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In the News
The mystery of the history of the "hundred"

By ROBIN BROWN, The News Journal
Tuesday, June 12, 2007


The term "hundred," an old English name for parts of a county, lives on in the state. Best-known is Brandywine Hundred, in New Castle County's northern residential heartland, where the council of civic organizations even uses "hundred" in its name. It's a rare region where the label lingers, but Delaware has hundreds by the dozens. Many colonies did. Ours "is the only state to retain it," says the Historical Society of Delaware.

The label's first use in Delaware came decades after the state was settled, and its first use in Delaware law was 1690, according to the society. The heyday of hundreds was later that decade, with many new regions designated statewide.

The term begat a favorite Delaware myth, that a "hundred" was the area from which 100 soldiers had to muster to fight in the Revolutionary War.

The late John A. Munroe, a prominent Delaware historian, said timing alone proves that false, because the term was used nearly a century before the war. Munroe told The News Journal shortly before his death last year that "the muster myth of Delaware's hundreds" persists due to human nature. People cling to its ring of plausibility and air of historical romance.

Munroe said some otherwise reasonable historians even argued with him in favor of the muster myth. Others have claimed, falsely, that a hundred was 100 acres, 100 families' land or the area that could be covered by 100 pelts.

Old English hundreds did have 100 "hides," of 60 to 120 acres, historians and Webster's Dictionary confirm, but the source and definition of the label, or how hides were measured, became lost over time.

By trying to find logic in history, Munroe said, some idealistic folks just can't accept that such a quirky term is nothing more than an obsolete geographical term of unknown origin. "I guess it's just not sexy enough."

But one region bucks the trend of the term's fade.

Pencader Hundred.

The Pencader Heritage Area Association aims to make its a hundred all Delawareans know.

The group is establishing a new museum in a state-owned, 1865 barn on the Cooch's Bridge battlefield, site of the state's only Revolutionary War fight, said vice president Bill Conley. The first floor was renovated with a grant through Rep. Bill Oberle and exhibits are being sought. A new Scout troop already uses its meeting space.

Pencader Hundred's history includes Lenape Indians, an African-American free colony, Iron Hill, a museum at Iron Hill School 112-C ("C" for "colored") and many Colonial sites.

Its history fills the group's new outdoor display at Dayett Mill off Old Baltimore Pike west of Del. 72 near Cooch's Bridge. More will be shared at the museum and an annual heritage day there in the fall. For now, the group's new state road signs, championed by Sen. Steve Amick and former Rep. Stephanie Ulbrich, say it all: "Welcome to Historic Pencader Hundred."

This is one hundred that's batting a thousand. No myth


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