Delaware History Trail: Governor Ross Mansion in Seaford
Governor Ross Mansion in Seaford
Delaware History Trail Marker
Today's stop along the Delaware History Trail takes us to the Governor Ross Mansion & Plantation in Seaford. This magnificent estate currently consists of 20 acres of land and has multiple buildings including a 13 room, fully furnished, Italian-Villa style mansion, a granary, stable, smoke-house, corn-cribs, out-house, slave quarter, honeymoon cottage and gift shop.
The Ross Mansion was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, one year after it was purchased by the Seaford Historical Society. Lovingly restored and maintained by the society, it features an impressive three-story tall entry, ornate plaster ceilings, and period furnishings that exemplify gracious southern living.
The grounds have majestic trees and I was able to photograph them on a beautiful fall day when many were bursting with color.
Walking through the estate is like stepping back in time and it's easy to imagine what it was like living there during the 19th century. Knowledgeable tour guides spin fascinating tales, especially in regards to William Henry Harrison Ross, who was born in 1814, became Delaware's youngest and very popular Governor in 1851, served one term and despite being urged to serve another, declined because he was going deaf and felt it wouldn't be fair to his constituents to have a Governor who couldn't hear them.
But troubling times for the Ross family were on the horizon as talk of a war over slavery escalated into the Civil War. First, we shall focus on what the Civil War years at the Ross Mansion were like so you may get a sense of the kind of stories you'll hear if you're lucky enough to tour the mansion in person.
Next, we'll focus on a log structure which originally housed the plantation's slaves, and we'll learn what happened to the slaves after the war ended.
We will then drive to the nearby Bon Appe'tit Restaurant for a delicious gourmet meal at an affordable price.
Our day ends with a stop at the Seaford Museum where a docent guides us through interactive exhibits.
Photo Tour of the Ross Plantation & RailroadClick thumbnail to view full-size
Ross Family Hardships During Civil War Years
Delaware, a Mid-Atlantic state, is on the border between the northern and southern states along the Atlantic Coast. Though the state was officially part of the Union which fought on the side of President Lincoln, many people who lived in the southern and middle parts of Delaware were sympathetic to the south, particularly those who, like Governor Ross, owned slaves.
Governor Ross was the most famous southern sympathizer in the region and he aided the Confederacy during the Civil War, prompting President Lincoln to issue an order for his arrest. Tipped off that his arrest was imminent, the Governor fled to England while his wife and 10 children stayed behind.
Ironically, it was several slaves on the plantation who helped him escape arrest. They hid him in a barrel and transported him to the Port of Wilmington where he boarded a ship to England.
Though the Governor remained in England for most of the war years, he was able to keep in contact with his wife. Their eldest son, Caleb, enlisted in the 18th Virginia Cavalry Regiment to fight with the Confederates but died of typhoid fever at the beginning of the war.
When the war ended, the Governor returned back home. His slaves had been freed by Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation but they continued to live on at the plantation as tenant farmers.
Though the Governor had lost much of his wealth, he conducted a successful business as an importer and manufacturer of fertilizers and agricultural supplies. He died in 1887.
Ironically, some descendants of the slaves still live in Seaford, though none of the descendants of the Ross family currently live in this historic town.
The Story of the Slave Quarter
Photos of Slave Quarter Plaque & Out-house
The Story of the Ross Plantation Slave Quarter
The story of the slave quarter is a fascinating one as the building itself, along with its history, was almost lost to posterity.
Following the Civil War, the original 1 and 1/2 story framed slave quarter was turned into a 2 story house for tenant farmers and the building was moved to a different location on the grounds which was much farther from the mansion.
The Ross family lost the property years later, in 1924, when they declared bankruptcy, and as the property changed hands the tenant farmer house fell into disrepair until it was "rediscovered" in 1989 by a great-great grandson of Governor Ross who had come to tour the grounds. By that time the University of Delaware owned the property and the president of the university appointed an eight member research team to document the 19th century log structure and discovered that it was the original slave quarter.
The University of DE donated the building to the Seaford Historical Society in 1992 and the society restored it to its original size, shape and dimensions. They also relocated it to its former location next to the mansion.
Rate Governor Ross Mansion & Plantation
Link to Seaford Historical Society Website
Hope you have enjoyed learning about the Governor Ross Mansion and Plantation. You can rate it by clicking on the stars. I gave it 5 stars for the beauty of the plantation, the fact that docents give tours of the mansion and also for its historical importance and the historical authenticity of the buildings.
You can find out information about hours of operation, special events such as the annual Victorian Christmas, Victorian Teas, Civil War Re-enactments and how to arrange a private or group tour by visiting the website at:
Enjoy Great Food at Bon Appe'tit Restaurant
Bon Appe'tit Restaurant
The Bon Appe'tit Restaurant serves award-winning cuisine in a European style dining room full of old world charm. This chef owned French restaurant offers gourmet food served by attentive wait staff that make tourists and locals feel equally at home.
The menu is changed on a monthly basis and the chef generally highlights a particular type of cuisine each month. For example, my husband and I ate lunch there during the month of October and as this is an October-fest month, the menu featured German style food. My husband ordered Wiener Schnitzel Holstein which he said was delicious. I odered the Quiche Du Jour which had a flaky crust, creamy cheese and fresh chunks of asparagus. A spring mix side salad was included and was garnished with walnuts and blue cheese topped by a home-made house dressing. The price was a reasonable $9.95.
Though we did not need a reservation for lunch, our waitress advised us that if we return for dinner, or come during the Christmas Holidays it's best to make a reservation.
For more information about Bon Appe'tit and to view their current menu go to www.bonappetitseaford.com .
Nearby Seaford Museum Also has Great Tours
Governor Ross & Wife, Emiline
While in Seaford, consider including a visit to the Seaford Museum which, like the Governor Ross Mansion and Plantation, is owned, maintained and operated by the Seaford Historical Society.
Knowledgeable docents tell fascinating tales about other famous, and also notorious residents of Seaford and there are some hands on exhibits that kids will love.
Map of Historic Seaford Delaware
Award winning French Restaurant serving gourmet food at affordable prices. Menu is changed each month.
Run by the Seaford Historical Society, the museum has interactive exhibits and tours led by knowledgeable docents.