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Posts Tagged ‘Delaware legal history’

Coins accepted for paying your Delaware taxes in 1781

November 14th, 2014 No comments
list of gold and silver coins

List of acceptable gold and silver coins for paying a tax levied in Delaware, 1781.

In 1781 the state of Delaware passed a law (2 Del. Laws ch. 71) calling for an assessment to pay the debt from the American Revolution. Part of the taxes had to be paid in gold or silver coins, or in new banknotes. The act listed which coins were acceptable for paying the tax, including the Brazilian johannes (commonly called a Joe), the English or French Guinea, the moidore (also minted in Brazil), Spanish pieces of eight, and the Arabian chequin. You could not pay in German coins (probably because they were notoriously debased.)

More information on early coins in America:

 

 

The age of consent and rape reform in Delaware

July 7th, 2014 No comments
tatnall street

Children playing next to a reputed house of prostitution on Tatnall Street, Wilmington, Delaware, 1910.

In February 1889 a group of women activists presented a petition to the Delaware General Assembly with 10 yards of signatures of Delaware residents. This petition, presented by the Delaware Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, called for the state legislature to raise the age of consent. At that time under Delaware law the age of consent was a shockingly low seven. (W.C.T.U. Petition, Every Evening, February 12, 1889).

Sometimes misunderstood to refer to marriage, the age of consent in question actually had to do with the law of rape, similar to today’s statutory rape laws. Under English common law, which was adopted by Delaware and the other states, rape was defined as ”the carnal knowledge of a woman forcibly and against her will.” 2 William Blackstone, Commentaries *210.

In order to convict a man of rape, both force and lack of consent had to be proved, except in the case of a girl under the age of consent who was considered to not know right from wrong and was therefore incapable of consenting. The traditional common law age of consent was 10 or 12. In Delaware the age of consent was 10 until 1871 when it was lowered to seven. 14 Del. Laws 105 (1871) The same law instituted the death penalty for sex with a girl below the age of consent, before that the penalty had been up to 10 years in prison. It was probably the increase in the penalty which caused the age to be lowered, although reticence at the time to even discuss rape, means there is little mention of the change in law in the newspapers of 1871 and no legislative history.

blacklist of states arena

In 1895 Delaware still topped The Arena’s list of states with a low age of consent.

In the 1880s a nationwide campaign began to raise the age of consent. This campaign was led by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Nowadays often dismissed as a group of humorless do-gooders who didn’t want anybody to drink, in the 19th century the WCTU was the largest and most powerful women’s group in the country. Besides their interest in the prohibition of alcohol, they also campaigned against social problems such as prostitution and violence against women, as well as promoting the rights of women to own property and vote. At the 1886 annual meeting of the Delaware WCTU, Delaware Union president Annie H. Martindale told fellow members that “the laws of our own State have drawn upon us the condemnation of shocked and surprised women throughout the country, the age of legal consent being only seven years, the lowest probably of any state in the Union. We must join our sisters in this holy work.”

By 1889 the Delaware WCTU had spurred the Delaware General Assembly to act to reform the age of consent law. The WCTU’s petition asked for the age of consent to be raised to 18. As in most states, the men of the Delaware General Assembly were not willing to go that far. They compromised by not technically raising the age of consent, but by passing a law defining a new crime, making it a misdemeanor to use or procure a female under the age of 15 for the purpose of sexual intercourse or to employ a female under 15 in a house of prostitution. 18 Del. Laws 686 (1889) That age was eventually raised to 18.

Technically, the age of consent in the Delaware rape law remained seven until 1972, when the state completely overhauled its criminal code, replacing the old common law definition of crimes with a modern criminal code. The laws relating to rape and sexual assault have continued to be reformed. As recent controversies over sexual assault on campus have shown the question of consent as a defense to the charge of rape is still a matter for activism and reform today.

