The Delaware Historical Society’s Response to Covid-19

MARCH 27, 2020 – The Delaware Historical Society is temporarily closed to the public as a precaution related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

All scheduled programs and events have been cancelled or postponed. We are committed to supporting the nation’s efforts to control the spread of the virus, and will continue to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and state health organizations.

In the meantime, we encourage you to stay connected with us online through our social media channels.

Just as in similar crises we have faced throughout history, this is an opportunity for us to rise to the occasion. One day, we will look back and remember how we came together as a community, in our nation, and across the world. Our contributions may appear inconsequential on the surface—but every small act of not doing, or helping another, will ripple through Delaware and the nation.

While the Delaware History Museum, Mitchell Center, Research Library, and Read House are closed, our staff is still at work fulfilling our mission to preserve, promote, and share Delaware’s history. We look forward to resuming full operations.

Thank you.

David W. Young, Ph.D.

Executive Director

Delaware Historical Society and the Mitchell Center Statement on Racial Justice

June 2, 2020 – The Delaware Historical Society and The Jane and Littleton Mitchell Center for African American Heritage stand in solidarity with the African American community and everyone who seeks truth and jus-
tice. The state’s history demonstrates in each county and every century that systemic racism is so deeply rooted it cannot be avoided and must be addressed. We have not done enough to confront these issues, but we are prepared to do the hard work required to honestly address America’s history of racial injustice—to face history and ourselves.

We recognize that our community must see by our actions–and not just our words–that we are ded-
icated to addressing racism, injustice, inequity and the history of what has caused them. To date, Del-
aware Historical Society staff has participated in training on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. We have rewritten and published our mission and vision statements, and are in the process of writing our core
values to reflect our commitment to serve our community.

Visit our website,, and follow us on social media as we share resources for educators and
anyone seeking to learn more about social justice and racism, hold space for dialogue, and reflect on
our collections and the history we preserve and share.

@dehistory | @readhouseandgardens | @MitchellCenterAfricanAmericanHeritageDHS
@delawarehistoricalsociety | @readhouseandgardens | @delawarehistoryvault
@thisisdehistory | @MCAAH_DHS

Delaware Historical Society Receives grant to Conserve Historic Sampler

December 19, 2019–  With funding from the Delaware Valley Historic Sampler Guild, the Delaware Historical Society (DHS) will conserve a historic sampler from its collection.

The oval sampler depicting flowers and a Bible verse was stitched in England by Ann Butler Danby in 1802, when she was 11-years-old.

“We are extremely excited to be getting this opportunity to undertake some much-needed conservation work on this piece” said Jennifer Potts, Curator of Objects at DHS. “Our sampler collection is one of our most popular and appreciated collections, and has been researched, published, exhibited, and formally documented as part of the nationally recognized Sampler Archive Project.”

Samplers have a long been utilized to record different types of stitches and patterns, with the oldest surviving European examples dating from the 16th and 17th centuries. By the late 1700s, a sampler was often an important component of the needlework curriculums at women’s academies, which emerged to mold young girls into good marriage prospects.  By the time Ann Butler took her needle to cloth in 1802, samplers were a well acknowledged way to for a young girl to demonstrate literacy, virtue and industry.

Danby’s sampler is done on a wool ground, which is quite common for English-made samplers, but its oval shape is somewhat unusual. Another attractive feature is the more naturalistic, free-flowing florals ringing the carefully-stitched verse, rather than the more geometric flowers often seen as borders.

The Danby sampler is one of only three English-made samplers in the DHS collection of 42 samplers; reminders of America’s immigrant heritage.  “We are thrilled that our historical collections can also connect to such contemporary topics as women’s history and the immigrant story in Delaware,” said Potts.

Currently tied together to keep the frame from falling apart, conservation efforts will include stabilizing the mid-19th century walnut frame and installing a new, conservation-grade backing that will stop acids from the wood leaching onto the fabric and turning it dark brown.

