Posts Tagged ‘history’

Senators Coons and Carper explain Delaware Day

December 15th, 2011 No comments

I didn’t see this until Delaware Day was over. Here’s a video of Delaware Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons explaining Delaware Day on the Senate floor. Delaware Day commemorates December 7, 1787, the day that Delaware became the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution,

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.

Local legal historic sites – Jacob Broom house

October 3rd, 2011 No comments

The Jacob Broom House in 1975

Jacob Broom,  a modest and hardworking businessman, is one of the least known signers of the United States Constitution. There is not even a contemporary portrait available of him.

Broom was the only one of the five Delaware delegates to the Constitutional Convention who was not a lawyer. Born in Wilmington in 1752, Broom was a surveyor and conveyor of title.  He also dealt in real estate and operated a number of business ventures, including a machine shop and served as the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Delaware Bank.

Being a delegate to the Constitutional Convention was his only venture into national politics, but he held a number of local offices, including chief Burgess of Wilmington, Justice of the Peace of New Castle County and member of the Delaware state legislature.

He married Rachel Pierce and had eight children. He was a member of Old Swedes Church. He lived originally in the city of Wilmington until 1795 when he built a house for his family near his cotton mills on the banks of the Brandywine. In 1802 he sold the house and mills to Eleuthère Irénée du Pont, who founded his gunpowder mills there. These mills were the beginning of the DuPont Company. Jacob Broom died in 1810 in Philadelphia and is buried in Christ Church Burial Ground.

The Jacob Broom house, also known as Hagley, is privately owned and not open to the public.

Photo by: Jack E. Boucher [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Jacob Broom genealogy page:

Nomination form of Jacob Broom House for National Register of Historic Places

Signers of the Constitution Biographical Sketches

Campbell, William W. “Life and Character of Jacob Broom,” Historical and Biographical Papers of the State of Delaware, v. 5 (1909)

Drescher, Nuala M. Jacob Broom: A Biographical Sketch. Hagley Museum, 1959

Local legal historic sites: Lombardy Hall, home of Gunning Bedford Jr.

September 20th, 2011 No comments

Lombardy Hall, country home of Gunning Bedford Jr.

Three miles south of the Widener Law campus, just off route 202, is Lombardy Hall, farm and country home of Gunning Bedford, Jr., Delaware attorney, judge and signer of the United States Constitution. Bedford was born in 1747 in Philadelphia and attended what is now Princeton University where he roomed with James Madison. He studied law with Joseph Reed and eventually moved to Delaware, first to Dover and then to Wilmington. He represented Delaware at the Continental Congress, was a member of the Delaware legislature and was Delaware’s attorney general. Bedford had a cousin, confusingly also named Gunning Bedford, who was also an attorney, an officer in the Continental Army and governor of Delaware.


Gunning Bedford, Jr.

At the Constitutional Convention, Bedford spoke strongly for the rights of small states like Delaware. Another delegate, William Pearce, described him as “… a bold and nervous Speaker, and has a very commanding and striking manner; -but he is warm and impetuous in his temper, and precipitate in his judgment. Mr. Bedford is about 32 years old, and very corpulant.”

Bedford was selected by George Washington to be federal district judge for Delaware. He held this position until he died in 1812.

Lombardy Hall was Bedford’s country home; he also had a town house in Wilmington at 606 Market St. After his death Lombardy Hall went through several owners and eventually became vacant. In 1967 it was purchased by the local Masonic Lodge (Bedford was the first Masonic Grand Master of Delaware) and restored. It is open to the public by appointment only.

Photos from: Wikimedia Commons

For more information: Conrad, Henry C. Gunning Bedford Junior. Papers of the Historical Society of Delaware, vol 26, 1900.

Supreme Court Photography

June 13th, 2011 No comments

courtThe United States Supreme Court does not allow photography during its sessions. Only two known photographers have been able to take photographs of the Court in session. Both did it by hiding their cameras.

The most famous of these photos was taken by Erich Salomon. In 1932 Fortune magazine hired Salomon, a German photographer, to make a photographic tour of America.  To get a photo of the Supreme Court he faked a broken arm and hid the camera in his sling.

Salomon had an interesting career as a photographer. He was a law student, receiving his law degree in 1913. He served in the German army in WWI, was captured and spent four years in a French POW camp. He tried a number of careers before he became a photographer, including running a car and motorcycle hire business where he offered to drive customers around on a motorcycle and give them legal advice at the same time. He eventually went to work for the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung, a German newspaper, where he started his photography career by hiding a camera in his hat to take photos of a murder trial.

He eventually became famous for his photos of international conferences, specializing in capturing the rich and powerful in unguarded moments, often by hiding his camera or himself. Politicians joked that international conferences couldn’t start until Salomon arrived with his camera.

When the Nazis came to power, Salomon left Germany for the Netherlands, but when the Germans invaded the Netherlands he and his family were sent to Auschwitz, where he was killed in 1944.

For more information on Erich Salomon see:

Local Legal Historic Sites – Home of John Biggs Jr.


