As we have discussed on SNN, the northernmost extremes of the shared agrarian civilisation of the Caribbean and the South that many nineteenth-century Southerners viewed in terms of a ‘Golden Circle‘ (a term we have revised for historical and contemporary Southern nationalist use) in some cases extended beyond the traditional or commonly understood North-South boundaries. One such area, as we have seen, was ‘Little Egypt‘ (southern Illinois); another was the small, coastal State of Delaware.
Delaware was considered a border State in the Antebellum period. It had been largely settled (especially in the southern part of the State) by colonists from Virginia and Maryland and it maintained strong cultural ties to the South. Though conditions were not ideal for a plantation society, slavery was legal in the State. However, by 1860 there were fewer than 2,000 slaves in all of Delaware with the largest slaveholder owning just 16 slaves. The Black South Carolinian slave owner William Ellison, by comparison, owned 63 slaves. Of the 20,000 Blacks in Delaware, 91.7% of them were free by 1860.
Despite the lack of a strong plantation system, Delaware was politically aligned with the South. Its citizens rejected the Northern Republican Abraham Lincoln at the polls in 1860, choosing the Southern Democrat John Breckenridge over Lincoln by a two to one margin. Like the other Mid-Atlantic States (especially Maryland), Delaware had a secessionist movement and though the State did not end up seceding in 1861 (had it done so it would have immediately been occupied by US troops, much like Maryland and parts of Kentucky and Missouri – in the end, Union troops were sent into the State anyhow to ‘maintain order’) some of its men crossed into Maryland and Virginia and joined the Confederate military.
One interesting document which testifies to the strong Southern support in Delaware comes to us from William Burton, the governor of Delaware. Burton was a Southern Democrat and Episcopalian from Sussex County, a States’ rights supporter and opponent of emancipation. Especially in the more populous lower two counties of Delaware, most of the people were sympathetic to the South. However, Delaware’s small size and precarious position presented Governor Burton with little room to maneuver. In an 1861 letter to Governor Thomas Hicks of Maryland, Burton discussed the strong Southern support in Delaware and stated his opposition to Federal troops occupying his State.