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Posts Tagged ‘Delaware legal history’

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.

 

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.

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)

 

Play recreating trial of abolitionists Garrett and Hunn to be performed at New Castle County courthouse museum

August 7th, 2012 No comments

New Castle Courthouse Museum

A new play based on the 1848 trial of Delaware abolitionists Thomas Garrett and John Hunn will be performed at the New Castle County Courthouse Museum, the scene of the original trial. In 1848 the two men were tried for violating federal law by helping the Hawkins family escape from slavery in Maryland. They were found guilty and heavily fined.

The interactive play is one of a series written by local playwright Colin Adams-Toomey There will be three performances of the play, August  18th, 19th and 21st. See the News Journal for more information.

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.

Delaware Legal History on Pinterest

June 14th, 2012 No comments

I love looking at historic photos. If you’d like to look at a collection of historic photos of Delaware attorneys and other legal subjects gathered from all over the internet, I’ve started a Pinterest page on Delaware legal history. These are mostly photos from the Delaware Public Archives which has a great online photo collection. There are also some from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.