Dover Green

Evocative, historic landscapes such as the Dover Green help to tell the Underground Railroad story. Three buildings on its eastern edge were directly associated with important legal actions related to enslavement. In the Old State House, built in 1792, the abolition of slavery was often debated and defeated. Petitions to relax the “Black codes” that restricted the lives of free Black citizens were read and ignored here. It was also the site of trials of freedom seekers and those accused of aiding them. The Kent County jail held the accused. Bounty hunters also used the jail to deposit captured freedom seekers as they prepared to return them to enslavement. Accused Underground Railroad agent, Samuel D. Burris, a free Black blacksmith, spent months in the jail, and was tried and convicted by the Kent County Court of General Sessions (held in the Statehouse) in 1847. The “Dover Eight,” freedom seekers from Harriet Tubman’s home area, were betrayed for a bounty at the Dover jail by a Black agent in 1857, but managed to break out and eventually find their way to Wilmington and Pennsylvania.

Established as a court town for Kent County in 1683, Dover was planned by William Penn around a central public square, which later became The Green. It grew to be the central public space in Delaware when the state capital moved to Dover in 1771. In 1846, The Green was redesigned to be an open, park-like setting with tall trees enclosed by building facades, generally as it appears today. Although buildings were constructed or remodeled in the decades after the Civil War, the northeastern corner, with buildings dating to the 18th century and through the 1850s, is particularly evocative of the Underground Railroad period.

Dover Green is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, highlighting 79 buildings. It is also featured in the multi-location First State National Historical Park.

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