Discovering the Hidden History of Lewes

Novel by Michael Morgan explores the First Town dating back to 1609.



The quaint town of Lewes beguiles visitors with its charming shops, restaurants and restored homes. It’s hard to believe, amid today’s civility, that its earliest colonists were murdered by Indians, the first elections brought riots to the streets, Betsy Bonaparte (Napoleon’s sister-in-law) caused a scandal, and German submarines slinked off the coast during both World Wars. Michael Morgan, author of “Hidden History of Lewes” (The History Press, 2014, $19.99), shares these stories and other tales in his new book about the Sussex County town that claims to be the First State’s first settlement. Here’s an excerpt:

Bombs Bursting in Air’

War of 1812

In April 6, 1813, the British flotilla assembled off Lewes, and the British fired two shots over the town to get the attention of the town’s defenders. Several officers were sent ashore under a flag of truce, and they repeated [Commodore James] Beresford’s ultimatum: provide supplies or face destruction. Colonel [Samuel B.] Davis refused to comply. The British answered with a directive to evacuate the women and children, and a short time later, the bombardment of Lewes began. In his diary, Daniel Rodney of Lewes noted the first day of the attack: “The cannonade then commenced and continued till 10—their shot pitched beyond the town and did but little damage—firing ceased until daylight…”

On Wednesday, April 7, the British resumed the bombardment of Lewes with these fearsome weapons. In his diary, Rodney noted that “again began and continued [to] 5 or 6 last night. The firing of bombs 12, 18 and 32 shot and rockets till 1 o’clock in which time 537 shots were sent against the town.”

Although the sound and fury of the bombardment had been awesome, the results had been negligible. Many shots passed over the buildings and landed harmlessly in the fields beyond the town. The British solid shot hit a number of chimneys, knocked corner posts off several houses and lodged in the walls of buildings. Peter Hall’s tavern was hit several times, and the building sustained significant damage. At one point, a woman heard a whistling sound over her head. She turned to her husband and asked, “What’s that noise?” Her husband curtly answered, “Bullets, my dear.”

During the bombardment of Lewes, most of the town’s defenders huddled behind the breastworks of pine logs that had been erected along the creek. At Block House Pond, a number of the town’s residents had taken shelter in the small fortification, including a pregnant woman who gave birth during the attack. The infant girl was cradled in a bed of cornstalks and lullabied by the boom of cannons.

Whenever possible, the Delaware troops fired back at the British, but the Americans were unable to damage the enemy ships. Colonel Davis decided on a bit of trickery to convince the British that a large army was defending the Delaware town. Davis ordered the militia and volunteers to march along the waterfront so that they could be seen by those aboard the British ships. Once the troops reached a point where the buildings shielded the troops from British view, the soldiers marched out of town. From there, they circled around to their original starting point. The result was a continuous parade of troops that appeared to be a vast army marching into Lewes.

When the bombardment was over, a few buildings had sustained minor damage, and a frustrated Beresford ordered the British squadron to set sail…

The [Niles Register] described the results of the attack on the Delaware town: “The people of Lewistown are making themselves quite merry for the late bombardment of that place. They enumerate their killed and wounded as follows: one chicken killed, one pig wounded—leg broken.” 


c. 1609 
Henry Hudson sails around today’s Cape Henlopen into Delaware Bay, searching for a water passage to the Pacific.

c. 1620 
Capt. Cornelius Jacobsen Mey dubs the land “Cape Henlopen” as he sails past the coastline.

c. 1629
The Dutch West India Co. decides to start a colony in the Cape Henlopen area as a whaling station and farming area. The Siconese Indians sign a document ceding the land to the Dutch.

c. 1631 
The first Dutch settlers arrive to the area called Whorekill, supposedly named because of the Dutch traders’ interactions with the Indian women. The word “kill” means creek or river in Dutch. The pioneers dubbed the new colony Swanendael, or Valley of the Swans.

c. 1682
The town of Whorekill is renamed “Lewes” after a town in the English county of Sussex.

c. 1765
Cape Henlopen Lighthouse To guide ships safely around the coast’s dangerous shoals, the Cape Henlopen Lighthouse is constructed.

c. 1791
The county seat moves from Lewes to a new town called Georgetown for a more central location.

