In the early 1800’s a group of Negro families (the Halls, Tunnells, Welburns, Olivers, Collins, Rickards, Walters, Rodgers, Andrews, Tyres, Evans and Williams) many of whom were still slaves and others being Freed Negro residents made up the Wesley community.
Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church was the center of this community. Here on the premises is the Wesley Camp Ground, the Wesley Cemetery, the Wesley Church and the Blackwater Colored School.
Regular church services in the late 1700 and early 1800’s were conducted by white ministers at the Blackwater Presbyterian Church in Clarksville and St. George’s Methodist Church down the road, where Negro slaves and others were allowed to attend but had to sit in the slave galleries or balconies of the church.
The Camp Meeting dates back to the 1840’s, prior to the church and cemetery being established. Despite the Delaware State law of 1862 the forbade Delaware Negroes to hold Camp Meetings, especially since the Nat Turner Rebellion was sweeping through the Eastern Shore of Mayland and Virginia. Despite this folks would come to the Wesley Camp in covered wagons and camp for the weekend through 1860. The wagons would be centered around the bower and families would listen to religious services. There was a horse pound to bed down the horses and mules and wooden fire stands for strategic lighting around the camp.
For over 170 years the Wesley Camp has continued to conduct their meeting during the last week of July. By 1930 the wagons were replaced with wooden structures, three of them still stand today. The church was built in 1871 and according to a Civil War pension deposition by Catherin Baylis there were no “colored” church buildings in this area during the 1850’s. The deposition states that they had to be married by a white minister from Blackwater Presbyterian Church. For 96 years they worshipped in this building, only to have it destoyed by a fire in 1957. The cemetery is also located within this compound, with many of the original wooden markers gone.
The Blackwater Colored School is still standing and located in the center of the Wesley Camp. Built in 1892 it served the community until 1925 when it was replaced with the DuPont School (Blackwater #207) After 1925 it has been used for church functions and a boarding tent. This school is the last of the remaining Colored School buildings built during the post Civil War period in Sussex County and serves as a important symbol of the past. The people who formed this community lived through segregation, their education, religion and culture revolved around the Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church and the Blackwater Colored School.
This site is an integral part of the history of Delaware. Amazing meeting with the Friends group, Dan Parsons(Sussex Planner) and Madeline Dunn(SHPO). Spoke before the group and urged them to gather all information and move towards writing the National Register nominations for the entire compound, a traditional land survey, partenering with the University of Delaware, grave yard maintenance and above all telling the story of the community.