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Old State House holds public program for Summers family reunion


On Aug. 17, 2014, The Old State House in Dover, Del. held a public program in conjunction with a reunion of the Summers family. Thirty-eight family members, from across the United States, attended the program which featured tours of the museum and a special presentation that recounted the story of three Summers family ancestors.

Members of the Summers family at The Old State House on Aug. 17, 2014.
Members of the Summers family at The Old State House on Aug. 17, 2014.

Confirmed by historical documents, the presentation explored the manumission (granting of freedom) of two slave children—Ruth and Thomas Summers—which took place in 1797 in the Kent County Recorder of Deeds office, located in what is now called The Old State House. The children were manumitted by their own father, James Summers, a free African American, who had obtained them from their former owner. Following the presentation, historic-site interpreter Tom Pulmano, dressed in period clothing, gave a living-history performance in which he portrayed Vincent Summers, youngest son of James Summers, who discussed the ordeals faced by his family.

Historic-site interpreter Tom Pulmano portraying Vincent Summers.
Historic-site interpreter Tom Pulmano portraying Vincent Summers.

Every August, Summers family descendants gather in Delaware to renew ties and celebrate their family’s rich and continually unfolding history. Since the 1990s, The Old State House has presented public programs on the Summers’ manumission story which have been attended by family members as well as members of the general public. During the Aug. 17 program, Virginia Harris, a Summers descendant from Kent County, Del. noted that her relatives “look forward to this [The Old State House] event every year.”

A small Old State House display, presented in the very room where the event occurred, features the following text from the manumission document:

To all to whom these presents Shall come I James Summers of Murderkill Hundred in the County of Kent and State of Delaware free negro, send Greeting Know Ye that I the said James Summers for divers Considerations me especially moving do manumit Liberate and set at full Liberty: and by these presents doth manumit liberate and set at full Liberty my affectionate Children namely Thomas Summers who is now aged about five years, and Ruth Summers aged Seven years on or about the twenty fifth day of December next ensuing the date hereof: And I the said James Summers doth covenant promise grant and agree to and with the said Thomas Summers, and Ruth Summers that they the said Thomas Summers and Ruth Summers liberated as aforsd. Shall from and immediately after the date of these presents enjoy their Freedom as Other Free Citizens Can or ought to do, and that they or either of them shall not at any time hereafter be molested or bared by the said James Summers his Executors administrators or any other person. And I the said James Summers the said Thomas & Ruth hereby manumitted liberated and set at Liberty against himself the said James Summers, and his Heirs Executors and administrators, and against all other persons whatsoever claiming the said Thomas & Ruth or either of them shall and will warrant and defend by these presents. In Witness whereof I the said James Summers have set my Hand & Seal this fourteenth day of October Anno domini 1797.

                                                                                                 his
sealed & delivd in presence of                                   James + Summers
us   S. W. Wilson   John Lowber                                             mark

Photo of Thomas and Ruth Summers’ manumission document from the Delaware Public Archives.
Photo of Thomas and Ruth Summers’ manumission document from the Delaware Public Archives.

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