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Late night revelry for weary travelers

early 19th century stagecoach

Fleatown, DE was one of those towns whose only reason to exist was that it was a convenient halfway stopping point between two popular destinations. 

The distance as the crow flies from the heart of Milford, DE to the heart of Georgetown, DE is about 16 miles. Traveling between these two places today wouldn’t even be considered a journey, but in 1745 there weren’t any railroads or automobiles. There was the stagecoach. And that required a two day journey. Fleatown was located along what is today Old State Road in Broadkill Hundred, which at that time was not much more than a set of dusty, rutted tracks through dense underbrush filled with mosquitoes in summer.

Travelers must’ve been so grateful when Millaway White’s tavern/inn appeared on one side of the clearing, and Samuel Warren’s appeared on the opposite. 

This was the backcountry, the wilderness. To describe these places as hotels is a stretch. They were rustic. How rustic? John M. Clayton, then a young lawyer from Dover, traversed this route regularly in the 1820s. Years later, when he became US Secretary of State, he amused guests with the tale of the gray gander who tended bar.

“The celebrated statesman,” relates the Evening Journal [wilmington] “says that one time he was passing the old hotel when he thought he would stop and take a drink. He dismounted and entered the barroom. The proprietor was not in, but in his stead was a large gray gander, walking very deliberately up and down in front of the bar. When the gander saw him it walked to the door and gave three long shrill screams. Mr. Clayton walked to the door and saw the proprietor running across the field. He reached the hotel, poured out a drink for his guest, and the gander resumed his stately walk and waited for other customers.”

grey goose pen & ink wash by Herbert Sharp

Because stagecoach customers were the only non-farming related source of business in the tiny crossroad, the two public houses competed fiercely. Both offered “the cleanest of beds and a bill of fare that would tempt the appetite of the most fastidious epicurean,” reported The Morning News [wilmington] many decades later.

Samuel Warren’s inn gained quite the reputation for its late night revelries. Charles M. Cullen, who had begun his Georgetown law practice in the 1820s, was asked by a reporter in 1895 to describe the goings-on. Cullen, who had just retired as a judge on Delaware’s Superior Court, merely replied “peaches and honey,” then changed the subject.

Samuel Warren bought out Millaway White’s place when the latter died in 1832, and closed it. By then, the town was known by the more imposing, if less descriptive, name, Federalsburg. No fancy name change could alter the town’s fate though. The stagecoach era was fast disappearing, and the little burg declined in tandem with it after Warren died in 1843.

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