c. 1798
The HMS De Braak  sinks off Cape Henlopen, leaving tales of lost gold and silver. Its remains are located in 1986, with a number of artifacts recovered. No word on the treasure.

c. 1869
The Junction and Breakwater Railroad is completed to Lewes.

c. 1918
A German submarine is reported in the waters during World War I. Patrol boats search for the elusive U-boat.

c. 1938
As the situation in Europe deteriorates, the U.S. upgrades its defenses, erecting a tent city at the mouth of the Delaware Bay. Eventually, a permanent Fort Miles is constructed.

c. 1942
German U-boats return to the Cape Henlopen coast  attacking tankers, cutters and other ships. Injured American crewmen are taken to Lewes for treatment.

“Hidden History of Lewes” is available at amazon.com.

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February 2016

Delaware State University will feature the following events and exhibitions during its 2016 Black History Month celebration: Wednesday, Feb. 3 Black Lives Matter Symposium Documentary...

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1200 N DuPont Highway
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View map »

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The Station Gallery
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View map »


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More information

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Cost: $0-14

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Rd
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
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Penn Museum opens the world premiere exhibition The Golden Age of King Midas—featuring ancient treasures on loan from the Republic of Turkey—with a spectacular daylong public...

Cost: $15

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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This art exhibit features fine art works and three dimensional pieces that embrace the subject “red.” Artist are free to use their imagination and creativity, so works will include...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Gibby Center for the Arts
51 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
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Sponsor: The Gibby Center for the Arts
Telephone: 302-449-5396
Contact Name: Caroline Zeitler
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For more information, please contact: Dave Ruffner ​Rehoboth Beach Film Society 107 Truitt Ave. Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971 302-645-9095, ext. 4 administrator@rehobothfilm.com...

Cost: Free

Where:
, DE


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society and CAMP Rehoboth will co-present "Tab Hunter Confidential" and "Portrait of a Serial Monogamist" as part of its annual Another Take...

Cost: $8

Where:
Metropolitan Community Church
19369 Plantation Rd.
Rehoboth Beach, DE  19971
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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"La Sylphide" shares the beautiful and romantic story of our hero, James—a young Scottish farmer who, on the eve of hid wedding, abandons his betrothed, Effie, after being...

Cost: $25

Where:
Salesanium School
1801 North Broom St.
Wilmington, DE  19802
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Sponsor: Academy of International Ballet
Telephone: 1-866-908-5666
Contact Name: Denis Gronostayskiy
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Venture back with us for an evening where we re-imagine the Victorian Industrial Age as seen through our steam-powered, futuristic goggles.  Our biggest fundraiser of the year and all proceeds...

Cost: $100-$110

Where:
Smyrna Opera House
7 West South Street
Smyrna, DE  19977
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A spoiled orphan girl is sent to live with her uncle on the Yorkshire moors and discovers renewed life, for herself and her sickly cousin, in bringing her dead aunt’s secret garden back to...

Cost: $15–$18

Where:
The Secret Garden
47 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
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Sponsor: The Everett Theatre
Telephone: 302-540-8561
Contact Name: Chris Everett
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Location: St. Mark’s High School, 2501 Pike Creek Road, Wilmington Time: Registration: 11:30 a.m. Race: 12:30 p.m. Fee: $25 (until Thursday, Feb. 11), $35 after and day of event...

Where:
, DE

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Location: Beebe Healthcare’s Medical Center, 424 Savannah Road, Lewes Date: Saturday, Feb. 13 (and the second Saturday of each month) Time: 9 a.m. Fee: Free For more...

Where:
, DE

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Ditch the winter whites for a world of dazzling color at Longwood Gardens, where you can stroll through thousands of orchids in bloom. Kennett Square, www.longwoodgardens.org 

Where:
, DE

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A successful writer of Broadway thrillers is struggling to overcome a dry spell when he receives a script from a student —a potential Broadway hit. Thereafter suspense...

Where:
, DE

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Regional artists Carol Tippit Woolworth, Catherine Drabkin, Pahl Alexander Hluchan, Colleen Randall and Dan Jackson explore the concept of place—physical, emotional and spiritual—in...

Where:
, DE

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