Happy Valley Postlethwaite

From 1853 to 1862, Happy Valley was the home and farm of Quaker John Hunn, a key operative of the Underground Railroad from 1845 until the Civil War. Located at the southern end of the site of the Franklin Niel Postlethwait Middle School property, near Cypress Branch Creek, Happy Valley was a 280-acre farm straddling the road from Dover to Magnolia, now South Street Extended.  The main house was located on the east side of the street, with the larger parcel of farmland located across the road and about one half-mile south of the intersection of Sorghum Mill Road.

John Hunn’s story illustrates the illusiveness of documenting Underground Railroad activities. Although self-styled the “chief engineer” of the Delaware Underground Railroad, assisting hundreds of freedom seekers and being convicted of the same in a well-documented federal court case, little is known about how he operated during the 1850s. He ordered his records to be destroyed by his son, soon to be Governor John Hunn, in front of him as he lay dying in 1894. William Still included Hunn’s letter of 1871 in his 1872 book, The Underground Railroad. Hunn declined Still’s invitation to tell his own story, but furnished descriptions of two complicated but successful escapes of the late 1840’s to be included in the book (“Molly,” enslaved by Hunn’s neighbor, and the Hawkins family of Caroline County, Maryland). 

Hunn, his wife, Mary Swallow and his children moved to Happy Valley after Hunn lost his Middletown farm to fines owed to the Maryland enslavers of the Hawkins family, the first freedom seekers Hunn assisted. Hunn’s wife died in 1854, and he next married Annie Jenkins. He and his family remained there until 1862, when Hunn, his wife and his daughter Elizabeth, a teacher, joined Philadelphia teacher, Charlotte Forten at St. Helena Island, near Beaufort, South Carolina, to assist the newly free people with education and training. Hunn and his wife did not return to Delaware until the 1880s. The Happy Valley property had been sold at sheriff’s sale in 1864. The house no longer stands.

See the Hawkins family Underground Railroad story under “The Site of the John Hunn Farm, Middletown.”

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