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Delaware weird laws go to the movies

August 25th, 2016 No comments
1949 newspaper advertisement for Delaware's first drive-in theater.

1949 newspaper advertisement for Delaware’s first drive-in theater.

Weird law: “R” rated movies shall not be shown at drive-in theaters.

Status: true (but not enforced and probably unconstitutional)

This weird Delaware law is a perfect example of a law passed in response to what seemed like a pressing social problem at the time, that has since been rendered irrelevant by changes in technology and social norms.

Delaware’s first drive-in theater opened in 1949 on route 13 south of Wilmington. The Brandywine Drive-In promised affordable family entertainment in the privacy of your own car. Drive-ins were soon a success in Delaware and throughout the United States, reaching a peak of popularity in the 1950s. But by the 1970s drive-ins had fallen on hard times. Many drive-in theaters began showing adult films and low budget exploitation movies to stay in business. This led to complaints from people living near drive-ins that the movies were visible from public streets and homes where children could watch them.

The debate raged nationwide for several years. Some theaters tried to solve the problem by erecting fences, but this was expensive and unattractive. A special screen was even tested which prevented anyone not immediately in front of it from viewing the movie. (It does not seem to have been a success.)

Many municipalities and states passed laws to prevent drive-ins from showing offensive movies if they were visible from outside the theater. Delaware’s law, passed in 1974 (11 Del.C. § 1366) was fairly typical and banned any film “not suitable for minors,” specifically including those rated R. Of all the state laws still in force, it is the only one that specifically bans R-rated movies. Most other states banned X-rated or “obscene” movies, although some states and municipalities banned all movies with any nudity.

In 1975, a case involving a drive-in theater manager arrested for violating a Jacksonville, FL ordinance banning drive-ins from showing films containing nudity (the R-rated sexploitation film Class of ‘74) went to the United States Supreme Court. (Erznoznik v. City of Jacksonville, 422 U.S. 205 (1975)) The court found the Jacksonville ordinance unconstitutionally overbroad and overturned it.

The R-rated slasher film Silent Night Evil Night showing at a Delaware Drive-In in 1975

The R-rated slasher film Silent Night Evil Night showing at a Delaware Drive-In in 1975.

After the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Delaware law remained in the state code, but the provision against R-rated movies doesn’t seem to have been enforced. In this 1975 ad, the Ellis Drive-In (the former Brandywine) is showing the R-rated slasher film Silent Night, Evil Night and in this 2000 photo the Diamond State Drive-In is showing two R-rated movies.

The ability to show R-rated movies didn’t save Delaware’s drive-ins, however. The Diamond State in Felton, the last drive-in theater in Delaware, closed in 2008.

Other states with laws regulating the content of movies shown at drive-in theaters include:

Maine
Me. Rev. Stat. Ann., tit. 17, § 2913

Nebraska
Neb. Rev. Stat. § 28-809

New Mexico
N.M. Stat. Ann. § 30-37-3.1

North Dakota
N.D. Cent. Code § 12.1-27.1-03.2

South Carolina
S.C. Code Ann. § 52-3-100

Vermont
Vt. Stat. Ann., ch. 13, § 2804

The great Delaware blue laws crackdown of 1941

January 21st, 2015 No comments
Just a few of the nearly 500 people arrested on one Sunday in 1941 for breaking Delaware's blue laws, at the Wilmington police station.

Just a few of the nearly 500 people arrested on one Sunday in 1941 for breaking Delaware’s blue laws, at the Wilmington police station.

I’ve previously posted about the blue laws, or Sunday closing laws, of Delaware. Originally passed in 1795, Delaware’s strict blue laws, prohibiting “any worldly employment, labor or business” on Sunday were still in effect in the first half of the 20th century, although they were rarely enforced. In 1911, Delaware’s blue laws made the news when Arden residents, including the writer Sinclair Lewis, were arrested for playing baseball and tennis on Sunday. There were calls for reform of the blue laws, but the Delaware General Assembly couldn’t agree to pass a bill repealing them. In 1941, a crusading attorney general named James R. Morford declared war on the state’s blue laws.

