Visitors to Lewes often comment about the unique building located at 102 Kings Highway, but the outside just offers a taste of the fascinating stories found inside.
The Zwaanendael Museum was built in 1931 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the state’s first European colony, Swanendael, established by the Dutch along Hoorn Kill (present-day Lewes-Rehoboth Canal) in 1631.
The building was designed by E. William Martin, famous as the architect of Legislative Hall and the Hall of Records in Dover. The museum is modeled after the town hall in Hoorn, the Netherlands, and features a stepped facade gable with carved stonework and decorated shutters. The museum’s exhibits and presentations provide a showcase for Lewes-area maritime, military and social history.
Part of that history is the story behind the sinking of the DeBraak. During the late-18th and early-19th centuries, sloops of war such as DeBraak played an increasingly important role in Royal Navy campaigns. These relatively small vessels combined speed, agility, shallow draft and increased firepower, all of which made them formidable naval vessels. As the only Royal Navy sloop of war from this time period that has been recovered anywhere in the world, DeBraak serves as an invaluable historical resource for a time when Great Britain was the world’s preeminent naval power.
The surviving section of the DeBraak’s hull and its associated artifact collection have been curated by the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs since they were acquired by the state of Delaware in 1992. Approximately one-third of the hull survives including the keel, keelson and lower framing elements, including a large section of the starboard (right) side.
Beginning on June 7, 2017, the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs will offer tours that explore the 18th-century history, artifacts and surviving hull section of His Majesty’s Sloop DeBraak, a British warship that was escorting and protecting a convoy of merchant ships en route to the United States when it was capsized and lost off the Delaware coast on May 25, 1798. Tours will take place at 9 a.m. on the following Wednesdays during 2017: June 7, 14, 21 and 28; July 5, 12, 19 and 26; Aug. 2, 9, 16, 23 and 30; and Sept. 6, 13, 20 and 27.
Each tour begins at the Zwaanendael Museum, located at 102 Kings Highway in Lewes, Del., where a lecture on the ship will be presented in conjunction with the exhibit “A Seaborne Citizenry: The DeBraak and Its Atlantic World.” Participants will learn about the history, crew and sinking of the DeBraak through a guided presentation and display of actual artifacts. Attendees will then be transported, via van, to the DeBraak conservation facility for interpretation and viewing of the ship’s surviving hull section.
Each tour will last approximately two hours. Individuals age 10 and up are welcome. Space is limited to 12 participants. The cost of the program is $10 per person. For reservations (non-refundable) please visit the Shop Delaware website (go to http://shop.delaware.gov and click on “Tours” in the “Categories” column). For questions, call 302-645-1148. Walk-ups are welcome but space is not guaranteed.
‘A Sailor’s Life For Me’
The museum will host its two-day maritime celebration, “A Sailor’s Life for Me,” May 27 and 28 at various locations in downtown Lewes.
Adults and children will have an opportunity to experience seafaring lives and honor mariners who made a sacrifice.
The schedule for May 27 includes:
- “Life at Sea” demonstrations: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Zwaanendael Museum, 102 Kings Highway. Attendees can swab the deck, learn about shipboard food, play Crown and Anchor and other Colonial-period games and serve on a block-and-tackle station where visitors will be drilled by a demanding mariner looking for new crew members
- Local maritime history demonstrations and displays: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Zwaanendael Museum. Presented by various local organizations including the Indian River Lifesaving Station; the Lewes Historical Society; the Lightship Overfalls and the Overfalls Foundation; and the Marine Education, Research and Rehabilitation Institute.
- Living history encampment: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Canal Front Park, 211 Front St. Re-enactors will portray sailors and mariners from the American Revolutionary War to the Korean War with a spotlight on World War I in commemoration of the centennial of America’s entrance into the Great War. Activities include displays, demonstrations and musket drills.
- Sound pipe demonstrations: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Lightship Overfalls, 219 Pilottown Road. Demonstrations on the use of sound pipes which were used by the Overfalls to produce audible warnings during the presence of thick fog or mist.
- Tour of the Overfalls: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Lightship Overfalls. Visit this National Historic Landmark that was the last lightship built by the U.S. Lighthouse Service. The last tour will be at 3:30 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults and children 14 years and older.
The schedule for May 28 includes:
- “Lost Off Lewes: The British Warship DeBraak” tours: 9, 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., Zwaanendael Museum. Participants will meet at the Zwaanendael Museum where they will board a van that will transport them to an off-site conservation facility for a guided tour of the surviving hull section of His Majesty’s Sloop DeBraak, which sank off the Delaware coast on May 25, 1798. Admission is free, but due to limited seating, reservations are required by calling 645-1148 no later than May 19.
- Colonial games: 1:30 to 4 p.m., Zwaanendael Museum.
- Wreath-laying ceremony: 3:30 p.m. Featuring historical re-enactors, a bugler and a bagpiper, this ceremony will take place at the DeBraak Memorial located on the museum grounds. The site is believed to contain the remains of several crew members who lost their lives in the sinking of the DeBraak.
- Living history encampment: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Canal Front Park. Historical re-enactors will portray sailors and mariners from the American Revolutionary War to the Korean War with a spotlight on World War I in commemoration of the centennial of America’s entrance into the Great War. Activities include displays, demonstrations and musket drills.
- Wreath-laying ceremony at the tomb of DeBraak Capt. James Drew: 3 p.m., St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 211 Mulberry St. Featuring historical re-enactors, a bugler and a bagpiper, participants will lay a wreath on Capt. Drew’s grave, followed by a walk to the Zwaanendael Museum for a wreath-laying ceremony honoring other crew members of the DeBraak
For information, call 645-1148 or visit bit.ly/2ooXjLU.