“Sights and Sites of Memory”

Mapping Black existence in White Clay Creek Hundred

By: Britney Henry | Posted: 7-7-2022

The 1849 map of White Clay Creek Hundred only lists and plots the white heads of households without detailing the enslaved, apprenticed, indentured, and free Black residents who also occupied this space.[1] This research reconceptualizes the 1849 map to feature the archival records of enslaved, apprenticed, indentured, and free Black residents of White Clay Creek Hundred to visually acknowledge Black existence. This research project draws on Katherine McKittrick’s concept of Black geography as the framing of this act of reparative justice. The reconceptualization of the 1849 map is the work McKittrick considers, “the site of memory is also the sight of memory—imagination requires a return to and engagement with painful places, worlds where Black people were and are denied humanity…through different forms of violence and disavowal.”[2]

For the purposes of this project, reparative justice is significant. Reparative justice “measures seek to repair, in some way, the harm done to victims as a result of human rights violations committed against them.”[3] The act of reparative justice in this project is making visible Black existence that was previously erased on the map that only features white landowners. The violation here is the silencing or erasure of Blackness geographically. The Black residents of historic White Clay Creek Hundred deserve “measures that seek to repair” the erasure of their existence.  This kind of harm was purposeful—it indicated what it meant to be othered — because it was believed that identity is not owed to the Black body.

To recover these names of Black residents, archival sources ranging from 1820-1860 were consulted, including United States census records, the George Evans Family Papers collection housed in the University of Delaware Special Collections, the Delaware Public Archives Apprentice Indentures database, and Syl Woolford’s research on the Lewis family. I specifically chose to generate names from this forty year period to gather as many names as possible for this project. Black existence could only be found in white records. While I was able to access many of these sources, I must recognize that it was not as easy to find Black existence as I had hoped. Black life in the archive consists of silences and erasure. I do not believe that the map is fully accurate to the amount of Black individuals in the households I researched, but what I do have is a start in the right direction.

Reading the Map

The reconceptualized map of White Clay Creek Hundred was created in ArcGIS. The map features the 1849 map with an overlay of Newark now. Surrounding the names of each white landowner are clusters of green pinpoints. Each pinpoint represents a Black person of some qausi-freedom. The map is interactive and when clicked on, the pinpoint will open a textbox that provides the following information: name, date, sex, status, and source. The dates are not always indicative of birth, but rather indicate when the Black residents show up in the white historical record: counted for a census or listed in an apprenticeship agreement or indenture. When an individual’s name, sex, or status was not indicated in the record, “unknown” was listed as a placeholder. If their name was provided, usually it was just a first name. For most of the enslaved Black people found in white households, unknown was put in place of their actual names because that information was erased from the history of White Clay Creek Hundred.

The common occupations listed for the Black residents present in the selected list of white landowners’ households were farming, cabinet making, and husbandry. The map indicates that farming was, by far, the main occupation for Black residents of free, apprenticed, or indentured status.

Present-Day Implications

The reconceptualized map illustrates how closely tied Black life is to the landscape of the University of Delaware. Black people labored upon the land the school rests upon and inhabited many of the areas the university is positioned. New London Road no longer looks the same, as student housing has taken over the space that once was a thriving free Black community. Gentrification has plummeted through the area. As for Delaware, Carole Marks states that Black people “have established themselves as a vital and integral part of the state. Black labor—both slave and free—was essential to its economic development. But its dependence of Black labor itself was problematic.”[4] They maintain the upkeep of the university, work the university must depend on. The University of Delaware cannot effectively and truthfully tell its history without acknowledging how vital Black life was to White Clay Creek Hundred’s landscape and even though the name has changed to Newark, Black life is still vital to this area today. Just as the university acknowledges its status as a land-grant institution, it must also indicate who labored on the land the university occupies.

Britney Henry (she/her) is an English and Museum Studies PhD student at the University of Delaware studying Black popular culture and Black material texts. She received her BA from Mercer University and MA from Auburn University. Additionally, she has attended book history courses at both Rare Book School and California Rare Book School.

[1] Samuel M. Rea and Jacob Price, Map of New Castle County, Delaware, from Original Surveys (Philadelphia: Smith and Wisar, 1849), https://www.davidrumsey.com/luna/servlet/detail/RUMSEY~8~1~252228~5517841. The section of the map being reconceptualized of White Clay Creek contains thirteen names and three businesses – Edward Armstrong, Samuel Bell, Thomas Blandy, Christopher Brooks, Samuel C. Finley, Thomas Holland Jr., Andrew Kerr, Albert G. Lewis, James S. Martin, James L. Miles, John Miller, John Thompson, Rathmell Wilson and the business of Johnson’s Sawmill, J. Dean’s Woll Factory, and W. Robertson’s Gristmill and Sawmill. Thomas Blandy, James L. Miles, and Rathmell Wilson were all on the board of Trustees for Delaware College—what is now known as the University of Delaware. Catalogue of the Officers and Students of Newark College, 1839-40 (Philadelphia: Printed by William Stavely & Co., No. 12 Pear Street, 1840).

[2] Katherine McKittrick, Demonic Grounds: Black Women And The Cartographies Of Struggle, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006), 33.

[3] Kelli Muddell and Sibley Hawkins, “Gender and Transitional Justice: A Training Module Series,” International Center for Transitional Justice, October 2018, p. 7.

[4] Carole Marks, ed., A History of African Americans of Delaware and Maryland’s Eastern Shore, 2nd ed., (Wilmington: Delaware Heritage Commission, 1998).