In addition to being part of sampler history, the Danby sampler also has local historical significance.  The Danby family has deep roots in Wilmington. Ann Butler became the wife of John Danby (1788-1857), an English-born Wilmington cooper who made barrels for the Dupont Company. John and Ann left England to seek new opportunities in America, where they raised their family of seven children, one of whom, Robert, served as First Assistant Engineer on Commodore Matthew Perry’s famous 1853/54 naval expedition to Japan, which eventually opened the country up to trade with the West. In addition to being one of the older samplers in the DHS collection, is also part of a larger collection of Danby family material ranging from the 1820s to the 1960s.

The conservation project is expected to begin in January 2020 and Potts hopes that the conservation will open the sampler up to being more available for display and programmatic purposes than it currently is.

Partnership Formed to Research Unequal Justice in Delaware

]November 14, 2019 – A project to unearth the forgotten and unknown instances of unequal justice in the First State is underway through the Delaware Historical Society’s Jane and Littleton Mitchell Center for African American Heritage, the University of Delaware, Delaware State University, and the Delaware Social Justice Remembrance Coalition.

The project, “Unequal Justice in Delaware – Rewriting the Narrative,” will explore the history of racial violence, remembrance, and social justice throughout Delaware’s history and across all three counties.  The project will merge rigorous academic research from various higher education departments with grassroots community engagement and activism.

“The University of Delaware is extremely excited to be a partner in this important project,” said James Jones, Director of the University’s Center for the Study of Diversity, which is coordinating UD’s participation.  “The talent, dedication and expertise of our community is a natural and important source of support for this valuable effort to better understand Delaware’s racial history and to raise awareness and implement reforms to guide us toward a more just society for all Delawareans.”

Support for the project at UD, said Jones, will include the Provost, and broad engagement from faculty, students and staff in the Morris Library, Africana Studies, History Department, Department of Sociology, Office of Community Engagement, School of Education, and the School for Public Policy and Administration.

The stories revealed through research and public engagement events will be brought to light through oral and digital histories, as well as curriculum development.  The project will also explore how research and public engagement can inform policy.  It is inspired by Bryan Stevenson’s groundbreaking work with the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, AL.

Wide participation is also planned at Delaware State University (DSU), said Dr. Akwasi Osei, Associate Dean of the College of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences and Director of the Global Societies.  “This joint effort on Delaware History will bring together faculty, staff, students, and others to contribute to the further edification of all of Delaware and the nation,” said Dr. Osei.  “It will go to show that despite our current ‘tribalism,’ we have always been in this together, and will continue to be.”

Dr. Osei said the project will help tell the American story. “That magic moment, well over two hundred years ago, when we declared the basic humanity of all is perhaps the greatest moment in that history,” he said. “That we have to ‘rewrite’ the narrative of the actual unfolding of that story is indicative of how rocky the journey has been.”

The partnership also includes the Delaware Social Justice Remembrance Coalition. “The Delaware Social Justice Coalition (DSJC) is thrilled to be a part of this collaborative that will continue the work of illuminating and memorializing past incidents of racial terror in the state of Delaware,” said Amy Shepherd, an officer of DSJC.  “We appreciate our state’s willingness to understand how such incidents have impacted life as we know it today and we look forward to Delaware’s propulsion toward becoming a leader in changing the narrative around race and poverty, as Bryan Stevenson urges.”

A website for the project is currently under development, which will be essential for the progress of the historical initiative and dissemination of the narratives it yields.

For questions about the project, contact Stephanie Lampkin, Director of the Jane and Littleton Mitchell Center for African American Heritage, at

Exhibit of Delawarena Opening Oct.1 at Delaware History Museum

October 2019 – In a series of five culminating exhibits, the Delaware Historical Society (DHS) will reveal highlights from the Paul Preston Davis Collection of Delawareana, an important and vast collection of rare business trade cards, photography, African Americana, rare print materials, and commemorative objects.