Photo sources:

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ncl2004002268/PP/
14 The Arena 418 (1895)

Sources:

Delaware Criminal Code with Commentary. (State of Delaware, 1973)

Leslie K. Dunlap. The Reform of Rape Law and the Problem of White Men: Age-of-Consent Campaigns in the South, 1885-1910, in Sex, Love, Race: Crossing Boundaries in North American History (Martha Hodes ed. 1999)

Jane Larson, ‘Even A Worm Will Turn at Last’: Rape Reform in Late Nineteenth-Century America, 9 Yale J. L. & Human. 1 (1997)

Mary Odem, Delinquent Daughters: Protecting and Policing Adolescent Female Sexuality in the United States, 1885-1920 (1995)

Aaron M. Powell, et al. The Shame of America—The Age Of Consent Laws in the United States: A Symposium, 11 The Arena 192 (1895)

Trial by combat in Delaware

May 13th, 2014 No comments

This week’s Game of Thrones episode has put the medieval practice of trial by combat in the spotlight. Gawker and Above the Law both have interesting articles on the practice. Although this Time article claims trial by combat has never happened in the United States, it was requested once in Delaware. In McNatt v. Richards, a 1983 case in Delaware’s Court of Chancery, defendant Freedom Church of Revelation, challenged the plaintiff to trial by combat to the death. Vice Chancellor Maurice A. Hartnett, III was not amused and admonished the defendant that “… challenge of trial by combat to death is not a form of relief this Court, or any court in this country, would or could authorize. Dueling is a crime and defendant is therefore cautioned against such further requests for unlawful relief.”

In case you’re wondering why a pro se defendant would file a “rambling tirade which asserts various preposterous allegations and claims” challenging someone to trial by combat, the answer is of course, tax scam.

The old razzle dazzle and other licensed amusements

March 31st, 2014 No comments
1915 statutes licenses

Page from the 1915 Delaware Code listing occupations requiring a license.

While doing some research on a more serious topic, I happened to notice an index entry in the 1915 Delaware Code: “Razzle-dazzle keepers, license of.” What exactly was a razzle-dazzle keeper and why did it require a license?

The 1915 Delaware Code includes a list of occupations requiring a license, including some you might still see licensed today, like doctors, lawyers, dentists, and real estate agents, but also some more unusual occupations like “keeping … stallions … for the use of mares” and “practicing jugglery.”

Razzle dazzle at Coney Island

The razzle dazzle at Coney Island in 1896.

It also includes a list of amusements that require a license to operate, which is where the razzle-dazzle comes in. The razzle-dazzle was an early amusement park ride.  There is apparently only one operating razzle-dazzle still left, at a steam museum in England. The old Delaware law gives a snapshot of early 20th century amusement rides, including bicycle and tricycle railways, haunted swings, revolving swings, merry-go-rounds, toboggan slides, switch backs, shoot-the-shoots, ferris wheels, and scenic railways.

Photo credit: Library of Congress

Prohibition Repeal Day

December 5th, 2013 No comments
brewery

Hartmann & Fehrenbach Brewery, Wilmington, out of business in 1932.

breweryplan

Plan of the Hartmann & Fehrenbach Brewery in 1889

Today’s the 80th anniversary of the repeal of the 18th amendment, which outlawed the production and sale of alcohol. Here’s Wilmington’s once thriving Hartmann & Fehrenbach brewery in 1932, driven out of business by Prohibition. The brewery was located at Scott St. and Lovering Ave. in Wilmington. The building that currently houses Gallucio’s Restaurant is all that’s left of the brewery complex.

Photos from:

Hagley Digital Archive and Free Library of Philadelphia

‘Pernicious and destructive’ or ‘tax on the willing’: lottery laws in Delaware and the United States

October 28th, 2013 No comments
louisiana state lottery tickets

1889 Louisiana State Lottery tickets

In the first decade of the 20th century, John M. Rogers was one of Wilmington, Delaware’s most prominent and respected residents. He lived in one of the large houses on Delaware Avenue with his wife and children. He served on the Wilmington Parks Commission, the Wilmington Board of Trade,  and was president of the local photography club. He owned a machine tool company in Gloucester City, New Jersey and a hotel in Atlantic City. His main business, however was a printing plant, the John M. Rogers Press, at 6th & Orange streets in Wilmington. On May 1, 1906 Rogers’s comfortable life in Wilmington came to an end when the United States Secret Service raided his print shop. Rogers’s plant was printing more than reports for the city government and advertising brochures. He was also printing tickets for the nation’s largest illegal lottery.

