~by Joan Robinson Medland~
The present town of Camden is located on land that is largely derived from the tract called Brecknock warranted to Alexander Humphreys dated 17th day of the ninth month, 1680, containing six hundred acres in what was then St. Jones County. He was a Philadelphia carpenter and is listed in a census of “responsible housekeepers” of the county in the early 1680s, the total inhabitants for the territory from the upper part of Cedar Creek to the upper part of Duck Creek being 99 persons. Shortly thereafter, he sold the land to Richard Mitchell, a surveyor from Stockton-on-Toaes of County Durham, England. He expanded his holdings through the purchase of tracts of land to the North and East called “Smyrna” and “Reserve”. It is not known whether he occupied the land for any length of time, but more than likely imported tenants to clear and till the land.
During these days of the early eighteenth century, there were very few buildings present in the area. The first recorded dwelling on this land is that mentioned when John Hill sold to John Clayton in 1746, although houses must certainly have existed before this time. The activities of the properties in the area now occupied by Camden were largely those of the miller’s trade. John Clayton, Jr. had been given a grist mill by his father in 1738. This is the mill or mill site currently known on Wyoming Mill. During this four-year tenure at Brecknock, he built a grist mill which he called Clayton’s New Mill.
By mid-eighteenth century, four hundred thirty-six acres of Brecknock came into the hands of Colonel John Vining. In 1780, this acreage was purchased from the heirs of the Vining estate by Warner Mifflin, a member of the Society of Friends, from Accomack County, Virginia. Already by this time there was a crossroad in the middle of this land with some degree of mercantile activity to accommodate the traffic of lumber and grain to Dover and north and to the Forest Landing to the east, where goods were subsequently shipped by water to Philadelphia and other ports.
The potential for expansion must have been great after the Revolution, for in 1783 Warner Mifflin sold one hundred twelve aces to his brother Daniel, who shortly thereafter sold about a dozen lots of approximately one to eleven acres. Daniel’s land encompassed most of the crossroad area and thus these divided tracts were to form the core of the village called Picadilly, more commonly known by the name of Mifflin’s Crossroads, and by 1790 called Camden. The brick structures that now line the streets of the historic area of Camden were built in this early period or in another period of growth during the second war with Great Britain. There are probably structures now existing whose framework far precedes this development. One of the first structures built by Daniel Mifflin was the hotel on the northwest side of the crossroads, which stood until its demolition in the l960s. The following is a portion of the 1800 census report of Kent County:
1800 Census of Kent County, page 73
Camden, a small town situated on ye main road leading from Dover to Canterbury containing 56 dwelling houses, 11 of which is brick and 323 inhabitants, mostly Friends & Methodists. It has several stores and carried on a considerable trade with Maryland by transporting corn and rye to Philadelphia & New York. Being within 2½ miles of Lebanon on what is commonly called the Forest Landing, and 3 miles from Dover, the Metropolis of the state of Kent County in Delaware.
Residents in 1800:
Jonathan Hunn, William Watton, Thomas Bowman, Elijah Barrett, Samuel Edmonson, Imanuel Cain, Anthony Blackshire, Nicey Boggs, Thomas Jenkins, Solomon Hunn, James Daws, George Hairgrove, Israil Coase, Elizabeth Ruth, John Hatfield, Elizabeth Newton, Sampton Rovers, Benjamin Brady, Robert Brady, William Jones, Daniel Lewis, William Dolbey, Mary Catts, Isaac Wallace, James Brien, Elias Jarrald, James Newman, Thomas Corsey, Nimrod Maxwell, George Truitt, Jonathan Wallace, Calep Jackson, London Derry, Nathaniel Firbee, James North, Daniel Mifflin, Solomon Johnson, Isaac King, Isaac Regester, Warren Mifflin, Perry Clapage, Benjamin Smith, John Williams, Jabez Jenkins, Thomas Paine, Grace Fisher, Andrews Pearce, Samuel Howell, Jeremiah Burcheual, Thomas Bowman, James Fisher
By 1818, the town included over seventy lots and out lots, division of property occurring through a combination of speculative exchanges of inheritance. The range of occupation represented includes: merchants, bricklayers, tanners, carriage makers, innkeepers, physicians, house carpenters, and blacksmiths.
Commercial activity and growth continued to be strong, hampered only by the coming of the railroad one mile to the west in 1856 and the beginnings of the new town of Wyoming. However, the commencement of the first canning industry by George Stetson and William Ellison in the same year ensured a prosperous economy into the twentieth century.
The first church in Camden was built by Methodists in 1796, and was used until 1857 when it was razed and a new church, still standing, was built on Commerce Street (now Camden-Wyoming Avenue). A small cemetery still marks the location of the original site of the 1796 structure. In spite of the earlier structure by the Methodists, the beginnings of Camden were most clearly influenced by the Quakers. The Mifflins were, of course, members of the Society of Friends, as were some of the town’s most prominent citizens, including the Hunns, Jenkins, Lowbers, Dolbys, Nocks, and Howells. The Camden Monthly Meeting was the last to be established, but is today the only surviving meeting in Kent County. The Meeting House was built in 1805 and still stands today on lands donated by Jonathan Hunn for this purpose. Many of the Quakers were prominent Abolitionists. The tone of their involvement was established when in 1774, Warner Mifflin freed his twenty-one slaves. In the ensuing eighteen years, six hundred twelve slaves were freed by Delaware Quakers. There is also strong tradition that the Camden Friends were active in the Underground Railroad of the mid-nineteenth century.
Other institutions which have played continuing roles in the Camden community include Amity Lodge, No. 20, International Order of Odd Fellows, instituted at Camden in 1849 and still occupying the building in 1850 for its meetings, and Fruitland Grange in the town since the late 1800s, whose present structure was built in 1908.
In 1980, the town of Camden counted 1,757 inhabitants and covered an area of 3.1 square miles. However, the modern world has done little to change the character and fabric of this early nineteenth-century town.
Bibliography: National Register of Historic Places, 1973; Scharf’s History of Delaware; unpublished communication with Elizabeth Harnell Goggins; 1800 Census of Kent County, Genealogical Recorder, Bladensburg, MD, p. 73
© Friends of Historic Camden 2015, all rights reserved
Photos courtesy of Richard Maly and Rebecca Gibbs