Skip to main contentAccessibility feedback

Dear visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.

Dear visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.


One of the original thirteen of the United States of America

Click to enlarge

Delaware, one of the original thirteen of the United States of America. It lies between 38° 28′ and 39° 47′ of N. lat. and between 74° 56′ and 75° 46′ of long. West of Greenwich, and is bounded on the N. by the State of Pennsylvania, on the E. by the Delaware River and Bay, and on the S. and W. by the State of Maryland. Its area is 2370 square miles, of which 1965 square miles are of land area, and 405 square miles of water area. Delaware is an agricultural state, its soil is fertile and a large portion of it in a high state of cultivation.

HISTORY.—In 1609 Henry Hudson, in the employ of the Dutch East India Company, on his third voyage of discovery, sailed into Delaware Bay. This was the first visit of a European, so far as known, to the territory now called Delaware. The bay was so named about the year 1610 by the Virginians in honor of their first Governor, Thomas West, Lord Delaware. The Dutch, basing their claims on rights acquired by Hudson’s discovery, made the first attempt at settlement. In 1629, under the authority of the Dutch West India Company, and with the countenance of the Governor and Council of New Netherlands, a tract of land from Cape Henlopen to the mouth of the Delaware River was purchased from the natives, and a company formed in Holland to colonize it. In the spring of 1631 a ship carrying emigrants reached the Delaware, and a colony was planted near Cape Henlopen, on Lewes Creek, the colonists giving the country the name Swaanendael. The life of this colony was ended after a few months. Trouble with the Indians arose, and a fort which had been erected was destroyed, and all the colonists murdered. In 1638 an expedition consisting of two ships carrying some fifty Swedish emigrants, and commanded by Peter Minuit, the deposed Governor of the New Netherlands colony, commissioned by the Swedish Queen Christina, entered Delaware Bay, and the present site of Wilmington was chosen as the place for the first settlement. The colony was known as New Sweden. A fort called Christina was built. After about two years of prosperity sickness began to prevail, and the colony was on the eve of breaking up when another Dutch expedition, though under the patronage of the Swedish Company, appeared, and the new colonists located their settlement several miles from Fort Christina. The new arrivals revived the spirits of the Swedes, who decided to remain. Additional colonists from Sweden arrived in 1640, and the colony became well established and prosperous. In 1655, on the appearance of a Dutch fleet, all the forts and settlements were surrendered, and such Swedes as would not take the oath of allegiance were sent to the home country. In 1656 the West India Company sold its interests on the South River (called South as distinguished from the North River, as the Hudson was then called) to the City of Amsterdam, and the colony was called “New Amstel” and the authority of New Netherlands over it was ended. In 1664, after the surrender of New Amsterdam to the English, the Delaware settlements were also taken. The name of New Amstel was changed to New Castle, and the settlements were annexed as an appendage to New York, then also under English rule.

According to the charter to William Penn in 1681, the territory of Pennsylvania was bounded on the south by a circle drawn twelve miles distant from the town of New Castle northward and westward, the territory on the Delaware as far down as what was then called Cape Henlopen remaining to the Duke of York. In the same year Penn’s authority, with the consent of York, was extended to include this territory also. As early as 1685 a controversy began between Penn and Lord Baltimore as to the ascertainment of the southern and western boundaries of the country along the bay as transferred by York to Penn. Numerous agreements were entered into between the respective proprietors for determining the boundaries, but none gave promise of ever being carried out. This quarrel retarded the settlement of the country and oftentimes caused bloodshed. In 1750 the present boundaries between Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania, as mentioned in an agreement between the heirs of Penn and Baltimore in 1732, were decreed by the English Court of Chancery, and in 1763, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, two surveyors, were engaged and sent over from England to mark the lines. In 1764 the work was started. The present south and west lines of Delaware are the result of a part of this work. The east and west line (between the present States of Pennsylvania and Maryland), which they ran and marked, is the historical Mason and Dixon’s Line, the boundary between the former free and slaves States. In 1691, with Penn’s consent, the lower counties, now the State of Delaware, became a separate Government, only to be again united to Pennsylvania in 1693. In 1702 Pennsylvania convened its legislature apart, and the two colonies were never again united. The “Counties of New Castle, Kent and Sussex upon Delaware” as they were called, began to be governed by a separate assembly, and though the authority of the Governor of Pennsylvania was still acknowledged, the legislature and tribunals were not appreciably affected by any external authority. This was the form of government until a separate constitution was adopted in 1776. The representatives of the three lower counties upon the Delaware were members of the Continental Congresses of 1774 and 1775, and voted for the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Among the most noteworthy Articles of the Constitution of 1776 was the following: “There shall be no establishment of any one religious sect in this State, in preference to another, and no clergyman or preacher of the gospel of any denomination shall be capable of holding a civil office in the State, or of being a member of either of the branches of the legislature, while they continue in the exercise of the pastoral function.” In 1779 the State’s delegates were instructed to ratify the “Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union” adopted by Congress.