John M. Rogers

John M. Rogers and Superior Court Judge Henry C. Conrad in front of the Equitable Guarantee and Trust Company building, Wilmington, Delaware. Courtesy of the Delaware Historical Society.

In colonial times and in the early period of US history lotteries were often considered a respectable and harmless means of raising money for both private and public projects. Thomas Jefferson called the lottery a “… tax laid on the willing only.” In Delaware, the colonial legislature banned lotteries in 1772, as “pernicious  and destructive to frugality, industry, trade and commerce, … introductive of idleness and immorality, and against the common good and welfare  of a people.” But by the 1790s the state legislature was authorizing lotteries to build a courthouse in Dover and piers in the harbor at New Castle.

During the 19th century, as lotteries became larger and more commercialized, they began to be looked at more as a form of gambling and a social problem. Reformers argued that they encouraged immorality and preyed on the poor, who could least afford them. State after state passed laws outlawing lotteries until by the 1860s, only a few states, including Delaware, still allowed them. In 1887 Delaware joined the majority of states and banned lotteries again.

drawing louisiana state lottery

Drawing winning numbers for the Louisiana State Lottery

By the end of the 19th century the largest lottery in the United States was the Louisiana State Lottery. Founded by a New York gambling syndicate in 1868 in a Louisiana desperate for cash after the Civil War, the Louisiana Lottery sold tickets in every state in the US as well as foreign countries. Estimates of the Lottery’s earnings varied but newspapers estimated the annual gross receipts of the Louisiana Lottery to be $4,000,000. Other sources put the amount as high as $30,000,000 per year. The Lottery itself kept quiet about its earnings. Although lotteries were illegal in most states it was difficult for state governments to keep the Louisiana Lottery out. Eventually, the federal government passed a law (Act of Sept. 19, 1890, ch. 908, § 2, 26 Stat. 465) making it illegal to send lottery tickets and other items through the mail. Its operations now illegal, the Louisiana Lottery went underground, changing its name to the Honduras National Lottery. Although nominally headquartered in Honduras, the Lottery still did most of its business in the United States, including printing its tickets in John M. Rogers’s printing plant.

Along with raiding Rogers’s Wilmington printing plant, the Secret Service made arrests across the country. In 1907, 32 men pled guilty and paid fines totaling $284,000 and the Lottery was shut down for good. John Rogers paid $10,000 in fines and his printing plant was auctioned. He left Wilmington for New Jersey where he continued running his machine tool plant in Gloucester City until his death in 1910. His home at 1301 Delaware Avenue was purchased by the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington for use as the Bishop’s residence.

Lotteries remained illegal in the United States until the 1960s when states looking for new sources of revenue started to authorize lotteries again. Delaware reauthorized its state lottery in 1974 and today the lottery is bigger than ever. In 2012 the Delaware Lottery contributed $269 million to the State’s General Fund.

Photos:

John M. Rogers and Henry C. Conrad, Courtesy of the Delaware Historical Society.

Louisiana State Lottery tickets, Wikimedia Commons

Louisiana State Lottery drawing. KnowLa.org

For more information see:

G. Robert Blakey & Harold A. Kurland. Development of the Federal Law of Gambling. 63 Cornell L. Rev. 923 (1977-78)

A.R. Spofford. Lotteries in American History.

The fabulous Springer fortune of Wilmington Delaware

May 28th, 2013 No comments
springer heirs association share

A share certificate issued by the Springer Heirs National Associated Company in 1908

In 1883, two men, George W. Ponton and Charles H. Bierce were arraigned in New York on charges of larceny. They had persuaded a third man, Charles W. Van Dorn, to loan them $200, which would be repaid when Bierce came into a fortune of $90,000. Bierce claimed to be one of the Springer heirs, descendants of Charles Christopher Springer, an early settler of Wilmington, Delaware. Springer, it was said, had owned a large portion of the land where the city of Wilmington now stands, which he had leased to Old Swedes Church, which in turn leased it to the city of Wilmington for 99 years. The lease was now up and soon the city would settle with the heirs for 20 million dollars. There was, of course, no fortune and Van Dorn never got his $200 back. But the story of the fabulous Springer fortune waiting in Wilmington lived on for almost another hundred years, as fortune hunters, confidence tricksters and honestly hopeful people named Springer organized associations, collected money, and badgered Wilmington officials in a futile effort to claim the untold millions waiting for them.

