Monday, February 1, 2010

Dragon Swamp - Part 1

Marshlands of Delaware

Information on "Red Lion Sam," Rebecca Bradford Miller's grandfather on her mother's side, is sketchy, but we know he lived in Red Lion Hundred, New Castle County, Delaware (spelled Red Lyon in earlier times). Probably the oldest record we have of him is a land document dated November 29, 1740. (Can you imagine...Delaware was still a colony of Britain!).

It says: "William Carpenter and Neomy his wife to Samuel Bradford Red Lyon farmer—Whereas Henry Walraven late decd yeoman, to Jacob Calvert late decd laborer part of tract 600a [acres] in Red Lion Hd, Dragon Swamp. Jacob Calvert died intestate leaving issue only a certain Jacob Calvert of Appoquimink Hd. – Whereas Nicholas Meers Administrator, Town of New Castle mariner by order Orphans Court sold to Richard Drake 100a and Jacob Calvert by deed by 5-1740 to William Carpenter 113 acres—Now William Carpenter and Neomy his wife for sum L75 to Samuel Bradford."

Dragon Swamp--now that's a great name and I would love to know its origins! Scharf's History of Delaware makes brief mention of this area, explaining that it is located near Red Lion Creek and the Delaware River. This would apparently be the origin of the "Swamp" part of the name, as the area assuredly must have had soggy spots. But what about "Dragon"? Probably named in the 1600's by earlier settlers, what was it about this area that conjured up in these 17th century minds thoughts of dragons?

A clue to the name might be found in a Delaware Federal Writers' Project paper: "The Road Crosses Dragon Run, flowing east through the large Dragon Swamp to the Delaware River. This almost bottomless swamp harbors snapping turtles of great size; but the name probably was given it by reason of the proximity of it to the village of St. Georges, thus carrying out some wit's fancy to perpetuate the legend of St. George and the Dragon." [I personally adhere to the turtle theory!].

Oh, to be able to transport ourselves back in time and walk the land with the old gentleman! What did it look like? What did he grow? Was this a working plantation? At 113 acres, we can assume that Dragon Swamp wasn't just marshlands, but was indeed a working farm rich with fertile river-bottom soil and lush growth. Corn and tobacco were the important crops in that era. Many small streams, that have since filled with silt, did in early times flow easily into the Delaware River and were navigable with small boats, making the marketing of crops easier. At 113 acres, Dragon Swamp would have definitely been in the category of a small plantation (by Southern standards). Can we surmise, though, that for Red Lion Hundred this was a good sized farm? As ever, more research is needed. This might not have been his only holding, either. It was very common for planters of that era to have multiple land holdings not necessarily adjoining.

In the next post, we will learn more about Dragon Swamp and our ancestor, Samuel Bradford, who spent much of his life there.


  1. Correction: On a closer look at the land record referenced above, perhaps Samuel's purchase was only 113 acres. What do you all think?

  2. I don't know, but the name Dragon Swamp is great. If we ever buy a giant piece of land, I think we should name it after our great-great whoever's property. Although hopefully it won't be a nearly-bottomless swamp with snapping turtles.


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