Whitehall Plantation in Smyrna, Kent County, was the largest farm in Delaware run by enslaved labor. It is also the best-documented site of enslaved resistance to forced labor.
Owned by Benjamin Chew (1722–1810), chief justice of the province of Pennsylvania from 1774 to 1776, Whitehall occupied 914 acres of the easternmost part of Smyrna. Between 1792 and 1803, the enslaved residents engaged in a series of resistance actions ranging from refusing to work to engaging in violent encounters, which ultimately led to their freedom when Whitehall was sold in 1803. The drama came to light when the papers of the Chew family were examined beginning in 2001. The collection includes letters from the overseer to Chew about his difficulties over a period of 11 years, providing “a rare documented glimpse of how a captive community fought back.” Phillip Seitz and John Reese tell this story in the article “The Slaves of Whitehall Plantation: A True Story of Defiance and Resistance” (Delaware History, 2011). No historic buildings of this era remain standing. Research into the names and lives of the residents is ongoing.
Near the plantation site and the entrance to Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge is a Delaware Public Archives marker (K-132), erected in 2017, which identifies Whitehall Plantation as the birthplace of Richard Allen (1760–1831). Allen is honored as the founder and first bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Current research by historian, Charles Blockson, however, holds that Allen was born and raised in Philadelphia (as Allen himself stated) and was enslaved by Chew, with whom he negotiated his freedom about the time of the American Revolution. Allen lived in the Dover area as an adult and associated with residents near Whitehall, from whom he received life-changing spiritual guidance and education. Allen’s church, established in 1794, achieved independence from white Methodist control in 1816, making it the second independent African American church denomination in the nation (The Union Church of African Members, established in Wilmington in 1813 by Reverend Peter Spencer and others, was the first).
- Phillip Seitz and John Reese, “The Slaves of Whitehall Plantation: A True Story of Defiance and Resistance,” Delaware History (2011): 123–140, https://www.academia.edu/6155944/The_Slaves_of_Whitehall_Plantation_A_True_Story_of_Defiance_and_Resistance
- “Whitehall Plantation,” Historical Society of Pennsylvania, https://hsp.org/blogs/chew-family-papers/whitehall-plantation.
- Brian Joseph Hanley, “Chief Justice Benjamin Chew: A Captor of People Not Quiet” (Honors thesis, Lehigh University, 2013), https://brianjosephhanley.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/chief-justice-benjamin-chew-a-captor-of-people-notquiet.pdf.