John Dickinson Plantation

From my travels, February 4, 2023.

Several months back, a good friend of mine who had grown up in Delaware, suggested that I check out the John Dickinson Plantation. We had a free afternoon, so it seemed like a good time to explore a bit.

Dickinson was an interesting guy. He is one of the rare founding fathers to have participated in all three of the important early documents: the Declaration of Independence (though he refused to sign it), the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution (which he signed as a representative from Delaware. A native Marylander, he was among the wealthiest men in the colonies, with holdings in Pennsylvania as well. He was a prolific writer, but seemed to hold a more moderate view than some of the others – perhaps because of his Quaker beliefs. He preferred the idea of a negotiated settlement of the grievances that existed with the British crown. Toward the end of his life, he expressed limited abolitionist sentiments, eventually freeing all his slaves.

Checking out the orientation film at the visitors center. - <i>Photo by the author</i>
Checking out the orientation film at the visitors center. – Photo by the author

The historical site here consists mainly of the mansion on the property. There is a small visitors center with a very sparse museum, though the introductory film was good. One of the more bizarre aspects of the site is how it is affiliated. Up until the 1990s, Delaware had no NPS sites. There was a push to create what became First State National Historical Park by involving the NPS in a few of the state historic sites. There were no NPS employees here – it’s primarily run by Delaware, but they offer a limited Junior Ranger program. There was no book – simply participating in a tour earns the badge. They did have a few activity books about sounds in nature, so we took those, but that part of the park experience seems a little disjointed.

Moving on to the main house, the tour was interesting, but not as impressive as some of the other founders’ homes. For one thing, this was not Dickinson’s main residence, but I also think this was due to his Quaker lifestyle. Despite his wealth, he attempted to maintain a plain, modest lifestyle. One of the more interesting things that the tour guide pointed out is that his wealth was displayed in subtle ways in the home. They had extremely high ceilings, and portraits of the family members included their hands – notoriously hard to paint, and thus much more expensive.

In the end, we learned quite a bit about this founding father, and the boys got their First State Junior Ranger badges. It was a good use of a few hours.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *