Monday, March 25, 2013

Jabez Banks Invitations

Jabez Banks, Jr.
In the recent post about the Mendenhall Mob I wrote about how nice it is to occasionally get a glimpse into the everyday lives of the 19th Century residents of Mill Creek Hundred, and how helpful it can be to come across something from their lives with which we can easily relate. Assuming that everyone has at one time received a party invitation, I have another example. A few months back I was given an envelope containing items relating to three events, all of which once belonged to an ancestor of the donor. There are two party invitations and one commencement program and ticket, all once belonging to a MCH native named Jabez Banks (1855-1927).

If the name sounds vaguely familiar, Jabez was mentioned briefly in the post about his brother, the local automotive pioneer Richard Banks. He was the son of Jabez and Jane Banks, English immigrants who settled originally in Christiana Hundred in the 1840's. In 1850 they were living in the area just west of Wilmington, near Dupont Road and Maryland Avenue (Rt. 4). Interestingly, this was very close to another newly-arrived English family, the Browns. By 1860, Jabez and Jane had moved to the same area in which several of the Brown sons also settled -- just west of Stanton.

Frustratingly, the Bankses never appear on any of the maps, even though their holdings in 1870 were as much as twice as great as some of their neighbors who were shown on the 1868 map. My hunch is that Jabez, Sr. first leased a farm from Joseph Wollaston near what is now All Saint's Cemetery, then bought a farm outright in the same general vicinity. One of two things probably happened -- either they were just missed by the mapmakers, or their timing was bad. Jabez could have bought his farm between 1868 and 1870. He died in 1880, so the 1881 map may have omitted the family because they sold their farm, or maybe because ownership was unclear and leaving them off was easier. I don't know. Either way it's frustrating.

Front and inside of program (top and middle) and ticket (bottom)

But now on to the items at hand. The first of the three events was the Commencement for the Boys High School in Wilmington on June 28, 1877. The high school had only been created earlier that decade, and was housed in the No.1 School located on French Street between 5th and 6th (probably about where the courthouse parking garage is now). The 1877 Commencement represented the school's third graduating class, and was held at the Masonic Temple, more commonly known today as the Grand Opera House. It had only been opened for a few years at that point, too.

Since there's no list of the graduating class, I'm not completely sure that Jabez was the one participating, but since the items came from a granddaughter of his I think that's the most likely scenario. The envelope has written on it "Mr. Jabez Banks", presumably for Jabez, Jr. But since he was actually 21 at the time, the possibility exists that the envelope was for his father, and that the graduate was Richard Banks, who would have been 17. Since school attendance was a bit looser then, either is possible. I still think that the commencement was for Jabez, though.

The second item (chronologically) is the party invitation seen above. It's for a "Social Hop" on Thursday, January 26, 1882, at the home of James K. Lynam. Lynam was obviously a friend of Jabez Banks, since at the bottom you can see that Jabez, along with Robson Banks (presumably his brother Richard R.), James' brother Quimby Lynam, and Gus Columbus comprise the "Committee". Since no Columbuses are listed in Delaware in the 1880 Census, I don't know who this final man was, planning the party with the Lynam and Banks brothers.

I was able, however, to figure out where the "Social Hop" took place. Unfortunately, James K. Lynam's house no longer stands, and in fact I doubt you'd even think that there was a house and farm at the site. As the invitation states, it was located near Christiana in White Clay Creek Hundred. More specifically, Lynam's property was just south of where the Christiana Mall is now, to the east of Route 1. You know how you sort of go through a wooded area on Route 1 between the mall and Route 273? Lynam's farm was in what's now that overgrown area, to your left if you're going south, to your right coming north. Although the area was farmed well into the 20th Century, James K. Lynam sold his farm in 1889 and moved away.

Almost three years later, it was apparently the Banks family's turn to play the part of party host. On Thursday evening, November 27, 1884, an "Evening Party" was held at the home of J. W. Banks. Of the three items, this one has by far been the most confusing and frustrating to research. Initially, I assumed that the party was held at the home of Jabez Banks, since the other items pertained to him and came from his family. Since the invitation states the gathering is "At the house of J. W. Banks, Riverside", I assumed that "Riverside" was the name of the Jabez's farm. But as was noted earlier, none of the Bankses ever appear on any maps, so I'm not completely sure where they lived at any given time. I know they were generally in the area west of Stanton, and the donor of the items said the family lived at one time in the old white house in the middle of the White Clay Creek Country Club (Delaware Park) golf course. I thought since it's near the creek, maybe they sort of tongue-in-cheekily called it Riverside.

Eventually, though, it occurred to me that I didn't know what Jabez's middle initial was, and I had never seen him called "J. W.". I soon realized that the party host was not Jabez, but rather his older brother John W. Banks (1852-1931). The next step was to try to figure out where John was living in 1884, and what or where Riverside was. Censuses are not much help, since it's more than four years after the 1880, and 16 years before 1900, the next available census. In 1880 John was living in New Castle Hundred in the vicinity of the 13-40 split, probably near School Bell Road. Since nothing about that area screams "Riverside", I kept looking.

I couldn't find much, but I did run across one item that I think gives at least the general location of the party. This report dealing with cattle health lists in its survey a J.W. Banks, Riverside. He was visited less than two months after the party, and his position directly after the Edgemoor Iron Company is the vital clue. At that time, the PW&B Railroad station just north of Edgemoor in Brandywine Hundred was called "Riverside". Assuming that the area around was also referred to as Riverside, this puts John W. Banks' house somewhere in the vicinity of Bellefonte or Gordon Heights. I don't know precisely where he lived, but if I ever find out I'll be sure to update.

One last note on the Banks party invitation has to do with a word conspicuously absent from it. Did anything about the date stand out to you? I even went back to verify it, and yes, Thursday November 27, 1884 was the date of Thanksgiving that year. It's possible that John's party was in part a Thanksgiving party, but I think it goes to show how differently the holiday was thought of then. Could you imagine someone today, A) throwing a party on the night of Thanksgiving, and B) not even mentioning the word Thanksgiving on the invitation if they did?
Jabez and Sarah Banks, daughters Jessie, Bessie, and Annie (Nan)

This all leaves me, in the end, wondering why Jabez Banks saved these these items through the years and several moves. The following is purely romantic speculation, but I have some ideas. The high school commencement items he probably saved just because he was proud of having graduated, something still not common at the time. Jabez and Sara (Chambers) were married in 1883, only a year after the Lynam Social Hop. I wonder if this had some significance to them -- maybe they met at the party, or perhaps announced their engagement there. Their first child, daughter Jessie, was born in July 1884, only four months before the J.W. Banks party. Was this the first time they got to show their new baby off to their friends? Again, all speculation, but fun try when dealing with emotions and feeling we can directly relate to.


  1. the invitation seem like invitation to back on history

  2. Can you get me the name and address of the principal researcher here? I lost his email and want to contact him about Black's Mill.
    John MacWilliams

  3. Click on the "About" tab for the link.

  4. And speaking of personal stuff from the 1880's, there's something else to go look at. Over at the Lower Red Clay Valley Blog (, Denis has an autograph book belonging to a local girl with signatures dating to 1886-1888. The signers mostly include their last names, and most of you should recognize at least a few. The catch is, we don't seem to know who the owner was, except that her name was Carrie. Good chance she lived in the Stanton-Marshallton area, but no way to tell for sure. Go take a look and see who you recognize.