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Delaware and Slavery


With two-thirds of the state settled by descendants of slave holding Maryland tobacco farmers, large parts of Delaware had a long tradition of acceptance of the institution of slavery. This was despite the fact that farmers increasingly had such little use for slaves that by the 1860 census there were only about 1,800 slaves in a state of 90,000 people, including nearly 20,000 free African Americans. When he freed his slaves in 1777, John Dickinson was Delaware's largest slave owner with 37 slaves.

The oldest black church in the country was chartered in Delaware by former slave Peter Spencer in 1813 as the "Union Church of Africans," which is now the A.U.M.P. Church. The Big August Quarterly began in 1814 and is the oldest such cultural festival in the country.

During the American Civil War, Delaware was a slave state that remained in the Union (Delaware voted not to secede on January 3, 1861). Delaware had been the first state to embrace the Union by ratifying the constitution and would be the last to leave it, according to Delaware's governor at the time. While most Delaware citizens who fought in the war served in the regiments of the state, some served in companies on the Confederate side in Maryland and Virginia Regiments.

Two months before the end of the Civil War, however, Delaware voted on February 18, 1865 to reject the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution and so voted unsuccessfully to continue slavery beyond the Civil War. Delaware symbolically ratified the amendment on February 12, 1901-40 years after Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. Slavery ended in Delaware only when the Thirteenth Amendment took effect in December of 1865. Delaware also rejected the 14th amendment during the Reconstruction Era


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