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Markers unveiled at Magnolia site

Attending Thursday's marker dedication at the Motherkill Friends Burial Ground and Meeting House in Magnolia are, from left, State Archivist Russell McCabe; Allen McIlvain, of Dover; Eagle Scout Jonathan McIlvain, who built the steps behind the group for the site; JoAnn McIlvain; and Mike Richards, of Camden Friends Meeting House. Also unveiled Thursday was a marker, right, for Colonial-era abolitionist Warner Mifflin, who is buried in the cemetery. Delaware State News/James Pernol

 

By Kate House-Layton, Delaware State News

MAGNOLIA - People have driven past a cemetery on U.S. 113A just north of Magnolia every day for years.

Maybe they blinked as they passed it and missed it.

Or perhaps they wondered what lay beyond the tall grass and bramble.

There shouldn't be much to question now.

On Thursday, the Motherkill Friends Burial Ground and Meeting House, which also is known as the site of the Murderkill-Motherkiln Friends Meeting House, was recognized and dedicated by the state archives.

The ceremony was prompted by the completion of a new set of steps to the cemetery.

The concrete steps were built by Jonathan McIlvain, 16, of Dover, as part of an Eagle Scout project.

Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington, sponsored placing two blue state historical markers on each side of the steps.

"I'm sure there's some of you here who have driven past this site over the years who have wondered, what is that?" State Archivist Russell McCabe said, his voice competing with roars of C-5 engines, the grumble of traffic and the moan of a firehouse siren.

The dedication ceremony was recognized those who helped make the site what it is today as well as its history.

"It's my pleasure to be here today to recognize what I think is some pretty significant history," Mr. McCabe said.

The cemetery and the meeting house that once stood there have had several names.

Mr. McCabe and Michael Richards of Camden Friends Meeting House said it once was called the Murderkill, but the Quakers later changed it to Motherkill and later to Motherkiln.

The name is said to have several meanings.

"Kill" or "kiln" derive from the Dutch word for river.

The Camden Friends Meeting House now owns the site.

The earliest burial at the site is dated 1769 and the latest is 1834.

Part of what makes the plot meaningful to Mr. McCabe and others is the presence of its most prominent resident, abolitionist Warner Mifflin, who died in 1798.

Mr. McCabe said a marker recognizing Mr. Mifflin gives some "long overdue recognition to an individual who has been under-recognized as far as Delaware history and heritage is concerned."

Mr. Mifflin was a native Virginian from a slaveholding Quaker family who came to Delaware as a young man.

He freed his slaves in 1774 and 1775 and later became a leader in the abolitionist movement before the Civil War.

One of his achievements was convincing the Virginia legislature in the 1780s to provide better legal avenues for slave owners to release their slaves.

"In a direct way, Warner Mifflin was responsible for the freedom of African-Americans all over this country," Mr. McCabe said.

More than an abolitionist, Mr. Mifflin was an advocate for human rights and was criticized for it, Mr. McCabe said.

"He's one of the lesser-known and yet outstanding Delawareans we know," he said.

Mr. Richards also acknowledged Charles C. Caplinger, who before his death in 2002 took the initiative to clear the cemetery and keep it mowed.

He also researched the cemetery and built a wooden sign with the names of those buried there.

"Had it not been for him, I don't think any of us would be here today. This ceremony would not be taking place," Mr. Richards said about Mr. Caplinger.

"Most people didn't remember there was a cemetery here and he thought it was a shame that it was so overgrown."

Mr. Richards also recognized Cheryl White of Magnolia, who extensively researched the cemetery and arranged for a new sign at the site.

Ms. White commissioned Brandan Bradley, a Polytech High School student at the time, to replace Mr. Caplinger's weather-beaten wooden sign with a metal one.

Mr. Richards said the new steps and markers acted as a renewal for the cemetery.

"I think you could say that," he said. "It's gotten us to really take an interest in it.

"This gives us an impetus to keep it up and take care of it."

Mr. Richards said Camden Friends does not have a trust fund for the upkeep of the site, but he hopes one will be started to help with maintenance.

Camden Friends member Ralph Johnson of Frederica said people don't hear much about Quakers anymore, but at one time, a large number of meeting houses were in the area.

Some have survived, he said, some haven't.

Camden Friends member June Satterfield of Smyrna said she was impressed with the recognition of Mr. Mifflin as a great patriot who acted as a voice of dissent in his time.

"And yet he represents certainly what we all cherish today and feel, that is love of humanity and love of country," she said.

Ms. Satterfield said she thought the steps were a good way to invite visitors to see what is in the cemetery.

Simon James, 11, of Leipsic, a young Friends member, said he liked the small, simple gravestones in the cemetery.

"One of the great things about these projects for us at the archives is seeing them to their completion," Mr. McCabe said.

"The beautiful thing about this is it's going to continue to educate people for years to come."

Staff writer Kate House-Layton can be reached at 741-8242 or khouse@newszap.com.


 

 
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