government of Pennsylvania to raise a fund by subscription, and by a lottery to maintain a light and buoys at the mouth of Delaware Bay. This light and its surroundings, have, with the interruption in the Revolution, since been kept up, but in a much improved condition. The light-houses on Green Hill and on the breakwaters have been erected in more recent years. The breakwater in Delaware Bay, opposite Lewes, is the most important improvement of the kind in the United States. The early history of this work is given elsewhere in the chapter on "internal improvements." It is a massive work of granite masonry, two thousand eight hundred feet long, exclusive of the Ice Breaker, above it, which is seventeen hundred feet long. The first material used, was brought from the North River, but most of the rock was afterwards obtained in New Castle County. It was more than forty years in construction, and cost nearly two and a quarter million of dollars. For the purpose of improving the channel of the Bay near the Delaware shore, it was ordered that the gap between the two pieces of masonry be filled up and that work was begun in 1883. The breakwater has been of incalculable benefit to the navigation of Delaware Bay and the coastwise trade, affording protection to thousands of vessels yearly; as many as one hundred vessels have found shelter behind its friendly walls in a single storm and the calamities to navigators on this dangerous coast, have through this means been very much diminished. In 1880, the Government established a marine signal station on the inner works, where the Maritime Exchange also maintains an office from which the passage of vessels through the bay is noted by a submarine telegraph.

A number of wrecks have occurred off the coast of Cape Henlopen, but one of the most important was the sinking of the brig "De Braak," May 2, 1798, with nearly all its crew and a large amount of specie on board. The "De Braak" was in command of Captain James Drew, a bold Irish seaman, who set sail in January, 1798, with letters of marque and reprisal from the English Government, against Napoleon and his allies. The vessel was equipped with a dozen brass cannon and carried a crew of thirty-eight officers and men. After cruising in southern waters several months, the "De Braak" approached the American shore laden with the fruits of its victories over the enemy and having in tow the Spanish galleon, "La Platte." Taking on a Lewes pilot by the name of Andrew Allen, she was approaching shore for the purpose of getting a supply of fresh water, at Lewes, when not heeding an approaching storm, a gust of wind struck the full sheeted vessel and capsized her, carrying down the captain, the entire crew and fifteen prisoners. The pilot and twenty-five men were picked up alive, and the body of Captain Drew was recovered three days later and was buried in the cemetery of St. Peter's Church at Lewes, where a monument yet marks the place. The prize treasures of the "De Braak" are said to have been (for those times) fabulous, consisting of gold, silver and diamonds, in coins and metals, amounting to millions of dollars. The stories of this unknown wealth have become a part of the traditions of this coast and their recital has encouraged many efforts to raise the wreck which have not yet been successful.

About 1806 Gilbert McCracken, a partner of Pilot Allen, set the bearings of the wreck which have served as guides for these operations. They indicated a spot about a mile from the breakwater, where a mound in the water at a depth of twenty-seven feet, is described. This is supposed to contain the treasure trove, and efforts to uncover them were systematically begun in the summer of 1887, by the International Submarine company of Philadelphia and Dr. S. Pancoast, also of that city, acting under the authority of the National Government. The favorable progress of the work before the close of the season has inspired confidence in the ultimate success of the enterprise.

Half a mile above the Cape's End a United States Life-Saving station was opened in March, 1882, and placed in charge of Captain J. A. Clampitt. It is the upper of a series of four stations on the coast from the Bay to the Indian River Inlet, the entire distance being patrolled. The appointments of the stations are first-class, and it has rendered good service to distressed vessels.

In July, 1884, the United States Marine Hospital Service established a quarantine at Lewes, having in service the steamer "Tench Coxe," with Dr. G. W. Stoner as quarantine surgeon. In October the same year a hospital was erected near the point of the Cape, which was placed in the care of Dr. W. P. Orr, as assistant-surgeon, and all foreign vessels were boarded before entering the Bay. In 1885 the hospital treated several cases of yellow fever, and since that time others, infected with epidemic diseases, have been placed in the hospital, which has accommodation for twenty patients. Dr. Orr has had as assistants in this hospital work, during quarantine season (from May until November), in 1866, Dr. Joseph M. Brockerhoof; and, in 1887, Dr. Harbeson Hickman.

A large number of pilots on the Delaware reside at Lewes, and it has been the home of many of that class of people for more than two hundred years. Minister Griffith, of the Friends' Society, who visited this section in 1765, wrote: "We made Cape Henlopen and a pilot came on board who proved to be a native Indian." Some of the white pilots carried on other occupations, and they have always been among the prominent citizens of the town.