During the Revolutionary War Delaware enlisted, including Continental soldiers and militia, a total of 3763 men. On December 7, 1787, the Delaware legislature ratified the Federal Constitution, being the first State to give its approval. The population of the State in 1790 was 59,094, of whom 8887 were slaves. Constitutional conventions were held in 1791 and 1831, and the present Constitution was adopted at a convention in 1897. The common law procedure is followed in the courts, and the judges are appointed for terms of twelve years. In the war of 1812 Delaware was well represented in both the land and naval forces, her best-known representative in the latter being Commodore Thomas Macdonough, the hero of Lake Champlain. Prior to the Civil War, Delaware was classed with the Southern, or slave-holding, States. In the election of November, 1860, the State’s electoral vote was given to John C. Breckinridge, who stood for the constitutional rights of the Southern States, while at the same time all the political parties within the State pledged their loyalty to the Union. In January, 1861, a commissioner from Mississippi appeared before the Delaware legislature and invited the State to join the Southern Confederacy. The House unanimously, and the Senate by a majority vote, expressed their disapproval of such a remedy for existing difficulties. While there was considerable respect and some sympathy for the rights of the seceding States, there was at all times constant adherence to the National Government. Delaware being a border State, there was some distrust on the part of the Government, particularly as to the southern portion, and at times martial law prevailed. Out of a total white population in the State in 1860 of 90,589, the aggregate number of troops furnished to the Union army during the war by Delaware was 13,651. Admiral Samuel F. Dupont was one of the ranking officers in the Union service credited to Delaware. On February 5, 1867, the State legislature in accordance with the Governor’s recommendation rejected the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution. At the legislative session of 1869 the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution was also rejected.

POPULATION.—The estimated population of the State in 1906 was 194,479. Wilmington, with an estimated population in 1906 of 85,140, is the largest city. In 1900, in a population of 184,735 there were 94,158 males and 90,577 females. Classified by race, there were 153,977 whites, 30,697 negroes and 61 persons of other races; 170,925 of the population were natives, and 13,810 were foreign born. There were 40,029 males of military age, and 54,018 males of voting age, of whom 45,592 were whites, and 8,374 were negroes. The total number of families was 39,446 and the aver-age number of persons to a family was 4.7.

EDUCATION.—The first school in the State was opened before 1700, under the direction of the pastor of Old Swedes’ Church. During the last half of the eighteenth century, the leading educational institution in the State was the Wilmington Academy, which was built in 1765. Prior to the constitution of 1791, no provision was had for free schools in the State. In that instrument provision was made “for establishing schools and promoting the arts and sciences”, and in 1796 an act was passed by the legislature applying all the moneys received from marriage and tavern licenses to a school fund. This was the beginning of the public school system in the State. In 1829 a “Free School Law” was passed, which divided the counties into many self-governing school districts, each district being the judge of the tax requisite for its own needs. The present school law was passed in 1875, and provided for a fixed tax to be raised annually in each district for the support of the schools therein. Each county has a superintendent of schools, who as such is a member of the State Board of Education. In addition to the tax raised in each school district, there is the income of a large permanent school fund, and regular legislative appropriations. The Constitution ordains that not less than $100,000 annually shall be provided by the legislature, which, with the income of the permanent school fund, shall be used exclusively for payment of teachers’ salaries, and for furnishing free text-books. Separate schools are provided for colored children. In 1900 the total attendance in the free schools of the State was 28,753, nearly equally divided as to sex, of which number 24,868 were whites, and 3883 were negroes. The total amount expended on the free schools of the State for the school year 1905-1906, including amounts derived from school tax, legislative appropriations, and income from school fund, was $501,745.80.