Mr. Paul Preston Davis, a retired Delmarva Power executive, spent more than four decades collecting the thousands of items he generously donated to DHS in late 2018.  Much of  “Collecting Wilmington: Place, Perspective & Memory” relates to Wilmington businesses during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The collection covers five specific areas and includes:

  • Roughly 12,000 pieces of Wilmington business ephemera (items of collectible memorabilia, usually paper, that were originally expected to have only short-term usefulness or popularity)
  • More than 7,000 rare and early photographs, including the works of most major 19th century Wilmington photographers.
  • 230 one-of-a-kind objects and artifacts, ranging from small commemorative and promotional items to a box of beautiful 19th century pocket watches from Delaware watchmakers.
  • 40 boxes of African Americana from around the state and Civil War Delawareana that will be added to the collection by late 2020.

“The depth and breadth of the collection is stunning, but that is only part of what makes it so unique,” said DHS Chief Curator Leigh Rifenburg. “Mr. Davis cared so deeply for his collection that he took the time to store each item in archival quality materials. Organized and preserved over four decades with the needs of future researchers in mind, the collection represents the dedication of a meticulous collector with a uniquely focused collecting philosophy.”

The collection is important on many levels. It reveals a fascinating and often complex picture of 19th century Wilmington life, including materials from multiple communities, businesses, and social organizations. It highlights businesses owned by women and immigrants, and how gender, race, and ethnicity were represented in early advertising.

So voluminous is the collection, that the DHS will reveal major sections in a series of unveilings at the Delaware History Museum, 504 N. Market St., Wilmington. Each portion of the collection will remain on display as subsequent reveals are held. The dates are as follows:

  • Reveal 1: Business Ephemera, October 1, 2019
  • Reveal 2: Rare Books and Print Materials, November 14, 2019
  • Reveal 3: Sheet Music, January 14, 2020
  • Reveal 4: Watches and Commemorative Objects, March 3, 2020
  • Reveal 5: Wilmington Photography,  May 6, 2020

The vast collection fills notable gaps in DHS existing collections, said Rifenburg. For instance, until now, there were only three known tintype images of African Americans in the DHS image collection. The Davis Collection includes an entire album.

While cause for celebration, the massive collection required six staff members, one moving van, 75 crates, and 3,000 feet of bubble wrap to pack and transport to its new, permanent home at DHS.

Mr. Davis’s collecting journey began at age nine with an unusual gift…an 18th century ledger from Philadelphia passed down by his aunt. Even as he collected comic books and baseball cards with his friends, Davis recognized the ledger’s significance. Later, while serving in the Coast Guard during the Korean War, he gravitated to book shops and flea markets during his days off in port. Back in Delaware, his collecting began in earnest with a focus on children’s books and materials related to famed illustrator Howard Pyle.

During the 1960s, while rising through the ranks at Delmarva Power, Davis shifted his energies to focus on Wilmington business ephemera. He often traveled to Lancaster, PA, a regional hub for paper collecting, and developed relationships with dealers throughout the Delaware Valley. Over the next four decades, he built a collection of ephemera that reveals the development of Wilmington during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

In conjunction with the exhibits, the Delaware Historical Society has planned evening programs to explore segments of the collection, with hands-on activities that relate to the collection. Additional programs will be announced at a later date. Scheduled programs include:

  • Art in Advertising: Business Ephemera

With the development of chromolithography and the ability to reproduce multicolor artwork quickly and inexpensively, the late 19th century saw an emergence of trade cards as a form of advertising. This collection of a wide variety of trade cards exemplifies the enthusiasm with which Wilmington businesses embraced this popular form of marketing. What can trade cards tell us about life in Wilmington during the 19th century? Join us as we explore Wilmington business history and reimagine trade cards for the 21st century.

October 1, 6 p.m., $5 to cover cost of materials.

  • The Process of Preservation: Rare Books

In 1761 printer James Adams, set up shop in Delaware and printed his first four items – two books, a pamphlet, and a broadside. Examples of Adams’ work in this collection can tell us much about technology, print culture, business and industry, and the dissemination of information in Wilmington during the early republic. Join Book Restorer and Conservation Technician, Domonique Alesi for a talk about the importance and process of preserving rare books. Hands-on demonstration included.

