Capacity crowd turns out for Justice Holland talk

Author discusses Lewes's pivotal role in Delaware's statehood
April 26, 2013

Delaware is the only state in the U.S. that resulted from a lawsuit. William Penn won that lawsuit against Lord Baltimore - Charles Calvert - in an English court because there was a Dutch settlement on the present site of Lewes in 1631.

Delaware Supreme Court's senior justice, Randy J. Holland, explained the history behind those events when he spoke to a crowd of more than 200 people at the Lewes Presbyterian Church hall on Friday, April 19. The Delaware Heritage Press recently published Holland's most recent book called Delaware's Destiny Determined by Lewes. The event premiered the new publication.

Holland explained that the English courts in 1750 ruled that the Penn family correctly established that the lands that Lord Baltimore claimed as part of a 1632 grant to him from the king had been previously cultivated by non-native people - the Dutch - and as such were excluded from the grant.  That ruling came decades after the litigation began in 1685.  Penn subsequently separated what he called the Three Lower Counties from Pennsylvania and they eventually became Delaware - the first state to ratify the new U.S. Constitution.

In short, direct chapters, Holland's 152-page book meticulously details all of the legal battles that led to the pivotal 1750 ruling.  He explains that the paper trail began with a 1629 deed from native Americans in the Mid-Atlantic to Dutchman Gillis Hossitt for lands stretching from present day New York southward through Delaware.

The book also details some of the old maps that incorrectly showed Cape Henlopen - sometimes referred to as the False Cape - where Fenwick Island is today.  Lord Baltimore used that map as the basis for the boundaries of the three lower counties after losing the court case.  Penn and his people were only too happy to accept the addition of the extra land - most of what is Sussex County today - that the incorrect map gave them. Later maps correctly moved the location of Cape Henlopen northward. The Transpeninsular Line that establised Delaware's southern border, and the Mason-Dixon Line that established Delaware's western border, both grew out of that court settlement.

Holland's book includes maps and photographs that add immeasurably to the work.  Copies of the hardback book with dust cover are available through Delaware Heritage Press, 121 Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard North, Dover, DE 19901.

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