In 1907 a compulsory education law was passed providing for the continuous attendance for at least five months in each year, at either public or private school in which the common English branches are taught, of all children between the ages of seven and fourteen years, unless excused for certain reasons specified. Delaware College, the chief institution of learning in the State, is located at Newark. Chartered in 1833, it was opened in 1834, and has had a very successful career. It is governed by a board of trustees, one-half of whom are named by the State. In 1869 the legislature adopted this college as the institution to be provided as an Agricultural College in accordance with the Congressional Enabling Act of 1862. Technological and agricultural, as well as classical, courses of instruction are provided. The number of professors and teachers is twenty-two, and the number of students in attendance is 158. Women are excluded from attendance at the college. Wilmington Conference Academy (Methodist), located at Dover, was founded in 1873. St. Mary’s College, founded in Wilmington in 1841, by the Rev. Patrick Reilly, became a well-known institution, and numbered some of the best-known Catholics in the country among its graduates. In 1857 there were 120 resident students. It prospered till the opening of the Civil War, and in 1866 closed its doors. There are a number of excellent private schools and academies scattered through the State. A State College for colored students, founded in 1892, is located at Dover. Manual and agricultural, as well as classical and technical, instruction is there furnished. Reform schools for both boys and girls are supported in part by the State. There is also a State Hospital and Insane Asylum. Delaware having no institution for the instruction of the deaf and dumb or the blind, the State bears the expense of having a certain number of them cared for and instructed in proper institutions in other States.

CATHOLIC PROGRESS.—Prior to 1772 no definite records are obtainable regarding any regularly established Catholic church in the present State of Delaware. The Catholics in the State prior to the latter part of the eighteenth century were very few in number. In 1730 Cornelius Hallahan, an Irish Catholic, settled in Mill Creek Hundred, in New Castle County, on an estate called by him Cuba Rock, near the present location of Mount Cuba. The first Catholic services in the State were probably held at his house. The Apoquiniminck Mission, in the lower part of New Castle County, was established before 1750 by Jesuits from St. Xavier’s Mission in Cecil County, Maryland. The latter mission, founded in 1706 by Father Thomas Mansell, S.J., near the junction of the Great and Little Bohemia Rivers, is still in existence, and known as Bohemia Manor. In a report from the Episcopal Mission at Dover (Kent County) to the clergymen of the Pennsylvania province, made in 1748, it is stated that the “Quakers and Roman Catholics were long accustomed to bury their dead at their own plantations.” Again in 1751 a like report from the Dover Mission states: “There are about five or six families of Papists, who are attended once a month from Maryland with a priest.” In January, 1772, Father Matthew Sittensperger, a Jesuit known at the Bohemian Mission under the name of Manners, purchased a farm in Mill Creek Hundred, which was known as Coffee Run, and here a log chapel called St. Mary’s and a residence were erected. Father Sittensperger was succeeded by the Rev. Stephen Faure, who, with other Frenchmen, driven from St. Domingo by negro uprisings, settled at Wilmington. He was assisted by the Rev. John Rosseter, an officer in Rochambeau’s army during the Revolutionary War, and then an Augustinian. In 1798 he was succeeded by the Rev. Mr. Cibot, who had been VicePrefect Apostolic in St. Domingo. In 1800 the Rev. Charles Whelan became pastor, to be succeeded in 1805 by the Rev. Patrick Kenny. From this church the Catholics of the surrounding country as far as at West Chester, Pennsylvania, and Wilmington, were attended. Father Kenny was assisted for a time by the Rev. George A. Carrell, who afterwards became Bishop of Covington, Kentucky. The arduous labors and personality of Father Kenny have made him probably the best-known priest in the early Catholic history of the State. Some portions of Coffee Run Church are still standing. The site of the church is about six miles from Wilmington on the Lancaster Pike. In 1785 Delaware was one of the four States (the others being Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia) where Catholics were not virtually under civil disabilities.