James R. Morford, Attorney General of Delaware from 1938 to 1943

James R. Morford, Attorney General of Delaware from 1938 to 1943

James R. Morford was elected Delaware’s attorney general in 1938, fresh from a stint as Wilmington’s city solicitor. While city solicitor, he was part of a successful campaign to clean up corruption in the Wilmington police department. Morford strongly felt that having laws on the books that were only occasionally enforced, caused disrespect for the law and contributed to corruption of public officials. Frustrated by the General Assembly’s failure to enact reforms, he threatened to begin enforcing the blue laws strictly. In 1939, he asked the State Police to conduct a survey of the number of people breaking the blue laws, but no actual arrests were made. In 1940 he made a speech strongly stating his opposition to any laws that were not uniformly enforced, including the blue laws.

We have thereby created uncertainty as to what an honest citizen may or may not do, but we have created a situation where he may do an act one day and be apparently a law abiding citizen while the same act next day may subject him to arrest… But the worse feature is that by substituting the discretion of a man for the mandate of the law we have gone far to destroy respect for all law and have opened a door for graft and corruption in public office.

In 1941, when the Delaware General Assembly once again failed to pass a proposed bill reforming the blue laws, Morford decided to force them into action. Delaware papers carried the news that starting on Sunday, March 2nd, the blue laws would be strictly enforced. State and local police forces received orders from the Attorney General to arrest everyone found violating the law. All over the state police arrested taxi drivers, bus drivers, newspaper vendors, restaurant workers, gas station attendants, even the general manager of WDEL radio. Around 500 arrests were made that Sunday, swamping police stations and the courts.

Lena Blatman, owner of Wilmington's Blatman's Bakery at the police station after being arrested for violating the blue laws.

Lena Blatman, owner of a Wilmington bakery, at the police station after being arrested for violating the blue laws.

Morford’s ploy worked, as the General Assembly finally passed a reformed blue laws bill on Friday, March 7th (it was approved by the governor on the 14th), narrowly avoiding another Sunday crackdown. State prosecutors dropped all of the pending cases against blue law violators.

 

Photos from the Delaware Public Archives. There are more photos of people arrested on March 2nd at the Delaware Public Archives digital collections page.

Researching Delaware criminal sentencing

April 3rd, 2014 No comments

Here’s a quick list of sources for researching Delaware criminal sentences.

Title 11, chapter 5 of the Delaware Code defines crimes in Delaware and gives the classification of each crime.

Title 11 chapter 42 of the Delaware Code contains the possible sentences for each category of offense.

Delaware Sentencing Guidelines are in the Delaware Sentencing Accountability Commission Benchbook. The Benchbook is updated every year and the current Benchbook can always be found on the Commission’s webpage.

Open States provides access to state legislation

February 21st, 2013 No comments

open states logoThe Sunlight Foundation has created Open States, a website that tracks legislative information for all 50 states. This information has been available from state websites but it isn’t always easy to use. Open States gathers all the information with one easy to use interface. You can track bills, check your legislator’s voting record, even click on a map to find out who your state legislators are. Having just tried to do the same thing on the state of Delaware’s voting district maps, Open States definitely has an easier map interface.

The Delaware coverage includes bills and even includes the synopsis note for those of you doing legislative history. Unfortunately right now the coverage only goes back 2 years. Open States also has a handy iPhone/iPad app that lets you access your state legislature on the go.

Delaware weird laws are local

January 8th, 2013 No comments

Rehoboth Beach boardwalk 1931. Someone might be disrobing behind a beach chair.

This is going to be my last post on weird laws of Delaware. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed researching them. Today I’m going to look at a number of weird laws on disparate subjects that all have one thing in common. See if you can figure out what it is.

In Rehoboth Beach, Delaware:

No person shall change clothes in his or her vehicle.

status: mostly true [It’s only illegal if your car is in a public place. Feel free to change in your garage.]

§ 198-14. Disrobing in public. No person shall disrobe under the boardwalk, on the beach or in any vehicle while such vehicle is parked upon any public street or way or other public place in plain view of the public.

One may not whisper in church.

status: mostly true [It’s only illegal if you are disrupting or disturbing the congregation. If the congregation wants to have an all whispered service they can go ahead.]

§ 198-23. Disturbing religious worship and lawful assemblies. A. No person shall disrupt or disturb any congregation or assembly met for religious worship by noise, talking or whispering, or by rude or indecent behavior, or by profane language within their place of worship, or within 300 feet of the place of worship.

