A Travellerspoint blog

Day 80 (11.20.07) - Plantation & Birds (Photo's Added)

We visited the John Dickinson Plantation near Dover, then Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge

overcast 64 °F


Miles Driven - 78 (I'm not sure how, we only went about 20 miles?)
Weather - Sunny & Warmer (65?)
Camped at - Dover Walmart


Seems that I might apologize a little too often, so somebody suggested I just use a form letter to get all this out of the way? They were just kidding, I'm sure, but I thought I'd confess why the blog got behind again. I spent one night reading one of the books we'd bought during the trip. I did have time to update the blog, just read the book instead. The rest of the books will have to wait until some cold, rainy night by the fireplace (which I don't have) back home.

The next night, instead of writing the blog, I watched Dancing with the Stars video's on the internet. We don't have a TV in the RV but do have internet access. So in addition to my travel addiction - now you know, I'm also a DWTS addict. What else can you say about someone without access to a TV who still can tell you how the current season is going, who's fainted, who's been kicked off, who made it to the semi-finals, etc...


We visited the John Dickenson Plantation Tuesday and really loved it. The tour starts at the visitors center, where we met Martha and Elenore. When I asked them about one of the trees we'd seen, they gave me a whole brochure on all the trees on the plantation and their 1700's uses. It's very interesting, someday I'll try to get some of that info up here...


John Dickinson is called "the Penman of the Revolution". He was a member of the continental congress from Delaware, but did not sign the Declaration of Independance as he advocated a more moderate approach. This caused him to fall out of favor with other leading patriots of the time, but he did support the cause once war broke out and was quite influential during the development of the Constitution.

The plantation, known as Poplar Hall was started by his father, Samuel Dickinson. It was a self-sufficient community, with the Mansion located only about 350 yards from the St Johns river. The river was a major factor, since boats could transport farm products from the plantation to markets in Philadelphia and elsewhere as well as bring in trade goods. The mansion is large enough by todays standards, but for it's day was indeed a mansion - John Dickinson was one of the wealthiest men in the colonies. The near side was plastered with a sort of concrete mix to protect the brick work from the salt air.


Once we'd watched a video and checked out the information displays in the visitors center, Martha and Elenore sent us up to the Mansion to meet Pete.


Pete was a wealth of information about the house, John Dickinson and his parents, and life in the mid 1700's colony of Delaware. First though he took us through the main portion of the house. This was still built in the Georgian style, with a central hall and rooms on either side. The Georgian style of architecture (named after four kings of England named George) values symmetry and was widely used in the English Colonies from about 1720 until after the Revolutionary War. The parlor is the first room to the right of the main hall.


In two similar sitting rooms on the left (one for Gentlemen, the other for Ladies) are portraits of John Dickinson's parents, Samuel and Mary. The interesting thing about these is the hands. Hands were difficult to paint, and portraits were very expensive during that era, so most artists did not include hands, or perhaps only included one. Both paintings show two hands, which is another sign of just how wealthy the Dickinsons were. Pete described John as the 'Bill Gates' of his time.


The master bedroom and two childrens bedrooms were upstairs. The beds used ropes to hold the mattress off the floor. You would tighten the ropes periodically to keep the bed from sagging, as in "Sleep Tight". John Dickinson owned 37 slaves who worked in various positions on the plantation. Since he was a Quaker, this was a cause of a fair amount of internal conflict with him and by the late 1700's he had set all of them free.

The mansion has been set up to reflect part of the era where slaves still were used, one of them is depicted as making the bed here. Also notice the blue satchel on the bed. It is filled with pine shavings, which attract bed bugs. They could leave this on the bed for a time and hopefully any bedbugs would migrate into the pine shavings, which they liked. Then a very fast boy would run it outside as quickly as possible.


There were also bedrooms on the third floor originally, but after the house burned and was rebuilt by John, the family didn't need as many bedrooms so the attic was mostly used for storage (or not used). Back downstairs, they had a kitchen on the first floor and also a kitchen in the basement. The kitchen on the main floor looks like it was mostly used just for final preparation and serving.