From its earliest settlement, at no time did religious intolerance ever appear in the government of the Swedish colony which grew into the State of Delaware. In 1816 St. Peter’s, the second church in the State, was built by Father Kenny. This church, often enlarged and beautified since, is now the cathedral of the diocese. Father Kenny was first assisted in 1834, and later succeeded, by the Rev. Patrick Reilly, who, as priest and educator, was one of the most respected clergymen in the country. In 1830 the first Catholic Orphan Asylum in the state was opened in Wilmington. In 1839 the first parochial school in the State was built adjoining St. Peters. Until 1868 the State formed a portion of the Diocese of Philadelphia, but in that year the present Diocese of Wilmington was created. It comprises the State of Delaware and the Eastern Shore counties of Maryland and Virginia. The Right Rev. Thomas A. Becker was the first bishop. Bishop Becker, on being transferred to Georgia in 1886, was succeeded by the Right Rev. Alfred A. Curtis, who, after a service of ten years, resigned, and was succeeded by the Right Rev. John J. Monaghan, January 26, 1897. The Delaware diocese from its creation has been distinguished by the excellences in ability and temperament of its bishops. The years 1825 to 1860 marked the first important period of Catholic immigration, and the chief nationality found among ‘the Catholic population has been the Irish. The Catholic population of the diocese (1908) is 31,-000, of whom 500 are negroes. The Catholic population of the State is 25,000. There are 46 churches in the diocese, of which 20 are in Delaware. The one Catholic church for negroes is situated in Wilmington. The number of priests in the diocese is 43, and the number in the State 34. Of the whole number in the diocese 30 are seculars and 13 belong to various orders. There are twelve parochial schools in the State, with an attendance of 3100. Orphan asylums for white boys and girls, the former near Delaware City and the latter at Wilmington, are under the care, respectively, of the Sisters of St. Francis and the Sisters of Charity. A colored orphan asylum in Wilmington is conducted by the Josephite Fathers. A colored Industrial and Agricultural School is also maintained by the Josephite Fathers at Clayton. A Home for the Aged, at Wilmington, is under the care of the Little Sisters of the Poor. All these institutions are well housed, admirably managed, and speak well for Catholic benevolence in the state. A Summer Home for the teaching orders of the Sisters in the State and for poor girls has been opened at Rehobeth, a seaside town. Salesianum, a preparatory school, located at Wilmington, under the care of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, and the Ursuline Academy, a boarding and day school for girls, are the present chief Catholic educational institutions in the State. Within the diocese is a novitiate of the order of Oblates of St. Francis de Sales and a convent of Visitation nuns.

OTHER RELIGIONS.—The first religion in the State was that brought by the Swedish settlers, namely, the Lutheran. The first church erected was in 1638 with-in Fort Christina, and the second in 1643 near New Castle. Dutch and Swedes worshipped there. Old Swedes’ Church, built in 1698, under the direction of the celebrated Swedish minister Bjork, is still in use and in a splendid state of preservation. After the arrival of the English, the Swedish and English churches were, for the greater part of the time, attended by the same minister. About 1791 the Swedish Lutheran Church merged into the Protestant Episcopal. The Society of Friends erected their first meeting house in Delaware about 1687, and for the greater part of the State’s history, they were probably the most influential and respected class in the State, particularly in the northern portion. The first Presbyterian church in the State is known to have been established with elders and trustees as early as 1705, but the precise year of its institution is not known. The Baptist Church in the State was founded in 1703 by emigrants from South Wales, who settled upon the “Welsh Tract”, a portion of the Penn grant in Pencader Hundred, New Castle County, and erected a meeting house. This was the third Baptist meeting house erected in America. Meetings of the Methodist denomination were held at Wilmington as early as 1766, and in 1780 “Barratt’s Chapel” in Kent County (still in use) was erected. This was one of the cradles of the Methodist Church in America, and here the first General Conference of American Methodism was appointed. The active church membership and the Sunday-school membership of the leading Protestant denominations are (1908): Methodist Episcopal, 40,-000; Protestant Episcopal, 6280; Baptist, 5000; Presbyterian, 12,700. There are many churches for colored people in the State, among which the Baptist and Methodist, particularly the latter, predominate. Among other creeds and denominations represented in the State, are the Lutheran, Unitarian, Swedenborgian, Christian Science, Methodist Protestant, various divisions of the Baptist Church, Seventh Day Adventist, and Hebrew.