No person shall pretend to sleep on a bench on the boardwalk.

status: true [This is a perfectly normal law for a beach town, except for the “pretending” to sleep clause. I guess the local judges got tired of people using the “I wasn’t really asleep” defense.]

§ 198-30. Sleeping on boardwalk. No person shall sleep, lie or occupy as a sleeping quarter, or under the guise of pretending to sleep on the boardwalk, any bench located on the boardwalk in any pavilion located at the end of any street or on any bench located on any street.

Changing into or out of a bathing suit in a public restroom is prohibited.

status: true

§ 198-15. Changing clothes in comfort station prohibited. No person shall change his clothing from bathing suit to street clothes or otherwise within the comfort stations maintained by the City.

Six-year-old girls may not run around without being fully clothed.

status: true [But this is a deliberately obtuse reading of the law. Obviously 60 year old women are equally prohibited from topless bathing.]

§ 198-13. Topless bathing suits prohibited. No female over the age of five years shall wear a topless bathing suit or otherwise fail to cover her breasts with less than a full opaque covering of any portion thereof below the upper portion of the nipple.

Alcohol may not be served in nightclubs if dancing is occurring on the premises at the same time.

status: true [Actually nightclubs that allow dancing may not serve alcohol at all, no matter when the dancing is occurring.]

§ 134-13. Alcoholic beverages prohibited. No person shall sell, give, dispense, provide or keep or cause to be sold, given, dispensed, provided or kept any alcoholic beverage on the premises of any dance hall establishment.

In Lewes, Delaware:

It is illegal to wear pants that are “firm fitting” around the waist

status: not true [This is one of the most commonly cited weird Delaware laws on the internet. It is definitely not in the current Lewes code of ordinances. It is possible it used to be a law but I can’t check because we don’t have older city ordinance for Lewes in our library.]

Did you figure out what they all have in common? They are all local laws, municipal ordinances that have been passed by a town or city in Delaware. Many of the laws cited on weird laws websites are often local laws. Laws passed to deal with local problems do often seem strange when taken out of their local context. For instance, many of the laws from Rehoboth Beach were probably passed to deal with the problems of a beach town, by trying to discourage nightclubs, stop day trippers from changing out of their bathing suits on residential streets, and keep drunk college students from sleeping on the boardwalk. Many beach towns have similar laws.

Legal research classes don’t spend much, if any time teaching how to research local laws, but these laws can greatly affect your clients’ everyday lives, so it’s worthwhile taking the time to learn how to find them. The internet has made researching local laws easier than it used to be. Many cities and towns have their municipal codes available on their website. There are also two companies that specialize in creating municipal codes, Municipal Code Company and General Code and many local codes can be found free on their websites. For more information on researching local laws, I’d recommend reading this excellent article by Mary Whisner of the University of Washington.

Photo credit: Delaware Public Archives. Board of Agriculture Glass Negative Collection.
http://cdm15323.contentdm.oclc.org/u?/p15323coll6,6621

For more information on local laws see: Mary Whisner. Enact Locally. 102 Law Library Journal 497 (2010)

Weird laws, blue laws, Delaware laws

November 18th, 2012 No comments
Horse and Jockey

Horse and jockey at Delaware Park in the 1940s, not on a Sunday.

It’s time for another look at the weird laws of Delaware. This time I’m taking a look at what you can and cannot do on Sunday in Delaware. You may have seen this cited on the internet as a weird Delaware law:

Delaware prohibits horse racing of any kind on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Status: True

Yes it’s true, Title 28, section 906 of the Delaware Code reads, “There shall be no horse racing of any kind on Good Friday or Easter Sunday.” You might think that this is just an old law that was accidentally left on the books, but it was only passed in 1973 (59 Del. Laws 1973, ch. 25, § 1), and is actually a liberalization of the state’s earlier law which banned horse racing every Sunday.

Horse racing was just one of the many activities that used to be banned in Delaware on Sundays. Laws reserving Sunday as the Sabbath and a day of rest were brought to the American colonies from England and existed in all of the original colonies. They were commonly called “blue laws.” Interestingly, no one seems to agree on why, it may have been because they were originally printed on blue paper, or possibly, because the Puritans and their strong religious scruples were often called “blue” as in “bluenose.”

