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When crime pays

armed colonial mob

Rhoad built the roads.

Rhoad Shankland, a trained lawyer and surveyor, is mainly remembered for laying out Georgetown, DE. It’s one of the best designed towns in Sussex County, with a lovely circular park at town center “for publick use.” Shown here is the compass he used for the task.

compass used by Rhoad Shankland to layout Georgetown, DE grid
Town Center of Georgetown, DE. In foreground, compass used by Rhoad Shankland to lay out the town grid.

But there’s another side to this public servant.

Shankland came from a prominent Quaker family which had received one of the area’s original land grants from William Penn, prior to 1700.

Maybe there was a sense of entitlement that came with that heritage. Maybe Shankland felt he was above the law. An ugly arrogance reared its head when he ran for election as county sheriff in 1787.

The University of Delaware has in its archives a “Petition from Sussex County to Dover Convention” dated November 28, 1787. More than 50 Sussex County petitioners pleaded with state officials to address the violent efforts of Shankland and his armed band of supporters to overthrow election results.

The petitioners “were alarmed on being informed that Rhoad Shankland had declared there were cannon at the [election] place and that … the Coroner of the County [a Shankland accomplice] had said they were determined to carry the Election or lose their lives. These two Gentlemen being seen on the Sunday evening preceding the day going towards the place at the head of a party of men armed with Muskets, your Petitioners were apprehensive they could have no share in the said Election without risquing the Effusion of Blood.”

There was no effusion of blood. Shankland was elected. We have no historical records indicating he was ever reprimanded for his behavior in the election. He in fact went on to become a trustee of the county.

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