History of John Dickinson Plantation

Smoke coming out of the smoke house on a sunny fall day.
Smoke coming out of the smoke house on a sunny fall day.

Delaware Division of Historical & Cultural Affairs

John Dickinson is famously known as "The Penman of the Revolution" because of his ability to capture thoughts and ideas, needed to form a new country on paper. He was born on November 8th, 1732 in Talbot County, Maryland and grew up on his father's plantation located on the St. Jones Neck just southeast of Dover. On the plantation, John formed strong connections with the environment while learning his father's trade of farming grain. In addition John spent time with his tutor who fueled his interest in studying of ancient languages, classical scholars, philosophers and serious writing, all of which would help him in the years to come. In 1750, at age 18, his father, Samuel Dickinson, arranged for him to begin reading law in Philadelphia and later, he followed his fathers footsteps in studying Law in London, England at Middle Temple. After John passed the bar he returned home to establish his own practice and would eventually take over the family business after his father passed away. 

In 1767, John wrote a series of letters called "Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania" highlighting his concerns for the new Townshend Act. These letters inspired many and brought him fame. As a result, Dickinson was called on multiple times for his talent in writing for the American cause. For example, during his time as a member of the First Continental Congress from Pennsylvania, he was chosen twice to write important letters. Once was to rewrite a petition to the King and the second was to write a letter to residents in the Provence of Quebec asking them to stand against Britain. Before his death in 1808, his influence was felt by Delawareans as well as those across the new nation.

John’s childhood home, Poplar Hall, was originally built in 1739 but was burnt down and re-built in 1804 under the direct supervision of John Dickinson himself. The plantation was originally used for growing tabacco but was switched to grain after tabacco ceased to be a profitable crop in the 18th century.

Poplar Hall was also home to as many as 59 slaves at one time, which included men, women, and children. Although, John had purchased slaves from his brother to keep families together. Work performed on Dickinson’s properties included growing crops, digging ditches, mending fences and buildings, spinning flax and wool, and odd jobs. In 1776, the Quakers in the Philadelphia area made it known that holding humans in bondage was an unacceptable practice. It was strongly recommended that all Quakers set their slaves free. Eventually, in 1786, John unconditionally released his slaves.

To learn more visit the Letters To a Farmer's Anniversary page

Last updated: October 18, 2019

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