Delaware’s early Sunday laws were strict but typical of their time. The 1852 Delaware Code prohibited the performance of “any worldly employment, labor, or business, on the Sabbath day (works of necessity and charity excepted)…” Delaware law also prohibited leisure activities such as “fishing, fowling, horse-racing, cock-fighting, or hunting game” on Sundays, as well as assembling to “game, play or dance.” (Revised Statutes of the State of Delaware chap. 131, sec. 4 (1852))

A 1939 petition to the Governor of Delaware, asking him to support a referendum allowing movies to be shown in Wilmington on Sundays.

By 1953 the Delaware Code no longer banned all work on Sundays, but still banned horse racing, along with auctions, dances, theatrical performances and motion pictures, at least in unincorporated areas. Incorporated areas were permitted to make their own rules, but these activities could not be held before noon or between 6 PM and 8 PM. Also banned on Sunday was barbering (24 Del.C. (1953) § 415) but, curiously, not ladies hairdressing, which eventually led to a Delaware Supreme Court case which held that the law was “… an unjust and unreasonable attempt to discriminate against this class of persons [barbers]; that its effect is not to benefit the interests of the public; and that it constitutes an arbitrary interference with private business.” Rogers v. State, 57 Del. 334, 339, 199 A.2d 895, 897 (1964)

Sunday closing laws as a whole were never found unconstitutional and have been upheld by the United States Supreme Court. (McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420 (1961), Gallagher v. Crown Kosher Super Mkt. Inc., 366 U.S. 617 (1961), Two Guys v. McGinley, 366 U.S. 582 (1961), Braunfeld v. Brown, 366 U.S. 599 (1961)) Many states in the U.S. still have restrictions on Sunday activities.

Currently in Delaware besides the ban on horse racing on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, liquor can only be sold on Sundays between 12:00 noon and 8:00 p.m. (4 Del. Code § 709) (with some exceptions for small wineries, distilleries and breweries), hunting is prohibited on Sunday (except fox hunting with dogs) (7 Del. Code § 712), taking shellfish for commercial purposes (with some exceptions) is prohibited (7 Del. Code § 1904), “adult establishments” must be closed, (24 Del. Code § 1625), and you can’t use drifting gill nets until after 4 p.m. on Sunday (7 Del. Code § 923). Luckily for me it’s not illegal to write blog posts on Sundays.

UPDATE: The story of how 500 people were arrested in one day and the Delaware blue laws were finally repealed.

Photo credits:

Delaware Public Archives. Delaware in World War II Collection. http://cdm15323.contentdm.oclc.org/u?/p15323coll6,10024

For more information on blue laws see:

Neil J. Dilloff, Never on Sunday: the Blue Laws Controversy, 39 Md. L. Rev. 679 (1980)

Lesley Lawrence-Hammer, Red, White, but Mostly Blue: The Validity of Modern Sunday Closing Laws Under the Establishment Clause, 60 Vand. L. Rev. 1273  (2007)

 

Pileggi blog posts guide to Delaware practice for non-Delaware lawyers

August 9th, 2012 No comments

The Delaware Corporate & Commercial Litigation Blog has posted a guide to Delaware practice for non-Delaware lawyers. The guide was written by Eckert Seamans attorneys Francis G.X. Pileggi, Kevin F. Brady, and Jill Agro.

Categories: Delaware, Research Delaware Tags:

Woolley on Delaware Practice

July 22nd, 2012 No comments
Victor B. Woolley

Victor B. Woolley, author of “Practice in Civil Actions and Proceedings in the Law Courts of the State of Delaware”

Currently before the Delaware Supreme Court is Eastern Savings Bank v. CACH  (Docket # 88, 2012). In a case reflecting today’s troubled economy, involving a dispute over a lien on a  foreclosed property sold at sheriff’s sale, the opinions of the Court of Common Pleas and Superior Court (and again) both cite a 106 year old treatise,  Practice in Civil Actions and Proceedings in the Law Courts of the State of Delaware by Victor B. Woolley. Often referred to as Woolley on Delaware Practice or simply, Woolley, this venerable treatise is still cited in Delaware courts. Who was Woolley and why is his treatise still so important?

Born in 1867, Victor Baynard Woolley was a Wilmington attorney. Besides his law practice, he taught Delaware practice at the University of Pennsylvania. As there was no law school in Delaware at that time, he was probably the first person to teach Delaware practice in any law school. He stated in the introduction to his treatise that at that time a “large portion of the practice of the law courts of the State of Delaware … is unwritten law,” so he wrote the treatise for the benefit of young lawyers as well as seasoned practitioners in Delaware.

