the following article is inaccurate in many respects and presents
a picture of some of the nonsense our ancestors had to endure within
the legal system of the day. The story of Miss Regua is legend. The
outcome of the trial of Levin Sockum may have provided the incentive
for many mixed-blood families to migrate from Delaware to Ohio and
Michigan in the 1850's-1860's.
So-Called Moors of Delaware
by George P. Fisher, Milford Herald, 15 June 1895
Reprinted by the Public Archives Commission of Delaware, 1929
When I was a boy and young man, the general impression prevailing
in the several parts of this State where this race of people had settled
was that they had sprung from some Spanish Moors who, by chance, had
drifted from the southern coast of Spain prior to the Revolutionary
War and settled at various points on the Atlantic Coast of the British
colonies; but exactly where and when, nobody could tell.
This story of their genesis seemed to have originated with, or at
any rate, was adopted by the last Chief Justice, Thomas Clayton, whose
great learning and research gave semblance of authority to it, and,
like almost everybody else, I accepted it as the true one for many
years, although my father, who was born and reared in that portion
of Sussex County where these people were more numerous than in any
other part of the State, always insisted that they were an admixture
of Indian, negro and white man, and gave his reason therefore--that
he had always so understood from Noke Norwood, whom I knew when I
was a small boy. Noke lived, away back in the 20's, in a small shanty
long since removed, situated near what has been known for more than
a century as Sand Tavern Lane, on the West side of the Public Road
and nearly in front of the farmhouse now owned by Hon. Jonathan S.
Willis, our able and popular Representative in Congress.
I well remember with what awe I contemplated his gigantic form when
I first beheld him. My father had known him as a boy, and I never
passed his cabin without stopping. He was a dark, copper-colored man,
about six feet and half in height, of splendid proportions, perfectly
straight, coal black hair (though at least 75 years old), black eyes
and high cheek bones.
When I became Attorney General of the State it fell to my lot to investigate
the pedigree of this strange people, among whom was Norwood. At that
day Norwood was held in great reverence as being one of the oldest
of his race. This I learned from my father, who knew him for many
years, when they both lived in the neighborhood of Lewes, in Sussex
I have spoken of this race as a strange people, because I have known
some families among them all of whose children possessed the features,
hair and eyes of the pure Caucasian, while in other families the children
would all be exceedingly swarthy in complexion but with perfectly
straight black hair, and occasionally a family whose children ranged
through nearly the entire racial gamut, from the perfect blond to
at least a quadroon mulatto, and quite a number who possessed all
the appearance of a red-haired, freckle-faced Hibernian.
My investigation of their genealogy came about in the trial of Levin
Sockum, one of the race, upon an indictment found by the grand jury
of Sussex County, against him, for selling ammunition to Isaiah Harmon,
one of the same race, who was alleged in the indictment to be a free
The indictment was framed under the 9th Section of Chapter 52, of
the Revised Statutes of the State of Delaware, Edition of 1852, page
145, which reads in this wise: "If any person shall sell or loan any
firearms to any negro or mulatto, he shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor,
and shall be fined twenty dollars."
The proof of the sale of a quarter of a pound of powder and pound
of shot to Harmon was given by Harmon himself; and in fact, admitted
by Sockum's attorney. So that the only fact I had to establish, in
order to convict Sockum, was to identify Harmon as being a mulatto,
and to do this I had to establish my proof, by a member of his family,
Harmon's pedigree. To do this, Lydia Clark, who swore that she was
of blood kin to Harmon, was permitted to testify as to the traditions
of the family in respect to their origin. Harmon was a young man,
apparently about five and twenty years of age, of perfect Caucasian
features, dark chestnut brown hair, rosy cheeks and hazel eyes; and
in making comparison of his complexion with others, I concluded that
of all the men concerned in the trial he was the most perfect type
of the pure Caucasian, and by odds the handsomest man in the court
room, and yet he was alleged to be a mulatto. The witness, Lydia Clark,
his kinswoman, then 87 years old, though only a half-breed, was almost
as perfect a type of the Indian as I ever saw. She was as spry as
a young girl in her movements, and of intelligence as bright as a
new dollar; and this was substantially the genealogical tradition
she gave of her family and that of Harmon.
About fifteen or twenty years before the Revolutionary War, which
she said broke out when she was a little girl some five or six years
old, there was a lady of Irish birth living on a farm in Indian River
Hundred, a few miles distant from Lewes, which she owned and carried
on herself. Nobody appeared to know anything of her history or her
antecedents. Her name she gave as Regua, and she was childless, but
whether a maid or widow, or a wife astray, she never disclosed to
anyone. She was much above the average woman of that day in stature,
beauty and intelligence.
