The Town of Frederica is located in Kent County, Delaware, southeast of Dover on the banks of Andrews Lake and Killens Pond State Park, and covers a total area of about 1,098 acres.
The Town of Frederica is part of a grant of land originally deeded to Mr. Boneny Bishop by William Penn in 1681 and designated on survivors records as St. Collom. The bend on the Murderkill River that later became the port was first called Indian Point. As its importance to the early settlers grew, it came to be reffered to as Johhny Cake Landing. A detailed survey of the waterfront was conducted in 1758, and the plot where most of the shipping activity occurred was named Goforth’s Landing. This parcel provided a nucleus around which the rest of the town was surveyed and laid out in lots by Jonathan Emerson in 1772. In 1796, one of his daughters, who was concerned that a town located so close to Barratt’s Chapel, even then recognized as a historic Methodist landmark, bore the rather informal name of Johhny Cake Landing, proposed that it be renamed Frederica Landing. This name stuck, and the Town of Frederica was formally incorporated as such by an act of the State legislature in 1826. In 1855, the 1826 incorporation act was repealed. However, the section delineating the town’s boundaries was retained. Ten years later, in 1865, the Town of Frederica was reincorporated. Between these reincorporation’s, Frederica’s population grew by nearly 100 people.
Like several other Kent County river towns, the Town of Frederica was located on the first relatively firm land inland along the banks of Murderkill River, at a point where it was still navigable. This is approximately six miles from the Delaware Bay shore, where at that time was surrounded by fertile fields and dense stands of pine, white oak, spruce, and walnut trees. The town’s location among wetlands leads to the nickname “Frogtown” because of the large number of frogs that made the area their home. The nickname has stuck into the present day and is depicted on the trucks of the Frederica Volunteer Fire Company. These geographic factors gave rise to the shipping and shipbuilding activities that dominated the town’s economy. Another factor was the proximity of the dynamic and prosperous city of Philadelphia and the ease with which ships and boats could reach its wharves and docks at a time when roads were often impassable. For decades, Frederica’s fortunes would be as firmly linked to Philadelphia as they were to the other towns of Kent County because of the convenient water route between them.
The early settlers were not slow to capitalize on these opportunities. The most important cargos shipped on the Murderkill in colonial times comprised of bacon, beef, corn, wheat flour, cedar shingles, cheese, butter, tar, pitch and hardwood boards.
The Town of Frederica’s port property diminished slightly in 1857, when the railroad took over the transport of lumber and bark. The railroads brought efficient overland transportation to Kent County, which resulted in an increasingly larger share of grain, produce, and bulk fertilizer business being diverted away from river shipping. The improvement of the county road system worked more to the advantage of the railroads than it did to the ports, particularly when the trains could offer refrigerated transportation in insulated cars with ice bunkers, The Town of Frederica’s shipping interests had fought hard to prevent the Delaware Railroad from passing near the town, with the result that growth was halted and the community became even more isolated from neighboring towns. Once they realized their mistake, the citizens of Frederica launched a major campaign to get a railroad connection, at one time even going so far as to charter a line that would connect Dover to Milford by a route that passed through the town. This never came to pass, sharing the fate of another scheme to connect the Town of Frederica to Felton by a seven-mile-long-branch. After 40 years of futile efforts, the town gave up on the railroad. Currently, the nearest railroad stations are in Felton (approximately seven miles west), and Dover (approximately ten miles north).
In about 1890, the last shipyard closed, but important sources of profit and employment could be found in other industries. By 1887, Frederica had three canneries, including the Reynolds’ and the Postles’ cannery, at that time the largest in the United Sates. Other businesses included Rodgers and Son fertilizer manufacturing, the Lewis hat factory, two brush factories, a cooper, a butcher, a hotel, a clothing house, and ten general stores. The steamship service of Frederica , owned and managed by the Frederica and Philadelphia Navigation Company, provided transport at a price and speed competitive with the railroad, allowing the town to hold into its Philadelphia markets well into the 20th century. With the onset of the Great Depression, the steamer found its prospects for the future diminished. The improvements of the U.S. Route113 in the mid-1920’s had resulted in the construction of a causeway across the Murderkill at Barratt’s Chapel, which effectively cut the town off from the bay. The improvement of local roads meant that the citizens of Frederica could get to Harrington, Dover, and Wilmington more easily and were not so dependent on their connection with Philadelphia. Business for the steamer fell off, with the railroads getting the last of the produce shipments. Shortly afterwards, the railroad was supplanted by heavy highway trucks. Maritime activity fell off until it consisted of some small-scale oyster and sturgeon fishing, which has now disappeared.
Today the port is quiet, the canneries are closed, and so many of the formerly thriving businesses. Auto and truck traffic on the Coleman Dupont Highway and U.S. Route 113 bypass the town, carrying the passengers and freight that once would have been transported by Frederica ships. Protected from change brought about in other parts of the county, first by rail, then by highway transport, Frederica offers a rare look at one of Kent Count’s earliest water based economies.