Lewes welcomes first history book festival

October 10, 2017

The nation's only history book festival came to Lewes Oct. 6-7, opening to a sold-out crowd – and the First Town in the First State's passion for history burned bright throughout the event.

New York Times best-selling author James Swanson opened the festival with a sold-out presentation on "Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer."

Accompanying the presentation and taking the crowd back in time were musicians from Federal City Brass Band, playing Civil War tunes on period instruments.

Swanson's description of President Abraham Lincoln's assassination in the waning days of a brutal war and the intense manhunt to find Lincoln's killer painted a picture of a nation divided that continues to resonate more than 150 years later.

The festival was established by Ron Collins and Biblion owner Jen Mason, who opened her bookstore in Lewes in 2010, finding success at a time many locally owned bookstores nationwide were failing. Betting on the same interest in history and reading that keeps her store open, she set out to attract some of the nation's best historical nonfiction and fiction writers. Mason worried it would be difficult to attract top-shelf authors, but by focusing the festival on historical fiction and nonfiction, she provided a venue for a remarkable array of writers who might be overlooked at large festivals that cater to popular fiction and cookbooks.

She was also betting on her customers, and they came through, attending sessions on 18th century pirates – an ever-popular topic in Lewes, and others on topics as varied as Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther and Sante Fe artist Olive Rush. Highlighting Delaware history was retired Delaware Supreme Court Justice Randy Holland, author of "Delaware's Destiny Determined by Lewes," interviewed by Lewes Historical Society's Mike DiPaolo.

Bringing history up to the present was a crowded presentation on "The Making of Black Lives Matter," by Christopher Lebron.

The historical society has deemed the inaugural festival a rousing success, and we agree. If you missed this one, no need to worry. Organizers have already set the date for next year's festival, Sept. 28-29.


  • Editorials are considered by the editorial board and written by Laura Ritter, news editor, and Dennis Forney, publisher, with occasional contributions from other board members: Trish Vernon, editor; Dave Frederick, sports editor emeritus; Jen Ellingsworth, associate editor; Nick Roth, sports editor; and Chris Rausch, associate publisher.