Archaeological research has led to the identification of a burial ground at the John Dickinson Plantation in Dover, Delaware. The burial ground was found during archaeological fieldwork on March 9, 2021 and likely holds the enslaved individuals and other African Americans who lived, worked, and died on land owned by the Dickinson family. “We remain committed to telling inclusive history. This includes restoring dignity to those who have been forgotten. This important discovery presents a powerful moment for every Delawarean,” says Delaware Secretary of State Jeff Bullock.
For two years the Department of State, Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs has undertaken archaeological investigations on the 450 acres of state property. The work has focused on identifying the burial ground for enslaved individuals that is referenced in primary source documents. “This is sacred ground for Delaware, and we will continue to treat it with the honor and respect it deserves. Our path forward is to protect the site, engage with the community about how to proceed, and continue to learn more through research and dialogue,” says Tim Slavin, Director of the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs.
The John Dickinson Plantation is the boyhood home of John Dickinson, a Founding Father of the United States, a framer and signer of the U.S. Constitution. Dickinson wrote eloquently about freedom and liberty while at the same time holding other human beings in bondage.
At the John Dickinson Plantation, a state museum operated by the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, the goal is to educate the public about the past utilizing the historic, cultural, and natural resources associated with the site.
The Division will continue to undertake additional research to learn more about this burial ground and those interred here and to engage with descendent communities in making important decisions regarding the expansion of the interpretive footprint of this land.
There is no access to this location.
Press release, March 23, 2021
Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs
Frequently asked questions: Burial ground at the John Dickinson Plantation
How many people are interred in this burial ground?
Currently the number is unknown. A historian in the 1930s stated that there may be up to 400 people interred at the burial site, but additional research is needed to determine the source of this figure.
Who is buried at this location?
The division believes this site was used as a burial ground for enslaved people who lived and worked on Dickinson family property. There are only a few references to specific burials in the archival record. No gravestones or other markings have been found. At this time, no information related to specific burials is available.
How long was this an active burial ground?
The division does not know when the first person was buried at the site, but it may be as early as the 1720s. The exact date range of burials is unknown.
What is the physical size of this burial ground?
It is approximately 170 feet by 160 feet which is 27,200 square feet.
Can the public visit the burial ground site?
No, not currently. The division will make a public announcement when access and visitation are available.
Can I drive to the burial ground site?
No, the site is not currently accessible.
Is photography at the burial ground permitted?
No, at this time the burial ground is closed to the public. Photography on the grounds around the mansion, log’d dwelling, visitor center, and other buildings is permitted when the museum is open to the public.
What is going to happen to this burial ground?
Community members, academic professionals, and public historians will participate with division staff in planning activities. Research related to the burial ground and individuals who lived and worked on the site will continue. The burial ground will be memorialized and incorporated into plans for interpretation, programming, and exhibits at the John Dickinson Plantation. Announcements regarding research findings will be released to the public.
Is anything going to happen to this burial ground in the next two to three months?
With discovery of the burial ground on March 9, 2021, the next several months will be a time of planning and continued research.
What will happen to the remains of individuals interred in the burial ground?
They will remain in place.
Why didn’t the division know there were enslaved people, and potentially other African Americans, buried on the property until now?
Historically, enslaved individuals were never meant to be remembered, and the burial ground, over time, became unidentifiable as a place of interment. The division did not, and currently does not, have maps or primary source documentation regarding the burial locations of individuals on property owned by the Dickinson family or any tenant farmers of the Dickinson family. Primary resources do indicate the location of a burial ground somewhere on Dickinson land. Following additional archival and photographic research, archaeological fieldwork was undertaken by the division and the burial ground was located on March 9, 2021. The division pledges that this site, and the people interred here, will never be forgotten again.
How many people were enslaved at the plantation?
The division does not know the exact number of enslaved individuals who lived, worked, and died working on Dickinson property. If that information ever existed in written form, it has not been located. The division continues research to learn more about the families and individuals enslaved by the Dickinson family and their tenant farmers, and others who worked on this land.
When did John Dickinson Plantation become a museum?
The John Dickinson Plantation opened as a museum in 1956 on 13.25 acres of land. 428 additional acres were acquired by the State of Delaware between 1965 and 2000. The site containing the burial ground was acquired by the state in 2000.
How large is the John Dickinson Plantation?
The current historic site is just under 450 acres. At its height, during Dickinson family ownership, they owned approximately 5,000 acres.
Is this the only burial ground at John Dickinson Plantation?
No, there is a marked grave located close to the Dickinson mansion where Samuel Dickinson, John Dickinson’s father, is believed to be interred.
Is the John Dickinson Plantation a national park?
Yes, the plantation became a unit of the First State National Monument in 2013 and remains a part of the First State National Historical Park authorized by Congress in 2015. The State of Delaware owns the property and it is operated by the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs.
Who should the press contact about this cemetery (burial ground)?
How can I learn more about the burial-ground project at John Dickinson Plantation?
Please send an email to JDPmuseum@delaware.gov
to be added to our email list as further information and activities are released.