The tradition described her as having a magnificent complexion, large
and dark blue eyes and luxuriant hair of the most beautiful shade,
usually called light auburn. After she had been living in Angola Neck
quite a number of years, a slaver was driven into Lewes Creek, then
a tolerable fair harbor, and was there, weather-bound, for several
days. It was lawful then, for these were colonial times, to import
slaves from Africa. Queen Elizabeth, to gratify her friend and favorite,
Sir John Hawkins, had so made it lawful more than a century prior
to this time.
Miss or Mrs. Regua, having heard of the presence of the slaver in
the harbor, and having lost one of her men slaves, went to Lewes,
and to replace him, purchased another from the slave ship. She selected
a very tall, shapely and muscular young fellow of dark ginger-bread
color, who claimed to be a prince or chief of one of the tribes of
the Congo River which had been overpowered in a war with a neighboring
tribe and nearly all slain or made prisoners and sold into perpetual
slavery. This young man had been living with his mistress but a few
months when they were duly married and, as Lydia told the court and
jury, they reared quite a large family of children, who as they grew
up were not permitted to associate and intermarry with their neighbors
of pure Caucasian blood, nor were they disposed to seek associations
or alliance with the negro race; so that they were so necessarily
compelled to associate and intermarry with the remnant of the Nanticoke
tribe of Indians who still lingered in their old habitations for many
years after the great body of the tribe had been removed further towards
the setting sun.
This race of people for the first two or three generations continued
principally to ----------- of Sussex County and more particularly
in the neighborhood of Lewes, Millsboro, Georgetown and Milton, but
during the last sixty or seventy years they have increased the area
of their settlement very materially and now are to be found in almost
every hundred in each county in the State, but mostly in Sussex and
Kent. From their first origin to the present time they have continued
to segregate themselves from the American citizens of African descent,
having their own churches and schools as much as practicable.
With very rare exceptions these people make good citizens. They are
almost entirely given up to agricultural pursuits, but they have managed
to pick up sufficient knowledge of carpentry and masonry to enable
them to build their own homes. They are industrious, frugal, thrifty,
law abiding and respectful. During my long practice at the bar I have
never known but two instances in which one of their race has been
brought into court for violations of the law.
One of these was the case of Sockum, tried in Sussex in 1857, and
the other was that of Cornelius Hansor of Milford Hundred, tried at
Dover in 1888 or 1889. Sockum's case originated in the private spite
of envious Caucasian neighbors, and Hansor in the envy and malice
of one of his neighbors who charged him with an attempt to commit
murder by shooting his accuser.
I defended Hansor against the charge and it was shown by the testimony
of several of the most respectable men in the vicinage that Hansor
was a man of exemplary character for peace and good order, a truthful
and estimable Christian, and that instead of being the aggressor his
accuser was shown to have attempted to shoot Hansor. Such was the
opinion of the jurors who tried the case. I suggested to Hansor that
he had better go before the grand jury at the next term of court and
make complaint against his persecutor. But he replied, "With thanks
to you for your advice and my acquittal, I most respectfully decline,
as the Good Book teaches us to pray for those who despitefully use
and persecute us; and I shall leave Mr. Loper to God and his conscience,
praying myself that he may become a more peaceable man and Christian.
Some years ago, I received a note from a lady in Philadelphia stating
that she had heard of the trial of Levin Sockum, and that it had developed
the origin of the yellow people, the so-called Moors of Delaware,
and requesting me to give an account of it, which I did. In her letter
thanking me for it she gave me the following story:
"Mrs. ***, whom you mentioned, a New Jersey lady, was an English woman
by birth, highly connected, of refined associations and superbly educated.
As a young girl she fled from her friends whom she was visiting in
this city with ***, whose acquaintance she made at a dancing school,
and who was represented to her as being a Spaniard of wealth and good
family. Fair as a lily and as pure, she did not discover until after
the marriage either the occupation or real condition of her husband
as a man tabooed by his fellow men for supposed taint of African blood.
She believed him to be of Moorish descent and one of the best and
noblest of human kind; his ostracism and her own (she was even denied
a pew in the Episcopal church in which she was educated and confirmed)
surely though slowly killed her.
"Desdemona," as her friends who knew her well called her, died suddenly
of heart disease brought on by mental suffering, leaving three or
four children, all golden haired, blue-eyed, flower-like little ones
to be educated in France, where their origin, even if known, would
never affect their standing socially. They remained until the Franco-Prussian
was broke out and were, I think, sent to England. Mr. *** with great
self-denial, voluntarily accepted for himself a life of loneliness
in a country where his pecuniary interests compelled him to remain.
He is highly esteemed, but still socially ostracized."
The father of this gentleman I knew very well many years ago. He was
a resident of Kent County. The gentleman himself I knew by sight only.
He seemed to me to be quite a shade fairer in complexion than myself.
He has, since the letter I quoted was written, filled a very high
and responsible position under the Federal Government with great credit
to himself and satisfaction to the Government.
(THIS MAY NOT BE THE END OF THIS ARTICLE -- IT IS ALL WE HAVE -- B&R