|The "mill" that started it all|
This particular journey began while I was looking into the history of the Eastburn-Jeanes Lime Kiln Historic District. Everywhere I looked, the history began with Abel Jeanes' purchase of the property sometime around 1815. There were no mentions of any previous owners -- not even who it was that Jeanes bought the land from. The only clues I could find anywhere came in Francis Cooch's book, Little Known History of Newark, Delaware and Its Environs. First, while visiting the area in the early 1930's, he stated that he believed part of the Jeanes House (then resided in by Joseph Eastburn, Jr.) to be older than the ownership of Abel Jeanes. Secondly, he also was sure that Jeanes' warehouse was originally built as a grist mill. In fact, Eastburn told him that the story he had heard was that it was burned by passing British troops during the Revolution. Finally, the last clue Cooch gives us is a passing mention by Eastburn that he thought the owners before Jeanes were named "Black". Not a lot to go on, but I thought I'd give it a shot.
The name "Black" didn't mean anything to me in this context, so I started thinking about the mill. Then I remembered that Scharf's history contained a list of mills and mill owners on the 1804 tax assessment. So I looked it up, and sure enough, one of the "forgotten" mills was owned by "James Black's Estate". Now that I had a name to go on, I started digging to see what I could find about James Black. Honestly, I only hoped to maybe find a reference to the name on a genealogy site, or a quick mention of the name on a report somewhere. Needless to say, I was quite surprised when I started to find more than just a quick mention of his name. As it turns out, James Black was probably one of the more well-known people in MCH in the second half of the 18th Century.
James Black was born in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, in 1736, and came to America with his Scotch-Irish family four years later. He was married three times, his first two wives having died in 1774 and 1779. (Here is a book that has some family info.) Although he seems to have been raised on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, by at least the early 1770's he had moved to Mill Creek Hundred. In 1777, he was elected to serve a one year term in the state House of Assembly in Dover -- the forerunner of the House of Representatives. Black didn't just involve himself in politics, though. He also performed military duty, serving as a captain in Delaware's Whig Battalion, and later as a major in the Delaware Militia. All of that aside, his main line of work was the law. Black was a practicing lawyer, and served as a Justice of the Peace in 1778. In 1785, he was elected to serve on the Privy Council, which, under Delaware's first constitution, was a four-member body that shared executive power with the President of the state (the position later to be changed to Governor). Finally, in 1793, he was elected to the state House of Representatives, a term that would be cut short by his death the following year. [*See below for a late addition to this post.]
As if all of that wasn't enough (and sure would have been for me!), Black was also a major landowner in the MCH area. This is where we rejoin our story. Unfortunately, Scharf doesn't give any clues as to where Black's mill was located. I was still hoping to find something -- anything -- that would link this prominent figure to the tract purchased by Abel Jeanes when I stumbled across this advertisement. It's from an 1809 edition of the American Watchman, a Wilmington newspaper. It lists for sale "a valuable merchant mill and plantation, the late residence of James Black, Esq., dec'd.,". Although I was really hoping that this might be the property I was looking for, I couldn't ignore the fact that the ad stated it was "situate on White Clay Creek", not Pike Creek. After doing a bit more research, I now think the ad referred to the Roseville Mill, which was located near where Kirkwood Highway now crosses White Clay Creek. (There may be more about this mill in a later post.)
However, just today, I finally found what I think is the answer. The advertisement pictured above (also from The Watchman) has not only the ad for the merchant mill and James Black's former residence, it also has a second "Valuable Plantation in the upper part of Mill Creek Hundred". Among the other amenities list, very excitingly it states that, "There is on the land a quarry of fine limestone, at present open and in use, and a kiln for burning it." It also states that the land has been rented out as two farms, and there is a house and outbuildings for each. Personally, I don't see how this could be anything else but the two farms purchased by Abel Jeanes and David Eastburn. This also proves that those two men did not originate the lime business at the site, although they may have bought the tracts with that industry in mind. So I believe this shows that Jeanes and Eastburn purchased their farms from the estate of James Black, an early leader in MCH. (The J.R. Black in the ad is James Riddle Black, son of the deceased, a lawyer himself and later a State Superior Court Judge.)
Oh yeah -- At the top of the post, I mentioned that James Black played a part in the establishment of our state and nation. Partially, I base this statement on his service in the Continental Army and the Revolutionary legislature of the fledgling State of Delaware. However, Black did play one more role, in 1787. In December of that year, on the 7th to be exact, James Black was one of ten representatives from New Castle County to participate in the Constitutional Convention in Dover. Along with the other 29 men present, he voted to ratify the new Federal Constitution, thereby making Delaware the First State in the Union.
* After completing this post, I came across an excerpt from an obituary address given for James Black by Rev. John Creery. I include it here because I think it gives a feeling for how he was viewed by his contemporaries:
"Mr. James Black was a warm friend to his country, and early took an active part in defence of her rights and privileges; his usefulness, open and candid deportment, procured the love and esteem of a large circle of acquaintances. He served his country with reputation for several years in places of public trust, and his fellow citizens have, on several occasions, fully manifested the confidence they reposed in him. In his extensive and various branches of business for many years, he was much esteemed for his probity and punctuality. By his industry he acquired a large fortune, and was able and ready to relieve the distressed; his sincere friendship and piety endeared him to many, especially those who were intimately acquainted with the doctrines of Christianity; a lover of the truth, and truly exemplary for sobriety, and a steady performance of the duties enjoined by our holy religion.
"In his death, the public hath lost a faithful servant; the religious society to which he belonged, a worthy and useful member; and his family, a careful and indulgent head."