DeVries Monument in Lewes

by Hazel D. Brittingham

Untold numbers of visitors to Lewes intent upon seeing the historical sites and sights have left the community without acquainting themselves with the identifying markers of the very roots of the town and of Delaware as a state. To get to the basics one must travel the scenic Historic Mile of Pilottown Road along the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal and mount the steps of The Monument, a large granite boulder which has proclaimed since 1909: lwsmonu.jpg (3758 bytes)

Erected by the State of Delaware to commemorate the settlement on this spot of the first Dutch colony under De Vries AD 1631. Here was the cradling of a state. That Delaware exists as a separate commonwealth is due to this colony.

The bold marker was located in the approximate spot where the settlers from Holland landed in the spring of 1631 intending to build a fort and establish a profitable whaling station. Before many months had passed, a misunderstanding between the Europeans and the Indians resulted in a massacre and the annihilation of the settlement called Swanendael (Valley of the Swans).

The sentiment of "Gone but not forgotten" was never truer than in this case. It was the existence of this thwarted attempt at settlement that fulfilled the fine legal point which resulted in Delaware’s becoming a separate state within its present boundaries. Efforts by members of the Sussex Society of Archaeology and History in the 1950s resulted in proof that The Monument had, in fact, been placed in the position of the north bastion of the fortification consisting of palisades surrounding an area of somewhat over an acre. In the enclosure were two buildings—a dormitory and a cook house. As one mounts the steps to the marker, turns and looks inland, he can visualize the extent of the settlement by knowing that the major portion of the original enclosed encampment was located within the present St. Peter’s Cemetery.

People who are inclined to refrain from a current visit because they saw The Monument years ago are probably unaware that something new has been added. When Lewes was 350 years old in 1981, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church of Lewes observed its 300th anniversary as an Episcopal parish and erected a ten-foot granite cross in the center of the cemetery. The Latin Cross with the Circle of Eternity memorializes both anniversaries and is inscribed with appropriate wording at its base.

And there is more! It was at the time of the installation of the cross that the about-to-retire rector, the Rev. Frank L. Moon, was able to say "Amen" to a project dear to his heart. He was insistent that the lines of the stockade surrounding the early settlement, and within the cemetery, be permanently marked. Several marble markers delineate the lines of the palisade as determined by the Sussex Society and installed with the assistance of the late Dr. James E. Marvil of the Lewes Historical Society.

The Monument was dedicated on September 22, 1909, and much credit must be paid to the late Dr. C. H. B. Turner, then rector of St. Peter’s Church, for the event which was accompanied by big doin’s in the little town. That original settlement site, denoted as the "DeVries Palisade," was placed on the National Register of Historic Places under the date of February 23, 1972, and the Cross was dedicated on June 28, 1981.

©copyright 1997 Hazel D. Brittingham