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  • Writer's pictureMatt Wright

A Little History About Lewes, DE

In 1862, the land that encompassed the state of Delaware was transferred to the English courts by William Penn, and at that time the contested settlement in Sussex County, England, was called "Lewes" (Loo-iss). Residents, angered by the destruction of historic landmarks that identified with the city's colonial past, commissioned a three-member committee of the Lewes Rotary Club in 1937 to launch a movement to restore the city's old street names. On 1 March 1937, all the historic streets of Lewes were renamed after their colonial names: Shipcarpent Street, King Highway, Savannah Road, Pilottown Road and Knitting Street. [Sources: 3, 12]

Lewes was settled by the Dutch in 1631 and was the site of the first European settlement of Delaware. Lewes, Delaware, was a whaling and trading post for Dutch settlers founded on June 3, 1631 under the name Zwaanendael in the Swan Valley. The area remained neglected until the Dutch were threatened by the annexation by the English colony of Maryland and in 1662 the city of Amsterdam gave land to a group of Mennonite settlements in the Hoernkill area between Cape Henlopen and the present-day city of Lewes. [Sources: 1, 8]

At that time, the town was named Lewes, in honor of a town in Sussex County, England. With the new settlements, which resettled the Hoernkills area around Cape Henlopen and the present town of Lewes, the resettlement progressed only slowly. The historic sea port of Lewes in Delaware, United States of America has some of the oldest housing buildings dating back to the late 1600s and early 1700s. [Sources: 8, 12]

Protected on a strip of land at the southeastern tip of Delaware Bay, the town of Lewes sits on a hill. The first city in the first state and one of the oldest settlements in the state, Lewes, Delaware, has a long and colourful history. Lewes was named after his native England and is located in a county called Sussex, from which Sussex County (Delaware) takes its name. [Sources: 8, 10, 12]

The historic port of Lewes discovered by Henry Hudson on a voyage down the Delaware River in August 1609 and settled in 1631 by the Dutch tells the rich history of this place in the United States. For 375 years, Lewes' natural resources of fish, poultry, wild boar and shellfish have made life here easier than anywhere else in Delaware Bay and have had a storied history, including visits by a host of pirates, including Captain James Kidd, and a host of prominent citizens. The museum documents Lewes' shaky origins when 32 settlers arrived from the Dutch town of Hoorn in 1630. [Sources: 9, 10, 12]

Dutch whales chose an advantageous location where the Delaware Bay met the Atlantic and named their settlement Zwaanendael. The settlement and its name changed many times in the course of the 16th century before finally being named Lewes by William Penn when he received the land which we know as Delaware State in 1682 from Duke of York. As Lewes is the state's oldest city, it is consistently one of Delaware's most livable cities. [Sources: 4, 7]

The picturesque town of Lewes captivates visitors with its charming shops, restaurants and restored houses. Flickr / Doug Kerr Lewes is proud to be the first city in the first state, and the Zwaanendael Museum is a testament to Dutch colonization. Today it is hard to believe that the courtesy of their early colonists was killed by Indians, that the first elections triggered riots in the streets, that Betsy Bonaparte caused a scandal, or that the German submarines sank off the coast during the First World War. [Sources: 6, 14]

Michael Morgan, author of The Hidden History of the Picturesque City of Lewes (History Press, 2014, 1999), tells these and other stories in his new book on the city. On April 6, 1813, a British flotilla gathered off Lewes and fired two shots into the city to draw the attention of the city's defenders. Nearby were a block of houses and a pond, where a number of residents took refuge, including a pregnant woman who gave birth to a child during the bombing of the city, which was then in ruins. [Sources: 14]

In 1909 a law clarified that the Board of Public Works had the exclusive right to supply the city of Lewis with water. In 1915 a dispute was settled between the city and the Delaware, Maryland and Virginia Railroad Company. In 1969, the city was reincorporated under the company name City of Lewis and a bylaw was drawn up.

Lewes has a modest stretch of beach along the bay, Lewes Beach, and the city's central business district is on the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal, a mile west of the beach. The town is also home to the Delaware Bay Pilots and Guide Ship and the Delaware Bay and River College of Marine Studies at the University of Delaware. [Sources: 2, 5, 14]

The history of Lewes is rich in numerous battles against pirates and Indians during the Revolutionary War, the 1812 War and the Civil War and played an important role in patrolling and defending the Atlantic coast of Delaware Bay and the major port cities along the bay - Wilmington and Philadelphia - during World War I and World War II. In 1941, the United States built a fort about a mile south of Cape Henlopen in Lewes to defend the bay and the Delaware River, the oil refineries and factories on its shores and the city of Philadelphia. As friends stroll through antique shops, sip freshly brewed beers at the Rose Crown on Second Street, and trudge along nearby Cape Hnlopen, where the bay meets the Atlantic, we become beachgoers, finding clues in many of Lewes "jewels present and future. [Sources: 7, 8, 9]

If you are considering purchasing a home in the Lewes area please consider me to be your agent. I will strive to make sure that the buying process is as smooth and painless as possible.

-Matt Wright

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