The Terrible Fate of Helen Bishop

Who Came First

Ok, technically it was the Lenape tribe and then the Swedes but if we’re talking about the structures it was Sarah Brooks and her family. She owned the oldest building on the property, a stone house that sits by the road and later became more of a gatehouse/guesthouse for later owners. Right now the state park is looking for someone to fix-up the house and live in it under a conservatorship program. It’s still a solid structure but the inside looks like hell. A homeless man started a fire inside in 2007 which scorched everything and killed him. That was how the guide started the tour of the Cauffiel House (ah!!). The Cauffiel part will come next, in part two of this post. What I didn’t know until I did some really deep digging was that I would uncover an even more tragic story. Two terrible fates. But first a little history of the land that still gives us such a great view of the river.

The Cartmell family were the first to actually live on the property and bought the land from Ebenezer Perkins in 1725. After Thomas Carmell’s death his daughter, Sarah, inherited the property in 1759 and built herself a log cabin in 1763. She lived there until she passed away 20 years later and willed the land and house to her nephew George Cartmell. George doubled the size of the house and added the stone exterior in the year 1800. He built a few other houses and buildings on the farmland but they were torn down ages ago.

You can see interior (log cabin) photos of the Sarah Brooks House in its current state here. You can see interior (log cabin) photos of the Sarah Brooks House in its current state here.

For Sale By Sheriff

In 1876 Charles Brown Lore bought the property at a sheriff’s sale. He built his summer home there and also added floors and glass windows to the Sarah Brooks house. Charles started out as a lawyer, during the Civil War he served as the area’s draft commissioner (which means he might have dealt with our draft dodger John Prince, remember him?).

Working his way up the career ladder, Charles served in Congress and then later became Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court. He was elected for a twelve-year term but retired early in 1909 due to ill health. Before his retirement he was quite the progressive and he wasn’t shy either. In an example of history forever repeating itself he made an impassioned speech in 1903 that caught the attention of the New York Times, enough for a full story:

“Gigantic frauds are palmed upon the people as successful business enterprises. Our greatest financiers are racking their brains to circumvent the law and the people and by lawlessness achieve wealth.”

Word, Charles. His speech also touched on the lynchings that were still part of the culture even in the “Union”. Charles was not buying the public excuse for lynchings, which was “outrages of negroes upon white women,” and he said so during his speech. Then he publicly called out President Roosevelt.

Charles though the President was not taking enough action to quell the lynching mobs (Roosevelt may have built the Panama Canal and protected our land but he was…well, a big time racist. After the lynching of George White in Delaware [which Charles was referring to] Roosevelt finally made a public statement against it that year and again three years later in his State of the Union). Charles was getting it done.

The Terrible Death of Helen Bishop

In 1903 the only recorded lynching in Delaware occurred. Seventeen-year old Helen Bishop, daughter of a local revered, left a railroad car to walk home in North Wilmington. She never made it. Instead she was found robbed, raped and with her throat slit. She died a day later from her injuries. George White, a 27-year old ex-convict (and a black man) was arrested in connection with the crime. I’m not entirely certain what his past crimes were, I can only find allusions to them. They were either assault or robbery, I’m not positive.

Public temper was high and so was demand for an immediate trial of George. A local reverend gave a fiery sermon that night, literally titled “Should the Murderer of Helen Bishop be Lynched?” He capped that speech off by throwing around bloody leaves collected from the crime scene, whipping his audience into a frenzy…. Though they were probably already in a frenzy; some had actually sent invitations out to those who wanted to participate in a lynch mob. Though it was June, the court system was weighed down with more cases than they could handle and they set the trial date for September. Helen’s father pleaded for the public’s restraint.

Meanwhile, word had spread (as invitations about a mob meet-up were effective I guess). Most people initially turned up simply out of curiosity on the assigned date that mid-June night; although it wasn’t long before many had joined in. In total, several thousand people showed up to the workhouse where the police had been keeping George, though the number who actually attacked was about 500 of them.

The mob’s appearance had been expected, the Wilmington police managed to muster up an extra 30 policemen for support. Which was obviously no match for the sheer size of the crowd. The police struggled to quell the mob by shooting water from fire hoses but that only seemed to rile everyone up more.  Armed with clubs, rifles and dynamite the mob attempted to enter. The Chief of Police shouted to the crowd that the first man who entered the premises would be killed. In response a man from the crowd yelled back, “Then you better kill me for the first one.”

For some reason that completely subdued the police who didn’t want too many doors broken and so told them the exact cell where they could find George. Then they instructed the mob how they could get the door off the hinges without too much damage. Seriously…. :/

To cut the gory parts a little bit short, the mob found George. They brought him back to where Helen had been found murdered, tied him to a stake and started a fire below him. Apparently this took quite awhile, some guy on a white horse appeared and offered to go fetch hay from a nearby farm as the crowd grew impatient for the execution (you’ll never think of the white knight/white horse analogy the same, right). George tried to escape the fire several times but they threw him back in each time until he was dead and truly burned.

The Coroner made his way to the scene the next day to secure any remains for a legal inquest but relic hunters had made off with most of the potential evidence.

Helen’s father later said he thought George should have had a legal trial but he didn’t feel that bad (George did confess to the crime, although on a stake so…. And you thought the stuff on Law & Order was a coerced confession). While Helen’s father claimed to be against the lynching calling it “deplorable” he thought the court date set for September violated the Constitution’s right of a speedy and public trial and that the people to blame for the tragic outcome was the legal system. His fellow church leaders agreed:  “Is that speedy? Is that even constitutional?” a colleague of his told the newspaper reporters.

A 12-year old boy, who was part of the lynching mob, was fatally shot in the melee and several people were injured. The Attorney General, H.H. Ward was determined to find the leaders and punish them; he believed there were 12 men mostly responsible. You see, some of the city detectives were in the crowd that night and since they had no hope of regaining order they instead made quiet notes of who was there and who lead the assault. Now Attorney General Ward had a complete list of the responsible party. The police quickly made their first arrest, a white man named Arthur Corwell. This led to more rioting (and violence towards Wilmington’s black residents) and he was released on $5,000 bail. Ultimately the state chose not to pursue any further arrests, citing their fears of beginning a race war in the state.

For all the “justice” the mob was doing, Helen Bishop’s mother and father wanted nothing to do with it. Her husband told the newspapers that since “justice” had been done his wife seemed a little improved after Helen’s death. In reality they had burned George on a stake right near the Bishop family home where the family could easily see the huge fire and hear the screams. Helen’s mother suffered a nervous breakdown and never fully recovered, passing away a few years later.

And Back to Charles

No wonder Charles Lore needed a quiet relaxing retreat! He leisure activity was being quite active with farming the property. He had a large orchard, cows and a creamery, chickens and gardens. A biography described Charles’ love for the land:

“He would gladly have lived upon his beautiful little fruit farm in the Brandywine on the Delaware River. During his latter years he spent there many, many happy hours, among the trees which he had planted years before and tenderly and fondly cared for. He liked to put on overalls and a broad brimmed hat, and work upon and among those trees as the farm hand would ordinarily do.”

Charles Lore died in Wilmington in 1911 just ten days shy of his 80th birthday…in his bed, as all the obituary’s think it’s important to point out (weird). After that the land was to undergo quite a bit of change as the Cauffiel family moved in. But that’s for part two, coming next!

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and a park guide