Volume 7, Number 4, 1998

Rummaging for Delaware's forgotten history

When Delaware historians gather to compare facts, trade tales and discuss significant events concerning the First State, the name Roger Martin, AS '61, '72M, is certain to enter the conversation.

The Middletown, Del., resident and Laurel, Del., native, is well known in state social and professional circles. A former history and foreign language teacher, he retired from Middletown High School in 1996, after 23 years in the classroom. In 1994, he left the Delaware General Assembly after an impressive 22-year tenure.

Martin's books about the region are sought by serious Delawareana collectors and students of state history. They include A History of Delaware Through Its Governors: 1776-1984 (1984); Tales of Delaware (1991); Delaware's Medal of Honor Winners (1993); Memoirs of the Senate (1994); and Elbert N. Carvel (1997), the first of an oral history series on Diamond State former governors, published by the Delaware Heritage Commission.

Martin's book on former Delaware Gov. Sherman W. Tribbitt will be released this fall.

In his home overlooking a broad expanse of wetlands, Martin put aside his notebook and pen, turned his back on several half-opened reference books and shared his thoughts about the importance of history, particularly the legacy of his home state.

"I love history," he says. "There's so much that needs to be done. People forget. Time passes. Many people just don't realize the significance of Delaware's history and the role it played in our country."

Of all his professions, Martin seems most comfortable with the label "historian."

"I guess I get the most joy out of it when I uncover things about Delaware's past, and people say, 'I didn't know that!'" he says. "It's important to share our culture and our traditions."

Being a serious historian is a full-time occupation-much to the chagrin of other members of the household.

For the Martins, many an innocent Sunday ride in the country has turned into a quest to uncover buried facts or resolve an unsolved mystery.

"Oftentimes, I find myself driving down a road and wonder what happened there. I share these thoughts with my wife, Adele (AS '60, '78M). I sometimes find myself on back roads, surveying the area, looking at old maps, searching for graveyards, tromping through overgrown bushes."

One of Martin's biggest finds was the grave of John Collins, a 19th-century Delaware governor from Laurel. The resting place had gone undiscovered for more than a century.

Working on several projects at once is Martin's style. He says there are numerous cardboard boxes in various sites throughout his home-each containing information and assorted documents for upcoming projects, or research in progress.

These personal plans range from placing all taxpaying Delaware residents in 1787 into a computer database, to visits to all the Civil War battlefields where Delaware troops fought. The complete project list is much longer, Martin says, and it tends to grow daily.

While teaching school and serving in the legislature, Martin's writing time was limited. Most of his writing occurred in the summer, on weekends or before or after work. Now that he is retired, one would expect that he'd have more time to enjoy his love of history.

"Well," he says, "a certain portion of my time is taken up by domestic duties, but I do get to work on history every day. And, my wife goes along with it. It's quid pro quo. I go with her when she goes shopping and, when we go to a graveyard, she'll sit and read her book."

Ask Martin where he enjoys spending his time and the answer is immediate: "The archives and the library. My mouth waters when I think of everything that's there."

-Ed Okonowicz, AS '69, '84M