Biggs House, Wilmington

This house at 1310 W. 14th St in Wilmington is today an apartment building near Trolley Square. But in the early 1900s it was the boyhood home of John Biggs Jr. Biggs, born in 1895, was a Wilmington attorney who eventually became chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. After his marriage, Biggs moved from the house on 14th St to Wooddale, an estate west of Wilmington.

Princeton Tiger board

Editorial board of the 1917-1918 Princeton Tiger. Biggs is center front, Fitzgerald behind him

But perhaps Biggs’ most interesting claim to fame is that he was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Princeton roommate. Biggs and Fitzgerald shared an interest in literature and writing, working on the Princeton literary magazine together. Biggs later wrote several novels and short stories.


Ellerslie, Edgemoor Delaware

In 1927, Fitzgerald was having trouble concentrating on his writing. Biggs convinced him that he should move somewhere quieter and less literary than New York or Hollywood. Somewhere boring. Somewhere like Delaware. Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda rented a mansion near Wilmington called Ellerslie. However, Fitzgerald was still distracted from his writing, taking the train to New York for the weekend and throwing raucous house parties at Ellerslie. Zelda took ballet lessons in Philadelphia. They lived in Delaware for two years off and on until they moved to Europe. Ellerslie was eventually torn down and is today the site of the DuPont Edge Moor plant. When Fitzgerald died in 1940, Biggs served as executor of his estate.

Much of this information is from the only biography of Biggs: Seymour I. Toll. A Judge Uncommon: A Life of John Biggs, Jr. Legal Communications, Ltd, 1993.

First Women Admitted to Delaware Bar in 1923

April 28th, 2011 No comments

Delaware was the last state to admit women to the Bar (except possibly Alaska, but that depends on which source you check). Not until 1923, when the state constitution was amended to permit women to be “officials of the state” could women become lawyers. Sybil Ursula Ward and Evangelyn Barsky were both admitted to the state bar in that year.

Sybil Ursula Ward was  from a family of prominent Delaware lawyers. Once admitted to the bar she worked for her family’s law firm Ward & Gray, which is today Potter Anderson & Corroon. She was also the first woman elected to the Wilmington City Council.

Evangelyn Barsky was the daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants. Her father was a successful merchant. She practiced law with her brother Victor and in 1935 became assistant city solicitor in Wilmington. She was also active in the Republican Party. Unfortunately she was killed in an automobile accident in 1936.


Jacqueline Paradee Mette. “Women in the Delaware Bar” in The Delaware Bar in the Twentieth Century. The Delaware State Bar Association. 1994

Jewish Women in America: An American Historical Encyclopedia. Routledge. 1998

Jewish Women’s Archive, Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.

Local Legal Tourist Attractions – Faunbrook, Home of First Woman Attorney in Chester County

April 27th, 2011 No comments

Smedley_Darlington_HouseToday’s local legal history site is not exactly a tourist attraction. It is currently a bed and breakfast. Faunbrook, in West Chester, was the home of the Darlington family, including Isabel Darlington, the first woman admitted to the Chester County Bar and one of the earliest woman lawyers in Pennsylvania.

Isabel’s father Smedley Darlington was a Congressman and a wealthy man but an economic panic in 1893 cost him a large part of his fortune. Isabel seems to have decided it would be a good idea if she entered a profession as an independent means of support. She started attending law school at the University of Pennsylvania in 1896, finished the three year course in 18 months, and was admitted to the bar on October 4, 1897.

She went into practice with her brother in law, Thomas Butler, in West Chester, handling estate, property and commercial cases. Probably her most prominent client was Pierre S. du Pont. Ms. Darlington handled the transaction when P.S. du Pont purchased Longwood. She practiced law for many years until her death in 1950.

Much of the information in this post comes from this Philadelphia Inquirer article.

Local Legal Tourist Attractions – New Castle County Courthouse Museum

April 19th, 2011 No comments

New Castle County Courthouse MuseumIf you have a little spare time why not take a local legal history tour? The New Castle County Courthouse Museum located in historic New Castle, Delaware is one of the oldest surviving courthouses in America. It was built in 1732 and served as New Castle County’s Courthouse until 1881 when the courts moved to Wilmington. It also served the federal courts and was Delaware’s original state capital building.

The cupola of the New Castle County Courthouse was used as the center of the 12 mile circle that created Delaware’s unique circular northern border.

Probably the most famous trial held in the Courthouse was the 1848 trial of abolitionists Thomas Garrett and John Hunn on a charge of aiding fugitive slaves. They were found guilty and heavily fined, but both were undeterred and Garrett declared in court, “I say to thee and to all in this court room, that if anyone knows a fugitive who wants shelter send him to Thomas Garrett and he will befriend him.”

The Courthouse Museum has limited hours, so be sure to check before you go.

While you’re in New Castle you can also visit the George Read House, built by the son of George Read, attorney and signer of the US Constitution. The New Castle Common has a statue of William Penn holding a key, a turf and twig and a container of water. These are symbols used in the ancient common law ceremony of “livery of seisin” which was used to convey land.