Marvelous Delmarva

20 restaurant signLinda Burton posting from Dover, Delaware – “Sweet or unsweet?” My head jerked back in surprise at the question; at first I was flustered; then pleased. “You seriously have sweet tea here?” I asked my server. “Well yes, Hon, we do,” she replied, in an accent that curved sweetly upwards in syllables that were music to my ears. “Then I must be back in the south,” I grinned. “Nobody has asked me that question since January.” It was true; it was January when the Journey left Virginia headed west; since then I’d traveled the Midwestern states, the Great Lakes states, and the New England states. But today, after I crossed the Delaware Memorial Bridge from New Jersey, I entered Delmarva, where the language is Southern American English. She called me Hon! Not “Miss” or “Dear;” I was Hon again, here in this homey restaurant, where I could get iced tea that 20 map bwsomeone had already gone to the trouble to sweeten for me. What a marvelous place! I came for Dover, of course, the 49th Capital City of the Journey; capital of the First State, Delaware. And, besides the unique distinction and bragging rights of being capital of the first state, it’s the only capital city that is on a peninsula. And that peninsula houses parts of three states – Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. DelMarVa, get it? I’ll get into the specifics of land boundaries in later posts, but for now look at the map to understand the lay of the land. Technically, the “peninsula” is an island, thanks to the manmade 14-mile C&D Canal that connects Chesapeake Bay with the Delaware River. The Canal is considered the beginning of the Delmarva Peninsula, a mostly rural land of farms and fishing, where restaurants have collards on the menu, and the tea is sweet.

20 del mem bridgeThe Delmarva Peninsula is about 170 miles long, and anywhere from 70 to 12 miles wide, at different points. Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean are on the east side; Chesapeake Bay is on the west, separating mainland Maryland and Virginia from the peninsula parts of Maryland and Virginia. The state of Delaware occupies a neat little chunk of the northeastern corner of Delmarva, and an interesting arc-shaped portion north of the Canal that touches Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. As I mentioned, I came in from New Jersey over the Delaware Memorial Bridge (fee for cars, $4.00); a few miles later I crossed the Canal (fee, $1.00); that finished off my fiver. Traffic was thick after the first bridge; it thinned a bit south of the Canal. The land area of the Peninsula and its offshore islands is 5,454 square miles, and Dover is the largest city, with a population of 36,047 (US Census 2010). In addition to the highway coming in from the north, you can access the Peninsula via the Chesapeake Bay 20 beach access signBridge from Maryland, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel from Virginia, and the ferry from Cape May, New Jersey.

It’s flat on the Peninsula; flat and sandy; coming in I’d noticed signs sporting striped umbrellas giving mileage to the “Delaware Beaches;” I’d crossed a number of small bridges over reed-filled creeks – the Red Lion, Dragon Run, Blackbird – all part of the Delaware Estuary Basin that includes the Smyrna River, the Leipsic, the Murderkill, the Broadkill. Agriculture and commercial fishing drive the economy on the Peninsula; you’ll find tomatoes, green beans, corn and soybeans growing here. On the eastern shore are 20 delaware chickenpoultry farms; you’ve heard of Perdue Farms; did you know the Delaware Chicken was created on the Peninsula? The breed produces jumbo brown eggs; the hens are considered good layers. And of course, you can’t have beautiful coastline, and beaches, without tourism; Rehoboth Beach, Delaware and Ocean City, Maryland are popular destinations.

Prior to the arrival of Europeans the Assateague lived on the lower part of the Peninsula; the Nanticoke occupied the upper part. They made a number of treaties with the colony of 20 new sweden logoMaryland, but their lands were eventually taken and they assimilated into other Algonquian tribes. Chesapeake Bay was another of the bodies of water that was thought to be the fabled Northwest Passage; the Spanish attempted to establish a colony on the Peninsula in 1566. That failed; the Dutch West India Company colonized the land that is now Delaware in 1631; that colony was destroyed after a year. Enter the Swedes in 1638; New Sweden was established; then the Dutch came back, and recaptured their original area; then came the British! It sounds a bit like a poker game, doesn’t it? James I of England had granted Virginia 400 miles of Atlantic coast that extended clear to the Pacific Ocean through a series of charters; this included a piece of the Peninsula, which was transferred from the Duke of York to William Penn in 1682. So, for 20 first state flagmany years it was governed with Pennsylvania. In 1776 (a rather historic year) the counties of Kent, New Castle, and Sussex declared their independence from Pennsylvania and entered the United States as Delaware. Delaware was the First State to ratify the US Constitution, on December 7, 1787, followed almost immediately by Pennsylvania, then New Jersey. Maryland was 7th, in April, 1788; Virginia was 10th in June of that same year.

I will delve more into the boundary issues in a separate post; you need a compass, a ruler, and a magnifying glass to follow the disputes and to understand the survey done by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon in the 1760s. It’s enough for now to know that the western border of the present-day state of Delaware is from that original survey. The Maryland and Virginia borders evolved differently, leaving the Delmarva Peninsula today a strange mixture of political divisions, yet culturally its “own zone.” As you might expect, at various times in 20 sweet tea pitcherhistory, residents of Delmarva have proposed that its Maryland and Virginia portions simply merge with Delaware.

The Delmarva Peninsula is definitely different from the rest of the Mid-Atlantic states; a kick-off-your shoes kind of place where you can unwind, and order up some sweet tea. Sounds marvelous to me.