What is Separation Day?
June 15th of the fateful year of 1776 was a momentous date for the people of Delaware. On that day the Colonial Assembly took the drastic step of proclaiming the little colony (The Three Lower Counties of New Castle, Kent and Sussex-upon-Delaware) separate and independent from Great Britain and free from any ties with the Proprietary Penn family.
The revolutionary measure enacted in the Old State (Court) House in New Castle paved the way for the formation of the new “Delaware State,” first among the original thirteen states. This action was taken while the Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, was still considering the “Lee Resolution” that culminated in the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July.
This unanimous declaration of freedom from England by Delawareans came as a surprise, for there was considerable division of opinion among the people regarding loyalty to the crown and Parliament or separation from the Mother Country. For the moment, Delaware with a population of less than 40,000 stood practically alone, except for its voluntary alignment to the Congress.
Delaware sentiment for independence thus was somewhat crystallized; there had been little thought in regard to separation prior to the meeting of the First Continental Congress in l774. The bold action of the Assembly placed the members, especially leaders such as Caesar Rodney, Thomas McKean and even George Read in jeopardy for their lives and fortunes, if the war failed to sustain freedom.
On June 15th 1776, the State of Delaware was born. Until that time, Delaware had been a part of Pennsylvania which was then called “The Assembly of the Lower Counties of Pennsylvania“. That’s right, Delaware was never recognized by the British Crown as a separate colony from Pennsylvania. Those “Lower Counties” which would become the State of Delaware, had forced a separation from the “Upper Counties” (those situated around Philadelphia) in 1704 by threatening to petition Maryland to reclaim the land that the “Lower Counties” occupied. The land had originally been part of Maryland but William Penn’s colonial charter assured him that land based on the surveying of the Mason-Dixon line. Pennsylvania reluctantly agreed to allow the Lower Counties to govern themselves with their own Assembly but the two Assemblies shared a Governor.
The Assembly of the Three Lower Counties meeting in the Assembly Room in the New Castle Court House, acted on the advice of Congress, approving a Separation Resolution. Under this document, anyone holding office, military or civilian, in the colony would thereafter be doing so in the name of the government of the Counties of New Castle, Kent and Sussex Upon Delaware, and not the King of England. This cut all ties that Delaware had with the British crown, and since the three counties had originally been part of Pennsylvania by royal charter, it also cut the few remaining ties that Delaware had with that government.
The act of separation from England provided that officials appointed by the crown were to continue in office. This provision gave continuity to the government in the transition of colony to statehood.
Delaware had taken its stand for freedom. No longer would granting redress of grievances sought against the government of King George III suffice; the decision for separation was irrevocably made.
Historic New Castle celebrates Separation Day, Delaware’s birthday, each year on the Second Saturday in June with a full day and evening of festivities.