Delaware Geography

Delaware Maps
This section describes the way Delaware is divided into geopolitical areas. It also includes help for finding maps of Delaware and a few of the more useful Delaware maps.
 
Contents
 
 
Geopolitical Divisions
Delaware has always been divided into three counties. Counties are divided into hundreds. Today there are 33 hundreds.
 
Counties
There have only been three counties in Delaware, but the names have changed over time. This section describes how the names of the Delaware counties have changed.
Hundreds
Hundreds are unincorporated subdivisions of counties. They were once used as a basis for representation in the Delaware General Assembly. Their names appear on all Delaware real estate transactions. The use of hundreds comes from the times when Delaware and Maryland were colonial holdings of Great Britain. Today there are 33 hundreds.
Towns
This section includes a list of the towns in Delaware and shows how the names of the towns have changed over time. Use this list to determine the current name of a town.
Migration Patterns
Travel in the 1700s was primarily by water. People who settled west of the Delaware Drainage Divide (see the Map of Delaware in 1775 and Earlier) came primarily from either direct immigration through an Eastern shore Maryland port or moved from what is now Maryland. People who settled east of the Delaware Drainage Divide, especially in New Castle and Kent counties, came primarily from direct immigration through ports on the Delaware River and Bay or moved from Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
 
Even before 1800, considerable migration occurred in both directions over several roads between southern Delaware and the eastern shore of Maryland (see Map 1796). By 1749, well-developed road systems linked the northeastern colonies through Philadelphia to Wilmington. Distinct western migration routes generally developed from each eastern seaboard settlement. From Delaware, major migration routes went through southern Pennsylvania to Ohio; along National Road (now U.S. route 40) through Maryland and present West Virginia to southern Ohio; and through the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia to Kentucky and Tennessee.
 
One source for documenting migration routes is the Linguistic Atlas of the United States, where prevalence of common pronunciations and idiom usage in east-west bands from Atlantic seaboard areas tends to follow historic migration patterns. Using birthplaces of adults and children in the same family group from the federal census for destination states (1850 and later) can show distinct migration patterns in both time and place from community to community. A general discussion of migration patterns is found in The Development of Early Emigrant Trails in the United States East of the Mississippi River by Marcus W. Lewis.
 
Sources of Delaware Maps
Books containing Delaware maps, gazetteers, and atlases can be found in the Delaware Maps booklist. The booklist also includes at which repositories the books are available.
 
Obtaining Maps
Both the Delaware Historical Society and the Delaware Public Archives have excellent collections of Delaware maps dating from the 1600s. Useful for census work are Delaware maps of 1790, 1796, 1810, 1823, 1838, Samuel M Rea and Jacob Price's 1849-1850, 1857, 1859-1869, 1862, Beers' 1868, 1878, 1884 and 1917 and 1875-present.
 
D. G. Beers' Atlas of the State of Delaware contains property owners' dwelling houses, businesses, churches, schools, railroads and rivers, including some property outside of Delaware. For more maps see the University of Delaware’s website. The Delaware Geological Survey has very detailed contour maps of the area on their website.
 
Color-coded Sanborn fire insurance atlases of Delaware show each building by town (Delaware Historical Society has many originals 1884-1951). The earliest atlas to show property lines is G. M. Hopkins & Co, City Atlas of Wilmington Delaware (1878) and G. Wm. Baist, Atlas of New Castle County Delaware (1878). G. Wm. Baist, Property Atlas, City of Wilmington (1901) shows every building.
 
Get very detailed current county atlases (1"=2000') from www.adcmap.com. Get state maps from the Delaware Tourism Office at (800)-441-8846. Each county has an out-of-state 800 number for visitors:
 
New Castle County:      (800)-422-1181
Kent County:                 (800)-233-5368
Sussex County:            (800)-357-1818
 
Map 1775 and Earlier
This map shows Delaware as it appeared in 1775 and earlier. The borders shown on this map were approved by the Delaware legislature in 1775.
 
 
Meandering Line – The Delaware Drainage Divide
 
The Delaware Drainage Divide is a natural phenomenon located between the Delaware Bay and the Chesapeake Bay Watersheds. The dark meandering line, as drawn by Thomas P. Doherty, demonstrates this divide. Water flowed west into the Chesapeake and east into the Delaware. At one point, the Calvert family claimed all of Delaware. County names changed but at times Delaware was Durham, Somerset, Dorchester counties of Maryland.
 
Travel in the 1700s was primarily by water.
 
People who settled west of the Delaware Drainage Divide came primarily from either direct immigration through an Eastern shore Maryland port or moved from what is now Maryland.
 
People who settled east of the Delaware Drainage Divide, especially in New Castle and Kent counties, came primarily from direct immigration through ports on the Delaware River and Bay or moved from Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
 
Shaded Area of the Map
Deeds for the shaded area, as drawn by George L. Caley, were often granted by Maryland. The grant to William Penn of the area now Delaware, was known as the lower three counties of Penn's land grant. The Mason Dixon Line, completed in 1765, clearly demarcated the property of Delaware, ending the long-standing dispute between the Calvert and the Penn families.
 
Map 1796
This map shows Delaware as it  appeared in 1796.
 
It was drawn with the tools of the day and is good for 1796. It is not as accurate as later maps, for example the labels for White Clay Hundred, Red Lion Hundred and the Lewes-Rehoboth Hundred are outside of their boundaries.
 
In 1796 there were 24 hundreds. This would remain the same until 1830 when 3 new hunderds would be created.
 
 
Map 1859 to 1869
This map shows Delaware as it appeared in 1859 to 1869. Hundreds are also shown on the map.
 
Prior to 1859 there were 27 hundreds. In 1859 one new hundred was created when the Dover hundred was split into the East Dover hundred and the West Dover hundred. In 1863 one new hundred was created when Georgetown hundred was split from the Broadkill hundred.
 
From 1869 to 1875 four new hundreds would be created.
 
 
Map 1875 to the Present Day
This map shows Delaware as it appeared in 1875 and to the present day.
 
From 1869 to 1875 four new hundreds were created: Kenton from Little Creek and Duck Creek, Seaford from North West Fork, Gumborough from Broad Creek; Blackbird from Appoquinimink.
 
In 1875 the boundaries for the 33 hundreds in use today were established.
 
 
Credits for Maps
 
The maps are reproduced from the collections of the specified organization and used with permission.
 
Map
Credit
Map 1775 and Earlier
Delaware Geological Society, Newark DE. The shaded area for Maryland deeds was designated by George L. Caley. The dark meandering line, the hundreds boundaries and counties were added by Thomas P. Doherty. The map was converted to a color format by Edward R. Adams.
Map 1796
Delaware Historical Society (map #4) and modified to include actual hundred boundaries by Thomas P. Doherty in 1997. It is used with permission.
Map 1859 to 1869
Delaware Public Archive and D. G. Beers’ Atlas of the State of Delaware. Modified by Thomas P. Doherty to include towns, dates of establishment and information on surrounding counties.
Map 1875 to Present
Delaware Public Archive. Modified by Thomas P. Doherty to include towns, dates of establishment and information on surrounding counties.