The Old State House was the first permanent capitol building in Dover, Delaware. Begun in 1787 and completed by May 1791, this Georgian-style structure was originally home to both State and Kent County governments. The first floor of the Old State House features an 18th century-style courtroom while the second floor features the former chambers of the state legislature. In the recorder of deeds office, you can follow the stories of African American enslavement to manumission including the saga of the Summers family from 1794 to the present and the celebrated ordeal of Samuel Burris and his work on the Underground Railroad. The Old State House is a member of the Network to Freedom and a stop on the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway. The historic Capitol is now a public museum with guided tours and educational programs. General admission is free.
The Old State House explores the trials and tribulations of a new state as it enacted legislation, handed down judicial decisions and debated important issues which impacted all of Delaware’s people. One of Delaware’s heroes featured at The Old State House is Samuel D. Burris.
Samuel D. Burris was a free African American man who became one of Delaware’s most notable “conductors” on the Underground Railroad. His heroic efforts to assist people to escape slavery cost him his freedom. He was apprehended in 1847 and charged with enticing enslaved persons to escape. His trial was held at The Old State House. An 1845 Delaware law provided for imprisonment and subsequent sale into servitude for a period of seven years of any “negro or mulatto” found guilty of such a crime, intensifying the penalty formerly in force. Burris was an effective and well-known operative, and when he was finally brought to trial, he was prosecuted more severely than anyone else in the history of the state for this crime.