History & Heritage in the 1700s
In 1704, the "Three Lower Counties" of Pennsylvania were granted their own legislative assembly – planting the seeds for Delaware's later emergence as an independent state during the American Revolution.
With Philadelphia as its major trade center, Delaware produced profitable exports such as tobacco, which was commonly used in the 1700s to settle debts and obligations.
Beef cattle in the 1700s were raised in marshes and woods, taking four years to reach the age for slaughter as opposed to ten months today.
As tobacco declined in significance by 1770, other grain crops such as wheat, corn, barley, oats, and rye gained in importance as Delaware's agricultural trade steadily expanded through the latter part of the century.
In the 1750s, several Quaker families (the Tatnalls, Canbys, Shipleys, Leas, Mortons, and Pooles) had founded Delaware's grain milling industry on the Brandywine River, creating demand for grain shipped by farms up the Delaware River or hauled overland by Conestoga wagon.
Soft red wheat became the state's first important cash crop thanks to innovative flour mills designed by Newport's Oliver Evans, bringing fame and prosperity to the new state of Delaware. Born in Newport in 1755, Evans would revolutionize the flour milling industry. The process of milling had not changed for centuries until Evans made major improvements in a mill on Red Clay Creek in northern Delaware. He eventually developed and patented the design for an automated grist mill which operated continuously and only required one laborer to set in motion. 1790, he was granted one of the very first United States patents, signed by President George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
James Tilton, famous Delaware resident and Surgeon General of the United States (1813-1815), remarked during the time: “It is the prevailing opinion in Delaware that we have the largest and most perfect manufacture of flour known in the world.”
Families and Farming
Agriculture is deeply rooted in families and communities. Many Delaware farms have been owned by generations of hard-working families who view farming as a time-honored tradition, a cherished way of life and a lasting legacy.
The duPont family: an influential force in Delaware's agricultural development
E.I. duPont was an immigrant from France who founded a gunpowder mill on the banks of the Brandywine River in 1802. Listing his occupation as "Botaniste" on his passport, duPont and his heirs had a major influence on the growth and development of agriculture in Delaware. Eleutherian Mills, duPont's home and farmstead, was a successful farm enterprise. His son, Henry DuPont, became the largest landowner in the state while developing a keen interest in agricultural improvement. E.I. duPont's great-grandson, Henry Francis DuPont, created Winterthur Gardens, while another great-grandson originated the famed Longwood Gardens in nearby Pennsylvania. Another descendant, T. Coleman duPont, created a major highway that covered the length of the state, linking farmers with their markets and stimulating economic development throughout Delaware and the region. The modern DuPont Company began developing agricultural chemicals in the 1940s and remains a world leader in agricultural technology today.
In 1914, Henry Francis duPont told his father he intended to sell the mixed breed of Guernsey and Holstein cattle and develop a better, more productive breed. By 1918, H.F. had completed the purchase of a prize herd from Minnesota to begin a systematic breeding program. As a result, Winterthur cows held milk production records for decades and became the genetic base that would be disseminated to farms around the world.
Noted Delaware farm families include the Cannons, who operated the H.P. Cannon and Sons canning factory in Bridgeville from 1881 to 1981. The company processed a wide range of products, and was the leader in canned sweet peppers by the 1950s.
The Zimmerman family included Delaware potato pioneers. Christian Zimmerman was the first potato grower from Long Island, N.Y., to move to Kent County, where he began potato production, helping lead the regional push for spuds. Potatoes were harvested from July to September.