Domonique Alesi attended the University of the Arts, where she studied Illustration and Book Arts and learned artistic bindings and techniques. She has also apprenticed under David Donahue of David Donahue Book Restoration Studio in Philadelphia.

November 14, 6 p.m., $5 to cover cost of materials.


Reservations for evening programs are requested, but not required. To register for the October 1, 2019 event, please call (302) 656-0637 or email Siri Nesheim at The Delaware History Museum is open Wednesdays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m

Delaware Historical Society Names New Director of Mitchell Center

August 20, 2019 – The Delaware Historical Society (DHS) has selected an expert in African American and Native American history as the next director of the Jane and Littleton Mitchell Center for African American Heritage, located within the Delaware History Museum.

Stephanie Lampkin, who most recently served as the Museum Collections Manager at the Science History Institute in Philadelphia, has worked as an historian and museum professional for more than eight years, formerly serving as an educator and Curatorial Assistant at the George Read House & Gardens, which is owned by the DHS. She begins her post in late April.

“On behalf of the board and staff of the Delaware Historical Society and the advisory of the Mitchell Center for African American Heritage, I am delighted to bring a person with Dr. Lampkin’s skills, expertise, and experience to be the Director of the Center for African American Heritage,” said Dr. David Young, DHS Executive Director. “We conducted a wide search and spoke with many promising candidates, but Dr. Lampkin’s scholarship and familiarity with Delaware’s diverse history makes her the ideal choice to continue the Center’s work to bring African American history to wider recognition and educational impact.”

Ms. Lampkin holds a B.A. in History & Ethnic Studies from Cornell College, and a master’s degree with a Museum Studies certificate, and Ph.D. from the University of Delaware. As an history instructor at the University of Delaware she designed a class website for students to access numerous sources on early history of Africa, China and India.

She served as Chair of the Conference Committee for the Small Museum Association’s 2019 annual conference, was involved with the American Alliance of Museum’s (AAM) Advocacy Day and the Philadelphia Cultural Alliance’s #SaveTheArts advocacy campaigns.
Volunteer activities by Ms. Lampkin include serving on the Collections and Exhibitions Committee at the African American Museum of Philadelphia and as a board member for the Association for Registrars and Collections Specialists.

Ms. Lampkin said what attracted her to working at the Mitchell center most is the opportunity to engage with the community that is the focus of the center.

“I am eager to engage with members of the local community and make the rich and varied African American experiences and stories front and center in the history of Delaware,” she said.  “As director of the Jane and Littleton Mitchell Center for African American Heritage, I look forward to continue offering engaging programs and events while developing deeper partnerships with colleagues across the state.”

The Delaware Historical Society’s 2019 Delaware History Makers Award

The Delaware Historical Society’s
2019 Delaware History Makers Award

Transforming Delaware through Philanthropy

Twelfth Delaware History Makers Award Dinner to be held on May 7, 2019 at the Queen/Delaware History Museum

Wilmington, DE April 22, 2019 – The Delaware History Makers Award recognizes individuals and/or entities that have made extraordinary and lasting contributions to the quality of life in Delaware, our nation, or the world. The theme for the 2019 program is Transforming Delaware through Philanthropy.

In its twelfth year, the Delaware History Makers Award Committee has chosen to recognize Gerret and Tatiana Copeland for their longstanding commitment and unmatched generosity towards numerous nonprofit organizations in Delaware and the surrounding region. For more than three decades, the Copelands have made transformational contributions that have had wide-ranging impact on the community. The Copelands’ vision and their commitment to animal welfare, art, education, healthcare, history, music, and the environment are exemplified by their loyal support of countless organizations, including:

Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art, Brandywine Valley SPCA, Canine Partners for Life, Christiana Care Health System, Delaware Art Museum, Delaware Center for Horticulture, Delaware College of Art and Design, Delaware Historical Society, Delaware Humane Association, Delaware Symphony Orchestra, Delaware Theater Company, Fund for Women at the Delaware Community Foundation, Girl Scouts of the Chesapeake Bay, The Grand Opera House, Kalmar Nyckel Foundation, Longwood Foundation, Longwood Gardens, Mt. Cuba Center for Piedmont Flora, Multiplying Good (formerly the Jefferson Awards Foundation), OperaDelaware, Planned Parenthood of Delaware, Stockings for Soldiers, Tatnall School, and the University of Delaware.

