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Jilted, just like Miss Havisham

b&w ink drawing of miss havisham

The story of Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations” haunted me for years. A young woman has bedecked her home for her wedding day. The guests have all arrived, the table is covered in lace and gaily decorated, with tiered wedding cake at the ready. The appointed time for the ceremony comes…but the bridegroom does not.

Time passes, guests shuffle, begin to drift out, and the day ends in disaster, with Miss Havisham dumped. Things like this happen. But Dickens wouldn’t leave it there. Miss Havisham continues to live in the house, continues to wear her wedding dress, and leaves the wedding decorations exactly as they were…for the rest of her life!

Miss Havisham’s severe reaction to her predicament resonates with the alleged story of one Jacob Cannon, of what is now Seaford, DE, but was then simply known as Cannon’s Ferry.

I say ‘alleged’ because this part of Cannon’s story is brought to us by Delaware author George Alfred Townsend in his one well known novel “The Entailed Hat.” Townsend’s telling of the rest of Jacob Cannon’s life matches with newspaper accounts of the day (1820s-1840s), government documents, and reputable historian accounts (J. Thomas Scharf, for example). But this one part of Cannon’s life does not.

According to Townsend, 42 year old bachelor Jacob Cannon had built a splendid new home not far from his family’s ferry for his new bride. When the young lady failed to appear on the wedding day, Cannon locked the door and walked away from the house. He never married. The house remained unoccupied till the day he died.

The house Jacob Cannon built for his bride in Seaford, DE.
The house Jacob Cannon built.

Now, I would love to include this item in a telling of Cannon’s story. It puts a human touch on the man. But as a historian, not a novelist, I’m obligated to either leave it out or put a big asterisk next to it.

I’ll certainly be telling the remainder of Jacob Cannon’s story in my second book about Delaware’s history, as his family’s ferry business made him and his brother Isaac the wealthiest men in that section of Sussex County in the mid-19th century. Let’s see how the final piece emerges….

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