Woolley was Prothonotary of Superior Court in New Castle County from 1895-1901 and an associate judge on the Supreme Court of Delaware from 1900 to 1914. In 1914 he became a Judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. He continued in that position until his death in 1945.

Delaware’s small size means that few other treatises on Delaware practice have ever been published. In 1994 David L. and Louis J. Finger published Delaware Trial Handbook, which is now out of print. An online version is available from the Finger & Slanina website. For corporation law, Donald J. Wolfe and Michael A. Pittenger’s Corporate and Commercial Practice in the Delaware Court of Chancery is available.

You can still buy a copy of Woolley in a reprint edition from Gaunt or download a free scan from Google Books, volume one and volume two.

Potter Anderson adds iPhone/iPad version to eDelaware

April 17th, 2012 No comments

Wilmington law firm Potter Anderson & Corroon has offered eDelaware, featuring full text of Delaware corporation, business entities and Uniform Commercial Code laws and case law summaries for some time now. But I’ve never had the chance to try it out because it was only available for Blackberry.

Now they’ve rolled out an iPhone/iPad version so I installed it out on my iPad to give it a try. The app includes full text of the Delaware General Corporation Law, the Statutory Trust Act, LLC Act, Revised Uniform Partnership Act, Revised Uniform Limited Partnership Act and Articles 8 and 9 of the Delaware Uniform Commercial Code. All of these are downloaded onto your iPad so you can easily access them even when you don’t have internet access.

Also included are summaries of recent Delaware cases written by Potter Anderson attorneys. The most recent case summary when I checked today was for a case decided on April 10, 2012 so they are keeping it up to date.

This will be a handy app for anyone interested in Delaware corporation law. And best of all it’s free. You can install it through the iTunes app store.

Delaware’s silent sentinels, Delaware women in the fight for women’s suffrage

March 23rd, 2012 No comments

Delaware's Mabel Vernon marches to the White House

In a previous post, I covered the role of Delaware women in the struggle to ratify the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote. Women from Delaware also played an important part in the long and difficult struggle to get the amendment proposed and passed by Congress. The National Woman’s Party, founded in 1916, was a women’s rights group that used more militant tactics to get the attention of politicians and the public.

One of the leaders of the NWP was Delawarean Mabel Vernon. Born in Wilmington in 1883, her father was a newspaper editor. She attended Swarthmore College, where she met Alice Paul, who would become the leader of the NWP. After college Vernon worked as a teacher until Paul asked her to work as an organizer for the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage and NWP. She organized local protests and nationwide tours and became an accomplished speaker. In 1916 she led a group of activists who unfurled a banner and heckled President Wilson during a speech to Congress.

A policewoman (in white) arrests Delawarean Annie Arniel (center left) for picketing the White House

In 1917, the NWP decided to step up pressure on President Wilson and organized pickets in front of the White House. Calling themselves “silent sentinels” the women picketed the White House, in Lafayette Park and at other government buildings. In June 1917 the police began arresting picketers. Initially they were usually released without charge, but when the protests continued the penalties became more serious. Alice Paul and other women were sentenced to up to 6 months in Occoquan Workhouse. Some prisoners held hunger strikes and were force-fed by prison authorities. Released prisoners were sent on nationwide tours by the NWP and spoke to crowds wearing their prison uniforms.

Catherine Boyle, of New Castle, Delaware, holds a suffrage flag

A number of Delaware women were among the protesters. Seven served jail time: Mabel Vernon, Florence Bayard Hilles, Annie J. Magee, Naomi Barrett, Annie Arniel, Catherine Boyle, and Mary Brown. Annie Arniel of Wilmington, who had worked in a munitions factory, spent the most time in jail. She was arrested 8 times and spent a total of 103 days in jail. After one of her arrests Arniel told the Sunday Star, a Wilmington paper, “We were good enough to work in the steel plant and help load shells for the battle-fields of France, but we are still not good enough to vote, it seems. Can anyone see justice in this?”

The National Woman’s Party continued the protests until 1919 when Congress passed the 19th Amendment.