The Copelands have contributed their time, counsel, and resources, and their magnanimity has rippled through every aspect of our community, enhancing the quality of life for everyone in the region. The Copelands embody the spirit of the Delaware History Makers Award by making extraordinary and lasting contributions to the quality of life in Delaware.

The Delaware History Makers Award Ceremony begins at The Queen, 500 N. Market Street at 6 p.m. The Copeland String Quartet will give a short performance before the Award presentation. Following the ceremony, guests will walk next door to the Delaware History Museum and Old Town Hall to celebrate with live entertainment, wine and beer, wine and food pairings, and buffet dinner.

All proceeds from the event support the Delaware Historical Society’s award-winning educational programs and exhibitions. For tickets go to

The Delaware History Makers Award began in 2007 and annually recognize individuals who have made extraordinary and lasting contributions to the quality of life in Delaware, our nation, and the world. Past honorees include: Ed and Peggy Woolard, Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., Toni Young, The Hon. Pete du Pont, Ken Burns, Harold R. “Tubby” Raymond, Dr. Carol Hoffecker, Rev. Roberto Balducelli, Rev. Canon Lloyd Casson, Ellen Kullman, The Hon. Michael N. Castle, Bryan Stevenson, Rod Ward III, The Hon. Andre Bouchard, and Sam and Mariah Calagione.

DHS Welcomes Dr. David W. Young As Executive Director

The Delaware Historical Society has announced that David W. Young, Ph.D., has been hired as the next Executive Director of the organization, following a months-long national search.

Dr. Young has served as Executive Director of Cliveden, a National Trust for Historic Preservation property in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, since 2006. The innovative and collaborative programming he developed for Cliveden, the Revolutionary-era home of the Benjamin Chew family, engages both the war for independence and the struggle for emancipation. It has been supported by grants from Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, and the National Endowment for Humanities, among many others, and has received state and national awards. Dr. Young has also served as president of Historic Germantown, a consortium of independent historic sites united to promote and preserve the shared stories of the neighborhood as a community.

Prior to his tenure at Cliveden, Dr. Young was the Executive Director of the Johnson House Historic Site, one the few intact stops on the Underground Railroad, and of the Salem County Historical Society in Salem, New Jersey. He also served as Director of Education at the Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia History. Dr. Young received his Doctoral and Master of Arts degrees in History from Ohio State University and his Bachelor of Arts in German Studies from Northwestern University. He is a member of the National Landmarks Committee, an advisory board of the National Park Service. He has served as a lecturer in the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design and is the author of books and articles on public history and historical interpretation.

“We are enthusiastic about Dr. Young’s leadership of the Delaware Historical Society” said Margaret L. Laird, Chair of the DHS Board of Trustees. “We were overwhelmed by the number and extremely high caliber of the individuals who expressed an interest in this position. The selection was challenging in every way, but we were unanimous in our agreement that Dr. Young’s unique combination of skills and experience is an excellent fit for the strategic direction we have laid out for the Delaware Historical Society.”

Young said, “I am eager to build on the great work of the board and staff of the Delaware Historical Society and to continue my interests in the history of the Mid-Atlantic region by engaging audiences, members, and communities statewide to showcase the powerful stories Delaware has to offer.”

Dr. Young will begin his work at the Delaware Historical Society at the end of June.

DHS Announces Delaware Burial Site Discovery

Avery’s Rest Reveals New Evidence of Lives in Colonial Delaware

What began as a survey before proposed development in 2005, turned into one of the most significant archeological discoveries in Delaware. In a packed press conference held at the Rehoboth Historical Society on December 6, 2017 Secretary of State Jeff Bullock introduced the panel of speakers including Tim Slavin, Historical and Cultural Affairs, Dan Griffith, Archeology Society of Delaware, Dr. Owsley, Head, Division of Physical Anthropology at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and Dr. Angela Winand, Head, Mitchell Center for African American Heritage & Diversity Programs.