Before the Revolution, Bailey Art, David Johnson, Henry Fisher and others were pilots at this place. Later, pilots Allen and McCracken lived here; and after 1800, the occupation appears to have been confined almost entirely to persons bearing the names of Connell, Clampitt, Rowland, Maull, Howard, West, Marshall, Wesley, Chambers and Virden. Members of the latter family have been very successful in this occupation, and through their influence a beneficial system of pilot laws for the Delaware have been secured by legislative enactment. In 1872, thirty pilots resided at Lewes, Thomas Roland, aged eighty-three years, being the oldest. In 1887 nearly double that number of pilots claimed Lewes as their home, and nearly half the business on the Delaware was controlled by them. They are an active, intelligent, enterprising class of men, and have many substantial improvements in Lewes.

In the infancy of Lewes, the Creek afforded a good channel for the navigation of sloops and schooners and as good timber grew in the contiguous country, ship-building became an industry of considerable importance.

Some of the first English inhabitants were ship-carpenters, a fact which was recognized by naming one of the streets of the town after them. Among these early mechanics of whom any account has been preserved, were John and William Beverly and John Brown, all of whom carried on that occupation prior to 1685. Later well-known boat-builders were John and Peter Maull, who had a yard at Pilot Town, where they built the last boat in 1866, for Nathaniel Hickman. Peter and Cato Lewis, colored men also built boats there. After the decline of that interest here a number of ship-carpenters removed to Milford. In 1879, F. C. Maull built a small schooner at the wharf below the Market Street Bridge, and John Paynter built one in 1883, which were among the last of note-worthy size built at this place, as the channel of the creek has been filling up so rapidly in recent yean that navigation on it has been suspended. Abraham Wiltbank had a wharf on the creek as early as 1735.

Nathaniel Hickman was one of the most enterprising vessel-owners of the town a score of years ago and since 1879, A. L. Burton has been actively engaged in the shipping business. In 1887 he owned a fleet of four schooners, and chartered others as his business demanded. The products shipped were the general freight of the railroad, laden from the pier of the company, and employment was given to about thirty men.

The first pier into the Bay was a wooden mole built by the Government, in 1838. This stood above the railroad pier and having become worm eaten was swept away by the tide. In 1851, a new pier was built for a Company running boats from Lewes to Philadelphia. The Steamer "St. Nicholas" was purchased and placed on this line and for a time business was very brisk, as this means of travel was a decided improvement on the stage coach across the country. Lewes then became the terminus of Stage lines from Milford and Snow Hill. Many excursions were brought to Lewes which also now came into notice as a sea-side resort. In the fall of 1855, the steamboat was taken off, and, in the spring of 1857, a part of the pier was destroyed by the breaking away of the ice in the Bay. The railroad pier was commenced in 1869, and has been used since 1870. In the later year a line of steamers began to ply to New York, among the boats being the "Washington," "Granite State," "W. N. Coit" and others, owned by the "Old Dominion Line." For a number of years a large traffic was done, both in carrying freight and passengers, but the absorption of the railway by the Pennsylvania System caused the steamers in 1885, to be withdrawn. The railroad (Junction and Breakwater) was completed to Lewes in November, 1869, and after January 1, 1870, trains were regularly run. In the spring of 1883, this branch was consolidated with other lines, under the name of the Delaware, Maryland and Virginia Railroad. Repair shops were removed to Georgetown in 1884, and soon after transferred to Wilmington. Their location at Lewes greatly increased the population, and their removal, together with the abandonment of the lines of steamers, seriously affected the commercial prosperity of the town.

In 1870, Congress appropriated two hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars for the construction of an iron pier, off the land of the Cape, into the ocean, and the following year work upon the same was commenced. Additional appropriations have since been made, and, with some interruption, the work of its construction has been continued to the present time.

It is intended for the use of the Government in cases of emergency, or when navigation on the Delaware should become obstructed. The structure is very substantial, more than half a million dollars having been expended on it, and is about two thousand feet long. In 1884, the railroad track from Lewes to the pier was graded.

Near the iron pier factories for extracting the oil from menhaden and other fish were erected in 1883, by Luce Brothers and S. S. Brown & Co. The buildings stand on ground leased from the commissioners of Lewes and are well fitted up. Four steamers and several hundred men are employed in carrying on the business. 

Footnote:
1. Formerly called Horekill Creek.
2. Corrupted thence to Hore Kill.
3. At that time the month of the creek was nearer town by three miles than in 1887.
4. Lewes it also the name of a town in Sussex County, England.
5. Owned by Simon Kollock in 1723.

Lewes Historical | Sussex County

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

 
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