One of the additions John Dickinson added in 1771 was the dining room, which I failed to take a picture of for some reason. It seems odd, because I take so many pictures, but when I go to write the blog there always seems to be one that I didn't take, but wish I had. Fire the photographer!

The main kitchen was in the basement. Several of these rooms had 'ladders' for drying herbs as well as food preparation tables and cupboards for storing cooking utinsels. This table was set up with typical food from the mid 1700's for this household. If a man was to eat two dozen eggs , and some did, we would be shocked until we realize the size of the eggs involved- the eggs were much smaller then today's. The chickens were much smaller than today, as well as most other livestock. Scientific livestock breeding livestock to increase size or production was not practiced in the 1700's.


There is also a display in the basement of tools used during this era. By todays standards, the tools seem rather primative, but a skilled carpenter could build just about anything needed for the plantation using these tools. In fact, all of the fine, wood furniture in the Mansion was built in the colonies using tools similar to these.


Our guide, Pete, runs a business where he makes early American replica's like this drinking mug. People in Europe and the colonies preferred warm beer or ale. They could stick the toe of this cup in the fire and warm it up - without making it too hot. If you want a cup like this (or other early American replica's), you can contact him at:



Also in the basement was a room devoted to making cloth. The plantation grew flax, which was used to make linen. Pete explained the whole process, which you can also find on Wikipedia so I won't repeat it here. In his left hand is flax before processing. In his right, when it was ready for weaving.


After the flax was prepared for weaving, it went to the spinners. Ten spinners worked on the plantation, weaving both flax and wool. The large spinning wheel, called a walking wheel, was used for the wool since it worked faster. The smaller wheels were used for the flax.


Women spun, men worked the loom. Ten women spinning thread at a rate of one mile (of thread) per day, could just keep up with one man working a loom. It takes a lot of thread to make cloth.

This pretty much concluded the tour of the mansion. There were other buildings and operations performed at the plantation, but the only one open for tours is the mansion. Other buildings include

- A small stable (work animals stayed outdoors, only the family's riding horses got use of a stable),

- A Feed barn (only a few animals were kept over the winter, which became the next seasons breeding stock. Feed for these was kept in the Feed barn).

- A Granary (after harvest, some of the seed was kept to start the next year's crops. This was stored in the Granary. Most other seed would be sold, ground into flour or put to other uses)

- A Smoke House (used to prepare meat for storage as they had no refrigeration or canning during the 1700's)

Some of the other industries performed at the plantation included brick making, a distillery, tannery and orchards (apple cider among the products). It really was a pretty self-sufficient community.

All of this pretty much wiped out my 'learning' capacity for the day. I had never heard of John Dickinson, yet he was one of the influential founding fathers and major contributor to writing the Constitition! I didn't realize that some of the representatives at the Contential Congress refused to sign the Declaration of Independance. It seems this period of our history was more lively than I'd realized. But as we must move on, I bought a book about Mr. Dickinson to read later and we got back on the road.

After a minor side trip that didn't work out quite as planned (not all experiments work), we drove on to the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. It was almost closed by the time we got there. The park rangers were kind enough to let us in and we did see some wildlife, but most of my pictures were blurry due to the low light conditions. First I did take one picture in the Ranger Station itself of something called a Punt Gun - odd piece of equipment. The picture doesn't do it justice, it is 7'7" long and weighs 90 pounds and was used for hunting ducks.


We also caught this raptor on our way into the NWR, but I didn't get a good enough look at him to make sure what he was:


All the rest of the bird pictures came out blurry, but I uploaded a couple of the best ones for some unknown reason. We did see a lot of snow geese, but even I couldn't bring myself to upload those shots - just too awful (not the geese, the photo's of course). We also saw a fox, not sure what kind and he was too quick for my camera.


And finally, I did get a couple of decent shots of the sunset:


We left the wildlife refuge and headed back to Dover so we could see a couple of Museums on Wednesday. After a couple of unplanned route changes, we finally located the local WM and bedded down for the night.

Posted by jl98584 18:33 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel

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