Lewes : History

by Dave on June 23, 2008

375_logo1.jpgLewes, DE has a lengthy and fascinating history. Mike Dipalo, Executive Director of the Lewes Historical Society, has redesigned the historical website to include a new feature, a podcast of Lewes. The site also boasts a complete list of events scheduled for Lewes throughout the year. Below is a little blurb from their site…..

Lewes: What’s in a Name? Pronounced Loo-iss (not Lose), Lewes, Delaware, the county seat of Sussex County, Delaware until 1791, was named for Lewes, Sussex, England. Previously known as Swanendael (Valley of the Swans) and Hoerekill or Hoerenkill (Harlot’s Creek) under the Dutch and briefly as Whorekill and Deale under the English. Contrary to popular belief, the town was never known as Hoornkill, a “Victorianization” of Whorekill/Hoerenkill. In 1680, the magistrates of the town requested of Governor Edmond Andros to consider “summe other name for the Whoorekill.” Lewes received its present name by William Penn, proprietor of Pennsylvania, sometime immediately after his acquisition of the land from the Duke of York in 1682. According to research, records do not exist to explain why the name Lewes was chosen, although it is believed that members of Penn’s family were from the prominent town in the southeast of England of that name.

After 1682, the courts in Lewes, however, were still known as the Whorekill Courts until the close of the 17th century and into the early years of the 1700s. Known variously as Lewes, Leius, Lewis, Lewestowne, Lewistown, etc., throughout the 18th century, the proper name of Lewes did not become commonly spelled as such until c. 1830 and even by then, primary sources in the Society Archives reveal that Lewestown, etc. still persisted sporadically.

The creek that runs through town was known as Bloemart’s Kill (after a Dutch political figure of the 1600s), the Whorekill, and eventually established itself as Lewes Creek until that body of water was widened, lengthened and deepened into the modern day Lewes & Rehoboth Canal. An anchorage just offshore in Delaware Bay was known as Whorekill Roads (roads bring a maritime term for an anchorage area, e.g., Hampton Roads, Virginia) until the early nineteenth century when the Federally funded Delaware Breakwater was constructed to provide safe harbor for mariners.

Residents of Lewes or those native to the town have long had a quandry as to what to call themselves. “Lewesians” has been offered as a suggestion as has “Lewesites,” neither of which capture the spirit of the town. One name, however, with deep historical roots harkens back to the 1700s and captures the flavor of “Old Lewes” — “Lewestowners.” In 1873, The Peninsula News & Advertiserrefers to the bravery of “Lewestowners” at sea, and their love of foul weather, when at “the first indication of a storm, which it is said always brings joy to the heart of a Lewestowner.” In 1956, during the town’s 325th Anniversary, local newspaper columnist Virginia Cullen noted in a promotional brochure that “Lewestowners Welcome You.”

Lewes’s name has gained national attention as being the southern terminus of the famous Cape May-Lewes Ferry, ridden by more than a million passengers throughout the year from across the country. Other national praise came in 2006 when Lewes was named by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of America’s “Dozen Distinctive Destiantions.” Lewes, Delaware is believed to be one of only three places in the world that bear the name, and one of only two towns. Lewes, Sussex, England and the Lewes River in the Yukon Territory, Canada are the other two known “Lewes’s” of the world.

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