Delaware Before the Railroads: A Diamond Among the States

Dave Tabler

Publisher: Dave Tabler Pages: 100 Price: (paperback) $30.00 ISBN: 9798987000601 Reviewed: February, 2023 Author Website: Visit »

Dave Tabler presents a photo gallery of sites and artifacts from Delaware history, along with extensive endnotes, to tell the story of the “Diamond State” during the colonial period and early years of the United States.

The book begins by covering the area’s various long-resident Native American groups, most famously the Lenape, and the 17th-century arrival of Europeans, mostly Swedish and Dutch, who, readers might be surprised to learn, fought pitched battles on American soil during the 1640s and ’50s. Also interestingly, although the Swedes lost, they introduced the iconic “American” log cabin in the process.

Local pirate lore is briefly touched on, represented by the notorious Captain Kidd’s reputed spot for buried treasure along the Delaware. More extensively, Tabler discusses African Americans in this period, both as slaves and “freedmen.” A close-up shot of a crudely “handhewn beam” in a “roughly built” slave home simply but eloquently testifies to plantation life’s harshness.

Turning to a nobler chapter in state history, Tabler showcases Delaware’s role in the Revolution. Readers encounter images of a bas-relief of Caesar Rodney casting his vote for independence, of the state’s only Revolutionary battle site, and, inevitably, of a house where George Washington once stayed. Wrapping up the narrative, Tabler covers the expansion of the state’s economy in the 1810s with the introduction of steamships and in the ’20s with canals.

The book’s odd formatting requires flipping back and forth between the photos in the main body and the accompanying notes in the back. This quickly becomes tedious. And while there are some items of general historical interest—such as vivid period jargon, like the 18th century’s name for amputation, “the Capital Operation”—the information involves mostly matters of local concern.

For Delawareans interested in learning more about their state’s history, or in celebrating a history they’re already steeped in, however, Tabler’s slim volume will be a useful and rewarding resource for dipping into.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

Author's Current Residence
Dover, Delaware
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