Delaware History: ‘Hundreds’. What is a ‘Hundred’?

Delaware 1868 Hundreds Maps

(Derived from UD Library: Delaware History: ‘Hundreds’

“Hundreds” is a geographic division, smaller than counties and roughly equivalent to the division “townships” in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Delaware is the only state which currently uses this division. There are thirty-three hundreds today. The most recent changes to hundreds were in the 1870s when the last two were established: Gumboro in 1873 and Blackbird in 1875. Prior to the 1960s, hundreds were used as voting districts and as units for reporting taxes. The remaining use of hundreds today is in property tax assessments (tax parcel numbers are assigned by hundreds).

The use of hundreds in America dates back to colonial days. Hundreds were used as a sub-county division in England and were introduced in some of the British colonies. For Delaware, the origin is cited as a letter written in 1682 by William Penn, the newly-appointed Lord Proprietor of the province of Pennsylvania and the counties on the Delaware. Penn directed that from this point onward, settlements be divided into sections of 100 families. The first use of the term Hundred in official records relating to the Delaware colony dates to 1687, when reference is made to “a list of taxables of north side of Duck Creek Hundred.” (from the New Castle County court records, Returns of the Constables, as cited in Scharf, p. 611f).

In 1964, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a Delaware case disallowed state election districts based solely on geography. Following this, Delaware redrew its boundaries based on population. The case was Roman v. Sincock 377 US 695 (1964). The case can be found in Findlaw: U.S. Supreme Court Opinions and in LexisNexis Academic Universe [restricted to University of Delaware].

Following are selected references relating to hundreds:

In Delaware Genealogical Research Guide (p. 5):
On 25 Oct 1682, William Penn directed that Delaware be divided into townships occupied by 100 families where each family would have an average of about ten members (including servants). These townships were referred to as “hundreds” in a 9 Apr 1690 order by the Provincial Council. Originally, there were five hundreds in New Castle County, five in Kent County and two in Sussex County. As the population grew, several of the hundreds divided, creating new hundreds. In 1875, the total number of hundreds had grown to the present-day thirty-three hundreds. Their boundaries have essentially not changed since and no longer serve as judicial or legislative districts.

In Munroe, History of Delaware (p. 49):
A hundred is an old English subdivision of a county, its origin shrouded in mystery…. The name was used in many colonies but survived in America only in Delaware, probably because there the counties were all established so early — by 1680 — that little reorganization was needed. In New England, the newer English term, town, replaced hundred, and in Pennsylvania and New Jersey the term township was adopted.

In Scharf, History of Delaware, a quotation from a letter by William Penn to the justices of the peace in Sussex county (25th of Tenth Month, 1682) (p. 611 note):
That you endeavor to seat the land that shall hereafter be taken up in the way of townships. As three thousand acres amongst Tenn familys; if single persons one thousand acres. Amongst Tenn of them laid out in the nature of a long square five or Tenn of a side, and a way of two hundred foot broad left between them for an Highway in the Township, and I would have you careful for the future good and grate benefit of your country.

On page 84, Scharf uses the terms “three lower counties” and “Delaware Hundreds” interchangeably.

In Delaware 1782 Tax Assessment and Census Lists (p. 2):
A “hundred” is an old Saxon land division which is smaller than a county or shire and larger than a tithing. It comprised ten tithings of ten freeholder families each, or 100 families.

The following are maps from the Pomeroy and Beers Atlas of 1868. Each hundred is available in Georeferenced Tiff format and in plain PDF format.

This entry was posted in Delaware History. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply