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Simon Legree in petticoats

[Times photo: Robert N. Jenkins]
What’s left of the infamous Patty Cannon rests in a wig box in the Dover library.


© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 17, 2001

WOODLAND, Del. -- In a state where you practically stumble over Colonial this or Underground Railroad that, this spot 40 miles in from the Chesapeake Bay has its own colorful lore. It centers on the outrageously bloody Patty Cannon.

"She was a slave trader and farmer and ran this ferry in the early 1800s," says Bonnie Maull, one of the contemporary captains of the tiny ferry crossing the Nanticoke River.

It's a bright day, but as Maull recites this ghost story, a listener might visualize her turning the pages of a book filled with the lavish illustrations of N.C. Wyeth, who worked a few dozen miles to the north, just across the border in Pennsylvania.

"Patty was 6 feet and about 180 pounds," continues Maull, "and she used to boast she could beat any man in Delaware."

Apparently she could kill a bunch of them, too. She dealt in slaves brought in on barges, reportedly keeping some to work her own farm. When the human traffic was slow, she would send men to Philadelphia, to the north, to drug and kidnap free black men. She killed some slaves, too.

"She kept her own slaves in chains in the basement of her house right there," Maull says, turning from the river toward the pleasant but obviously old house next to the ferry captains' building. "The owners say it's haunted."

Though she dodged the authorities by escaping into Maryland or Delaware -- depending on who was chasing her -- the notorious Cannon finally was arrested. She confessed to 11 murders, including that of her husband and one of her infant children.

But before she could be brought to trial in 1827, she took some smuggled arsenic and died. "But they decapitated her anyway, and her head's in a museum in Dover."

Well, yes and no. According to a sworn document in the City Library in the state capital of Dover, Cannon and a few prisoners executed over the years were buried in the yard behind the Sussex County Jail. In the early 1900s, construction necessitated the exhumation and reburial elsewhere of these bodies, and that's when one James Marsh, deputy sheriff, came into possession of Cannon's remains.

Ultimately he passed Cannon's skull to a nephew, who hung it on a nail in the barn until, at his death, that man's son came into possession of the skull. Forty years ago, he loaned it to the library, which is where I found it. The ferocious Patty Cannon has been reduced to a skull without a jaw; it is kept in an inner office, nestled in tatty red velvet in a vinyl wig box.

Building homes to go


GREENWOOD, Del. -- In this hamlet on a highway, Nanticoke Homes Inc. creates about 500 houses and other structures a year, not on the owner's lot but on warehouse assembly lines.

Stepping through the sawdust and extension cords in the factory, visitors in hard hats can see the wooden frames erected here, on Day One, while plumbing and electrical work is being done by employees in a pit beneath what will be the floor joists.

A forklift nudges the frame onto rails, and on Day Two, insulation and windows are added and joints are both nailed and glued (extra strength against bumps while the house is being moved on highways to the site).

On other days, ceilings and chimneys are framed; sheetrock is installed; painting and spackling is done; one-piece shower/bath units are installed; ceilings and roofs are added; exterior siding is placed; cabinets, trim and kitchen appliances are installed.

Within a half-hour tour, visitors see a house built; the actual construction time as a house slides along the rails is six workdays.

"Everything we do here is building boxes," says Garry Manaraze, operations manager of the 30-year-old company.

Speaking above the sounds of hammering and sawing by some of his 125 workers, Manaraze continues:

"A box is a rectangle we build to the buyer's needs. We can build a box that fits within a box. We can stack boxes on top of boxes -- a two- or three-story building. Our CEO lives across the street in 10,000 square feet of boxes."

"The ideal situation," adds Manaraze, "is when we finish with it on the sixth day, a flatbed truck backs up, the box is winched on to the truck and it goes to the job site."

The company delivers and installs houses in seven states, finishing the painting, hooking up plumbing and electrical systems, taking care of details.

The company has built schools, a church, a medical center. "We can build just about anything," Manaraze says, "as long as we have a place to set up a crane to lift the boxes off the trucks."

Housewife feathered Delaware's nest

Delaware claims to be the birthplace of the broiler chicken industry. Housewife Cecile Steele gets the credit. The story goes that she turned a mistaken shipment -- 500 chicks instead of 50 -- into a cash crop of grown-ups in 1923. One of Delaware's three counties, Sussex, reportedly produces more broiler chickens than any other county in the United States.

Much of Delaware's business is business

You may have noticed, while reading the details on the literature from publicly traded companies, that a disproportionate number are incorporated in Delaware. More Fortune 500 companies are incorporated here, because of beneficial tax laws, than in any other state. Among them: Gannett, MBNA, Texaco, Hewlett Packard, Shell, Reader's Digest, Avon, Maytag . . . and, of course, the big dog on this and many other porches, DuPont.

A Florida-Delaware connection

The Nemours Foundation, created by Alfred I. du Pont's will, established pediatric facilities in Jacksonville, Orlando, Fort Myers and Pensacola; du Pont and his third wife, Jessie, made their second home in Jacksonville.

Her brother, Ed Ball, became legendary in 20th century Florida, where he controlled the family's immense land, timber and railroad interests.

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