Standouts include a breakdown of how Delaware developed its reputation as a haven for corporations, a fact that’s in amusing counterpoint to the fascinating story of Howard Pyle, the illustrator whose 1883 version of Robin Hood, drawn in his Wilmington studio, proved epochal. Pyle’s drawings and paintings of pirates, meanwhile, pioneered their depiction in childrens’ literature as merry, swashbuckling adventurers instead of bloodthirsty marauders, and his worldwide following included none less than Vincent van Gogh. Tabler includes photographs of objects that capture something of the texture of the past, such as shipbuilders’ tools, the first Civil War state draft lottery wheel, and the courthouse newel whose secret compartment might have held the arsenic that helped an outlaw evade justice.
While the layout and storytelling are inviting, actually reading the full accounts of the many tales, treasures, revelations, and inventions that Tabler covers demands flipping through the book, after a paragraph or so, to unillustrated pages in the back, where the text continues. This process of flipping quickly becomes tedious. Sometimes, as with the fascinating story Tabler calls “Drowned at Sea—Twice,” the key proper nouns and basic facts of the case don’t appear until after the jump. Still, the stories themselves, like the life of notorious slave bounty hunter Patty Cannon, prove worth the work.
Takeaway: Interesting, surprising, thoroughly researched survey of Delaware’s 19th century.
Comparable Titles: William Henry Williams’s The First State, Rachel Kipp and Dan Shortridge’s Secret Delaware.
Design and typography: B
Marketing copy: A
Fresh out of college, Tabler contributed the photography for “The Illustrated History of American Civil War Relics,” which taught him how to work with museum curators, collectors, and white cotton gloves. He met a man in the Shenandoah Valley who played the musical saw, a Knoxville fellow who specialized in collecting barbed wire, and Tom Dickey, brother of the man who wrote ‘Deliverance.’
In 2006 Tabler circled back to these earlier encounters with Appalachian culture as an idea for a blog. AppalachianHistory.net today reaches 375,000 readers a year.
Dave Tabler moved to Delaware in 2010 and became smitten with its rich past. His experience working with curators and collectors came in handy when he got the urge to photograph a love letter to Delaware’s early heritage: “Delaware Before the Railroads,” which was released late 2022.
Read Aloud Delaware is a non-profit organization that aims to create a lifelong impact through early childhood literacy. Their mission is for every child in Delaware to have the foundational literacy skills needed to succeed in school and life. RAD's excutive director James Spadola talks with Tabler about how to excite young people about history. As the proud son of a librarian, Dave Tabler intuitively understands that a love of history, and books, happens in the home, at a young age. He aims to write approachably to readers of many ages.