Milton’s Five Governors

by Dana Kester-McCabe

Milton bears the distinction of having five United States Governors who once called it home, four serving right here in the state of Delaware.

If you visit the parks in Milton you will learn that the town bears the distinction of having five United States Governors who once called it home, four serving right here in the state of Delaware.

On Magnolia Street is a lovely pathway dedicated to them called Governor's Walk which connects Milton's Memorial Park with Wagaman's Pond.

The first Governor form Milton was Samuel Paynter who was born in 1768 at a homestead called Drawbridge. This property is just about where today's Route 1 crosses the Broadkill River. Samuel was a prosperous farmer and merchant. Capitalizing on his father's general store he built a mill. Its success led him to be appointed a director of the Farmer's Bank in Georgetown.

He had a good reputation among his neighbors and so he was elected to the Delaware House of Representatives serving four sessions in the House and then a total of eight sessions in the State Senate. He also served as a local judge.

Samuel ran for Governor and was elected for one term as Governor from 1824 to 1827. During his time in office work on the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal began. His opponent in that race had been a Milton neighbor David Hazzard who was thirteen years his junior.

David Hazzard who was born in 1781, ran twice for Governor again after his initial defeat by Samuel Paynter. The third time was the charm and he was elected to the office in 1829. During the war of 1812 he served as an ensign in First Company of the 8th Regiment of the Delaware Militia. Their assignment was to defend the port of Lewes. It must pay to have connections. While serving he was able to still live at home in Milton and keep an eye on the family mercantile business.

During his political career he was mostly a Republican. The party went through a number of reorganizations during that period. When David was finally elected Governor in 1829 he was aligned with the Henry Clay wing of the party that swept the region and won control of the legislature. He only served one term but it was a busy one. During his tenure public school districts were first established throughout the state. And, a new state constitution was adopted in 1831.

That was also the year of Nat Turner's slave rebellion. Though that had happened in Virginia it stoked longstanding fears of something similar happening in Delaware. The unfortunate response under the authority of Governor Hazzard was that legislation was enacted further restricting the civil rights of free and slave blacks alike. Though he was not a slaveholder and a lifelong believer in the importance of the union, he defended the terrible practice and later advocated for the rights of individual states to decide the matter.

The next Governor from Milton was Joseph Maull who was also born in 1781 and served with his neighbor David Hazzard defending Lewes during the War of 1812. His path to politics was a little different, however. Joseph was a Milton's family doctor for many years. He was also a mover and a shaker there, leading the call for the construction of the dam that created Wagamon's Pond. That is where he owned property and built a successful grist mill.

Joseph continued his medical practice and his business, but he also found time to run for the State Senate. While serving there he was elected as President of the Senate, which led to his most prestigious post. When Governor Thomas Stockton died in office in 1846, Joseph was next in the line of succession and therefore became the next governor. Unfortunately, he only lived a few months, also dying in office. He was the seventh to die while serving as Governor of Delaware. About the only thing notable from his very short term was that he was on record as opposing the annexation of Texas.

The next Governor to hail from Milton was James Ponder who was born in 1819. James was another son of a successful merchant and followed in that business expanding it into banking, farming, and shipbuilding. He served as a representative in the State House for one term prior to the Civil War. After the war he was elected to the State Senate rising to the office of Speaker in 1867. In 1870 he was elected to serve for one term as Governor.

During his time in office the state house was expanded. Heat and gas lighting were installed there. His term was unfortunately marked by his opposition to progress for African Americans and their right to vote, which he tried to thwart in any way he could. Elections held during this time were notoriously rigged to support that position leading to federal troops being sent in by President Grant to police the next election.

The last Governor to call Milton his home was Joseph Carey who was born in 1845. Like all the others Joseph was also the son of successful local merchants. He went off to school getting a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania and passing the bar exam in 1867. Like so many other ambitious young men he felt the pull to "go west"; heading to the Wyoming territory shortly thereafter.

He also actively campaigned for Ulysses Grant when he ran for President. He must have impressed someone quite important, because only two years later he was appointed the U.S. District Attorney for Wyoming territory. That led eventually to being appointed as an associate justice on the Wyoming Supreme Court. The first elected office he held was mayor of Cheyenne. Then he was off to our country's capital as a territorial representative. While there he authored the bill to grant Wyoming statehood. A true progressive, legend has it that he and his delegation told Congress that Wyoming would "wait 100 years for statehood rather than join without women's suffrage."

After the territory became a state Joseph was elected to the U.S. Senate, but he was unseated after just one term. He seemed to retire from politics retreating to practice law and run his ranch in Wyoming. By this time his holdings were quite an empire and should have kept him busy enough. The political bug got him again when he supported Teddy Roosevelt's re-election bid with the Progressive Party. But it took another sixteen years before he ran successfully for Governor of Wyoming. Joseph Carey also bears the distinction of being inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame.

Each of these Governors has an historic marker dedicated to them in Milton. And there are a number of their homes still preserved there on the National Register of Historic Places.