GENERAL JOHN DAGWORTHY CHAPTER
By 1981 enough SAR members had been identified as living in Sussex County to warrant the formation of a local chapter. The selection of a name for this chapter was quite easy, as we had only to look to an outstanding patriot and warrior buried in the old graveyard at Prince George’s Chapel, Dagsboro.
On July 8, 1755, the Maryland Assembly passed an Act empowering the vestry of Worcester Parish to purchase two acres of land on the east side of Pepperts Branch near the main road and to erect a chapel thereon. Prince George’s Chapel was constructed during the years 1755-57. At about the same time Col. John Dagworthy, a native of New Jersey, had so distinguished himself during the French and Indian War of 1755-63 that the colony of Maryland successfully lured him to settle on a large tract of land in Worcester County and named the community Dagsboro in honor of John Dagworthy. Dagworthy suddenly found himself the local “country squire,” with particular duties in respect to this newly constructed “Chapel of Ease.” His ownership of Dagsboro was confirmed in 1767 when Delaware acquired the Greater Sussex area in the settlement of the boundary dispute with Maryland.
At the onset of the American Revolution, the Delaware General Assembly appointed Caesar Rodney to be Major General of militia, and John Dagworthy and Philemon Dickinson as Brigadiers. The Sussex County Militia had already organized in a convention at Broad Creek (Now Laurel) on June 20, 1775, with Col. Dagworthy as chair. With his new title of Brigadier, Dagworthy set about forming a Sussex Brigade.
When it came time for the Continental Congress in Philadelphia to appoint a Commander-in-Chief, several names were mentioned, but especially John Dagworthy. Some felt that he should be given special consideration, since, during the Old French War, he had been granted a royal commission in the British Army, while George Washington held only a provincial commission from Virginia. However, the matter was settled in favor of George Washington by John Adams' impassioned speech.
Washington had previously been slighted by Dagworthy and never called him into service with the Continental Army. He remained in Sussex, keeping the Loyalist threat in check. About 1780, Prince George's Chapel was enlarged by adding a transept and small sanctuary at the west end. It is generally believed that Dagworthy paid for this improvement. He greatly enjoyed watching the "work in progress" from his home nearby, and he is buried beneath its chancel.
In 1925-28 Delaware Society president, the Right Rev. Philip Cook, was instrumental in the restoration and rebuilding of the Prince George Chapel. While the Dagworthy home is no longer in existence, one humble reminder of that household -- the privy -- was discovered a few years back by Compatriot John Purnell, who personally moved this 200-year-old relic to a secluded corner of the Chapel property. Perhaps from this vantage point the ghost of the old General can continue to supervise repairs and improvements. We hope that he appreciates the fact that members of the SAR faithfully gather at his churchyard tomb each 4th of July for a short memorial service.
In 1980-81, the President of Delaware Society was Lt. Col. Harold H. Lighthipe (Ret.) of Bethany Beach. By calling around and inviting SAR members to his home for refreshments, "Hal" stirred up enthusiasm for the formation of the Delaware Society's first chapter, to be named the General John Dagworthy Chapter. The chapter must continually remind the press and the public that there is no “s” in Dagworthy!
The Dagworthy Chapter has been blessed with a lengthy list of active presidents: Emerson Higgins, John Snell, Scott Sipple, Reed Booth, Robert Grigsby, Carroll Farlow, James Richardson, James Ford Richardson, James Parsons, C. Russel McCabe, and Alexander McClure. For some time, biannual chapter meetings were held at various restaurants around Sussex County. Guest speakers have included politicians, environmental scientists, Native Americans, and even advocates for worthy causes!
Beginning in early 2000, the Dagworthy Chapter membership declined. By 2004, the State Board of Management had suspended the Dagworthy Chapter Charter for disinterest, escrowing all chapter property until Dagworthy was able to resume operations. Despite significant efforts during the presidential terms of John Caulk Lewis (DE#978) (2003-2005) and Lyman R. Brenner (DE#1035), (2005-2007), the Dagworthy Chapter was unable to restart.
In 2008, the State Board of Management revoked the Chapter Charter and disbanded the Dagworthy Chapter. The Board determined that the Rodney Chapter would be expanded to include Kent and Sussex Counties to provide members with a program and ensure presentation of community awards.
THE LIGHTHIPE FUND: We cannot close this brief history without special mention of our founder, Hal Lighthipe, without whose efforts there would be nothing to write about. His heart and soul were devoted to the SAR, always thinking of better ways to advance our objectives, and he left the Delaware Society a substantial bequest. Mary Lighthipe, Hal’s widow, did not long outlast him, and we note with pride that her estate will be used for such things as environmental and cultural preservation, From a special genealogy room at South Coastal Library to the endangered wetlands of Sussex, the name of Lighthipe will be long remembered.
1981-1983- Emerson Glady Higgins (founding)
1983-1984- John Truitt Purnell
1984-1986- Reed Alexander Booth
1986-1990- Carroll Bernard Farlow
1990-1993- James Ford Richardson
1993-1994- James Ford Richardson
1994-1999- James Robert Parsons
1999-2002- Charles Russell McCabe, II