LEGISLATION.—The first article of the State Constitution, adopted in 1897, states, “No man shall or ought to be compelled to attend any religious worship, to contribute to the erection or support of any place of worship, or to the maintenance of any ministry, against his own free will and consent”; and also states that “No religious test shall be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under this State”. This same language is found in the Constitution adopted in 1831. Blasphemy is punishable as a misdemeanor. By statute any worldly employment, labor or business (works of necessity or charity excepted), peddling goods, droving, fishing, fowling, gaming, horseracing, cock fighting or hunting game, and playing and dancing, on the Sabbath day, are all prohibited and made punishable as misdemeanors. The usual form of oath is by swearing upon the Holy Evangels of Almighty God. A person believing in any other than the Christian religion may be sworn according to the peculiar ceremonies of his religion, if there be any such. A person conscientiously scrupulous of taking an oath may be permitted to affirm to the truth of the matters to be testified. A chaplain is appointed by either branch of the legislature, and the daily sessions (by force of custom only) are opened with prayer. Christmas and Sunday are the only religious holidays recognized as legal holidays. There is neither statute nor court decision in the State, regarding the seal of confession.

Prior to 1893 the provisions of one statute covered the incorporation of congregations or societies of whatsoever denomination. At that time, a statute was passed providing exclusively for the incorporation of Catholic congregations. It gives a simple method for incorporating a church congregation. Under a statute, all real and personal property belonging to any church or religious society is not liable to assessment and taxation for public purposes, unless the property is in the form of a school where the tuition is not free. The constitution provides: “No portion of any fund now existing, or which may hereafter be appropriated or raised by taxation, for educational purposes, shall be appropriated to, or used for, or in aid of any sectarian church or denominational school, provided, that all real or personal property used for school purposes where tuition is free, shall be exempt from taxation and assessment for public purposes”. The right of any charitable or educational corporation to take by devise or bequest is undoubted. While the language of the statute under which Catholic congregations are formed into church corporations is not beyond cavil in this regard, the assumption is that such a corporation may take by devise or bequest, without qualification or condition. In this respect, the rights of Catholic church corporations are clearer and more liberal than those enjoyed by church corporations of any other denomination. Ordained ministers of the Gospel are not liable to serve as jurors. Military service is voluntary. By the constitution, no divorce may be granted except by the judgment of a court. Annulment of marriage for certain causes, existing at the time of marriage, is provided for. For divorce, the reasons are adultery, bigamy, imprisonment, cruelty, desertion, habitual drunkenness, and hopeless insanity. Hearings and trials in divorce matters must in all cases be had before the court and in public. Marriage within the degrees of the established table of consanguinity, or between whites and blacks, is unlawful and void, and the parties thereto are guilty of a misdemeanor. A regularly issued license is a condition precedent to marriage, unless the banns are published at some place of stated religious worship, within the Hundred of the woman’s residence on two Sabbaths, and no objection made to such marriage.

The sale of liquor is licensed by the State, but with many restrictions. The State is divided into four local option districts, in two of which prohibition laws are now in force.

Legacies for religious, charitable and educational purposes are not subject to taxation. The right to dispose of property by will may be exercised by any person of the age of twenty-one years or upwards, who is of sound mind. Such will must be in writing, except a nuncupative will, by which an estate not exceeding $200 may be disposed of. Cemetery corporations are now formed under the provisions of a general incorporation law. No taxes are paid on lands used for cemetery purposes.

The constitution places no limit to direct taxation, but no State tax on assessed property is levied. County and municipal assessment and taxation is employed. There is no tax on income. A collateral inheritance tax is collected, where the recipient is a stranger in blood, and the estate exceeds $500.


Did you like this content? Please help keep us ad-free
Enjoying this content?  Please support our mission!