Photo credits: Photographs from the Records of the National Woman’s Party. Library of Congress and Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

For more information see:

Annie L. Arniel, the Iron-Jawed Suffragette. Webpage by Ken Menard. http://www.angelfire.com/space/kingstonroots/Menard/AnnieArniel.html

Ford, Linda G. Iron-Jawed Angels: The Suffrage Militancy of the National Woman’s Party, 1912-1920. University Press of America, 1991.

Mabel Vernon: Speaker for  Suffrage and Petitioner for Peace. Interview by Amelia R. Fry. Bancroft Library. Suffragists Oral History Project.

Stevens, Doris. Jailed for Freedom. Boni and Liveright, 1920.

The Suffrage Movement in Delaware. Historical Society of Delaware http://www.hsd.org/Women_SuffrageMainPage.htm

Women of Protest: Photographs from the Records of the National Woman’s Party. Library of Congress. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/suffrage/nwp/index.html

 

Morris James presents guide to Delaware business courts

February 22nd, 2012 No comments

Delaware law firm Morris James has created Delaware Courts Online, a guide to Delaware’s business courts, including the United States District Court for the District of Delaware, the Delaware Court of Chancery, and the Delaware Superior Court’s Complex Commercial Litigation Division. The website is intended for the firm’s clients and attorneys but will be very useful for anyone who needs more information on the Delaware Courts. It includes court forms and rules, practice tips, descriptions of available court technology, pictures of the courtrooms, and even advice on getting to the courthouse.

New Congressional Record iPad app

January 19th, 2012 No comments

The Library of Congress has just released an iPad app that brings each day’s Congressional Record to your iPad. Each issue is a PDF file that you can email and share with other people. The new app is available from the iTunes store.

Local legal historic sites — grave of Richard Bassett

January 4th, 2012 No comments

Richard_bassettI’ve reached the end of my short series of local legal historic sites associated with Delaware’s signers of the Constitution. Previously we’ve covered Gunning Bedford Jr., Jacob Broom, George Read, and John Dickinson. Our final Delaware signer is Richard Bassett. One of the biggest difficulties in writing this profile is coming up with a physical historic site related to Bassett. Bassett was once one of the richest men in Delaware, owning estates in Maryland and Delaware and a house in Wilmington. None of these houses remain. The only remaining site is his burial place, in the Bayard-Bassett vault in the Wilmington and Brandywine Cemetery.

Richard Bassett was born in Bohemia Ferry in Cecil County Maryland. His parents ran the Bohemia Ferry Tavern. Bassett’s father left his family. Luckily for Bassett his mother was an heir to Bohemia Manor, a huge estate in Cecil County. Bassett was adopted by Peter Lawson, a lawyer, who was also an heir to Bohemia Manor, which Bassett eventually inherited. Lawson trained his adopted son as a lawyer. Bassett became a member of the Delaware Bar in 1770 and began his practice in Dover, Delaware.

During and after the Revolution, Bassett served at the Delaware State constitutional convention and was a member of the state Legislative Council and House of Assembly and the captain of a troop of cavalry. In 1787 he was chosen as a member of Delaware’s delegation to the Constitutional Convention. He never spoke at the convention but voted in favor of the new Constitution.

He was elected to the United States Senate in 1788 where he supported a strong judiciary. He was governor of Delaware in 1798, resigning in 1801 when he was named a judge of the Third Circuit by John Adams. He was one of the “midnight judges” whose position was eliminated in 1802 by the repeal of the Judiciary Act of 1801 by the new administration of Thomas Jefferson. Bassett published a pamphlet arguing against the elimination of the judges and in favor of judicial independence.

Besides his political and legal activities Bassett was also a strong supporter of the Methodist Church. He converted to Methodism in the 1780s and supported  Francis Asbury and other Methodist ministers. He invited Methodist preachers to Bohemia Manor and held camp meetings there. His religious scruples led him to oppose slavery, freeing his own slaves and trying to convince Delaware to abolish slavery.

Bassett was married twice. He had no sons, but one of his daughters, Ann, married James A. Bayard, who became a U.S. Senator for Delaware and founded a dynasty of Delaware Senators including Richard H. Bayard, James A. Bayard, Jr., Thomas F. Bayard, Sr. and Thomas F. Bayard, Jr. Bassett died in 1815 at Bohemia Manor.

