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The free African American community of colonial Delaware had its roots in Northampton and Accomack counties, Virginia, and Somerset County, Maryland. Anthony Johnson, free before 1647, moved from Northampton County to Somerset County in 1672 and his son John received a patent for 400 acres in Sussex County, Delaware in 1670. Aminidab Hanser, son of a white woman and a slave from Accomack County, recorded his cattle mark in Sussex County in 1683.

A slave named Peter Beckett had four daughters by a white woman in Northampton County and they all married or had children by members of the Driggers family who had been free since 1645. Peter Beckett, probably a son of Peter, was taxable in Somerset County from 1723 to 1740 with Deverix Driggers and (his sons?) William and Deverix Beckett.

William Beckett was taxable in Peter Beckett's Somerset County household in 1737 and taxable in Kent County, Delaware, starting in 1741: in the household adjoining Nehemiah Hanser and another William Beckett who was the minister of the Presbyterian Church at Lewes (apparently no relation). Reverend Beckett had the novel idea for his time that slaves had souls. He served from 1721 until his death in 1743, and that is the time that many free African American families settled in Kent County. The ministers who followed Reverend Beckett had similar beliefs, and they recorded the births and marriages of the free and slave communities well into the nineteenth century.

The history of the mixed-race Beckett family illustrates just how limited choices for a marriage partner were in a community composed of only 100 to 200 people--many of whom were already related: a situation that existed in all mixed-race colonial communities throughout the Southeast. One of Peter's descendants had children (Charles, Peter, and Isaac) by a slave between 1740 and 1747. They were manumitted at the Duck Creek, Kent County, Monthly Meeting in January 1770. This Peter Beckett married Betty Driggers at the Presbyterian Church in 1788. Peter and Charles Beckett's descendants became part of the mixed-race community of Kent County in the nineteenth century.

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18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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