256px-Old_Swedes_Front

Holy Trinity or Old Swedes Church in Wilmington, Delaware

The quest for the mythical Springer fortune seems to have begun in the 1870s when J.N.W Springer and David Gillespie formed the Springer Heirs Association, to raise money to investigate the claim to the estate.  It was probably inspired by earlier very similar claims in the 1830s and 1840s involving property in Manhattan owned by Trinity Church (Bogardus v. Trinity Church, 4 Paige Ch. 178 (1835) and Humbert v. Trinity Church, 24 Wend. 587 (1840)) and the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church, one of which actually went to the U.S. Supreme Court (Harpending v. Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of City of New York, 41 U.S. 455, 10 L. Ed. 1029 (1842)) The fact that the heirs lost in all of these cases doesn’t seem to have deterred the Springers.

All through the 19th and into the 20th century the search for the fortune continued, with the size of the prize growing every year. Springer’s supposed property grew from encompassing a part of Wilmington to the entire city, and to include the site of the DuPont gunpowder mills for good measure. Charles Springer was said to have been a Swedish baron who had a fortune hidden away in a Swedish bank, or walled up in a hidden building, or possibly buried in a tomb. Con artists offered to sell Springer’s will for large amounts of money, lawyers spent years in Europe doing research at the heirs’ expense, and the presidents of various Springer heirs associations collected money which was mostly spent on hotels while traveling the country and collecting more money. So many people contacted Wilmington officials asking about the fortune, that the city was forced to print pamphlets denying the story.

Newspapers across the US added to the confusion by printing inspiring stories about the ordinary people who were possible heirs, including two manicurist sisters in San Francisco, a kidnapped child in California and a railroad yardmaster from Reno. Only the Wilmington papers expressed any skepticism about the story, generally portraying the heirs as hopeless suckers and pests.

Interest in the Springer estate seems to have died down now, except for a few mentions on genealogy websites, but similar hoaxes continue. In 2001, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals decided a case in which the Pennsylvania Association of Edwards Heirs (who claim their ancestor was the rightful owner of a large portion of lower Manhattan) sued Wachovia Bank after nearly 1.5 million dollars in association dues had been squandered by the officers of the association. Pennsylvania Ass’n of Edwards Heirs v. Rightenour, 235 F.3d 839 (3d Cir. 2000). The heirs lost.

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The Dover poisoned candy murders

April 11th, 2013 No comments
Elizabeth Dunning

Murder victim Elizabeth Dunning, from an illustration in the San Francisco Call

One evening in August 1898 in Dover, Delaware, the family of ex-congressman John B. Penington sat together on the porch of their house on the Dover Green. Mr. and Mrs. Penington, their son, two adult daughters and their grandchildren were relaxing after dinner. Two neighbors stopped by to say hello. One of the daughters, Elizabeth Dunning, had received a box of chocolates in the mail earlier that day, and she passed the candy around for her family and friends to enjoy. Later that night, everyone who had eaten the candy got sick. Elizabeth Dunning and her sister, Ida Deane, had eaten more candy than the others. Within a few days, both women were dead. Food poisoning was originally suspected, but tests on the candy proved it had been laced with arsenic.

The candy had been sent with no return address but a San Francisco postmark. Included in the box was a handkerchief and a note that read “With love to yourself and baby, love, Mrs. C.” When informed of his wife Elizabeth’s death, her husband John P. Dunning, immediately suspected his mistress, Cordelia Botkin.

