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Delaware Headlines

African Burial Ground on John Dickinson Plantation receives historical preservation award

The John Dickinson Plantation in Dover is receiving one of 53 Awards of Excellence from the American Association for State and Local History.

The plantation earned the honor for the project that led to the discovery of a burial ground last year. It’s the most prestigious honor for achievement in preservation and interpretation of state and local history.

Site supervisor Gloria Henry says they’ve mapped the dimensions to 160 x 170 feet, but don’t know exactly how many bodies are beneath the ground. Oral accounts from different time periods reference as many as 400.

Researchers knew a burial ground was nearby, but weren't able to locate it until an active search in 2020 involving National Park reports, aerial photo comparisons, and testimonials from locals. The site was found in March 2021.

“Going through the records that were attributed to John Dickinson, we found references to a burial ground for the enslaved people, but we didn’t know where, because at one point, John owned about 5000 acres here in this area.”

Henry says they are asking for public input on how best to interpret the site for visitors.

“We are always looking to involve the public and the descendent communities because what we do next of course will be determined by the public and by our own standards and we want to make sure that the decisions that we make involve the community,” Henry said.

Henry says that current visitations involve a lot of reflection on the people who were buried and forgotten on the plantation.

“The burial ground was forgotten," she said. "And so finding it and interpreting it and explaining how it was lost is sometimes difficult. And then now we’re asking the public's help. What are our next steps? These decisions we don't make, we won’t make by ourselves.”

Questions about the site and suggestions for memorializing and studying the site can be emailed to jdpmuseum@delaware.gov.