In 1833, the Eastern Shore came within a whisker of becoming part of Delaware. One vote! That’s all that prevented the union.
No one called our peninsula “Delmarva” back in 1833. But lots of people recognized it as a well-defined place unto itself, thanks to a mix of geography and deep-seated cultural affinities. Lots of folks also thought it was kinda strange, how history had left the peninsula broken up into three pieces, each belonging to a different state.
• In February of 1833 the folks in Delaware decided to do something about that. Both houses of the legislature in Dover passed a resolution: “The people of the Eastern Shore and of this state should be united under one government.”
• The Delaware Journal newspaper pointed out that “the people of the Peninsula assimilate in character and habits, and would readily form one people.” The paper concluded: “Nature intended [the peninsula to be united], but men’s caprice has marred the design and spoiled one of the prettiest states of which our union could have boasted.”
Missed It By That Much
• At first that move got a little push back across the border in Maryland, but soon enough folks there started coalescing around a logical conclusion: Why not let the people of the Eastern Shore counties decide?
• That March, the Maryland House of Delegates voted to call a “general convention” of Eastern Shoremen to get their opinion on the matter.
• The call for a “general convention” then went to the Maryland Senate, which first asked for input from a specially created subcommittee of three Eastern Shore members. They replied in the blink of an eye–within one short day, actually, all in favor.
• Most folks thought that if such a “general convention” came to pass, Eastern Shoremen would support it by a large margin, choosing to leave Maryland and become part of Delaware.
• But it never happened. When the measure came before a full committee in the Maryland Senate on March 21, 1833, it lost by a single vote, 5 to 4.
Try, Try Again?
• The next year a Caroline County, Md. representative proposed allowing the Eastern Shore to secede by way of referendum.
• But the moment had passed: This time the Maryland House of Delegates voted 60–5 to postpone the measure.
• From there, the proposal disappeared into legislative limbo.
• There would be lots more attempts in the decades that followed to create a state of Delmarva, but never again would it get as close to reality as it did in 1833.
What about Virginia?
According to the historian Kirk Mariner in his book, True Tales of the Eastern Shore, the two Virginia counties were never an issue in 1833. It seems the folks down there preferred being a part of the Old Dominion and weren’t much interested in uniting with the rest of Delmarva.
When I put a short version of this up on Facebook a couple of years back, it sparked a lot of comments. Here and there, the discussion took a good-natured trash-talking turn. I can’t resident sharing this little exchange:
Guy named Jess:
This is ‘The Delaware That Should Have Been.’ I vote we invade the Eastern Shore and take it back. There wouldn’t be much down there to stop us.
Guy named Sean:
Jeff, not a snowball’s chance in hell. The 302 could handle 410. We’d push ya’ll … sissies right into the Atlantic.
–posted by Jim Duffy in June 2023 for Secrets of the Eastern Shore/Whimbrel Creations LLC. Thank you for reading. Did you know I have an entire book full of fun tales about days gone by on our peninsula? This particular story isn’t part of it, but the tales in those pages are in this spirit. Find out more here about You Wouldn’t Believe: 44 Strange and Wondrous Tales of Delmarva.