Photo credit: Engraving, by Charles B. J. Fevret de Saint-Memin (1802). From Wikimedia

For more information on Richard Bassett  see:

Robert E. Pattison. “The Life and Character of Richard Bassett.” Papers of the Historical Society of Delaware (1900)

Gaspare J. Saladino. Bassett, Richard. American National Biography. Oxford University Press, 1999, v. 2

Local legal historic sites — burial place of John Dickinson

December 14th, 2011 No comments

John Dickinson markerA small, unassuming stone in the Wilmington Friends Meeting Burial Ground marks the grave of John Dickinson, lawyer and statesman, known for his political writings as “The Penman of the Revolution.” Dickinson was born in Talbot County, Maryland, the son of a wealthy landowner and was raised at Poplar Hall, his father’s plantation in Kent County, Delaware. Dickinson studied law in Philadelphia with John Moland and then went to England to study law at the Middle Temple. He returned to America and began his career as an attorney in Philadelphia. During his lifetime he lived in both Pennsylvania and Delaware.

In the 1760s he wrote his Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, arguing against the Townshend Acts and for the rights of the colonists. These pamphlets made him famous throughout the American colonies. He was a Pennsylvania delegate to the Continental Congress where he urged moderation and refused to sign the Declaration of Independence. This refusal made him unpopular for a time. He did however, serve  in the Revolution as an officer in the Pennsylvania Militia and a private in the Delaware Militia. During the Revolution he was Delaware’s delegate to the Continental Congress and in 1781 was elected president of Delaware and in 1783 president of Pennsylvania. He wrote the first draft of the Articles of Confederation.

John_Dickinson_portraitIn 1787 Dickinson was chosen as one of Delaware’s representatives to the Constitutional Convention and also was president of the committee that revised Delaware’s constitution in 1791. Although he never formally joined the Friends Meeting, most of his family were Quakers and he was influenced by Quaker ideas. He became an abolitionist and freed the slaves on his plantation in 1777. When he died in 1808, he was buried in the Wilmington Friends Meeting Burial Ground.

Poplar Hall, John Dickinson’s boyhood home and plantation in Kent County is still standing. It is now a museum and is open to the public.

Photo credits: Nate Davidson, the Historical Marker Database and Wikimedia Commons

For more information on John Dickinson see:

Charles Janeway Stillé. The Life and Times of John Dickinson, 1732-1808. Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1891.

Milton E. Flower. John Dickinson, Conservative Revolutionary. University Press of Virginia, 1983. E302.6.D5 F57 1983

The Political Writings of John Dickinson, esquire. Wilmington, 1801.

Weird laws of Delaware – dead bodies and wooden legs

December 8th, 2011 No comments

skeletonIt’s time for another edition of weird laws of Delaware. This time we’re featuring laws on pawning artificial limbs and selling dead bodies. Our first weird law is:

In Delaware it is against the law to sell a wooden leg at a pawn broker. Status: mostly true.

The law actually says “No pawnbroker … shall take or receive as a pledge or pawn any artificial limb or wheelchair.” 24 Del. C. § 2307(b) So it isn’t illegal for someone to pawn their wooden leg, it is illegal for the pawnbroker to take it. When this law was originally passed in 1907 (24 Del. L. 162) it also prohibited pawnbrokers from accepting workman’s tools, but that provision has been dropped. This is the first law I’ve looked at that is truly an unusual law; as far as I’ve been able to tell Delaware is the only state that prohibits pawnbrokers from taking artificial limbs.

Weird law #2 this week is:

In Delaware you may not sell dead people for money without a license. status: Not true

I have to confess this one has me kind of stumped. It is cited all over the internet but I can’t find any Delaware law, current or old, that comes close to saying this.

There is 11 Del. C. § 1333 Trading in Human Remains and Associated Funerary Objects, which makes it illegal to trade in “unlawfully removed human remains,” but it doesn’t mention licenses, except to say that the law does not apply to “A licensed mortician or other professional who transports human remains in the course of carrying out the individual’s professional duties and responsibilities.” There is also 16 Del. C. § 2701, et seq. which regulates obtaining dead bodies for anatomical studies but there is no mention of sales or licenses.

So for now, I’m declaring this weird law not true. If anybody has any idea where this comes from please let me know.

Photo from The Powerhouse Museum Collection on Flickr.