Dan Griffith, who first mapped the site in 1976 as a possible place of historic significance, outlined the progression of discovery at Avery’s Rest, now located on land owned by Mr. and Mrs. Waymon Harmon, whom Griffith and the rest of the panel thanked for their permission to excavate the site. Griffith also noted how the soil played an important part in pin-pointing the age of the burials as well as providing new details about the lives of these early settlers of Delaware.

Dr. Douglas Owsley gave a detailed description of the testing that he and his Smithsonian team have begun and the exciting details they’ve uncovered so far. He made clear the stunning significance of the history contained in the well-preserved remains of the eleven mid-17th to early 18th century Delawareans discovered at Avery’s Rest, with bone and DNA analysis confirming three of the burials were people of African descent, born in America.

“You’ve got to love teeth, they tell you so blooming much,” said Dr. Owsley. What those teeth seem to be telling Dr. Owsley and his team is that tooth decay made up 30% of the oral health problems in this small group, some of that decay eventually leading to their undoing. Pipe smoking is clearly evident as well, with all seven of the males showing signs of “pipe facets” in their teeth.

Dr. Angela Winand closed the press conference with the promise of continuing to work with the Archeological Society of Delaware, the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs and the Smithsonian to create an interpretation of the discoveries at the Mitchell Center for African American Heritage. “This archeological discovery is truly exciting,” said Dr. Angela Winand “and reminds us that the ancestors will always make themselves known to us if we listen. The stories of their sacrifices in life and remembrances in death are truly ‘written in bone’ for us to interpret, understand and honor.”


Left to Right: Dan Griffith, ASD, Tim Slavin, HCA, Dr. Owsley, NMNH. Photo by A. Kimball
Detail of “pipe facets” : Photo: Kate D. Sherwood Smithsonian Institution

George Read II House Named a National Historic Landmark

January 12, 2017 – George Read II House Designated a National Historic Landmark. The U.S. Department of the Interior has announced that the George Read II House has been designated a National Historic Landmark. This is Delaware’s 14th National Historic Landmark, and it is now one of approximately 2,500 landmarks nationwide.

The George Read II House, located on The Strand in Historic New Castle, was built between 1797 and 1804 for the son of George Read, Sr., a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. The outstanding Federal-era architecture and interiors, the grounds, and gardens, and extensive archives that document the building and the three families who occupied the residence, make the site invaluable for the study of early American history and culture. Since the Delaware Historical Society opened the Read House & Gardens in 1976, students, scholars, and visitors from around the world have visited and conducted research.

The National Historic Landmarks Program recognizes historic properties of exceptional value to the nation and promotes the preservation efforts of federal, state, and local agencies and Native American tribes, as well as those of private organizations and individuals. The program is one of more than a dozen administered by the National Park Service that provide states and local communities technical assistance, recognition, and funding to help preserve our nation’s shared history and create close-to-home recreation opportunities.

The George Read II House is especially significant in understanding the evolution of American architecture during the early years of the nation. It is a rare survivor that exemplifies the city of Philadelphia where the Federal style was first manifested. The construction of the house is documented in more than 130 letters, drawings, and invoices housed at the Delaware Historical Society’s research library. Related materials dating from the founding fathers to the present day are found in the Society’s extensive collections. More than 1,700 collection items are currently on exhibit in the house.

“The multi-layered history of the Read House and countless stories of the people who lived and worked there, help reveal the complexity of early American life and contribute to our understanding of the history and culture of Delaware, the mid-Atlantic, and the nation,” said Michele Anstine, Assistant CEO and Chief Program Officer of the Delaware Historical Society.

About the Delaware Historical Society The Delaware Historical Society owns and operates the Delaware History Museum; the Jane and Littleton Mitchell Center for African American Heritage; a nationally recognized Research Library; Old Town Hall; Willingtown Square, four 18thcentury houses surrounding a picturesque urban courtyard located in downtown Wilmington; and the Read House & Gardens, a National Historic Landmark. For more information, call (302) 655-7161, email or visit