Written on: August 28th, 2014 in News
On Aug. 17, 2014, The Old State House in Dover, Del. held a public program in conjunction with a reunion of the Summers family. Thirty-eight family members, from across the United States, attended the program which featured tours of the museum and a special presentation that recounted the story of three Summers family ancestors.
Confirmed by historical documents, the presentation explored the manumission (granting of freedom) of two slave children—Ruth and Thomas Summers—which took place in 1797 in the Kent County Recorder of Deeds office, located in what is now called The Old State House. The children were manumitted by their own father, James Summers, a free African American, who had obtained them from their former owner. Following the presentation, historic-site interpreter Tom Pulmano, dressed in period clothing, gave a living-history performance in which he portrayed Vincent Summers, youngest son of James Summers, who discussed the ordeals faced by his family.
Every August, Summers family descendants gather in Delaware to renew ties and celebrate their family’s rich and continually unfolding history. Since the 1990s, The Old State House has presented public programs on the Summers’ manumission story which have been attended by family members as well as members of the general public. During the Aug. 17 program, Virginia Harris, a Summers descendant from Kent County, Del. noted that her relatives “look forward to this [The Old State House] event every year.”
A small Old State House display, presented in the very room where the event occurred, features the following text from the manumission document:
To all to whom these presents Shall come I James Summers of Murderkill Hundred in the County of Kent and State of Delaware free negro, send Greeting Know Ye that I the said James Summers for divers Considerations me especially moving do manumit Liberate and set at full Liberty: and by these presents doth manumit liberate and set at full Liberty my affectionate Children namely Thomas Summers who is now aged about five years, and Ruth Summers aged Seven years on or about the twenty fifth day of December next ensuing the date hereof: And I the said James Summers doth covenant promise grant and agree to and with the said Thomas Summers, and Ruth Summers that they the said Thomas Summers and Ruth Summers liberated as aforsd. Shall from and immediately after the date of these presents enjoy their Freedom as Other Free Citizens Can or ought to do, and that they or either of them shall not at any time hereafter be molested or bared by the said James Summers his Executors administrators or any other person. And I the said James Summers the said Thomas & Ruth hereby manumitted liberated and set at Liberty against himself the said James Summers, and his Heirs Executors and administrators, and against all other persons whatsoever claiming the said Thomas & Ruth or either of them shall and will warrant and defend by these presents. In Witness whereof I the said James Summers have set my Hand & Seal this fourteenth day of October Anno domini 1797.
sealed & delivd in presence of James + Summers
us S. W. Wilson John Lowber mark
On Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Wesley College in Dover, Del. will host a symposium on the life and military career of Allen McLane, the noted American patriot from Duck Creek (Smyrna), Del.
Speakers will include John A. Nagy, author of “Spies in the Continental Capital: Espionage Across Pennsylvania During the American Revolution”; Glenn F. Williams, a historian at the US Army Center of Military History and author of “Year of the Hangman: George Washington’s Campaign Against the Iroquois”; retired Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs curator of archaeology Chuck Fithian; Michael Lloyd, long-term McLane researcher; Edith McLane Edson, McLane descendant and writer; and historian Robert Selig. Living-history performances will be provided by the First Delaware Regiment and by Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs historical interpreter Tom Welch who will portray McLane. Delaware State University professor Samuel Hoff will serve as master of ceremonies.
The symposium will take place in Wesley College’s Peninsula Room, located in the du Pont College Center at 120 N. State St. in Dover, Del. Admission is free and open to the public but pre-registration is strongly encouraged by calling 302-632-1803 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Lunch is available for $10. All participants will receive a free copy of the booklet, “Allen McLane—Patriot, Soldier, Spy, Port Collector,” which has been written by a team of scholars, researchers and historians, each of whom has a unique perspective on the McLane story.
Primary sponsorship of the Allen McLane symposium is provided by the Caesar Rodney Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, the Delaware Historical Society, the Northern Delaware American Revolution Round Table, the Society of the Cincinnati and the Wesley College History Department.
Additional sponsorship is provided by the Claymont Historical Society, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, the Duck Creek Historical Society, the First Delaware Regiment, the Friends of Belmont Hall and the Friends of the Delaware Public Archives. Financial support is provided by gifts from Troy Foxwell, Claudia Onkean, Ginger Trader and Thomas Welch.
About Allen McLane …
Allen McLane (1746-1829) of Duck Creek Hundred served in the House of Assembly from Kent County in 1785 and 1789. He participated in numerous battles during the American Revolutionary War and worked closely with Gen. George Washington at Valley Forge. He was a member of the Delaware Convention that ratified the U.S. Constitution. Later in life, he moved from Kent County to Wilmington, serving as collector of the customs for many years. He belonged to the Society of the Cincinnati, the Masonic order and was a member of the Methodist Church. His will began with the sentence, “I, Allen McLane, of the Borough of Wilmington, in the State of Delaware, Collector of the Customs of the United States for the Delaware District, and a friend and soldier of the American Revolution … .” His son, Louis McLane, became a U.S. representative, senator, secretary of state, secretary of the treasury and minister to England.
EXHIBIT CLOSED Dec. 7, 2014
The Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs has announced that the closing date for “An Illegal Activity: The Underground Railroad in Delaware” has been extended to Dec. 7, 2014. The exhibit, on display at the First State Heritage Park Welcome Center and Galleries, located at 121 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Dover, Del., has been open since Oct. 16, 2013 and was scheduled to close on July 31, 2014. Operating hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday, 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Admission is free. For additional information, call 302-744-5055.
Planned and created by the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs in partnership with the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway Management Organization and the Underground Railroad Coalition of Delaware, the exhibit explores the First State’s role in the pre-Civil War network of secret routes and safe houses used by black slaves in the United States to escape to free states and Canada with the aid of abolitionists and allies who were sympathetic to their cause. Focusing on two Delawareans who played important roles in this illegal and clandestine enterprise—Samuel D. Burris and Thomas Garrett—the exhibit explores the actions of a number of brave people who made principled decisions to follow their consciences rather than what they viewed as the unjust laws of the state and nation.
About Samuel D. Burris …
Born on Oct. 16, 1813 in the Willow Grove area near Dover, Del., Samuel D. Burris was the educated son of George Burris, a free-black man. As a conductor on the Underground Railroad, Samuel D. Burris is known to have successfully led several enslaved people from Maryland and Delaware to freedom. After an 1847 attempt to bring a young woman, Maria Matthews, out of Kent County, Del. to Pennsylvania, Burris was found guilty of aiding in the escape of a slave and was fined, sentenced to prison and thereafter sentenced to be sold into slavery. After being “purchased” for $500 by Wilmington abolitionist, Isaac S. Flint, he was taken to Philadelphia where he was reunited with his wife, children and friends. He continued to work for the abolitionist cause until his death in San Francisco in 1863.
About Thomas Garrett …
Thomas Garrett was born on Aug. 21, 1789 to a prominent Quaker family in Upper Darby, Pa. After moving to Wilmington, Del. where he was an iron merchant, Garrett operated as the stationmaster on the last stop of the Underground Railroad in Delaware, collaborating with a number of noted conductors including Harriet Tubman and Samuel D. Burris. He is credited with helping over 2,500 fugitive slaves escape to freedom. In 1848, Garrett was tried in Federal District Court meeting at the New Castle Court House under the jurisdiction of United States Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney. After being convicted of trespass and debt for aiding and abetting in the escape of runaway-slaves, Garrett was fined several thousand dollars resulting in his financial ruin. Nonetheless, he continued to work for the abolitionist cause. He died in Wilmington in 1871.