Daisey family photos offer rare glimpse into Lewes history

Black History Month presentation links past to present
February 24, 2023

They say a proper photograph is worth a thousand words. On Feb. 16, Darryl Daisey had tens of thousands of words to share with the Lewes African American Heritage Commission.

Heirlooms sometimes make their way from generation to generation without much fanfare; however, the Daiseys’ photographs taken in Lewes not only connect that family to their past, but also provide valuable visual data for historians and researchers.

Darryl is one of the eight children of William and Shirley Daisey. He hasn’t lived in Lewes since 1965, but over the last 30 years, he has studied his family’s history. With the help of relatives and friends, he created an extensive family genealogy that goes as far back as 1773 and Mills Coursey. Mills’ son, John Coursey, had a child, Lydia, with his wife Eliza Sammons. Lydia would go on to marry James “Alfred” Daisey.

Despite never being taught how to read or write, the Daisey couple would purchase 333 Savannah Road, a home still owned by the present-day Daisey family. Daryl’s great-grandmother, Sarah “Sallie” Waples Daisey, and her two siblings were born and raised in the home. Sarah had two children, including Darryl’s grandmother Pearl Florine Daisey. 

Sarah’s brother William S. Daisey served in World War I, where it is believed he learned how to drive, and suffered lifelong complications from exposure to mustard gas that led to an early death. A family photograph from 1917 shows William in his military uniform adorned with a service medal. Another photo from the 1920s features William standing alongside the Hotel Rodney Lewes and Rehoboth Auto Bus Line he operated. When he returned home from the war, William purchased 111 Coleman Ave. and married Elsie Stockley. Following his passing, Elsie remarried and moved out of the home, eventually selling the property to her two godsons, Darryl and Darnell. 

Elsie lived to be 101 years old, passing away in 2000 as Elsie Daisey Draine. She left behind a gold-colored can of photographs. Darryl eventually came into possession of the photographs and following the passing of his father, William Harrison Daisey Sr., he began organizing and charting the family’s lengthy history. 

For Darryl, the photos provided a connection to several of his lost family members, including Benjamin Harrison Daisey. While he doesn’t remember him much, Darryl said he named his eldest son after his great, great uncle.

For historians like J. Marcos Salaverria, director of education at the Lewes Historical Society, the photos of a younger Benjamin show what life was like in Lewes more than 100 years ago. 

William Harrison Daisey Sr. was one of 20 children. He lived off and on in Lewes for the first 34 years of his life, marrying Shirley Street and eventually purchasing 331 Chestnut St., another property still owned by the family. He earned a master’s degree and settled in Dover, becoming a vice principal in the Lake Forest School District, a Dover city councilman and chief of the Nanticoke Indian Tribe. Shirley was a 30-year leader in the Girl Scouts organization. 

William passed away Thanksgiving 2021. Shortly afterwards, his children began examining the trove of family photographs and fleshing out their history. The family stumbled upon the Facebook page Memories of Lewes in September 2022 and has since posted over 350 photos to the page. Darryl said the community has been helpful in identifying people and events in the photos. 

“I thought that history was lost there. I thought we could not find pictures from the ’20s or the ’30s, let alone the 1800s,” said Trina Brown-Hicks.

Brown-Hicks is a member of the Lewes African American Heritage Commission and an administrator of the Memories of Lewes page. 

“These photographs are essentially what you call a historian’s dream,” Salaverria said. “They are going to continue the conversation and continue preservation. Each time we learn more and more.”

A total of 70 photographs from the Daisey collection were loaned to the Lewes Historical Society and will be featured in an exhibition.

“We hope it will not only help, but enrich the telling of the African American story of Lewes,” Daryl said. “My grandmother and my great-grandmother would be thrilled to know that they were helpful in telling that story.”

The entire presentation can be viewed in the Feb. 16, 2023, meeting agenda available at


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