John P. Dunning

Photo from “The Staff Correspondent”

Born in Delaware, John P. Dunning studied to be an attorney, but the staid life of a provincial Dover lawyer wasn’t for him. He became a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press, traveling the world to cover stories of war and natural disaster. In 1889 he was sent to Samoa to cover the growing tension there between Germany and the United States. Dunning arrived in time to witness the destruction of the fleets sent by the two countries in a terrible cyclone. His story was sent by the AP to newspapers around the world, including the New York Times.  His coverage of the cyclone and courage in rescuing victims of the disaster made him a well-known reporter.

Dunning and his wife Elizabeth had a daughter and moved to San Francisco, where Dunning worked for the Associated Press. At some point, Elizabeth and John separated, Elizabeth and her daughter moving back to Dover to live with her parents. Dunning stayed in San Francisco, where he began an affair with Cordelia Botkin. Botkin was also married and separated from her husband.

cordelia botkin

Cordelia Botkin, illustration from the San Francisco Call

At the outbreak of the Spanish American War in 1898, Dunning was sent by the Associated Press to Cuba to cover the war, where he covered the exploits of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. Before he left, he told Cordelia that after the war he’d be going home to his wife in Delaware. Not long afterward, his wife and her sister were dead.

Cordelia Botkin was soon arrested and charged with the murder of Elizabeth Dunning. Her trial was a huge sensation, with front page coverage in newspapers all over the country. The case had everything needed for a sensational story: adultery, prominent people, the clash between small town values and big city sophistication, and a murder committed by the latest technology, poison by mail.

Cordelia Botkin steadfastly maintained her innocence and hired some of the finest lawyers in San Francisco, but she was found guilty of murder in December 1898. In 1901 her conviction was overturned (People v. Botkin, 132 Cal. 231, 64 P. 286 (1901)) because of improper jury instructions. She was tried and convicted again in 1904 and sentenced to life in prison. She appealed again but this time her conviction was upheld People v. Botkin, 9 Cal. App. 244, 98 P. 861 (1908). She died in San Quentin prison in 1910. John Dunning preceded her in death, dying in Philadelphia in 1907 at the age of 44.

Sources:

John R. Alstadt, Jr. With Love to Yourself and Baby. Dorrance, 2001.

Charles Sanford Diehl. The Staff Correspondent. Clegg Co., 1931.

Thomas S. Duke. Celebrated Criminal Cases of America. J.H. Barry, 1910.

The San Francisco Call‘s extensive coverage of the trial is available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.

 

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)

The trial and punishment of Samuel Burris, conductor on the Underground Railroad

December 13th, 2012 No comments

Samuel Burris, engraving from William Still’s Under Ground Rail Road Records

Samuel Burris was born in Kent County, Delaware in 1808. Although he was a free man, he left the slave state of Delaware for the free state of Pennsylvania and lived in Philadelphia with his wife and children. He became a member of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society and a conductor on the Underground Railroad, traveling to Delaware and Maryland to help slaves escape to freedom. He made many successful trips until he was eventually caught in Dover, Delaware in 1847. Tried and convicted of aiding runaway slaves, he was sentenced to be sold as a slave himself.

As a slave state bordering on the free state of Pennsylvania, Delaware had harsh laws punishing those who helped slaves to escape. The Delaware law at that time provided for a fine of $500 for aiding runaway slaves.  The penalty for free blacks who aided runaways was even harsher. They would be sold into slavery for a period of seven years and then forced to leave the state forever. (Revised Statutes of the State of Delaware (1852), chap. 80, sec. 15)

Burris’s friends in the Anti-Slavery Society hatched a plan to rescue him. They had abolitionist Isaac Flint, a Wilmington grocer, pretend to be a slave trader. Flint went to Dover where he bought Burris at auction and helped him return safely to Philadelphia. According to William Still’s account, even Burris did not know of Flint’s true identity and was greatly relieved when Flint whispered the good news to him after the auction.

Burris never returned to Delaware (the penalty for returning was to be whipped with 39 lashes and sold as a slave again). In 1852 he moved with his family to San Francisco, where he died in 1869.

Sources:

William Still. Still’s Under Ground Rail Road Records. (Rev. ed.) Philadelphia, 1886.

William H. Williams. Slavery and Freedom in Delaware, 1639-1865. SR Books, 1996.