A Brief History of Lewes Delaware

Along a sheltered strip of land at the southeastern tip of the Delaware Bay, is the town of Lewes, perfectly situated on high ground.  Originally discovered by Henry Hudson, in 1609, and settled in 1631 when members of a Dutch Company sought to establish a whaling station where the Bay met the Atlantic Ocean. They called the location Swaandeel. After a dispute with the local Native Americans, (probably visiting Potamacks,) the settlers were wiped out and the stockade destroyed.

In 1638, A Swedish-Dutch expedition sailed further up the Bay to the Christiana River and settled near what is now Wilmington. This settlement thrived, and soon smaller groups from this colony made their way back to Lewes, where the natural resources of fish, fowl, wild pig and shellfish made living easy along the Delaware Bay.  For over 375 years, the town of Lewes has enjoyed a colorful history including visits from a variety of Pirates, including Captain James Kidd, who was hosted by several prominent citizens while ashore. Local legend says that when he set sail again, his ship was lighter by 17 tons of gold that he had hidden in the region. During the War of 1812, a British Frigate bombarded the town for 72 hours. Although those that perished were chickens, a dog and few domesticated pigs, several houses along the waterfront still bear the scars of the Battle. The Cannon Ball House on First Street is a local landmark, with a 6 pound ball imbedded in the brick foundation.

For most of its history, Lewes has been a commercial fishing town mining the bounty of the Delaware Bay and Atlantic Ocean. Menhaden, and oyster fishing were lucrative businesses in Lewes until the mid-20th Century. The surrounding marshes, along the Broadkill and the Misipillion Rivers are major stops on the flyway for many species of waterfowl, including Canadian geese. Millions of geese stop here at the marshes, on their flight south for the winter. The estuaries along the Delaware Bay are spawning grounds for many fish, shellfish and horseshoe crabs.

During the Great Wars, Fort Miles in Lewes was the location of dark-projects with the Department of the Navy, designed to break the codes used by the German Navy. Even though the U.S. did not enter the War until 1917, dozens of merchant ships were destroyed by German U-Boats just off the Jersey and Delaware coastline, near the mouth of the Delaware Bay. To protect the commerce in northeastern cities and the ships in the Delaware Bay, the US Military leased coastal lands from the State of Delaware and erected “Observation Towers” all along the Delaware beaches, as far south as Fenwick Island. Nine towers.  In the dunes by the ocean, the towers stand about 45 feet high and was manned by a trained squad, 24 hours each day, everyday. Their job was to watch for enemy ships offshore.  Men in the towers could triangulate the location of ships and calculate their speed. This information was relayed to men operating the big guns at Fort Miles. Because of the watchful eyes in the towers, very few American merchant ships were attacked along the Delaware Coast during the second Great War. Even so, local legend says that occasionally, when the Germans in the U-Boats ran out of rations, they would surface 2 miles off the coast, and send their best English-speaking sailors over board with a dingy to paddle to shore. During 1942 and 1943, small grocery stores in Dewey and Rehoboth reported selling eggs and loaves of bread to very polite blond men in dark suits.

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