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Lewes, Delaware
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November 8, 2002     Cape Gazette
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November 8, 2002
 

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Serving Delaware's Cape Region "The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance" Return Day - Thursday, Nov. 7, 2002 .4 Sussex County celebrates a biennial tradition by Dennis Forney oliticians and all the peo- ple of Sussex County have been assembling for Return Day ever since George- town was made the county seat in 1791. The form of the celebration, which always takes place on the Thursday following election day, in all the even years, has changed considerably over the years. The purpose of the day, however, has remained the same. The residents of the county come to their county seat to hear the election returns, to celebrate victories and to drown the sorrow of defeat. Tradition has many of the opposing candi- dates tiding together in horse- drawn carriages and convertible automobiles in the Return Day parade, while the leaders of the two major political parties "bury the hatchet" on The Cir- cle in Georgetown - signaling the end of the political season. In recent years, the Return Day celebration also has become the single-most unifying event that takes place for all of Sussex County. One of the largest parades held on the Delnmrva Peninsula is the centerpiece of the Return Day celebration. The parade shows off the tal- ents of musicians in bands from the middle school to high school " and college levels, and a wide variety of floats, marching units and other exhibits put on wheels. Thousands of Sussex County residents, and Delawareans from north and south, join to- gether in Georgetown to cele- brate the conclusion of cam- paigning and the democratic process. W. Emerson Wilson, a fre- quent contributor of historical articles to the News Journal pa- pers in Wilmington over the years, compiled a history of Re- turn Day that was published in the official brochure for the event in 1974. Much of the historical infor- mation that follows comes from that effort. Return Day as it is celebrated in these times is far more cere- monial than it was in the earliest days of our nation. In 1776, Lewes was the county seat for Sussex County and elections for state and federal offices were held there in accordance with rules adopted in the state's first constitution in 1776. People from western Sussex under- standably didn't cotton much to traveling a whole day across poor roads and in the unpre- dictable weather of early No- vember to cast their ballots. Georgetown, equidistant from all points in Sussex County, was created in 1791 to satisfy those complaints. A gentleman named George Mitchell was among the three men appointed to come up with a location and layout for a new county seat. Surveyor Rhodes Shankland came up with the circle concept and laid out the streets from there. Mitchell must have won when straws were drawn for the naming of the county seat. The new town was to be called Georgetown. The county seat was closer for voting purposes for many of the county's residents. According to Wilson's history, "Voters had to drive into Georgetown to cast their ballots and it is unlikely they would return two days later for the results. Undoubtedly, the results of the election were known that night or the next day and voters would stay over to learn the results. Under that Dan Cook photo Former Georgetown Mayor W. Layton Johnson serves as Town Crier for Return Day, announcing the results of Tues- day's elections from the Courthouse balcony at the end of the annual parade. arrangement, the earliest Return Day would have been the day af- ter the election. Celebrations were held informally by those who had won. "It wasn't long though before voters complained about having to drive all the way to George- town to cast their ballots. Al- though it took more than two decades to change the system, the state's General Assembly passed laws in 1828 which set Continued on back page i ii ! est00 dom of of thiil ....   t dress'  ......... of griance&' ....  - First Amendment to the United States Constitution